Frank Robinson could be one of the most underrated men to ever play Major League Baseball. He may be a hall of famer, but when the media talks about the all-time greats, it’s not often Frank Robinson’s name is mentioned.
Robinson is the only person to win the MVP in bothleagues. He won National League MVP it in 1961 with the Cincinnati Reds, then won the American League MVP in 1966 with the Baltimore Orioles. His teams also went to the World Series in both years. The Reds lost to the New York Yankees in 1961, but the Orioles swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966, where he was also named seris MVP.
Also in 1966, Robinson won the Triple Crown. He led the league in batting average (.316), home runs (49), and runs batted in (122). In 1956, at the age of 20 Robinson was the National League Rookie of the Year. In fact, the 38 home runs he hit that year are still a Reds rookie record. Robinson was named the MVP of the 1971 All-Star game. That was the game Reggie Jackson hit a home run onto the roof of Tiger Stadium.
Robinson was also Major League Baseball’s first black manager. He was the player-manager for the 1975 Cleveland Indians. In his first game as player-manager, Robinson hit a home run in the first inning.
With all the MVP awards Robinson won, it’s easy to conclude that “F-Robby” was a big game (and big series) player.
One of the reasons for his success in the moment was his refusal to be intimidated. He crowded the plate and refused to give an inch to opposing pitchers. As a result, Robinson led the league in HBPs (hit by pitch) seven times, including his rookie year.
But making Robinson mad is not what opposing pitchers or players really wanted. After getting into a fight at third base with Eddie Mathews of the Milwaukee Braves in 1950, Robinson hit a grand slam later in the game.
The biggest mystery of Robinson’s career is why he was traded from the Reds following the 1965 season. Why would anyone trade a player who had just just finished the season hitting .296, 33 homers and 113 RBIs? Robinson was only 30 years old at the time but the Reds general manager claimed it was “an old 30.”
In 1966, the very next year, Robinson won the Triple Crown.
Pete Rose once theorized that race may have had something to do with Robinson’s trade. A teammate of Robinson’s for two seasons, Rose, who was friendly with fellow black players, once told reporters that Reds management told him not spend time with black players.
Robinson had already experience discrimination by the time he reached the Reds in 1956. Not just in the southern minor league cities he played in, but where he grew up in Oakland, CA. Robinson and his family moved there from Texas when he was just four years old.
There was an unwritten rule in Oakland just like the “gentlemen’s agreement” in baseball that prevented blacks from playing in the major leagues; blacks in Oakland could only live in west Oakland. The south takes a great deal of the heat for segregation, but it was practiced in the north and west with machine-like efficiency.
Those who left west Oakland to get a bite to eat could only order “take out.” Blacks were not allowed to eat inside restaurants in the 1930s, 40s and the early part of the 50s. And if hadn’t been for Jackie Robinson, we may never even heard of Frank Robinson.
Still, what discrimination wrought, may have made west Oakland the most prolific producer of athletes this country has ever seen. Robinson, Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Paul Silas and Bill Russell all came from the same west Oakland neighborhood. Robinson, Flood and Pinson even played in the same outfield!
Frank Robinson ended up managing a number of teams after his playing days, including the Orioles (where he won AL Manager of the Year in 1989), San Francisco Giants and Montreal Expos. Robinson was inducted into the Major League Baseball hall of fame in 1982.