Sunday, June 15, 2014

Players I Love More Than I Should: Outfield: Frank Robinson

If you are just joining the blog don't miss the other players in the Players I Love More Than I Should series: Yogi Berra, Hank Greenberg, Joe Morgan, Cal Ripken and Frank "Home Run" Baker

More than 18,000 players have appeared in Major League Baseball games since the start of the league.  Some players have short careers that last one at bat or one appearance in the field.  Others have 20+ year careers.  As I read more and more about baseball history there are certain players I find myself enjoying reading about more than others.  It is obviously illogical since many of them retired, or in some cases passed away, long before I was even born.  I have no first hand experience in watching some of them play but for whatever reason their personalities and perseverance strikes me above and beyond the other players I read about.  Over the next few weeks I will be giving you short biographical histories*of some of these players.  Some of them will be Hall of Fame players.  Some of them will be players only casual fans may know.  Regardless, I chose one player from each position for this series to explore.  This week we will explore one of the outfielders I chose for the series: Frank Robinson.

Of the more than 18,000 people to play Major League Baseball there are probably ten to fifteen players who could legitimately be considered for the title of "the greatest player ever".  Of course the names of Ruth, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio come to mind immediately.  Jackie Robinson, Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken, Sandy Koufax, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron would probably get quite a few votes. Contemporaries like Jeter and Pujols may get some mention.

The question becomes what makes a great player?  Is it pure individual numbers?  Is it the number of rings you win?  Is it your ability to lead your team quietly behind the scenes when people don't necessarily see it?  Is it your ability to raise the level of accomplishments of the players around you?  Is it your ability to do things no one else has done before?

There is one player who did everything you would want from the greatest player of all time and yet is far too often overlooked in consideration as the greatest player of all time.

"It went all the way out."  Boog Powell told Robby as he settled back on the bench.  "Yeah, right." was the unbelieving response.

540 feet.  180 yards.  Nearly two full football fields. 

Luis Tiant had started his wind up.  It was his normal twisting, turning, bending, contortionist wind up. The arms swung once, twice. The hands came together, the arms went up, the front leg lifted and straightened.  The back leg and the hips twisted towards center as the throwing hand fell by his back hip.  Every motion was disjointed until the whole body flew forward towards the hitter.  Few people could figure it out but Robby swung at the first pitch and it was crushed.  It flew.  Farther.   Faster.   Quicker than anyone in Baltimore had ever seen a ball fly before.  On Sunday, May 7, 1966 Frank Robinson launched the ball that would forever be marked for Orioles fans to remember.  The ball literally left Memorial Stadium, landing in the parking lot 540 feet away.

I can personally remember going to the stadium, sitting in the stands and looking out to the parking lot and seeing that black and orange flag hanging in the stadium parking lot.  It said one word.  "Here".   I can remember watching the thing flapping in the breeze and thinking "does that actually just say 'here'.  What does that mean?"  Then I asked my dad.  "What is that flag out there?"  That was when my dad explained about the day that Frank Robinson hit the ball "HERE" and officially left his mark in Baltimore.  Although it was one of the longest visible marks he left there, it was one of just a million that he left in Baltimore and many other cities throughout baseball history.

Early Success
A few weeks ago we reviewed the career of Joe Morgan, the great Reds second baseman.  Joe was born in Texas but very early in his life moved to the Oakland Bay area.  Frank Robinson had a very similar start in life, although Frank was a bit older than Joe.  Frank was born in Beaumont, TX in 1935.  When his parents divorced his mother moved the children to the bay area.  One can only imagine the discrimination, prejudice and torture the family endured.

Frank was too young to remember the time in Texas and he has said that during his time in the bay area he was unaware of prejudice or bigotry.  It was a tough area to be sure.  Frank told stories of having to fight his way to school and back.  Not far away, just a few years older than Frank, a young Billy Martin was growing up in Berkeley, CA, fighting in street gangs in a very racially charged community.  When Frank was 11 years old Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and Frank's response at first was "so what?".  Frank loved the game of baseball, dreamed of being a pro player but it had never occurred to him that the game was segregated.  He soon learned the importance of Jackie Robinson. 

