Frank Robinson 1935–2019
The baseball legend who broke racial barriers
The youngest of 10 children, Robinson was raised in a mixed-race neighborhood in Oakland, said The Washington Post. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds after graduating from high school and spent three years in the minor leagues, where he said he had his first encounter with racism. After receiving death threats, “Robinson began carrying a gun.” He made his major league debut with Cincinnati in 1956, said The New York Times, belting 38 home runs that season. He powered the Reds to the pennant in 1961, but was traded to the Orioles four years later. Cincinnati general manager Bill DeWitt had decided Robinson, then 30, was past his prime.
DeWitt was wrong, said The Wall Street Journal. Robinson “led the American League in 1966 with a .316 batting average, 49 homers, and 122 RBIs” and took the Orioles to the World Series, “an accomplishment he would repeat in 1970.” On April 8, 1975, he stepped out as player-manager for the Indians—and hit a home run. Robinson went on to helm the San Francisco Giants, the Orioles, and finally the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, from 2002 to 2006. A relentless truth teller, Robinson recalled receiving a phone call from President Reagan when his Orioles were in a 0-21 losing stretch in 1988. “He said, ‘Frank, I know what you’re going through,’” Robinson said. “And I said, ‘Mr. President, you have no idea what I’m going through.’”