Frank Robinson was royalty, a legend in the world of baseball. Despite his tremendous accomplishments on and off the field, it was as if his monumental role in baseball history had been forgotten.
Maybe now, people will pay attention and realize that Frank Robinson was one of the most impactful figures in baseball history.
Robinson, a first-ballot Hall of Fame player who became the first African-American manager in baseball, died Thursday at the age of 83, according to Major League Baseball.
Robinson, who had been in hospice in Southern California for several months, was able to say farewell to many of his friends and family before his death.
Now, perhaps the public can pay proper respect to a man who had a dramatic influence on the game.
Few men have had a greater impact as a player, a manager and an executive than Robinson, who was so revered and respected that three different franchises retired his uniform number, No. 20, and erected statues in his honor.
“Frank Robinson’s résumé in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.
“He was one of the greatest players in the history of our game, but that was just the beginning of a multifaceted baseball career. Known for his fierce competitive will, Frank made history as the first MVP of both the National and American Leagues, earned the 1966 AL Triple Crown and World Series MVP honors, and was a centerpiece of two World Championship Baltimore Orioles’ teams.”
Robinson, a 14-time All-Star, had a legendary career. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1956 when he hit a rookie-record 38 homers for the Cincinnati Reds, won the Triple Crown in 1966 with the Baltimore Orioles, and remains the only player to win an MVP award in each league — with the Reds in 1961 and the Orioles in 1966. He also led his teams to two World Series titles, winning with the Orioles in 1966, when he also was voted the World Series MVP, and 1970.
Robinson, who had his greatest years with the Reds and Orioles, played 21 years in the major leagues before retiring in 1976 with 586 home runs. It was the fourth-highest total in baseball at the time, trailing only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. The longest of those home runs came on May 8, 1966, when his 541-foot blast off Luis Tiant cleared Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
“We were facing Luis Tiant and he had thrown three straight shutouts,” Robinson said at a 2014 news conference. “I had never seen him before. The first pitch was a fastball down and in and I hit it. You know when you get one. You don’t know how far, but you know you got it.
“When I came into the dugout, the guys were saying that ball went completely out of the ballpark. I said, ‘Get out of my face. No way.’ They said, ‘Yes it did.’
“When I went out to right field, the fans gave me a standing ovation. I thought maybe it did go out.”
He continued to influence the game long after retirement, becoming the first African-American to manage in the major leagues, with the Cleveland Indians. He also managed the San Francisco Giants, becoming the National League’s first African-American manager, and later managed the Orioles, Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals. He compiled a 1,065-1,176 (.475) record over parts of 16 seasons, winning the 1989 AL Manager of the Year award with the Orioles.
In Washington, Robinson said, one of his players asked him in 2005 whether he had played in the major leagues. It was then, he said he realized just how little attention players today pay to baseball history.
Robinson, the youngest of 10 children raised in Oakland, Calif., was a former high school basketball teammate with NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell at McClymonds High School, and also a former baseball teammate with former major leaguers Vada Pinson and Curt Flood.
Robinson became active in the civil rights movement in Baltimore after witnessing the city’s segregated housing and discriminatory real estate practices, and in 2005 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. He was honored two years later with the first Jackie Robinson Society Community Recognition Award at George Washington University.
He spent the last 12 years working for the Commissioner’s office mostly as a vice president, and later as a senior advisor to Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale and Steve Gardner @SteveAGardner