He was clearly better than most players in his age group, though he humbly wondered why players he played with never became better players. His father had once told his brothers that Frank would never be good enough to make a big league player.  It drove Frank, as doubts about him would always do, and he used it as motivation to prove his father wrong.  Frank signed with the Reds organization at the age of 17 and was sent to the Ogden, UT team in the Pioneer League and he quickly learned what racism was.  He was one of two non-white players on the team and while all other players had private homes, Frank and Chico Terry were forced to share a tiny hotel room.  As non-white they were not allowed to eat in the local restaurant, go to movies or do any number of things the white players could do.  He couldn't even talk to his roommate who Frank said knew only the word "coffee".

Frank loved nothing more than to play ball but hearing fans yell disgusting, unspeakable, unrepeatable things at a teenage kid for doing nothing more than trying to hit a ball made him question his place. The loneliness was nearly unbearable.  He had nothing to do but work on his game and think about baseball.  In the 1953 Pioneer League season Frank played in 72 games, hit .348 with 20 doubles, 6 triples and 17 Home Runs.  Not bad for a 17 year old kid far from home and facing the hate filled rages of hicks for the first time.

He moved on to Columbia of the South Atlantic League for next year and if he thought he faced racism in Ogden, it was just an appetizer for the main course of hatred he faced in the 1950's south.  Robby continued to improve his game but as would always be the case, the magnitude of his greatness was never really realized.  Frank would hit .336 with 32 doubles, 9 triples and an amazing 25 Home Runs.  In an era when Home Runs were not yet king, it was nearly unheard of for an 18 year old to hit with so much power.  He played 80 games for Columbia in 1955 and his numbers were not great but there was a reason.  There was a shoulder problem that plagued him.  He was forced to play first base for the first time in his life because, as Frank said, "I couldn't throw the ball ten feet".  Being an African American player in the south was bad enough.  Being an African American player who was performing far below the numbers that were expected was unforgivable.  The abuse he faced was severe and he nearly gave up.  Call it the intervention of the baseball gods.  Call it the determination that only the greatest of the great have.  Call it whatever you want,  Frank did not give up.  He pushed on and "in the last six weeks of the season I hit .390 and hit ten home runs...most important, after all I'd been through, I knew I could play this game, knew I'd never be tempted to quit again."

Ohio is a northern state but it is just across the river from Kentucky, a border state in the Civil War.  Don't forget it was in Cincinnati that Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Jackie Robinson in a silent gesture of support against vicious taunts. It was this city that Frank Robinson started his career and it was a start that few could ever equal.  On a team with Ted Kluszewski, Wally Post, Gus Bell and Ed Bailey, Frank Robinson led the team in almost everything.  He hit more home runs (38) than "Big Klu".  He drove in as many runs (83) as Wally Post.  He scored more runs than anyone else in the league and the Reds finished third in a very close National League race.  Frank Robinson was the youngest All Star player that year and finished in the top ten voting (7th) in the MVP award.  He also won the Rookie of the Year Award.  Who finished second?  No one.  There was no second choice.  A total of 23 votes were cast for the top rookie.  Each and every one was for Frank Robinson. 

Every Rookie of the year hears the same refrain:  watch out for the sophomore slump.  Frank had none of that.  His power numbers dropped (home runs went from 38 to 29) but his average raised from .290 to .322. He made the All Star team again and again finished in the top 10 in MVP voting.  The NL Champion Dodgers fell off dramatically in 1957 but the Reds couldn't seem to take advantage.  The Braves and Cardinals moved up and the Reds finished 4th.

Over the next few years the pattern seemed to be the same.  The Reds showed great talent, led by Robby, Big Klu and Vada Pinson.  They just could not compete with the top of the league as the Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals, Giants and even the Pirates finished ahead of the Reds.  Through these years Frank was still one of the top players in the league.  Considered the second generation of African American players following Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays and Joe Black, Frank Robinson dominated the league with the likes of Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Willie McCovey and Monte Irvin.  Frank usually hit well above 30 Home Runs, drove in about 80-85 runs (he drove in 120 in 1959) and his average would fluctuate near .300, usually above that mark.

