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Orioles Legend Robinson Dead at 83

Stacy M. Brown | 2/15/2019, 6 a.m.
Frank Robinson, a trailblazing figure who was Major League Baseball’s first African-American manager and one of its greatest players during ...
Baltimore Orioles legends Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson

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 Baltimore Orioles and the Cincinnati Reds.

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.

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.

Former teammate Brooks Robinson (no relation) also released a statement through the Baltimore Orioles, noting his sadness.

“I lost not only my teammate, but also a very dear friend. I loved Frank, and got to know him so much better after we both retired,” Brooks Robinson said.

He said he spoke to Frank Robinson a few days before his passing.

“He sounded good. He wanted to be home. I let him know that Connie and I were pulling for him, and that he, Barbara [Frank Robinson’s wife of nearly 60 years], and Nichelle [Robinson’s daughter] were in our prayers,” Brooks Robinson said. “As a player, I put Frank in a class with Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle. He was the best player I ever played with. When he came here in 1966, he put us over the top. He was a great man and he will be deeply missed.”

In a Facebook post, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen from Maryland remembers throwing out the first pitch at a 2017 Orioles game.

“When they asked me what number I wanted to wear, the answer was easy, number 20 in honor of Frank Robinson,” Van Hollen said. “Frank Robinson was a legend and a trailblazer who inspired those he played with and all of us who share a love of baseball. As [Palmer] said, ‘When he came over here, he was the leader. He was the guy. He made us all better.’”

“Not only did Robinson hit 586 home runs during his career, but he was also the first African American manager in the major leagues. Frank turned Jackie Robinson’s dreams into a reality, and Maryland is honored to have him as part of our history,” Van Hollen said.