Robinson, Frank 1935–
Frank Robinson 1935–
Professional baseball player, coach, manager
Frank Robinson broke one of major league baseball’s most visible barriers when he was named manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975. An accomplished player whose abilities earned him quick induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, Robinson became a pioneer for blacks in the sport’s management and executive ranks. After more than four decades in baseball, he became the assistant general manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 1990. Few of the goals Robinson has set for himself have eluded him over a long and fruitful career. Baltimore Sun reporter Tom Keegan wrote that Robinson “has built a reputation as a sound baseball man with a deep passion for the game, an up-front individual who doesn’t shy away from a confrontation.”
Robinson was once considered one of baseball’s most temperamental and aggressive players—and one of the sport’s rudest managers. An Ebony contributor charitably described him as “one of the most startling men in baseball and a nostalgic carry-back to the old days of the game—the days of hard hitting and harder fielding, of bench-sniping, occasionally brawls, and plain old cussedness.” That was the Robinson reputation for 20 years, but middle age and front office responsibilities mellowed the man considerably. Ken Rosenthal noted in the Los Angeles Times that Robinson “is now fulfilling the role of patient master. Relentless? Obsessed? Abrupt? He is none of those things anymore.”
Frank Robinson was born in Beaumont, Texas, in 1935, the youngest of ten children in what was essentially a single-parent household. Robinson’s father deserted the family when he was an infant, and his mother struggled to provide her children with the basic necessities. When Robinson was four his mother moved the family to Oakland, California. There he grew up, determined to be a professional baseball player despite what seemed like insurmountable odds.
“I never really knew my own father,” Robinson told Sports Illustrated., he was “But it didn’t bother me. My mother, my brothers and sisters. I was always right in the middle of a bunch of bigger boys, and they’d rough me up and give me information. They were always keeping my feet on the ground, making me see the outlook from other sides.” Living in a mixed-race neighborhood of West Oakland, Robinson spent most of his waking hours on the sandlot, playing baseball and planning his future in the major leagues. Robinson’s devotion to baseball continued into high school, where he played third base and even pitched a game or two. He also played basketball with
Born August 31, 1935, in Beaumont, TX; son of Frank and Ruth (Shaw) Robinson; married Barbara Ann Cole, October 28, 1961; children: Frank Kevin, Nichelle. Education: Attended Xavier University.
Professional baseball player, 1956-77. Cincinnati Reds, player, 1956-65; Baltimore Orioles, player, 1966-71, coach, 1978-80, 1985-87, manager, 1988-91, assistant to general manager, 1991—; Los Angeles Dodgers, player, 1972; California Angels, player, 1973-74, coach, 1977; Cleveland Indians, player, 1974-77, manager, 1975-77; San Francisco Giants, manager, 1981-84.
Selected awards: Named National League Rookie of the Year, 1956; member of All-Star Team, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1974; named National League Most Valuable Player, 1961; named American League Most Valuable Player, 1966; named American League Manager of the Year, 1982, 1989; inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame, 1982.
Addresses: Office —Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 333 West Camden St., Baltimore, MD 21201.
Bill Russell, who later became one of professional basketball’s most famous stars.
Right out of high school Robinson signed with the Cincinnati Reds organization. He was sent to the Class C team in Ogden, Utah, for the 1953 season. The California-raised Robinson quickly found much to dislike in Ogden. The only movie theater in town did not admit blacks, and most of the restaurants were segregated as well. Despite the racism Robinson shined on the field, batting .348, leading his team in home runs, and hitting 20 doubles and six triples. When he requested a move from third base to the outfield, his defense improved as well.
Robinson found himself in an even more tense racial situation in 1954 and 1955, when he played in the South Atlantic League. Fans in cities such as Macon, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina, hurled abuse at the young player, and he admits it got under his skin. By the time he was called to the Cincinnati Reds in 1956, he told Sports Illustrated, “quiet and withdrawn,” both afraid and unwilling to associate with his teammates. On the field, however, his first major league performance was nothing short of dazzling. He batted .290 with 83 runs batted in (RBI) and hit a rookie record-tying 26 home runs. He was voted National League rookie of the year and was talked about as a sure prospect for superstardom.
