5 Defining Moments In The Life Of Frank Robinson

He was the embodiment of black baseball for over the last half-century.

Black Knight Frank Robinson spent 60 years of his 83-year life serving MLB and pioneering the advancements of African-Americans in various capacities. He was the embodiment of black baseball for over the last half-century. With Robinson’s passing, we lose one of MLB’s living encyclopedias and greatest storytellers. He was a lifeline of black culture in America, a fountain of knowledge that can no longer be accessed in the physical.

It saddens me to think that Robinson’s iconic presence won’t ever again grace an MLB stadium and be greeted with the reverence of a true king.  

Through it all, he was unapologetically black in every way, from his rural beginnings in Beaumont, Texas and throughout his career and in retirement. Robinson was a constant and outspoken voice for the culture.

Robinson’s life was multi-faceted but the center of his existence was baseball. Everything significant in his life that occurred on or of the field was always approached with the vigor, respect and all-out passion in which he played the game.

Here’s 5 defining moments in the illustrious life of Frank Robinson  

1. From 1975 — when he became the first Black manager in MLB history — to 2006 Robinson managed the Cleveland Indians, San Francisco GiantsBaltimore Orioles, and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals. Then he served in various executive positions for Major League Baseball, concluding as honorary President of the American League.

 

Robinson was a vocal critic of baseball for not hiring more black managers. He was considered “controversial” for bringing light to baseball’s racial disparity in leadership positions. MLB still has a shortage of African-American managers with only Dave Roberts being the only African-American manager in the game currently. Robinson always tried to encourage diversity and inclusion within baseball. I’m sure he feels that we still have some work to do.

 

2. Robinson retired fourth on baseball’s all-time home run list and he earned every one of his 586 career bombs. Robinson played in an era where headhunting was all good in the game. In the ’60s when Robinson was ripping pitchers apart, some brave souls like LA Dodgers beanball artist Don Drysdale would constantly throw brushback pitches to keep Frank from getting comfortable at the plate.

He led the league in getting plunked seven times in his career. Robinson never overreacted or lost his cool. He carried the black knight flag with the same dignity, discipline and bounce back that his community used during the Civil Rights movement.

In 1960, Drysdale threw at Robinson on three straight pitches before finally blasting him on the left arm. Drysdale was immediately ejected and eventually suspended, but Robinson simply shook it off and finished the game with two dingers, a bases-clearing double and seven RBIs.

 

3. While Jackie Robinson opened the floodgates for African-Americans by enduring hate and keeping his head down, Frank Robinson was more ’60s-militant with his approach.

In 1961, Robinson had his “I just can’t take it anymore” moment while existing and performing under the pressures of  a Cincinnati town that was extremely racist. Prior to that season, Robinson’s reputation was immaculate. He was a tough SOB and was all about the smoke, but he had a gentleman’s reserve despite an aggressive exterior. He also understood the racial landscape he was existing in. 

As the story goes, after being taunted by a short-order cook in a Cincinnati diner, Robinson pulled out a 25-caliber Beretta and pointed it at the cook. Two cops witnessed the altercation and arrested Robinson, who was already the best player in Cincinnati Reds history.

Four years later and still in his prime at the age of 30, Robinson was traded to the Orioles. The town of Cincinnati couldn’t have a black man who lived equal to a white man, even if he was Superman on the baseball field. 

https://youtu.be/x9CMIYR2qn4

 

4. Robinson was known for being an aggressive base runner. He laid every aspect of the game all out and actually came up on the losing end against Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews in the first game of a double header back in August of 1960. The intimidating 6-foot-2 283-pound Robinson slid into Mathews and jammed his elbow into the third base. Matthews came up swinging and the two men got it poppin’. Robinson had an eye jammy, a nose bleed and a severely bruised thumb.

Of course, he rebounded in the second game to get the sweetest revenge with a homer and a double in the second game. 

5. With the turn of the millennium, Robinson was named MLB vice president of on-field operations. As the “Dean of Discipline,” he held players to the same values and standards that he exemplified as a player. He expected them to respect and cherish the opportunity to represent MLB and preserve the meaningful traditions of the game.

Robinson’s job was to uphold the reputation of the game. He did so better than any disciplinarian in MLB history, handing out 19 suspensions to one Dodgers team for “incendiary mingling in the stands. Another time, he garnered the wrath of Yankees manager Joe Torre for suspending his pitcher six games for plunking someone.

Robinson was no joke. He was a full man, survived by his wife Barbara and two children. No nonsense and dedicated to the game and concerned with his community. A steady influence and and impactful soul both in life and in death.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.