The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> Baseball >> Biography
Frank Robinson

Most Valuable Player in both the National and American Leagues

Frank Robinson was born in Beaumont, Texas, on August 31, 1935, the youngest of Ruth Shaw's ten children. His mother moved the family to California when he was four, and he grew up in Oakland. He began playing baseball in 1949, when he won a spot on a local American Legion team. After graduating from McClymonds High School in 1953, he was signed to a $3,500 contract by Cincinnati Reds scout Bobby Mattick.

Robinson began his professional career as a 17-year-old at Class C Ogden (Utah). After driving in 83 runs in 72 games and batting .348 for Ogden, he was promoted to Tulsa (Oklahoma) in 1954 before accepting a reassignment to Single-A Columbia (South Carolina). He hit .336 with 25 home runs for Columbia in 1954, but it wasn't enough to avoid a return to the minor leagues in 1955. A shoulder injury slowed his progress (.263 in 80 games), but he recovered and earned a promotion to Cincinnati in 1956.

Cincinatti Redlegs/Reds, 1956-1965

Frank Robinson as a Red

Robinson played his first game as a Redleg on April 17, 1956. By the end of his first season in the majors he had hit 38 home runs, tying Wally Berger for most home runs by a rookie. That, combined with a .290 batting average, earned him the Major League Rookie of the Year title.

As one of the few black players in Major League baseball, Robinson was a frequent target of racial slurs and attacks. In response to several death threats, he began carrying a gun and, in 1961 was arrested for waving it at a restaurant employee who refused to serve him. Neither the racial remarks nor the arrest dampened his baseball prowess, however, and he ended the 1961 season with a .323 batting average and 39 home runs, and was named the National League's Most Valuable Player.

Robinson managed to improve upon his 1961 performance the following season, batting .342 and smashing 39 home runs.

Despite hitting at least 29 home runs in every season but one since joining the Reds, team owner Bill DeWitt decided that Robinson was nearing the end of his productive career and, on December 9, 1965, traded him to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson.

Baltimore Orioles, 1966-1971

Frank Robinson as an Oriole

In Robinson's first year in Baltimore, he won the Triple Crown, leading the American League with a .316 batting average (the lowest ever by a Triple crown winner), 49 home runs (the most ever by a right-handed Triple crown winner), and 122 runs batted in. On May 8, 1966, he became the only player ever to hit a fair ball completely out of Memorial Stadium, sending a first-pitch fastball from Indians pitcher Luis Tiant a total of 540 feet. Not surprisingly, Robinson was named the Most Valuable Player in the American League that year. He also earned World Series MVP honors, with a .286 batting average and 2 home runs (one each in the first and fourth games).

When not hitting home runs, Robinson was an aggressive base runner. On June 27, 1967, that aggressiveness cost him. Trying to break up a double play against Chicago, he collided with Al Weis. After banging his head against the infielder’s knee, Robinson was diagnosed with a concussion and prolonged double vision. Although he missed only 32 games and recovered to hit .311, injuries continued to hamper him in 1968, and he began to consider his life after baseball. Already considering himself ready to manage a Major League team, he accepted his first managerial assignment in 1968, with the Santurce Crabbers of the Puerto Rican Winter League.

Robinson was back in full form in 1969, batting .308, driving in 100 runs, and hitting 32 home runs.

In 1970, Robinson hit .306, with 25 home runs and 78 RBIs. One of the biggest highlights in his career came on June 25, in Boston. After trailing the Red Sox, 7-0, in Fenway Park, the Orioles tied the score in the 9th inning. In the 13th inning, Robinson robbed Reggie Smith of a home run with the bases loaded. But he cracked a rib on the fence railing in the process and couldn’t swing the bat properly. Without tipping off the Red Sox fielders in the top of the 14th, he crossed up everybody by laying down a bunt with a runner on third and beating it out, driving in a run. The next night in Washington, he hit two grand slams in a single game.

The 1971 season also included some major achievements for Robinson. On July 8 he connected for a home run off Washington’s Horacio Pina for his 2,500th hit. A week later at the All-Star Game in Detroit, he hit a two-run blast off Dock Ellis to put the American League ahead, 4-3; he earned the Most Valuable Player Award for the game. Finally, on September 13, he touched Detroit’s Fred Scherman for his 500th career home run. The Orioles ended up losing the seven-game World Series to Pittsburgh, despite Robinson hitting two home runs, giving him a total of eight in four World Series appearances.

Despite amassing stellar numbers in Baltimore, Robinson was traded to the Dodgers on December 2, 1971.

Los Angeles Dodgers, 1972

Frank Robinson as a Dodger

Robinson averaged .251 and hit 19 home runs during his one season with Dodgers, who sent him to the Angels in November.

California Angels, 1973-1974

Frank Robinson as an Angel

Robinson continued to hit home runs as an Angel, scoring 30 in 1973 and 20 in 1974, but by then he was managing full time in the winter leagues and making it known that he would like to be the first black manager in the Major League. In September 1974, the Angels traded him to Cleveland.

Cleveland Indians, 1974-1976

Frank Robinson as an Indian

After a September collapse following a surprise run at the pennant in 1974, Cleveland manager Ken Aspromonte was fired. On October 3, general manager Phil Seghi announced the selection of Frank Robinson as Aspromonte’s replacement, making him the first African-American manager in Major League history.

Although he had achieved his dream of becoming a manager, Robinson initially found it difficult to put down the bat and spent his first two seasons with the Indians as a manager-player. On April 8, 1975, Robinson came into the opening day game as a pinch hitter and slammed a home run to propel the Indians to victory. The Indians ended 1975 with a 79-80 record and fourth place. After having just 185 at bats over two seasons, Robinson chose to retire as a player at the end of the 1976 season. He stayed on as Indians manager, but was fired early in the 1977 season.

Post-Playing Career

After leaving Cleveland, Robinson spent several years as a coach and a minor league manager before San Francisco hired him in 1981. He brought the Giants home third in the second half of that strike-split season, and again in 1982. Fired again in August 1984 after one too many bouts with Tom Haller over the general manager's reluctance to make the trades Robinson felt necessary, Robinson returned to coaching with the Orioles. In 1987 he was promoted to the Orioles front office.

On April 9, 1988, Robinson replaced Cal Ripken Sr. as manager of the Orioles. Although he failed to end the team's losing streak before it peaked at 21, he turned the team around in 1989 and led it to a second-place finish. Baseball writers named him American League Manager of the Year in 1989, but the Orioles fell to a 76-85 record in 1990. After the Orioles won only 13 of their first 37 games in 1991, Robinson returned to the front office.

Robinson was Major League Baseball's vice-president of on-field operations, in charge of discipline, when he returned to the dugout in 2002, as manager of the Montreal Expos. The Expos, who had five consecutive losing seasons, responded to their new manager by compiling back-to-back 83-79 campaigns. However, the team slumped to 67-95 in 2004 and then moved to Washington, D.C., with Robinson remaining as manager. The now Washington Nationals finished 81-81 in 2005. After a disappointing 71-91 campaign in 2006, Robinson retired from baseball altogether.

Career Stats

batting average .294; slugging average .537

586 home runs; Robinson was the first player to hit 200 homers in each league, and the first to hit All-Star Game home runs for both sides

1,812 RBIs

12 All-Star Game appearances


Baseball Almanac
ESPN Classic
Society for American Baseball Research

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Baseball >> Biography

This page was last updated on August 31, 2018.