By 1961, when Robinson helped the Reds win their first pennant in two decades, he was one of the most detested men in baseball. His aggressive use of spikes on the base path and his penchant for hitting blistering home runs did not endear him to his opponents. So much animosity developed between Robinson and the Reds’ general manager Bill DeWitt that Robinson threatened to retire in 1962, but even amidst the tension Robinson was able to compile remarkable statistics. In 1961 he batted .323 with 37 home runs, and in 1962, he hit a phenomenal .342 with 39 homers and 136 RBI. He was voted the National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 1961, and was paid a then-record salary in excess of $60,000. But problems continued between Robinson and the Cincinnati front office, so in the offseason of 1965 the Reds traded their star to the Baltimore Orioles.
Some observers hinted darkly that at 30, Robinson was past his prime. Sports Illustrated correspondent Mark Kram noted: “At Baltimore his prestige would be in a precarious position. For the Orioles, he alone could mean a pennant.” Robinson brought the Orioles a pennant and more, for his two home runs in the 1966 World Series helped Baltimore to a four-game sweep. It was the first World Series championship ever for the Orioles, and soon after they won, Robinson was named American League MVP. He was the first baseball star ever to win MVP in both the National League and the American League. The Orioles raised Robinson’s salary to $100,000 per year and filled their promotional materials with clips of Robinson highlights, including a home run that completely cleared Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.
Robinson remembers his years playing for the Orioles as his favorites. In Baltimore he assumed a leadership role, and he began to study the managing techniques of Earl Weaver. All told, Robinson helped the Orioles to win four pennants and two World Series titles in five years, while simultaneously becoming the 11th player in major league history to hit 500 home runs. Robinson’s years in Baltimore saw another important step in his career as well. In the offseason he began managing the Santurce Cangrejeros (Crabbers), a top team in the Puerto Rican winter league. Early in 1969 Robinson brought the winter league pennant to Santurce and earned his first Manager of the Year honors.
Robinson, whose 586 career home runs put him fourth on the all-time list, made no secret of his managerial ambitions as his playing career wound down. While with the Los Angeles Dodgers and then the California Angels, he often expressed the desire to play for an organization that would be willing to track him into a management or front office position. The difficulty was that in the mid-1970s blacks were well represented on the field as players but had yet to make any inroads into executive positions with the clubs. Robinson’s wish came true in 1975, when he moved to the Cleveland Indians, first as a player-manager and then simply as the manager.
Well aware that he was making history, Robinson chose to downplay the racial overtones of the situation, asking instead to be judged simply on his merits. He managed the Indians until 1977, pushing their record over .500 during the 1976 season. He was fired after a round of intense clubhouse bickering and rumors that he could not tolerate less talented players. Robinson answered the charges in a Sports Illustrated feature. “They say catchers or .200 hitters or minor league players make the best managers, because they are ‘students of the game’ and are understanding of difficult situations,” he said. “I’ve heard just the opposite from top players. ‘How can that guy tell me what to do?’ they say. ‘How can he understand me when he has never been at the level I’m at?’”
Chafing at the innuendos that surrounded his Cleveland days, Robinson returned to Baltimore as first base coach under his former manager, Earl Weaver. In 1980 he was given a second chance to manage, this time in the National League with the San Francisco Giants. Robinson led the Giants to back-to-back winning years in 1980 and 1981, then involved them in a close pennant race in 1982 that earned him National League Manager of the Year honors. Once again conflicts developed. Robinson was curt with the press, short of patience with some of his younger players, and stymied by an uncooperative front office. He was fired in 1984.
Robinson told the Los Angeles Times: “After I was fired for the second time as manager, I think I finally got a different perspective on myself. After I looked at myself and the way I’d lived, maybe I was wrong more than I was right. Maybe it’s not the way you look at yourself, but the way other people see you. “The baseball legend subjected himself to a close self-analysis that he said improved his managerial skills in the long run. ’“I studied Frank Robinson,” he concluded, “putting things in order and deciding this is what Frank Robinson wants to accomplish and this is who he wants to be.”
Robinson brought a new attitude back to the Baltimore Orioles when he took over as manager six games into the 1988 season. Baltimore had already lost its first six games and was on the way to a record-setting season-opening streak of losses that seemed to set the tone for the season. By October of 1988 the Orioles had suffered 101 losses. Some observers felt it would take years for the team to rebound. Robinson refused to adopt a defeatist attitude, nor did he cast blame on others in the Orioles’ organization. Instead he hired batting coach Tom McCraw and pitching coach Al Jackson to help him strengthen a team of relatively raw youngsters.
