WASHINGTON — The baseball world continues to mourn the loss of Hall of Fame player and manager Frank Robinson, who died Thursday at 83.
Given Robinson’s ties to the D.C. area — he played for and managed the Baltimore Orioles and was the first manager of the Washington Nationals — WTOP has filled its lineup with tributes to the man described as the one of the fiercest competitors baseball has ever known.
“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,” said the Angelos family, owners of the Baltimore Orioles, in a statement Thursday. “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.”
In addition to being Major League Baseball’s first black manager, Robinson was the first manager of the Nationals when baseball made its return to Washington in 2005.
“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,” Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner said in a statement Thursday. “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.”
Former Orioles play-by-play announcer John Miller said on WTOP that Robinson “was extremely competitive; there were players that were afraid of him.”
Miller added: “Frank Robinson not only was an all-time great player, but a great manager and I don’t think he ever gets his just due — although he’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame — for how great he was at both.”
Miller recalled Robinson’s ability to turn around bad teams as manager, especially the Orioles’ turnaround from a historically bad 1988 season. The Orioles lost their first six games before Robinson took over. They continued to lose, starting the season 0-21 — still a record for futility — and finished the season 54-107.
“The very next year,” Miller said, “they were one of the most incredible turnaround stories in Major League history; they went from 107 losses the year before to being eliminated from the division title by the Blue Jays the next-to-last day of the season, which seemed impossible — but that was Frank Robinson as a manager.”
ESPN’s baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian, a Bethesda native, on WTOP Thursday called Robinson “the most ferocious competitor” he’s ever met and “the most underrated player of all time,” citing Robinson’s omission from MLB’s All-Century Team, which was chosen by popular fan vote in 1999.
“When he retired he had the fourth-most home runs of all time; he’s one of the great right fielders who ever played the game, but nobody — and I mean nobody — played it harder or cared more about winning than Frank Robinson,” said Kurkjian.
Robinson played on two of the Orioles’ three World Series champion teams, and Kurkjian was told Robinson was the catalyst for those championships.
“Brooks Robinson, Hall of Famer with the Orioles, told me that after Frank got there in 1966 — of course, the Orioles won the World Series that year — Brooks Robinson told me that Frank Robinson taught us how to win, which is the ultimate compliment, to me,” said Kurkjian.
Kurkjian then told his favorite Frank Robinson story, from Opening Day 1975 — the day Robinson took the field as player/manager for the Cleveland Indians, making him the majors’ first black manager.
“[Robinson] did not put himself in the lineup that day,” Kurkjian said. “Phil Seghi, the general manager, came down and told Frank, ‘You have to play today; this is your day.’ So Frank put himself in the lineup batting second in the order. And the first time up, in the bottom of the first inning, Doc Medich, the pitcher for the Yankees, [threw two strikes] on him and then threw a really nasty slider on the outside part of the plate. And Frank Robinson said to himself, ‘This guy’s trying to strike me out on three pitches; he’s trying to embarrass me on my day. Nobody does that to me.’ And he hit the next pitch over the left-center field fence for a home run.
“And that is the only story you need to know about Frank Robinson.”