Robby and Dumb Wit
Robinson was a clear star in the league as 1960 turned to 1961.Any success the Reds could hope for would have to include Frank.  There was no question.  Robby was a star and a leader in the club house.  However, as a young man in a turbulent time he also had a bit of a temper.  Not one to look for a fight he would certainly protect himself when he was threatened.  Unfortunately, in the craziness of the time, if an African American protected themselves they somehow were in the wrong.  In February 1961 Frank and some friends went out for a night on the town and ended up in a diner late at night.  An altercation led to a friend being arrested and as Frank and another friend returned to retrieve their food the cook made a slashing motion with a butcher knife.  When the cook displayed his weapon of choice, Robby simply showed the cook that he was protected and flashed his pistol.  The cops were called and Frank was arrested.  Humiliated, angry that he did not receive any assistance from the team and left in a cell to think, Frank decided it was time to make some changes in his life.  It was time to grow up and focus all of his energy on fighting the other team.  It was the best news that the Reds could have gotten.  It was the worst news the opposition could have gotten.  Frank Robinson, already dangerous, was now more focused and more determined than ever.  The behind the scenes story of the arrest would lead to a lingering effect however.  When Bill DeWitt, the Reds General Manager,was notified that Robinson was in jail he decided to leave him there for the night.  Frank took great offense, feeling that had it been Kluszewski or another Reds star, DeWitt would have come to bail him out.  A rift was formed that led to Frank forever calling the GM DumbWitt.

The new focus led Frank to dominate even more as he led the Reds to their first World Series since 1940.  Frank hit 37 Home Runs, had a .323 average, drove in 124, scored 117 and even stole 22 bases.  It was a dominant performance and the former Rookie of the Year added a National League Championship and an MVP award to his already illustrious career.  In the World Series of 1961 Frank had a tough time of it.  He hit only .200 as the Yankees pitchers avoided giving him anything good to hit.  In the fifth and final game Frank drove a ball out of the park but the Reds lost 13-5.  It was a disappointing season for a man (and a team) that had their sights set on the ultimate goal.

Over the next three years the Reds would not have as much success.  Frank never dropped from his high standards.  He continued to improve and although the Reds failed to make the post season (they came very close in 1964 as the Phillies collapsed) Frank would continuously be an All Star and MVP candidate.  1965 was the turning point for the Reds, for Frank and for an unsuspecting American League.  His average dropped below .300 (he hit .296), he drove in "only" 113 runs and scored "only" 109. He finished 18th in the MVP voting. The rift between Robinson and Reds Management had only grown wider over the years as disputes over injuries and salary became more and more common.  On December 9, 1965 Bill DeWitt made a decision.  He would end the Frank Robinson era in Cincinnati.  DeWitt cited a youth movement as the key reason for the trade.  When it was pointed out that Frank was only thirty DeWitt responded that yes he was only 30 but it was "an old 30". These words would haunt DeWitt for the rest of his career.  On December 9, 1965 Frank Robinson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas and Dick Simpson.  Like his father's statement that Frank would never make a major league player, DeWitt's words provided fuel for Frank's already burning desire to be the best.

The Lord of Baltimore
The Orioles were not known as winners.  They were the old Browns of St.Louis and they had rarely competed since they moved to Baltimore.  They did have a nice little team they were building with Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell and a good young pitching staff, but realistically there was still Mantle and Maris in New York,  Kaline and Cash in Detroit and Olivo, Kaat and Carew in Minnesota.  The Orioles seemed to be way behind the league. Even the Red Sox were starting to build a strong team with an Italian kid named Conigliaro, another named Petrocelli and a Polish kid  with an almost unpronounceable name of Yastrzemski.