The 1989 Orioles, an array of rookies, players who had been released by other clubs, and struggling pitchers, began to mesh early in the spring and dominated first place in the American League East until well into September, losing a pennant bid in the next-to-last game of the season. A team that had been 54-101 in 1988, finished 87-75 in 1989, and Robinson was the unanimous choice for American League Manager of the Year. Robinson told the Washington Post: “When I took over, there was a job to be done, to help rebuild the organization and build a solid contender. The job is not done, and I want to finish that work. We want to be respected contenders every year.”
Unfortunately for Robinson, the Orioles slumped to under .500 in 1990 for a fifth place finish. When the team began 1991 at 13-24 under Robinson, he was relieved of his duties as manager. This time, however, he was not fired but promoted. The Orioles named him assistant general manager. Working as one of general manager Roland Hemond’s two chief lieutenants, the new position gave Robinson input on roster decisions.
Noting that Hemond’s contract will expire in the 1990s, some observers have speculated that Robinson may well take his place as the Orioles’ general manager. Indeed, Frank Robinson’s career serves as a brilliant rebuttal to those who claim blacks lack the ability to manage or run major league franchises. The former MVP and recent Manager of the Year has never compromised his high standards of excellence. Whether he continues to wear a tie to work or returns to the dugout as a manager, Robinson plans to continue working hard and to do the very best job he can for his employers. “People think things have come easy for me,” he told the Washington Post. “I worked hard to make myself a good player, and I worked hard to be a better manager.”
(With Al Silverman) My Life Is Baseball, Doubleday, 1968.
(With Barry Steinbach) Extra Innings, Doubleday, 1989.
Baltimore Sun, June 7, 1994, p. C1; July 10, 1994, p. C11; August 7, 1994, p. C8.
Ebony, September 1966; June 1981.
Look, May 5, 1970.
Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1989; July 6,1989; August 6, 1989.
Newsweek, October 14, 1974.
Sports Illustrated, June 17, 1963; February 3, 1969; October 5, 1970; October 21, 1974; March 24,1975; July 4, 1977; June 19, 1989.
Time, October 14, 1974.
Washington Post, November 2, 1989.
American baseball player
Frank Robinson was a ballplayer whose career was so outstanding that he starred in both major leagues, both as a player and as a manager. In 21 seasons as an active player, primarily with the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles, Robinson hit for both power and average, with a career average of .294, 586 home runs, and 1812 runs batted in. Until injuries slowed him down in the mid-1960s, he was a threat on the base paths as well, averaging just over 17 stolen bases a year between 1957 and 1965. Along the way he helped his teams to five pennants and two World Series titles. Just as much as his prowess on the field, Frank Robinson will be remembered for his role in integrating baseball management. In 1975 he became the first African-American to manage a major league team, the Cleveland Indians of the American League; five years later he was the first black to manage a National League team, the San Francisco Giants. In 2000, he was named a vice president of Major League Baseball.
Born in 1935 in Beaumont, Texas, Frank Robinson was the youngest of Ruth (Shaw) Robinson's ten children. After her third husband Frank deserted her, Ruth took her children, including four-year-old Frank Jr, and moved to Oakland, California. By the time he was a teenager, baseball was the focus of young Frank's life. His mother was poor and he was fourteen before he owned his own baseball glove. But that did not prevent Robinson from playing baseball all day long every day in the summer, coming home for dinner only after there was no more light for the game. Just after his fourteenth birthday, his batting talent caught the eye of one of his school teachers, George Powles, who invited Robinson to join his Doll Drug Company team, and a year later his championship American Legion team. After Robinson joined, the team—which would eventually send 14 of its 25 players into professional ball—won another title. Robinson continued under Powles' mentorship at Oakland's McClymonds High School, where he was in the class just a year behind future basketball great Bill Russell 's.
