The baseball world has lost a legend. Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson passed away on Thursday, succumbing to an extended battle with bone cancer. He was 83.
Born on August 31, 1935, in Beaumont, Texas, Robinson was signed by the Cincinnati Reds as an amateur free agent prior to the 1953 season. After making his major league debut in 1956, Robinson spent ten seasons in Cincy, slashing .303/.389/.554 with 324 home runs, 1,009 runs batted in, 318 doubles, and a 159 OPS+ rating.
During his time with the Reds, Robinson won the 1956 National League Rookie of the Year Award (.290/.379/.558, 38 homers, 83 RBI, 27 doubles, 152 OPS+), was selected to six NL All-Star teams, and took home the 1961 NL MVP Award after slashing .323/.404/.595 with 37 homers, 32 doubles, 124 RBI, and a 173 OPS+ rating.
Following the 1965 season, Robinson was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas, and Dick Simpson. Reds owner Bill DeWitt infamously referred to Robinson as “an old 30” while attempting to defend a foundation-shaking (and awfully lopsided, in hindsight) deal.
Robinson got the last laugh, though. His first season in Baltimore resulted in the then-30-year-old taking home the American League MVP Award, becoming the first player to win the hardware in both leagues, and won the AL Triple Crown with 49 homers, 122 RBI, and a .316 batting average.
Robinson’s 1966 season is a thing of absolute beauty. His .316/.410/.637 slash line, .447 weighted on-base average, 195 weighted runs created plus rating, 8.2 wins above replacement (FanGraphs) are simply jaw-dropping.
Oh, and the Orioles won the World Series in four games over the Los Angeles Dodgers with Robinson named the series’ MVP with a .286/.375/.857 slash line, two home runs, three RBI, and a triple in 16 plate appearances.
“He made us all believe that the Orioles were going to be a great franchise […] He was a rock because of his ability and his demeanor,” Palmer said. “As far as a teammate, he wasn’t afraid to give advice […]. Frank had an edge to him, but it was done in a very constructive way. And I think it was because there was such mutual respect.”
Robinson spent six seasons in Baltimore, being named to five AL All-Star teams with a .300/.401/.543 slash line, 179 homers, 545 RBI, and a 179 OPS+ rating, including the aforementioned 1966 World Series title/MVP as well as the O’s 1970 championship victory over Robinson’s former club, the Reds.
Following the 1971 season, Robinson was traded to the Dodgers. He was traded to the Angels in 1972 and was then sent to Cleveland in 1974 before retiring in 1976 at 40 years old.
Robinson finished his career with a .294/.389/.537 slash line, 2,943 hits, 528 doubles, 586 home runs (tenth all-time), 1,186 extra-base hits (12th all-time), a .404 weighted on-base average, 153 weighted runs created plus rating, and a staggering 104 wins above replacement, as per FanGraphs.
Frank Robinson became the first African-American to hold a major-league managerial position, taking the reins of the Indians as a player/manager before the 1975 season and holding that job through his retirement as a player in 1976 before getting fired mid-season in 1977 (186-189 win-loss record).
Robinson went on to manage the Giants (1981 through 1984; 264-277), the Orioles (1988 through 1991; 230-285), and the Expos/Nationals from 2002 to 2006 (385-425) before taking a position with Major League Baseball (as he’d done previously; vice president of on-field operations from 1999 to 2002) from 2007 to 2015.
As per Kubatko’s wonderful article (link above), “The Robinson Family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, contributions in Frank’s memory can be made to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, or the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC”.