When Frank arrived at spring training the Orioles resident star Brooks Robinson could have been a prima dona and staked his claim to the status he had already established.  Instead he walked up to Frank Robinson, stuck out his hand and said "You're just what we needed."  On the first pitch he saw in his first batting practice in Baltimore's spring camp Frank crushed a Home Run and a young Jim Palmer blurted out "I think we just won the pennant."  Frank was driven.  It was a great team.  A team that loved playing together.  They were jokers.  A fun group.  Having a white Southerner named Robinson star next to an African American Robinson lent itself to quite a bit of confusion.  When one reporter confused the two Frank said "can't you tell us apart?  We wear different numbers."  There were some not so funny confused moments.  When Frank moved to town, his wife tried to rent a house.  She called to set up an appointment to view the house and introduced herself as Mrs. Robinson, wife of one of the Orioles.  She was welcomed with open arms until it was realized it was Frank Robinson and not Brooks Robinson.  Due to the racial laws at the time Frank and his wife were rented a far inferior dwelling in "the black section" of Baltimore.  The previous tenants had left holes in the wall and dog shit on the floor.  They had no choice.  It was all they could get.

Almost immediately the Orioles took flight and shocked the American League.  Several Orioles said they were inspired by Frank's determination.  Several said they never saw a man work so hard.  Others said Frank's Home Run, the one forever marked 'HERE' was the turning point.  Regardless, that was just one of the great moments of Frank Robinson's great season.  On a team with Powell, Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair and Davey Johnson, Frank Robinson led the way and led the league in almost everything possible. He was first in Slugging Percentage, On Base Percentage, Runs Scored, Total Bases, Extra Base Hits, Times on Base.  That list also included batting average, Home Runs and RBI, the three categories of the Triple Crown.  Frank Robinson became the first player to win the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues.

The Orioles won their first AL pennant but the baby birds were a large underdog against Koufax, Drysdale and Maury Wills of the Dodgers.  The first post season game in the Orioles history started in Los Angeles.  Don Drysdale got Luis Aparicio to fly out to right then walked Russ Snyder.  Robby stepped in.  It was a bright LA fall afternoon.  He stood toward the back of the batters box.  Rested the bat on his hip, bent and rubbed some dirt on his hands.  He watched ball 1 come in high.  He had faced Drysdale what seemed like a million times.  Both were strong competitors.  Both were intense, fierce.  Both believed the plate belonged to them.  The second pitch came in and Frank turned on it.  He lifted the ball to left field.  Tommy Davis tracked it to the fence but it was five rows deep.  In classic Ruth-Gehrig fashion, Brooks Robinson followed Frank's blast with a solo of his own.  The O's led 3-0 and would win 5-2.  Game 2 had the Orioles facing Sandy Koufax.  The living legend.  It would be his final appearance in the Major Leagues but he was still Koufax.  Due to one of the most unfortunate innings ever in baseball history (poor Willie Davis) the Orioles took a 3-0 lead.  In the top of the 6th Frank led off with a triple and scored on Boog Powell's single as the O's won the game 6-0.  The Orioles won Game 3 1-0 on a Paul Blair Home Run.  Game 4 saw Don Drysdale take a second crack at the O's.  Robby got a second shot at Big D.  In the 4th with the game tied 0-0 Robby duplicated his Game 1 success with a solo homer to left.  The Orioles won their first World Series and Frank Robinson won the World Series MVP.

Injuries limited Frank over the next few years.  It was the knees, concussions, you name it.  It was the hazard of playing full throttle all the time.  The concussion came from a hard slide into second where his head was hit by the knee of the second baseman.  He still had solid numbers and he still was one of the best in the game.  He continued to make his impact on the team in the clubhouse.  He led the kangaroo court and became known as the judge.  He levied fines to players who made mental errors and no one was immune, not even Earl Weaver.  Famously Robinson said in kangaroo court. "Stand up when you address the judge Earl.  Oh, you are standing up."  Robby loved his time in Baltimore with the O's.

