By Glen Sparks
OK, this is what you need to do: go to your baseball card collection–pore through a binder or sift through a pile–and find a Frank Robinson card. Look for one of his later cards. Maybe a 1975 Topps, the one with a portrait shot of Robby wearing a Cleveland Indians cap. Turn over to the back of the card and check out those stats.
Or, better yet, go to Baseballreference.com, the Internet’s reason for being. You’ll find everything you see on that baseball card, plus a lot more. Robinson put up some gaudy numbers. Over a 21-year career, he slugged 586 home runs, drove home 1,812 and hit .294 with a .389 on-base percentage, .537 slugging percentage and .926 OPS. He accumulated 107.2 WAR points. He remains, even now, baseball’s overlooked superstar.
The right-handed swinging Robinson, born in Beaumont, Texas, on Aug. 31, 1935, grew up in Oakland, Calif. He graduated from McClymonds High School and signed with the Cincinnati Reds as an amateur free agent in 1953. Frank blasted 38 home runs and led the N.L. in runs scored in 1956, winning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing seventh in the MVP voting.
Over his 10 seasons in Cincinnati, Robinson topped 30 homers seven times and hit 29 twice. He led the league in slugging percentage, OPS And OPS+ three straight seasons (1960-62), taking home an MVP trophy in 1961. The following campaign, Robinson finished second in the league in batting average (.342), third in home runs (39) and third in RBI (136).
In 1965, Robinson slugged 33 homers, drove in 113 and batted .296. He also celebrated a milestone birthday late that season. The Reds famously declared that Robinson was an “old 30” and shipped him to the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson. Huh? What? Old 30? (OK, for the record, Pappas, 27 years old when dealt and the star of this deal, compiled a 30-29 won-loss mark in three seasons in Cincy, with a 4.04 ERA, 93 ERA+. Baldschun, another pitcher, went 1-5 in two years as a Red, with a 5.25 ERA, 75 ERA+. Simpson, a 22-year-old outfielder, also lasted just two seasons in Cincinnati. He hit .246 in 138 at-bats.) Clink.
Robinson, meanwhile, continued pounding fastballs and curveballs into submission. One of the game’s great all-around talents won the Triple Crown in his first season with the Orioles. He hit 49 homers, drove in 122 runs and batted .316. That fall, he was awarded the World Series MVP as Baltimore won its first title, beating the Dodgers. Robinson also played on Baltimore’s 1970 World Series-winning team.
The future Hall of Famer (first ballot, 1982, 89.2 percent of the vote) wrapped up his career with the Dodgers (1972), the Angels (1973-74) and the Cleveland Indians (1974-76). The Indians, of course, hired Robinson to serve as player-manager before the 1975 season, the first African-American to skipper a team in the big leagues.
Later, he also managed the San Francisco Giants (1981-84), the Orioles (1988-91) and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (2002-2006). The writers named him Manager of the Year in 1989.
Maybe, Robinson, now 80, is more famous today as a manger than as a ballplayer, even one with 14 All-Star appearances. Supposedly, a former player once asked him if he had ever played in the big leagues. Frank probably smirked. Ever play? Did he ever.