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Robinson, Frank, Jr.

ROBINSON, Frank, Jr.

(b. 31 August 1935 in Beaumont, Texas), professional baseball player, coach, Hall of Famer, first professional to win the Most Valuable Player (MVP) crown in both the American and National Leagues, and the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball.

Robinson was the youngest of ten children born to Ruth Shaw and the only child of her third marriage to Frank Robinson, a railroad worker with business interests and real estate in Silsbee, Texas. In 1939 Robinson, his mother, and two brothers moved to Alameda, California. In the fall of 1950 Robinson entered McClymonds High School in West Oakland. There he garnered All-City awards for three consecutive years in baseball and basketball. He graduated in 1953.

Robinson was pursued by the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Browns. Cincinnati made the best offer, and in June 1953 he signed with the team. Assigned to Ogden, Utah (Pioneer League), he batted .348 (20 doubles and 6 triples) and led the team with 17 homers. The Californian also handled the racial prejudice he encountered in de facto segregated Utah.

In 1954 Robinson was initially promoted to Tulsa (Texas League, Class AA) after eight games, but he was reassigned to Columbia, South Carolina (South Atlantic League). Robinson endured racial taunts and threats from fans and opposing players and separate lodging and dining from his teammates. He said, "The South really made me a better ballplayer. I was just determined to get out of there."

On 17 April 1956 Robinson made his major-league debut against the St. Louis Cardinals. During his first season the rookie batted .290, tied Wally Berger's rookie home run (HR) record with 38, made the National League (NL) All-Star team, led the NL with 122 runs scored, was hit by a pitch 20 times (a rookie record), and earned NL Rookie of the Year honors. At the end of the 1957 season he enlisted in the Marines. However, he was honorably discharged after only one month when a doctor found calcium deposits in his right shoulder.

In 1961 Robinson hit .323, knocked out 37 homers, and drove in 124 runs, leading Cincinnati to its first NL title since 1940. He also won the NL's MVP award. Despite these heroics, animosity brewed between Robinson and the Reds front office, in particular the general manager Bill DeWitt. Since 1960, when DeWitt had assumed the job, annual contract negotiations had been a sore point. Robinson felt that DeWitt demeaned the ballplayers when he balked at raising their wages. In 1961 Robinson did receive a then-record salary in excess of $60,000, although not without acrimony. On 28 October 1961 Robinson married Barbara Ann Cole. They had two children.

Robinson opened the 1962 season threatened with possible retirement because of his latest contract rounds with DeWitt. Nevertheless, he earned his third consecutive slugging title and led the NL with 51 doubles and 134 runs. He hit .342 with 39 HRs and 136 runs batted in (RBI), but he missed leading the NL in total bases and batting average. Robinson lost out to the Giants' Willie Mays and Dodgers' Tommie Davis, respectively. In 1963 Robinson played through injuries, and although he had a drop in batting numbers he achieved a career high of 26 steals. In 1964 he was back to his batting form with a .306 average, 29 HRs, and 96 RBI.

On 9 December 1965 DeWitt traded Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles (once the St. Louis Browns) for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and the outfielder Dick Simpson. DeWitt labeled Robinson "an old 30." The swap led to DeWitt's ouster as general manager. Robinson pushed Baltimore to four pennants and two World Series titles in the next six years.

In 1966 Robinson won baseball's "triple crown," leading the league with a .317 batting average, 49 HRs, and 122 RBI. He was also named AL MVP, becoming the first player to win that title in both leagues. He led Baltimore to its first pennant and a World Series upset sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As an Oriole, Robinson's annual salary was raised to $100,000, and he was featured in many of the club's promotional materials. One particular diamond highlight came during an 8 May 1966 game against the Cleveland Indians, when Robinson hit a home run that completely cleared Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.

Robinson studied Orioles manager Earl Weaver's baseball strategy and in the 1968 off-season inked a contract to manage the Santurce Cangrejeros (Crabbers) of the Puerto Rican Winter League. In early 1969 the team won the Winter League pennant, and Robinson was named Manager of the Year.

In 1971, with his consent, Robinson was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. That year Baltimore retired Robinson's number 20, making him the first Oriole to receive that honor.

In 1975 Robinson became the first African American to manage a major-league team. On 7 April of that year, in his first at bat as a player/manager, he crushed a home run to lead his Cleveland Indians to a 5–3 home win over the New York Yankees. In 1982 Robinson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and named the NL Manager of the Year with the San Francisco Giants. A trailblazer, Robinson held various Major League Baseball executive posts. In 2002, with the league's takeover of the Montreal Expos franchise, he returned to the field as manager of the Expos.

Robinson's three autobiographies are My Life Is Baseball (1968), with Al Silverman; Frank: The First Years (1976), with Dave Anderson; and Extra Innings (1989), with Berry Stainback. More information is available in Edwin B. Henderson and Editors of SPORT Magazine, International Library of Afro-American Life and History: The Black Athlete Emergence and Arrival (1978); Arthur R. Ashe, Jr., A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African American Athlete Since 1946 (1988); Norm Macht, Frank Robinson (1991); L. Mpho Mabunda, ed., Contemporary Black Biography: Profiles from the International Black Community, vol. 9 (1995); David Pietrusza, Matthew Silverman, and Michael Gershman, eds., Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia (2000); and Dan Schlossberg, The Baseball Almanac: Big Bodacious Book of Baseball (2002).

John Vorperian

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