He loved playing for Earl Weaver.  The group of Orioles was an intense group, focused.  They would play hard on the field but they would have fun off it too.  In 1969 they finally returned to the top AL perch.  They won over 100 games, swept the first ALCS in history and went into the World Series facing the New York Mets.  Who could believe the Mets could beat the birds?  The Mets could.  The Orioles cruised through the first game and looked to keep going.  Then the miracle happened.  The Mets took games 2, 3 and 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the series. Earl Weaver got so frustrated that he even got kicked out of Game 4.  He almost got kicked out of Game 5 as well.  When Frank got hit on the belt buckle and headed toward first the umpire called him back to the plate and told him it was just a foul ball.  Frank was outraged.  He argued and even walked to the dugout in protest.  He delayed the game for several minutes.  When he went back to the plate he eventually struck out and the Orioles fell to the Mets.

1970 was the redemption season.  The Orioles were again top in the AL, beating the Twins in the ALCS again, and Frank again made the All Star Team and finished in the top 10 in MVP voting.  His numbers were down again as injuries continued to take their toll.  Yet, in the World Series Frank's bat again led the way.  He pounded Reds pitching getting revenge on the organization that discarded him.  Robby hit two home runs, drove in 4 and scored 5 times.  The real star as the O's reclaimed the World Series title was Brooks Robinson's glove.

The golden years of Orioles baseball ended the following year as the golden age of Oakland A's baseball began to dawn.  Frank battled injuries again as the Orioles again won the AL East.  They swept the ALCS, this time against the A's and faced the Pittsburgh Pirates led by Bob Robertson and Roberto Clemente.  Although Frank, fighting, limping and straining, scored a game winning run in the bottom of the 10th of Game 6, The Orioles lost to the Pirates, led by Clemente, in a deciding Game 7.  The golden age of Orioles baseball was over.

Southern California
If Bill DeWitt thought the Orioles were getting an "old 30" when he sent them Frank in 1966, The Orioles found Frank to be an older 35 after the 1971 World Series.  With a young Don Baylor set to spread his wings in Baltimore, the Orioles had to make room in the outfield.  On December 2, 1971 Frank Robinson was traded with Marv Reichert to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Doyle Alexander Bob O'Brien, Sergio Robles and Royle Stillman.  The team that Frank joined was similar to the Orioles team he had joined in 1966.  They were building a strong young team with players like Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bill Russell and Joe Ferguson.  Drysdale and Koufax were gone replaced by Tommy John and Don Sutton.  Frank poured every ounce of his body into that 1972 season but the Dodgers fell behind the Reds and finished 10.5 games back in second place.  The Dodgers had a strong core and Frank Robinson did not fit in to their future plans.

Still known as a clubhouse leader and still known as a drawing card, the California Angels felt they were getting close to something good in Anaheim.  They sent Ken McMullen and Andy Messersmith to the Dodgers and in return received Frank, Billy Grabarkewitz, Bill Singer, Mike Strahler and Bobby Valentine.  Fortunately for Frank an old friend, former Orioles GM Harry Dalton was now GM in Anaheim and Frank felt he could contribute at the big A.  Another old friend, Vada Pinson, was playing for the Angels as well.  Nolan Ryan won 21 games, Frank was reborn as a DH and finished 15th in MVP voting.  The Angels, however, did not finish so well.  Entering 1974 with the youth of the Angels it was hoped that Frank's intensity would translate into a winning team.

What happened instead was a disaster.  Manager Bobby Winkles was apparently convinced that Harry Dalton had brought Frank in with the idea of making him the manager.  Although Winkles and Frank had some troubles in the first year, Winkles told Dalton in the winter that he had to trade Robinson.  Dalton refused and the environment of the clubhouse was tense and uncomfortable.  The Angels struggled and when Winkles finally called a team meeting he called out Frank specifically and told the entire team that he had demanded that Frank be traded a few months prior.  "I didn't like it at all.  To me, what Winkles was saying was that he couldn't manage with me on the team.  He didn't want me here.  But I haven't asked to be traded, and I wouldn't like for him to be fired."  Winkles was fired and Dick Williams was hired. This relationship started off nicely with Williams naming him  captain but Williams's style of managing and Frank's view on how to run a team clashed.    He didn't have to worry about it long.  In mid September, with the Angels clearly out of the pennant race, Robinson was traded to Cleveland.

