Major Leagues first black manager Frank Robinson has died

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07 Feb 2019, 5:20 pm

Frank Robinson, the Hall of Fame outfielder who hit 586 home runs and became a racial pioneer as the first black manager in the major leagues, nearly three decades after Jackie Robinson broke modern baseball’s color barrier playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 83.

Major League Baseball announced the death but did not specify the cause. The Baltimore Sun recently reported that Robinson was in the late stages of a long illness.

Playing for 21 seasons, mostly with the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles, Robinson was the only winner of the Most Valuable Player Award in both the National and American Leagues.

He was an intense and often intimidating presence, leaning over the plate from his right-handed stance, daring pitchers to hit him (which they did, 198 times), then retaliating with long drives, “pounding pitchers with fine impartiality,” as the baseball writer Roger Kahn once wrote. He broke up double plays with fearsome slides.

As a player, Robinson insisted that teammates match his own will to win. As a manager, he had little patience with lack of hustle.

Robinson won baseball’s batting triple crown in 1966, hitting 49 home runs, driving in 122 runs and batting .316 in his first season with the Orioles and helping the team capture a World Series championship for the first time in franchise history.

Robinson made his debut as the majors’ first black manager with the Cleveland Indians on April 8, 1975, 28 years after Jackie Robinson (no relation) first took the field with the Dodgers. Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow, threw out the ceremonial first ball.

Frank Robinson, who was still an active player, punctuated the historic occasion by hitting a home run in his first at-bat, as the designated hitter, leading the Indians to a 5-3 victory over the Yankees.

He managed for all or parts of 16 seasons, with the Indians (1975-77), the San Francisco Giants (1981-84), the Orioles (1988-91), the Montreal Expos (2002-4) and their successor franchise, the Washington Nationals (2005-6). He never managed a pennant winner, but the Baseball Writers Association of America named him the American League manager of the year in 1989, when his Orioles finished second in the East Division, two games behind the Toronto Blue Jays.

Before managing the Indians, Robinson had been the first African-American manager of an integrated professional team outside organized baseball’s structure — Santurce of the Puerto Rican winter league. He held the post for several seasons, beginning in 1968-69, to gain experience toward becoming a major league manager.

“The black players thought I was getting on them more than the white players,” The New York Times quoted him as saying while he was in that post. “But it was always said in a joking way.”

When Robinson lined up with his team in front of the Indians’ dugout at their 1975 season opener before a crowd of 56,204 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, he received a resounding ovation.

“One hundred thousand fans could not have been louder,” he recalled in his memoir. “It was the biggest ovation I ever received, and it almost brought tears to my eyes. After all the years of waiting to become a big league manager — ignored because so many team owners felt that fans would not accept a black manager — I was on the job and people were loudly pleased.”

The Indians had been a losing team for years, and Robinson’s ball clubs finished fourth in the American League East in 1975 and 1976. After a 26-31 start in 1977, he was fired.

Reporters asked if he thought race had anything to do with his dismissal. “If race was a factor,” he told Mr. Kahn for a column in The Times, “I’m not aware of it. I never heard a serious remark about race. I never heard secondhand of anyone making a remark. I have no bitterness about Cleveland. I did the best I could.”

I watched the first game he managed on TV. What a historic occasion it was.

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09 Feb 2019, 11:16 pm

That's very sad news. Martin Luther King Jr made it all possible.