43 Years Ago, Frank Robinson Became MLB’s First Black Manager

This week in baseball on April 8, 1975, legendary Black Knight Frank Robinson became the first African-American manager in MLBs storied history when the Cleveland Indians appointed the Hall of Famer as player-manager. The only player to ever win MVP Awards in both leagues, Robinson could still swing it.

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OTD in 1975, Frank Robinson breaks new ground by taking the field for the @Indians as the first African-American manager in baseball history. https://t.co/1Obzh2BcXS

That spring day, Robinson hit second for Cleveland and smashed a first-inning pitch from Doc Medich for a home run to power the Tribe past the New York Yankees, 5-3, on Opening Day. It was the 575th home run in Robinsons mythical career, but his presence in the dugout as a Black man making decisions is most memorable and more impactful than any of his 586 career jacks. It was the evolution of baseball as it led to great societal strides in the 20th century. 

“It was a great moment, but you had to wait ’till the end, ’til the game was over (to celebrate),” Robinson told The New York Times about the home run, which brought a thunderous ovation from the 56,204 fans at Cleveland Stadium. “Now, it’s even more gratifying.”

Frank Robinson Talks About Becoming The First African-American Manager In Baseball History

From the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum archives comes this portion of an interview with Frank Robinson. Recorded as part of the Fay Vincent Oral History project, the Hall of Famer discusses how he became the first African-American manager in baseball history. Recorded at Shea Stadium in New York City on October 1, 2004.

Robinson was a 20-year-old phenom who broke in with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956, banged 38 homers and won Rookie of the Year honors. At the age of 39, he embarked on a managerial journey and when his career as a skipper was over in 2006 at the age of 70, it was safe to say that Robinson probably had a more all-around successful baseball career than anyone who’s ever played MLB.  

1970 WS Gm5: Frank Robinson clubs two-run home run

10/15/70: Frank Robinson gets the Orioles on the board with his two-run home run in the bottom of the first Check out http://MLB.com/video for more! About MLB.com: About MLB.com: Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig announced on January 19, 2000, that the 30 Major League Club owners voted unanimously to centralize all of Baseball’s Internet operations into an independent technology company.

In 1989, his second of four seasons as skipper of the B-More Orioles, Robinson won the AL Manager of the Year Award and convincingly and officially shattered the outdated and bigoted stereotypes about black men in baseball positions that require leadership, communication, intelligence and strategy. 

Robinsons capable execution opened the doors for other African-American coaches such as Dusty Baker, Lloyd McClendon, Ron Washington, Cito Gaston and Jerry Manuel and Willie Randolph and currently Dave Roberts with the Dodgers.Only 29 Black managers have been hired since Robinson in 1975, at the same time, that’s 29 more than existed before he paved the way. 

Only one has ever won a World Series. Gaston won back-to-back chips with Toronto in 1992-93. Others like Ron Washington and Dusty Baker have come close. So close. 

Some were even miserable failures and those cases are the ones which magnify how important Robinsons breaking of baseball’s managerial color barrier was. It gave people of color an equal opportunity to succeed and fail just like anybody else and the opportunity is often more valuable than the result. 

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