Leading the Tribe
He finished 1974 as an Indian with an assurance from the front office that he would receive a contract for the next year.  The contract he received was not what he expected.  It was not just a contract as a player but as a manager as well.  Frank rejected it at first.  Not because he didn't want to manage but because he was being paid the same amount to manage and play as he had received the year before just to play.  He finally worked out an acceptable amount and Frank Robinson, already the first man to win an MVP in both leagues, became the first African American manager.

Those who read the blog often will remember my earlier question about Lloyd McClendon.  Why do bad teams happen to good people?  The 1975 Indians certainly fit that mold.  They picked up Boog Powell from the Orioles and they had a great pitcher in Gaylord Perry but they had some serious problems.  Frank had seen the problems at the end of the 1974 team when he saw that the African American players and coaches stayed away from the white players and vice versa.  Frank did what he could to change this culture but his journal from this season shows some serious divide on the team.  From the day Frank joined the team in 1974 Gaylord Perry seemed to show resentment at being paid less than Frank.  The resentment increased when Frank became Perry's boss.  Perry refused to do the running required in spring training.  He spoke about his manager and teammates in the press and demanded a trade.  Finally, on June 13, after demanding a trade again, Perry was traded.  It was too late, the Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees were too far ahead.  The Indians were in last place, eight games out of first.  They would finish fourth that year and the following year.  Frank was acknowledged as a great manager but the talent on the team was terrible.  Midway through the 1977 season the Indians made a decision to fire Frank Robinson.

He was a coach for Earl Weaver in Baltimore for several years before his next opportunity came along.  It was in San Francisco, not far from  where he grew up across the bay in Oakland.  He worked hard and expected the same from his players.  He had trouble with some of the players but the bigger problem was something all managers were dealing with at the time.  He was hired by the Giants for the 1981 season and the Giants had rising stars like Jack Clark and Darrell Evans and established stars like Vida Blue.  Frank had to deal with players earning more than he could have imagined as a super star and producing well below the expectations.  Evans and Clark were very unhappy.  Often Frank would call them into his office, talk to them one on one to make sure they were on the same page and get confirmation that the issues were resolved.  He woke up the next morning and saw new quotes from the players blasting the team.  The other problem at the time was drugs.  Frank talked often in his auto biography "Extra Innings" of the moodiness of several players, Vida Blue among them, and the frustration of knowing how good some of these players were not knowing what was stopping them  from reaching their potential.  He later found out that cocaine, amphetamines and steroids were running rampant in the game.

He had great players on the team like Joe Morgan and Reggie Smith, who he knew were the types of players needed to win.  Jack Clark may put up great numbers but Joe Morgan played the game the way you needed if you want to win.  Darrell Evans may hit long Home Runs but so did Reggie Smith and Smith helped the younger players along.  Unfortunately, the management and Frank were not on the same page so Smith moved on to Japan, Morgan moved on to help the 1983 Phillies  win a pennant and Frank was given a poor team.  By the time 1984 ended Darrell Evans was a World Champion with the Tigers, Jack Clark would move on to St. Louis and Frank Robinson was unemployed.

Manager of the Year
"The great irony in all this is that I'm a much better manager than I ever was before and I'm out of a job".  It was true and the statement spoke volumes about Frank.  He knew the game. He had played it better than nearly anyone ever had in the history of the game and yet he still had learned more since he retired as a player.  While Frank was learning to manage the Orioles were learning what life was like A.W. (After Weaver).  Earl Weaver had retired after the 1982 season.  The Orioles immediately hired Joe Altobelli and won the World Series. A year and a half later, half way through 1985, Earl Weaver was back to pick up the pieces but the pieces didn't quite fit the puzzle.  In 1987 Cal Ripken, Sr took over a bad team as manager and the ownership knew it was not a good team.  The team was flat out terrible except for Cal Jr and Eddie Murray.  John Shelby had potential but he was gone by next year and Fred Lynn was well beyond his prime.  So Ripken, Sr. started the 1988 season as skipper of a sinking ship.   The O's lost two straight to the Brewers then were swept in four straight against the Indians.  Although the Orioles had promised Senior a fair chance to manage, he was fired after the sixth game.  He was replaced with Frank.  It was a terrible start to the season.  After 21 games the O's had not won a game.  Not even the 1962 Mets were that bad.  Starting with a 21 game deficit was obviously not a good way to go but there were bright spots by the end of the season.  Mike Boddicker was traded to the eventual AL East champion Red Sox.  In return they got a young lead off hitter named Brady Anderson.  They had a nice young center fielder waiting to be brought up from the minors named Mike Devereaux.  They had a young starting pitching staff with Jeff Ballard, Pete Harnisch, Curt Schilling, Jamie Moyer and a minor leaguer named Mike Mussina.  In the draft they got a good arm in Ben McDonald.  The future was bright.

