By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Frank Robinson, a trailblazing figure who was Major League Baseball’s first African American manager and one of its greatest players during a career that spanned 21 seasons, died Thursday after a prolonged illness, according to pro baseball’s premiere website, MLB.com.
Robinson was 83.
The Hall of Famer hit 586 home runs and appeared in 14 All-Star games over the course of his illustrious career, starring with the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles.
Robinson is the only player to win MVP honors in both the National and American league – in 1961 with the Reds and five years later with the Orioles. When he earned those honors in 1966 with the Orioles, Robinson won the Triple Crown when he hit 49 home runs, drove in 122 runs and had a .316 batting average.
Despite the so-called Steroid-era of the late 1990s and 2000s where statistics were greatly inflated, Robinson’s 1966 campaign remains widely viewed as one of the greatest in the history of the sport.
Even as a star in a sport that was still struggling with integration years after Jackie Robinson (no relation) broke the color line, Robinson often spoke out for civil rights even publicly aligning himself with leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
President George W. Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to baseball legend Frank Robinson in the East Room Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005. Winning the Most Valuable Player awards in the National and American Leagues, he achieved the American League Triple Crown in 1966. Mr. Robinson became baseball’s first African-American manager. (Source: White House News & Policies / Wikimedia Commons) The citation reads: “Frank Robinson played the game of baseball with total integrity and steadfast determination. He won Most Valuable Player awards in both the National and American Leagues. He achieved the American League Triple Crown in 1966. His teams won five League titles and two World Series championships. In 1975, Frank Robinson broke the color barrier as baseball’s first African-American manager, and he later won Manager of the Year awards in both the National and American Leagues. The United States honors Frank Robinson for his extraordinary achievements as a baseball player and manager and for setting a lasting example of character in athletics.”
In 1975, Robinson made history before nearly 57,000 fans at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium when he began managing the Indians making him baseball’s first ever Black manager.
MLB.com noted that, just as Jackie Robinson’s breaking of baseball’s color barrier in 1947 had opened doors for Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and many others to play in the Major Leagues, it was Frank Robinson who paved the way for every minority manager who has followed.
“He changed the game, no doubt about it,” Orioles great Jim Palmer said in a statement about Robinson’s death.
“Very sad day here in Baltimore with the passing of Frank Robinson, the greatest Oriole of all time in my estimation and a true baseball legend who dedicated his life to the game,” said Jason La Canfora, who hosts a podcast in Charm City.
“He overcame the segregation of the 1950s to spend seven decades in the game as a player, coach, and executive,” La Canfora said.
Robinson is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Barbara Ann Cole.