Robinson had told a high school counselor at McClymonds that he intended to play major league ball. The dream started coming true after his graduation in 1953 when he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds organization. Though he grew up poor, Robinson had lived in an integrated neighborhood in Oakland that was remarkably free of racial strife. This changed dramatically when he played for the Reds' minor league teams in Ogden, Utah, and Columbia, South Carolina. "Ogden was in a Mormon state, and though I didn't know it, at that time the Mormon religion insisted that Negroes were inferior beings," he recalled in his book Extra Innings. "I got my first taste of racial bigotry in Ogden." He could not use the hotels or restaurants frequented by white players; he was not allowed in movie theaters; he had to wait for special black cabs to ride to the ballpark. On top of it all, he had to endure the racial taunts and obscenities shouted by fans and opponents. The situation was no better in Columbia.
Joining the Big Leagues
Robinson finally got the call to the majors in 1956, joining the Reds at a annual salary of $6,000. In his first major league at-bat, he drilled a fastball off the outfield wall for a double. By the time that first season had ended, Robinson had turned in one of the most remarkable rookie years in major league history, hitting .290, driving in 83 runs and slugging 38 home runs, a performance that earned him recognition as the National League's Rookie of the Year. Over the next ten years, Robinson crafted the foundation of a Hall of Fame career, hitting consistently for both average and power, topping .300 five times, batting in more than 100 RBIs four times and hitting 25 or more homers eight times. In 1961, when he led the Reds to a National League pennant, Robinson was voted National League Most Valuable Player.
|1935||Born to Frank Robinson and Ruth Shaw in Beaumont, Texas|
|1953||Signed by Cincinnati Reds, plays with Ogden team in Pioneer League|
|1954||Plays AA ball in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and A ball in Columbia, South Carolina|
|1956||Called up to majors by Cincinnati Reds, wins Rookie of the Year Award|
|1961||Marries Barbara Ann Cole in Los Angeles|
|1961||Cincinnati wins National League pennant, named National League's Most Valuable Player|
|1965||Traded to Baltimore Orioles|
|1966||Baltimore wins World Series, named American League's Most Valuable Player|
|1968-75||Manages winter ball in Puerto Rico|
|1971||Traded to Los Angeles Dodgers|
|1972||Traded to California Angels|
|1974||Traded to Cleveland Indians|
|1975-77||Player-manager of Indians|
|1978||Manages minor league Rochester Red Wings|
|1981-84||Manages San Francisco Giants|
|1985-87||Coach for Baltimore Orioles|
|1988-91||Manages Baltimore Orioles|
|1991-97||Assistant general manager for Baltimore Orioles|
|1997||Appointed director of baseball operations of Arizona Fall League|
|2000-02||Named vice president for on-field operations for Major League Baseball|
|2002-||Manages Montreal Expos|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1956||National League Rookie of the Year|
|1957, 1959, 1961-62, 1965||National League All-Star|
|1961||Named National League's Most Valuable Player|
|1966||Named American League's Most Valuable Player|
|1966||Named World Series' Most Valuable Player|
|1966||Babe Ruth Award|
|1966||Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year|
|1966||Hickock Professional Athlete of the Year|
|1966||Sid Mercer Award|
|1966||Clark Griffith Award|
|1966||Rogers Hornsby Award|
|1966-71, 1974||American League All-Star|
|1968||Named Puerto Rico Winter League Manager of the Year|
|1971||Most Valuable Player, All-Star Game|
|1982||Inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1982||Named National League's Manager of the Year|
|1989||Named American League's Manager of the Year|
Early in his career, Frank Robinson got a reputation as a problem player who was prey to sudden, inexplicable mood swings. His fierce playing style, particularly on the base paths, got him labeled a dirty player who would go out of his way to spike opposing infielders. Robinson defended himself in Extra Innings: "I never relaxed on a ball field. I have always believed in going all out all the time. The baseline belongs to the runner, and whenever I was running the bases, I always slid hard. If the second baseman or shortstop was in the way, coming across the base trying to turn a double play, I hit him hard."
He was just as often on the receiving end of the spikes. In one incident Robinson got slashed on the leg and required 30 stitches. In 1967, playing with Baltimore, he was hit so hard in the head by an infielder's knee, that he was knocked unconscious for five minutes. As a result, he missed a month of the season and suffered from impaired vision of varying degrees for much of the rest of his career. His equally aggressive batting stance—he leaned his head out over the plate to get a good look at pitches as they came in and to protect the outside corner—made him the regular league leader in being hit by pitches.