The 1989 season was the exact opposite of the 1988 season.  Eddie Murray was gone, replaced by an under rated young first baseman named Randy Milligan who had a career year. Third base, a problem since Brooks Robinson retired, was held down by a rookie sensation Craig Worthington.  Behind the plate Mickey Tettleton, known as the Froot Loop kid for his love of the cereal, teamed with Milligan, DH Sam Horn and Cal Ripken Jr to form a solid middle lineup and Joe Orsulak was a defensive expert in right field.  Add to that a young relief ace named Greg Olson, nicknamed Wild Thing and the team was in first for most of the year.  The magic lasted almost all year but on the final weekend of the season the O's broke a wing and fell to the Blue Jays to finish second in the AL east.  Despite a second place finish the turn around won Frank Manager of the year.  Frank would manage two more years and the expectations were high but the results were disappointing.

He did, however, become an executive in the Orioles organization.  While there he made one of the worst trades in history.  He sent Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch and Steve Finley to the Houston Astros for first baseman Glenn Davis.  Davis immediately injured his back and played few games while Finley, Harnisch and Schilling went on to tremendous careers.

Frank would get a final chance to manage with a dying organization when MLB took over the Expos organization in 2002.  With little talent and less money he led the Expos to second and fourth place finishes keeping them in the race long past the expectations of the experts and receiving serious consideration as manager of the year.  When the Expos moved to Washington for 2005 Frank became the first manager of the new franchise.  They finished 81-81 but last in the AL East.  The second year in Washington was a 71-91 finish and Robinson was replaced at the end of the year by Manny Acta.

Frank Robinson retired as a player in 1976.  When all was said and done he had 2943 hits, 586 Home Runs, 1829 runs, 1812 RBI, and a .294 average.  In 1982 Frank Robinson became eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time, the same year that Hank Aaron became eligible for the Hall of Fame.  Aaron appeared on 97.8 % of the ballots (who the hell were the ones who didn't vote for Hank Aaron as a Hall of Fame player?).  Receiving 89.2% of the votes and being elected on his first ballot was Frank Robinson.  Robby was a leader who elevated the play of those around him and a pioneer who won a triple crown, two MVP's, two World Series rings and became the first African American Manager.  Best of all Frank Robinson is the forgotten man in the conversation for greatest player of all time.

*This is not intended as a full biography and due to space I have done my best to summarize the life of the players in this series.  For further information on Frank Robinson please check out
Ken Burns Baseball


Extra Innings by Frank Robinson
Pitching, Defense and Three Run Homers:  the 1970 Baltimore Orioles by Society for Advancementof Baseball Research, Mark Armour and Malcolm Allen
The Baltimore Orioles: Four Decades of Magic from 33rd Street to Camden Yards by Ted Patterson
Black and Blue: Sandy Koufax, the Robinson Boys and the World Series that Stunned America by Tom Adelman
Before the Machine:  The Story of the 1961 Pennant Winning Reds by Mark J. Schmetzer
Pennant Race by Jim Brosnan
Anaheim Angels: A Complete History by Ross Newhan
The National Baseball Hall of Fame Almanac (2013 Edition) by Baseball America

Frank Robinson managed four teams (Indians, Giants, Orioles and Expos/Nationals) for 16 years as a Major League Manager.  He did not make the playoffs as a manager.  How many regular season games did Frank win as a manager?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Harry Davis, the original First Baseman of the $100,000 infield began his career in 1895. He was a big part of the 1905 and 1910 Athletics AL Championship teams. By the time the 1911 season rolled around his playing days were mostly over and following the 1914 season he hung around for a few years but played a total of seven games for the Athletics, retiring after the 1917 season.

