O's honor Frank Robinson with celebration of life

Baltimore legends share memories of Hall of Famer, who died in February

April 7th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- Like so many at Camden Yards and beyond on Saturday night, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde had long admired Frank Robinson.

Hyde was first impressed by Robinson in the early 1980s, when, as a boy growing up in Northern California, he watched Robinson manage his beloved Giants. Years later, as a rookie coach with the Marlins, Hyde mustered up the courage to ask Robinson for an autograph when they met briefly prior to a game in Puerto Rico. All the while, Hyde was wowed by the impact Robinson had made across his seven-plus-decade career.

“There was some serious presence there,” Hyde said. “I understand how important he is, not only to the game of baseball, but here.”

By here, Hyde means Baltimore, where Robinson’s legend holds particular reverence. Robinson made a name for himself in Cincinnati, became a trailblazer in Cleveland and is enshrined in Cooperstown. He left his fingerprints on Los Angeles, Milwaukee and so many baseball cities in between.

But at his core Robinson was Baltimore, where he starred for two World Series-winning teams, won an American League MVP Award and spent 19 years as a player, coach, manager and executive. Hence the considerable efforts the Orioles have made to commemorate Robinson since his death in February at age 83, Saturday night providing the latest example.

Hyde watched from the dugout as a contingent of Orioles legends convened in the center of the diamond for a celebration of Robinson’s life prior to Saturday's game against the Yankees. Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Jim Palmer and National Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson were among those who spoke during the ceremonies. Robinson’s widow Barbara, his daughter Nichelle, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, general manager Mike Elias, executive vice president John Angelos and ownership representative Louis Angelos attended as well. Club broadcaster Gary Thorne emceed the event.

“Frank loved this place,” Barbara Robinson said. “He loved the people here. It was his home. His whole life was built around here. It’s so final for me, because it’s so hard for me because it’s his final place. This is a pain I thought I could never feel.”

With heavy hearts, they honored the Baltimore icon together, and in style.

“This is a sad day, but it’s also a day to celebrate, and I’m happy to have been a part of his life. He certainty brought people together,” said Brooks Robinson, who first crossed paths with Frank Robinson as a teammate in 1956. “As far as greatness is concerned, he is in an elite class.”

In remembering Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Palmer and Powell all told stories from the era of success they experienced together in Baltimore. With Robinson as the centerpiece of their offense, the Orioles reached four World Series between 1966-1971, winning two championships. Frank Robinson remains one of two players in MLB history to win an MVP and World Series MVP award; Brooks is the other.

“It was like watching Picasso at work,” Powell said of Robinson at the plate.

“When we went to a new city, the local paper would send their photographer over to take pictures of the Robinson brothers,” Brooks remembered. “They were a little more surprised when they saw us and expected brothers. Frank and I would say, 'We’re not brothers, we’re just cousins.'”

That story played to the other aspect of Robinson’s legacy -- the trailblazing aspect. He became the first African-American manager when he took over the Indians as a player-manager in 1975, paving new avenues for men of color that hadn’t existed in the game before.

The Orioles are donating $60,000 to various civil rights museums in Robinson's honor, and will continue to sport commemorative No. 20 patches on their uniforms throughout the season. Acting Baltimore mayor Jack Young was also on hand Saturday to proclaim April 6, 2019 as “Frank Robinson Day” in the city.

“For those of us fortunate for our lives to be touched by Frank, we are better for it,” Idelson said. “Now, we have an opportunity to pass his legacy on to future generations.”