At the end of the 1965 season, assuming that at 30 years of age Robinson was well past his prime, Cincinnati traded him to the Baltimore Orioles. The season that followed was one of the greatest of Robinson's career. He won the Triple Crown—the batting, home run and RBI titles—led the Orioles to a triumph in the World Series, and was named the American League's Most Valuable Player, becoming the first and only player to be voted MVP in both major leagues. Robinson batted .316 in 1965, hit 49 home runs, and drove in 122.
With Robinson in the line-up, the Orioles would win three more pennants and another World Series. In 1966 Robinson was named World Series MVP after he led Baltimore to a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers. During the Series he batted .286, hit two home runs, and drove in three runs.
Robinson stayed with the Orioles through the 1971 season, then was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 1972 season. This began an odyssey that saw him play for the Dodgers, Angels, and the Cleveland Indians over the next five seasons. Robinson retired as a player in 1976.
The First Black Manager
While playing with the Orioles, Robinson had set his sights on becoming a major league manager. He knew the odds were against him. Despite integration of players, there was still a de facto color barrier at the management level in the majors. No black or Hispanic had ever managed a big league team, much less made it into the executive ranks. Knowing of Robinson's ambition, Baltimore manager Earl Weaver helped him obtain an entry level managing job with the Santurce Cangrejeros in the Puerto Rican winter leagues, a job he held from 1968 to 1975. The team won the pennant in 1968 and Robinson was named Manager of the Year.
|BAL: Baltimore Orioles; CAL: California Angels; CIN: Cincinnati Reds; CLE: Cleveland Indians; LAD: Los Angeles Dodgers.|
In 1975, in a historic move, he was named the Cleveland Indians' player-manager. The appointment came with a hitch, however: Much to Robinson's displeasure, the Indians refused to give him even a token raise over his player's salary. "If they were to release me right now, I would get $180,000 over the next year," he relates telling his agent. "If I take the job to manage the ball-club, and also play, I get the same amount. But they've put me in a position where they know I almost can't refuse their offer. If I refuse, there's no telling when I will ever get another chance to manage in the major leagues—or if I will. If I turn the job down, that would just give other owners an excuse not to hire me or other blacks." Robinson ultimately took the Cleveland job, becoming the first African-American manager in baseball. He kept the job a little over a year.
In 1980 Robinson became the first black manager in the National League when he took over the San Francisco Giants. The team played so well in 1982, going 87-75, that Robinson was named the National League's Manager of the Year. However, conflict on the Giants bench, combined with Robinson's impatience with some young players, and an uncooperative front office led to his being fired in 1984. He returned to his old home, the Baltimore Orioles, as a coach in 1985, and in 1988 was appointed manager there. In 1989 he led the team, which had come in last the previous year, to an 87-75 record and surprising second-place finish, just two games behind pennant-winning Toronto. At the season's end, he was the unanimous choice for the American League's Manager of the Year. He was the first manager to win the award in both leagues. When the team faltered in 1990, Robinson was replaced, but not fired. He was promoted to assistant general manager of the Orioles.
In 2000 Robinson became one of the highest-placed blacks in organized baseball when Commissioner Bud Selig created a position for him, the vice president for on-field operations. A large part of Robinson's responsibility was disciplining players involved in on-field altercations. His hard-line approach thrust him back into the public eye. After one brawl between the Dodgers and Cubs, Robinson levied fines totaling $72,000 and suspended 16 players and three coaches for a total of 84 games, a major league record. Once one of the fiercest, most unrelenting players in the major leagues, Robinson was determined to put an end to the disturbing trend of violence on major league baseball diamonds.
Frank Robinson's life in baseball has been one of unremitting commitment to excellence, as witnessed by his Rookie of the Year, two MVP, and two manager of the Year awards, his presence on 12 All-Star teams in both major leagues, and his first ballot induction into baseball's Hall of Fame. His outspoken courage in criticizing baseball's discrimination against people of color and his own success in overcoming racial barriers have earned him an equally important place in the sport's history.
Address: c/o Montreal Expos, P.O. Box 500, Station "M", Montreal, QC H1V 3P2, Canada.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY ROBINSON:
(With Al Silverman) My Life Is Baseball. New York: Doubleday, 1968.
(With Dave Anderson) Frank. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1976.
Where Is He Now?
Frank Robinson lives with his wife of 41 years, Barbara. They have two children, a son Frank Jr. and a daughter Nichelle. In February 2002 Robinson was hired to manage the Montreal Expos of the National League. In November 2002, he agreed to continue to manage the club in 2003.