Last week's article showed us that Baker moved on to the Yankees and played on their first two World Series teams, although he retired before they won their first one in 1923.

Stuffy McInnis stayed with the Athletics until 1917.  He moved onto the Red Sox in 1918 where he was a member of the World Champion Sox team.  He also moved on to Cleveland (1922) and the Boston Braves (1923-1924)  In 1925 he moved on to the Pirates and made strong contributions to the team that beat Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin, Sam Rice and the Senators giving him 2 World Series titles.  He finished with the Phillies in 1927.

Eddie Collins, considered by many as the greatest second baseman of all time, was sent to the White Sox immediately after the 1914 loss.  The White Sox won the 1917 World Series then lost (threw) the 1919 World Series to the Reds.  Collins was not one of the Black Sox and remained the key player on the White Sox until 1926.  He returned to play a few games for Connie Mack again in 1927 and retired in 1930.

Jack Barry, known as Black Jack, was moved to the Red Sox part way through the 1915 season.  He played on the Boston teams that beat the Phillies (1915) and Robins (1916) in the World Series.  Although he was on the 1918 roster he was not active as he was serving in World War I.  

So the final totals: Davis 0, Baker 0, McInnis 2, Collins 1 and Barry 2.  Total: 5


  1. Thank you for a super article.
    You and I will never comprehend the crap that African American people had to put up with. It is so sad to hear all the terrible things that were done to them both physical and psychological.
    Interesting the history between DeWitt and Robinson. I remember hearing of the trade to the Orioles and DeWitt stating that Robinson was too old. I thought the Reds were nuts. Actually, reading your blog maybe the Reds made a wise trade considering that after the great1966 season Frank was injured a lot and never achieved the 1966 stats.
    So was Frank the person who put the Glenn Davis trade together? That was a bad one. And wasn't there a terrible trade that sent Mickey Tettleton to the tigers? I've always had the thought that the Glenn Davis trade was the beginning of the Orioles fall from the elite franchises in baseball.
    My guess on the trivia is 1,047.


    1. I think you and I differ on the start of the decline of the Orioles organization. Allowing Murray to leave was the public's first view of the decline but Earl Weaver leaving and the hiring of Altobelli as the manager was truly the decline. From that point on the Orioles would not keep a manager (even a winning one) for more than a few years.

      The Glenn Davis trade was terrible and I don't say that knowing that he missed so much time with injuries. Davis was slated to play first base. The Orioles already had Randy Milligan, Sam Horn and David Segui who were all strong at First Base.

      The Tettleton trade was not the best either and was very unpopular in Baltimore. Tettleton was a fan favorite in Baltimore but he had a high strike out total year in and year out. What the Orioles needed (partly because Schilling and Harnisch had been shipped off but also because Jeff Ballard did not get the results that had been hoped) was pitching. Tettleton was sent to Detroit for starting pitcher Jeff Robinson who did have potential. He had gone 13-6 in 1988 but his two most recent seasons were less succssful. He pitched one season with Baltimore and went 4-9. Long term the deal worked out for the O's because it did open up playing time for Chris Hoiles at Catcher.

  2. Frank Robinson is quite accomplished. I enjoyed reading about him and I can see why you found his rise so fascinating. I know that we grew up in very different times, but I still find it so interesting how certain laws kept people separated and how attitudes for the most part greatly differed. It wasn't even that long ago! It's inspirational to read how all those negative experiences fueled his desire to climb to the top.

    1. I may be a bit biased because of my love of the Orioles but the more I read about Frank Robinson the more inspiring I find his life. The obstacles that were constantly thrown in his way whether it was race, injuries or the stupidity of others, seemed to give him momentum instead of slowing him down.


Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.