We got word earlier today that former Baltimore Orioles great Frank Robinson passed away after a battle with bone cancer. He was 83. Robinson played for the O’s for six years, hitting an even .300 and smacking 179 home runs. He was a 14-time all-star, and a World Series MVP.
But this isn’t about statistics. Frank Robinson taught the Orioles how to win. He had played in Cincinnati for ten years, and was traded to the O’s in 1965. They were World Champions in 1966. During his tenure in Baltimore he went to three consecutive World Series between 1969-71, winning one of them. He’s also remembered as the only player to hit the ball clear out of Memorial Stadium. An orange and black flag with the word HERE was placed at the spot where the ball cleared the grandstand.
Robinson played for various teams throughout his career, and in 1975 became a player/manager with the Cleveland Indians – homering in his first at-bat under that title. And with that, he became baseball’s first African-American manager. His time as a manager led him back to Baltimore, taking over for Cal Ripken Sr. six games into the 1988 season. He was relieved of managerial duties in May of 1991.
Obviously you have the “old guard” of the Orioles, which includes the Brooks’, Palmers,’ Powell’s, et al of the world. Frank Robinson is definitely a part of that group. Any Orioles fan of that 1960’s or early 70’s era identifies with Frank Robinson. Those such as myself knew him from stories from our fathers – and of course as one of the Orioles’ managers.
Ironically one memory I have of Frank came well after his playing and managing days were over and he worked in the MLB offices. When the Orioles unveiled his statue on the left field flag court in 2012, Robinson returned to Baltimore to speak at the event. That speech includedn this simple but poignant quote, invoking past, present, and future:
The Oriole Way – is the CORRECT way.
That always struck me. Robinson of course remained popular in Baltimore for the remainder of his life, which as we’ve chronicled sadly ended yesterday. His final managing job in the majors was with the Washington Nationals, in their first three years of existence. Coming into Camden Yards as a visiting manager, he still got the royal treatment with a video tribute between innings. In typical Frank Robinson fashion, he accepted the accolades humbly by lifting his cap skyward and thanking the fans.
It was always about the fans for Frank and for many others of his generation. As I said, Robinson played for quite a few other organizations. Heck, he played in Cincinnati for four years more than he did Baltimore. However I think if you ask most baseball fans, they’ll identify him as a Baltimore Oriole. And I think that Frank Robinson would be cool with that. Because as he himself taught, the Oriole Way is the CORRECT way. Rest in Peace, Frank Robinson.