(With Berry Stainback) Extra Innings. New York: McGraw Hill, 1988.
Anderson, Dave. "Frank Robinson's Return." New York Times, January 15, 1981: D21.
Chass, Murray. "After Spending His Life Inside the Game, Robinson Finds Himself Out of It." New York Times, April 20, 1997:. H7.
Chass, Murray. "Latest Literary Battle: Robinson vs. Ueberroth and Edwards." New York Times, April 24, 1988: H3
Cooper, Tony. "Enigmatic Frank Robinson Has Mellowed." San Francisco Chronicle, May 16, 1991: D1.
Dolgan, Bob. "Explosive Tenure Began With Bang."Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 19, 1997: 5C.
Durso, Joseph. "Aaron, Robinson Inducted And Honored As Pioneers." New York Times, August 2, 1982: C7.
Elderkin, Phil. "Frank Robinson stresses basics for the Giants." Christian Science Monitor,. March 18, 1981: 14.
Elderkin, Phil. "Robinson Takes Accumulated Baseball Knowledge to Giants Manager Job." Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 1981: 12.
"Frank Robinson: Baseball's Dean Of Discipline." Ebony., August, 2000: 48.
Graeff, Burt. "Robinson Still Fearless At The Plate." Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 7, 2000: 1D.
Justice, Richard. "Baseball Names F. Robinson VP." Washington Post, February 26, 2000: D01.
Justice, Richard. "Frank Robinson Sets to Work." Washington Post, April 17, 1988, D1.
Justice, Richard. "Robinson 'Recharged,' Eager to Manage Again." Washington Post, July 1, 1987: B1.
Kjos, Les. "Another Black Manager? Not Soon, Says Robby." U.P.I. March 23, 1985.
Leavy, Jane. "Frank Robinson, at Ease."Washington Post, June 21, 1988: D1.
"Robinson Wins By A Landslide." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. November 2, 1989: 6D.
Stubbs, Dave. "Still Blazing a Trail." Montreal Gazette, July 13, 2002: D1.
Expos Year in Review, December 26, 2002. Available at: http://montreal.expos.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/mon/news/mon_news.jsp?ym20021226&contentid=187360&vkeynews_mon=mon&fextjsp
Sketch by Gerald E. Brennan
(b. 31 August 1935 in Beaumont, Texas), one of the greatest baseball players of the twentieth century, the first athlete named as the Most Valuable Player for both the National and American Leagues, and the first African American to manage a major league team.
Robinson was the youngest of ten children. His father, Frank Robinson, deserted the family when Robinson was young, leaving his mother, Ruth Shaw Robinson, to raise the children. When Robinson was four, the family moved to the San Francisco Bay area of California, where they eventually settled in Oakland. Robinson was an athletic child, and he blossomed under the coaching of George Powles, the local baseball coach who also worked with Curt Flood and other future professional baseball players. Robinson excelled for Powles's American Legion baseball club and at McClymonds High School. After graduating from high school in 1953, he signed with the Cincinnati Reds for a $3,500 bonus.
In his first year of minor league baseball, Robinson was sent to Ogden of the Pioneer League for the 1953 season. Although the team was based in Utah, Ogden still had many discriminatory regulations in place that Robinson had never seen growing up in Oakland. For the bulk of the next two seasons, Robinson played for Columbia of the Class A South Atlantic League and established his credentials as a major league prospect. In 1956 Robinson made the leap to the Cincinnati Reds and responded with an excellent season. He batted .290 with thirty-eight home runs, establishing a rookie National League (NL) record for home runs, and winning the Rookie of the Year award.
During the course of his career, Robinson mostly played outfield and first base, although he did play third base on occasion. While he continued to hit well for the Reds, his finest year with that organization was in 1961, when the Reds won the NL pennant. Robinson won the league's Most Valuable Player (MVP) award with a .323 average, 37 home runs, and 124 runs batted in (RBI). On 28 October 1961 Robinson married Barbara Ann Cole; they had three children. After having an even better season in 1962, his offensive production began to wane. Even though he remained one of the best power hitters in the league, Robinson quickly fell out of favor with the Cincinnati management and despite being only thirty years old, Robinson was written off by the Reds and traded to the Baltimore Orioles in December 1965, in time for the 1966 season.
