|Frank Robinson, the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame slugger and baseball lifer, has died after a long illness, Keith Mills reports. He was 83.
A right fielder, Robinson played for five teams in his 21-season career and remains the only player to be named the most valuable player in both leagues. A Triple Crown winner, he was a member of two World Series champion Orioles squads. He hit 586 career home runs, 179 of them as an Oriole.
A first-ballot entry into Cooperstown, Robinson was also the first black manager in baseball, becoming player-manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975 and staying on as manager a year after he hung up his cleats in 1977. Robinson's No. 20 was the first to be retired by the Orioles, and was also retired by the Indians and the Cincinnati Reds, with whom he debuted. He is one of just two players, the other being Nolan Ryan, to have their number retired by three different clubs.
Robinson was born Aug. 31, 1935 in Beaumont, Texas. After parents Ruth and Frank Sr. separated, a young Robinson followed his mother to Oakland. He played baseball and basketball at McClymonds High School and, after graduation, signed with the Reds organization in 1953 for a $3,500 signing bonus. Only several years removed from Jackie Robinson's major league debut, Robinson was the target of ugly racist taunts and wasn't able to eat with or room with his white teammates as he was coming up through the minors.
Robinson came to Baltimore in one of baseball's most lopsided trades. The Cincinnati Reds traded Robinson before the 1966 season for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. Reds owner Bill DeWitt defended the trade by calling Robinson "not a young 30." The following season, Robinson won the Triple Crown. He hit 49 home runs, one of which famously left Memorial Stadium. Until the Orioles left for Camden Yards, a flag labeled "HERE" was flown where the ball landed 541 feet away.
"No one person wins championships," Robinson said in 2014. However, he said, he felt he could put the Orioles over the top, and viewed the trade as a turning point in his career. That fall, the Orioles entered the 1966 World Series as underdogs against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"The headlines in the Los Angeles papers and around the country said we didn't belong on the field with the mighty Dodgers and there's no way we had a chance to win," Robinson said. "The scouting report was read to us in the clubhouse the day before the game, and after that, I told our team that we could score runs off of their pitchers, and our pitchers could shut their offense down, and if we played the defense we were capable of playing and had played all year long, that we had a real good chance of winning the series."
The Orioles swept the Dodgers, and Frank Robinson was named the the most valuable player in that series.
"It's not to say that we wouldn't have won it without him," teammate Boog Powell said in 2007. "But as it turned out, I was sure glad to have him."
The Orioles later won three consecutive pennants between 1969 and 1971, and beat DeWitt's Reds in the 1970 World Series.