R I P Mr. Robinson

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Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Thursday, February 7.
After a winter of annoying illness punctuated by a stretch on the DL, I had hoped to return to write a happy piece about one of baseball’s talented unemployed finding a new home. But it wasn’t to be. As so often happens in the offseason, I must write a piece with the proverbial black border around it. This time, I bid farewell to Frank Robinson, an awesome hitter and baseball’s first black manager. He died early today at age 83, of bone cancer.
In a day before batting gloves and elbow pads he crowded the plate harder than most, daring baseball’s best hurlers to throw inside. This was in a day when pitchers did this regularly and the players just dealt with it if they heard “Chin music.” The maestros of chin music particularly played in the National League where Robinson broke in. He faced the likes of Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale between 1956 and 1965 when Robinson played the outfield for the Cincinnati Reds. After a controversial trade to the Orioles before the 1966 season began, Robinson faced a fading Whitey Ford, Sudden Sam McDowell and the best the American League had to offer. He demolished them even more thoroughly than National Leaguers. Robinson won the triple crown in his first year in Baltimore. He hit 49 home runs, one of which left Memorial Stadium entirely, traveling some 540 feet. He won the MVP in 1961 with the Reds and 5 years later in Baltimore. He was chosen as an All-Star not less than 14 times, the last of these in 1974 when he was 38. When all was said and done, he had hit 586 home runs and forged a permanent place in Cooperstown, where he was elected in 1982 with nearly 90% of the needed votes. He counted his proudest moment as the day he first managed the Indians, April 8, 1975. Almost 57,000 fans turned out at old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland for that opening day on which for the first time a black man would lead his troops into battle. He was a playing manager and hit a home run in his first atbat that day, against the Yankees’ Doc Medich. He would manage the Giants and Orioles before becoming the last manager of the Expos before their move to Washington where he managed the Nationals. In a memorable managerial turnaround, he took the Orioles from 55–107 in 1988 to 87-75 a year later and was only eliminated from the pennant race with a single game to go. That coup brought him his only Manager of the Year award.
As a high school student in Oakland, he was teammates with Curt Flood and Vada Pinson. He and Pinson would be playmates again with the Reds. Iconic basketball star Bill Russell was a schoolmate of Robinson. The Reds went to the World Series with him in 1961. With the Orioles, Robinson won the World Series in 1966 and 1970 while his team lost in 1969 and 1971. The Reds, Orioles and Indians have all retired his number. Only one other man can make that statement-Nolan Ryan.


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