WASHINGTON — Frank Robinson, Baltimore Orioles legend and former Nationals manager, died Thursday at age 83.
Robinson recently worked as an adviser to Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, but will always be remembered as a Most Valuable Player on every front.
As a player, he was a force of nature on the field. Robinson ranked 10th on baseball’s all-time home run list with 586; and more importantly, he was the only player to win the MVP award in both the National and American leagues.
He was a top-notch, National League power-hitter during the 1960s with the Cincinnati Reds, and was a key cog in the 1961 National League championship team. He later won baseball’s “Triple Crown” with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, and he helped lead the O’s to world championships in 1966 and 1970.
He will also be remembered for being the only player to hit a ball out of the park at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.
But if there were ever a moment that Frank Robinson made an impression with every baseball executive, player and even fan, it was in 1975 when he was named player-manager of the Cleveland Indians, thus becoming the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball.
Robinson managed the O’s from 1988 to 1991, winning American League Manager-of-the-Year honors in 1989. He came to D.C. in 2005, as the first manager of the Washington Nationals. On Sept. 20, 2006, Nationals ownership decided not to renew Robinson’s contract for the 2007 season, and on Oct. 1, 2006, against New York, Robinson managed his last game, a 6-2 loss to the Mets.
In a statement, the Angelos family — owner of the Orioles — said:
“Frank Robinson was not only one of the greatest players in Orioles history, but was also one of the premier players in the history of baseball. Fans will forever remember Frank for his 1966 season in which he won the Triple Crown and was named MVP during a year that brought Baltimore its first World Series championship. His World Series MVP performance capped off one of the greatest individual seasons in baseball history. An Orioles Legend and a Baseball Hall of Famer, Frank brought us so many wonderful memories, including two championships, during his time in Baltimore.
“As the first African-American manager in Major League history, Frank was a proponent of civil rights causes on and off the field, including policies that paved the way for minorities to have increased access to executive and management positions in baseball. His leadership in the front office and as manager of the Orioles was highlighted by being named the American League Manager of the Year in 1989. To this day, Frank remains the only person in Orioles history to serve as a player, coach, manager, and front office executive.
“Frank’s contributions to the Orioles and his work as an ambassador for Major League Baseball will never be forgotten. This is a difficult day for our entire organization and for our many fans. We extend our condolences to his wife, Barbara, his daughter, Nichelle, his entire family, and his many friends across our game.”
The Washington Nationals released the following statements on the passing of Robinson:
“The Lerner family and the entire Washington Nationals organization extend our deepest condolences to the family of Frank Robinson. Frank was one-of-a-kind. A trailblazer throughout his career, he was steadfast and courageous in his defense of justice and diversity in the game of baseball. In addition to his Hall of Fame playing career, Frank broke down barriers, was a leader and mentor. Not only did he lead our team in our early years, helping to establish our culture and develop young players, but he remained connected throughout the years with our organization. His contributions to our team helped set us on a path to success and his continued presence helped remind us why we love this game. He was an ambassador for both the Nationals and the game throughout the city, but was especially fond of sharing stories with children from a nearby elementary school about his time in the big leagues. More than all of this, he was a dear friend to our family and will always be remembered as being an important part of the Nationals family.”
Mark D. Lerner
Managing Principal Owner & Vice Chairman
Washington Nationals Baseball Club
“Frank was my first big league manager. I still remember being so nervous to walk into his office and introduce myself. He was a living legend and I was a twenty-year-old kid right out of college. I can honestly say that meeting was the last time I ever felt that way around him. From that day on, he took care of me and treated me like a son. He was hard on me and at times I wondered why. I’m positive my career was shaped by the way he treated me and pushed me to be a professional. He taught me so many lessons about baseball and life that I will keep with me and pass along to teammates, friends and even my two daughters. We kept in touch through the years with phone calls, breakfast or lunch when I was on the west coast and locker room visits. He will be deeply missed by so many people. Thank you Frank for all that you did for me. You made baseball, and more importantly this world, a better place.”
Washington Nationals First Baseman
More reaction from those in and around Major League Baseball:
“He was a trailblazer in terms of being the first African-American manager and you know he was really a great executive. He did a phenomenal job while I was in the commissioner’s office. … Frank and I had this running debate when I was the labor guy and he was the discipline guy. I think Frank thought I was the softest guy that ever lived. I was constantly telling him, ‘Frank, that discipline is too hard.’ And he couldn’t get it. It’s all an-in aspect of him. When he was doing something including discipline — he loved players, but including discipline, he wanted to do it and do it the right way, so it was effective. That’s Frank.” — Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.
“Frank Robinson was someone I looked up to as a man and as a ballplayer and tried to emulate. His skill and ferocity on the field were matched by his dignity and sense of fair play off the diamond. … The fraternity of players and the baseball family have lost a giant.” — Major League Baseball players’ union head Tony Clark.
“Another sad day in Birdland with the passing of Frank Robinson. Played the game tough, hard but fair. Made all of us better players, and winners.” — Former Orioles teammate and Hall-of-Fame pitcher Jim Palmer.
“Today is a very sad day because 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. I spoke to him a few days ago and he sounded good. He wanted to be home. … 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.” — Former Baltimore Orioles teammate and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson.
“Frank Robinson and I were more than baseball buddies. We were friends. Frank was a hard-nosed baseball player who did things on the field that people said could never be done. I’m so glad I had the chance to know him all of those years. Baseball will miss a tremendous human being.” — Hall-of-Fame slugger Hank Aaron.
“He had a huge influence on me when I first came up in ’63. I got to play with Frank for three years. Frank was a really aggressive, hard-nosed player, and it rubbed off on everybody. Frank was the one who took me under his wings, so to speak. … Frank consistently talked to me about playing the game the right way, and I remember watching him break up double plays. Players used to tell me opposing managers in meetings would tell their pitchers, ‘Don’t knock this guy down because he will get up and hit it 500 feet. Get him out but don’t knock him down.’ And nobody knocked Frank down.” — All-time hits leader and former Cincinnati Reds teammate Pete Rose.
“Frank Robinson is considered one of the greatest players to ever wear a Cincinnati Reds uniform. His talent and success brought dynamic change to the Reds and to our city. His retired NO. 20 and statue gracing the gates of Great American Ball Park stand in tribute and appreciation for the immense contribution Frank made to the Reds.” — Reds CEO Bob Castellini.
“Frank Robinson was a dear friend and realized one of Jack’s great hopes, becoming baseball’s first African-American manager. He was remarkable and made us all feel proud for his many contributions to baseball and to society.” — Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel, and daughter Sharon.
“Heartbreaking news in the passing of my Dear Friend & @McClymondsHS classmate Frank Robinson. It was my pleasure & great honor to have known him. We all know we lost one of the Greats, what we really lost was a Friend.” — NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell.
AP contributed to this report.