In Baltimore, Robinson rejuvenated his career, immediately leading the Orioles to the World Series in 1966. During the regular season Robinson batted .316 with 49 home runs and 122 RBI, winning the American League (AL) triple crown. He was a natural choice for the MVP as well, becoming the first player to win the award in both leagues. Although his batting average slipped over the following years, Robinson was a critical member of the pennant-winning Orioles teams in 1969 and 1971 and the World Series team in 1970. In December 1971 Robinson was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and played with them for one season. In November 1972 he was traded again, this time across town to the California Angels; he played with the Angels for the 1973 season and most of the 1974 season.
While Robinson was still contributing as a player in the 1970s, including hitting thirty home runs for California in 1973, he set his sights on maintaining an active role in baseball following his playing career. Robinson made numerous public comments about his desire to become the first African American to manage a major league team. While the African-American former players Larry Doby and Buck O'Neil served as coaches in the majors, the lack of management opportunities for African Americans was as real as in the years before 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color line for players.
To build his credentials and skills, Robinson succeeded Earl Weaver, the Orioles manager, as the manager of the Santurce Crabbers of the Puerto Rican Winter League for the 1968–1969 season. The Crabbers were the winter team of many Latin American major-and minor-league players as well as others that needed to continue work in the off-season. During Robinson's first year as the manager, the team included his Orioles teammates Paul Blair and Jim Palmer and qualified for the playoffs. He had a number of successful years, including the playoff championship in the 1972–1973 season, and managed the team through the 1974–1975 season. He also managed them in the 1979–1980 and 1980–1981 seasons (a total of nine seasons).
In September 1974 Robinson was traded to the Cleveland Indians and at the end of the season was named the player-manager for the upcoming 1975 season, becoming the first African American to manage a major league team. During his first game as a player-manager, he hit a home run in the Indians win over the Yankees at home in a game attended by Rachel Robinson (Jackie Robinson's widow) and the commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Cleveland improved slightly under Robinson as they finished 79–80 in 1975 and 81–78 in 1976. Some felt that Robinson, as one of the best players in baseball, had little tolerance for less-talented players. He played sparingly over those two seasons, putting a cap on a career that saw him hit 586 home runs (fourth on the all-time list) and 1,812 RBI.
Robinson gave up the player-manager title in 1977, focusing solely on his role as a manager. However, after the team started the 1977 season 26–31, he was fired, returning to the Orioles as a coach for his old manager Earl Weaver. He remained in Baltimore until he was named as the manager of the San Francisco Giants (1981–1984). His best season with the Giants was 1982, when they went 87–75. Also in 1982 Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was fired as the Giants manager during the 1984 season and was rehired as a coach with the Orioles.
In April 1987 Robinson was the most vocal critic of the Dodgers general manager Al Campanis and his remarks that African Americans "lacked the necessities" to manage in the major leagues. Robinson earned his third opportunity to manage a major league team shortly thereafter when the Baltimore manager Cal Ripken, Sr., was fired after starting the 1989 season 0–6. Robinson took over the team, but unfortunately they proceeded to lose the next fifteen games in a row, giving the 1983 World Series champions a 0–21 start. The Orioles bounced back the next season and finished only two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, the AL East Division winners. The team's turnaround earned Robinson the AL Manager of the Year award.
In 1991, after a slow start, Robinson was moved from Baltimore's manager to the assistant to the general manager, where he evaluated players and other baseball-related decisions. In 2000 he moved to the Major League Baseball headquarters as the vice president of on-field operations, assuming a large number of the disciplinary tasks formerly maintained by the league presidents.
Robinson's baseball career is remarkable in that he made tremendous contributions both on and off the field. On the field Robinson was one of the game's best power hitters, ending his career tied for fourth on the all-time home run list. Off the field he was a respected manager who broke the color barrier and who served with distinction as an executive with the Baltimore Orioles and Major League Baseball.
Information about Robinson can be found in the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York. Robinson wrote three books about his life and career: with Al Silverman, My Life in Baseball (1968); with Dave Anderson, Frank: The First Year (1976); and with Berry Stainback, Extra Innings (1988). See also Russell J. Schneider, Frank Robinson: The Making of a Manager (1976), and Thomas Van Hyning, The Santurce Crabbers: Sixty Seasons of Puerto Rican Winter League Baseball (1999).