Frank Robinson, who pushed the Orioles over the top and later became baseball’s first African-American manager, died Feb. 7. He was 83.
Robinson was reportedly battling bone cancer.
Robinson played for the Orioles for six seasons, from 1966-1971, and he became the leader that Baltimore needed. The young Orioles team was beginning to come into its own, but needed a final piece of leadership, and Robinson gave them that.
The Orioles acquired Robinson from the Reds in December 1965, when he was, as they said, an “old 30.” Robinson went on to win the Triple Crown during the 1966 season. He finished with a .316 average, 49 homers and 122 RBIs and was picked as the American League’s Most Valuable Player.
Robinson grew into a major leader of the Orioles during his time with the team. The Orioles held a “Kangaroo Court” after wins, jokingly fining players small amounts for making mistakes, a good way of reminding everyone what not to do.
Robinson served as the judge in those courts. He’d wear a kind of mop on his head and dole out the fines. The players loved that and loved him. The Orioles traded Robinson to the Dodgers after the 1971 season, and although they remained one of baseball’s top teams, they weren’t at quite the same level.
After leaving the Orioles, Robinson made baseball history when he became MLB’s first-ever African-American manager. He served as a player-manager with the Cleveland Indians from 1975-1976, then later went on to manage with the Giants, Orioles and the Expos/Nationals franchise.
Robinson won Manager of the Year honors in 1989, when he nearly guided the Orioles to the American League East title. The Orioles had won just 54 games the year before and in 1989 — the “Why Not?” year — they pushed the Blue Jays to the final weekend before Toronto locked up the title.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 for his exploits as a player, where Robinson finished with 586 homers and a .294 batting average. Robinson is survived by his wife, Barbara, and their two children.
This has been updated.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sports Legends