Farewell to a legend, Frank Robinson

The case for the most accomplished man in Cooperstown

Mike 'Chico' Bormann
February 08, 2019 - 12:09 pm
Baltimore Orioles player Frank Robinson takes a swing in this 1966 photo. (Photo by William LaForce/Baltimore Sun/TNS/Sipa USA)

© TNS

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As is often the case when a friend or relative passes away, we run the gamut of emotions that range from joyous memories to questioning whether or not we adequately expressed our deep love and gratitude for their impact on our lives.

When athletes leave us, we tend to do the same thing. We review their stats and accomplishments, pondering the idea of overrated vs. underrated. Did we properly recognize their place in sports and the influence they had on the game they played?

In the case of baseball Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the answer is a resounding NO.

I'll even take it a step further; he might very well be the most accomplished man in Cooperstown.

Robinson passed away Thursday at the age of 83 after an extended battle with bone cancer.

The 14-time All-Star remains the only player in history to garner an MVP award in both leagues, beginning with the Cincinnati Reds in 1961, and again five years later as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. His numbers are simply astonishing. Upon retirement in 1976 after 21 seasons as a player, Robinson's 586 home runs ranked fourth, trailing only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. He currently sits 10th on that list. He is one of only eight players in history to accumulate at least 2900 hits and 500 home runs. Another 14 homers and 57 hits would have placed him behind Aaron, Mays and, (cough), Alex Rodriguez as the only players with 3000 hits and 600 Home Runs.

Those numbers alone should easily put him in the conversation for best ever. But the story of Robinson's 60 years dedicated to the game was just beginning, along with a historical link to our beloved Cleveland Indians.

In 1975, the Tribe made Robinson the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball. His debut in April of that year as player-manager vs. the Yankees featured a flair for the dramatic that was simply a continuation of his storied career.

Humble and fiercely competitive, Robinson would have both on display for this special day. Not wanting the day to be more about him than it was already, Robinson would not pencil in his name on the lineup card. But at the request (urging) of many, including GM Phil Seghi, he reluctantly slotted himself second in the batting order. After falling behind 0-2 in the first inning, Robinson took exception to a "bastard slider" offered up by Yanks righty Doc Medich. Convinced Medich was looking to embarrass him, Robinson promptly launched the very next pitch into the seats in left-center field for a home run.

Remember that 1966 MVP award he won with Baltimore? It came after one of the most lopsided trades in history. The Reds dealt him to the Orioles for Milt Pappas and two others. GM Bill Dewitt referred to Robinson as a "not so young 30 year old." Big Frank responded by belting 49 Home Runs, while driving in 122 and hitting .316 to capture the Triple Crown. Take that, Bill.

The stories of Robinson's competitive nature and incredible leadership could go on for days. A year after the Orioles dropped 107 games in 1988, he piloted the club to 87 victories the next season, procuring Manager of the Year. Amazingly, that accomplishment would finish a distant second to his other feat that year.

Robinson managed against Toronto's Cito Gaston in 1989, marking the first time two black managers would square off in Major League Baseball. 

I am extremely proud to be a fan of THE franchise that was at the forefront of bringing social change through the sport of baseball. Let's not forget about the late, great, Larry Doby, who was every bit the trailblazer that Robinson was with far less fanfare to accompany him.

But this is Frank's day. Let's remember a man who has his jersey number retired and a statue erected in his honor in three(!) Major League ballparks including Progressive Field.

Not long after spirited debates about whether names like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds should be in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, there is no discussion about the merits of the most qualified bust presently there.

Rest in peace, Frank.