Frank Robinson still following trail Jackie Robinson blazed
LOS ANGELES -- Frank Robinson needs no introduction. The Hall of Famer is the personification of the legacy left by Jackie Robinson.
The pioneering Jackie Robinson's life was like a comet flashing across the night sky. By the time he shattered the Major League color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson was 27, and his own Hall of Fame playing career was over in a flash after a decade. Beyond his retirement at 37, he never again worked in baseball. He was dead at 53.
In contrast, Frank Robinson's career is like a constellation that appears every summer night. He's taken the path Jackie bravely blazed to every level of MLB. Forty years after becoming MLB's first African-American manager, he is still contributing as an advisor to new Commissioner Rob Manfred and honorary American League president. He'll be 80 years old on Aug. 31 and shows no signs of slowing down.
"I know for a fact, that what I've done never came close to what Jackie did as the first black player," Frank Robinson said in an interview with MLB.com after receiving a Beacon honoree award on Wednesday before the Civil Rights Game/Jackie Robinson Day roundtable discussion. "I didn't have to take near what he had to take out on the field publicly.
"I admired him and respected him for it, and I say to this day if it had been me I never would have done it. I couldn't have allowed any of that. I couldn't have kept my mouth shut through all those years. For what he had to take? No way."
Frank Robinson was a Texas kid, who grew up in Oakland, Calif. He and his contemporaries from that area -- Curt Flood and Vada Pinson -- all attended McClymonds High School and all made it to the Major Leagues. Joe Morgan followed.
Frank Robinson said he hardly thought about Jackie as he made his way to the Majors with the Reds for Opening Day of 1956, Jackie's last season. There was no pro baseball west of the Mississippi back in those days, and Frank was too busy playing the game.
"I was out there in Oakland trying to make my way," he said.
Before Jackie passed away on Oct. 24, 1972, he opined that baseball had been remiss by not hiring an African-American to manage a big league team.
Three years later, the Indians hired Frank Robinson to do just that. It was the first of his four managing jobs with Cleveland, San Francisco, Baltimore and Montreal/Washington spanning a 16-year portion of his career. Since leaving the Nationals after the 2006 season, Robinson has worked in a number of different capacities for Commissioner Bug Selig and now Manfred.
Jackie Robinson blazed the path, and Frank Robinson followed it.
"I've tried on a social level to at least carry on and accomplish some things he was unable to accomplish," Frank Robinson said. "I think I've done that and I will continue to do it. That's one of the reasons I hope to remain in baseball as long as I'm capable of doing the job and getting the message across when I talk to people. I think we need that because if I'm not out there carrying the cause, who is?
"You can't ask a kid in his first year in the Majors to do it. I didn't do it when I was young because I had to focus on my career first. I did that and now I think I can do what I'm capable of doing for the cause in different ways. I don't have to be too outspoken, but when I'm asked about something, I will give you my honest opinion."
In his current capacity, Robinson helped develop the annual Civil Rights Game and has worked with such inner-city initiatives as the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program and the expanding development of the local Urban Baseball Academies.
He said he's very much aware that baseball "is hanging on to its last African-American manager" in Seattle's Lloyd McClendon and hopes that the job will open again for capable black candidates.
"No, it's not where I want it to be right now, but I'm in a position to have a voice," he said. "It's good to have a voice in the Commissioner's ear in this respect, but it still is up to the individual owners to actually hire the right person. I think there are enough African-Americans out there qualified for those positions. There are a lot more out there than people might think."
A far as his own position is concerned, Frank Robinson is content at his age to roll back the activity, but he has no intention of retiring. Not yet.
"The season is just starting, and I'll do what ever the Commissioner wants me to do," he said. "If he wants me to check on a team or a player or how the clock is working, I'm on call. If he asks me for my advice in certain situations I will give it to him."
Just as Jackie would have done.