Few figures in baseball history have accomplished as much as Frank Robinson, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 83. A feared slugger, a World Series champion, a pioneer for minority managers and an ambassador for the game, Robinson had an impact that can be felt in all
Few figures in baseball history have accomplished as much as Frank Robinson, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 83. A feared slugger, a World Series champion, a pioneer for minority managers and an ambassador for the game, Robinson had an impact that can be felt in all corners of the sport.
Robinson was an offensive force across three decades, finishing with 586 career home runs before transitioning to the bench and later to Major League Baseball's front offices. He became one of baseball's most respected personalities along the way, revered for the passion and intensity he brought to everything he did.
In honor of Robinson's fruitful life in baseball, here is a chronological look at the top 10 moments in the slugger's legendary career, starting at the beginning:
A powerful rookie season (1956)
Robinson was also a skilled high school basketball player in Oakland, sharing a court with NBA legend Bill Russell and fellow Major Leaguers Curt Flood and Vada Pinson before breaking into the National League as a 20-year-old with Cincinnati in 1956. All Robinson did was hit 38 home runs, tying Wally Berger's rookie record, while hitting .290 and leading the Senior Circuit with 122 runs scored. He finished seventh in NL MVP Award voting and was a unanimous pick for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Breaking out big (1961)
Pitcher Jim Bouton might have summed it up best when he once answered the question, "How do you pitch to Frank Robinson?" with the answer, "Reluctantly." Robinson was tearing through NL pitchers by 1961, having already put up five seasons of at least 29 home runs when he exploded for 37 dingers, 124 RBIs and league-best marks in slugging (.611), OPS (1.105) and intentional walks (23). Then 25, Robinson garnered 15 of 16 first-place votes to claim his first MVP Award while leading the Reds to their first World Series appearance in 21 years. Cincinnati fell to the Yankees in five games.
New city, same MVP (1966)
The Reds' decision to trade Robinson, already a former NL Rookie of the Year Award winner and NL MVP Award winner by the winter of 1965, still ranks as one of the most shocking moves in history. Cincinnati famously evaluated Robinson as "an old 30"-year-old when it dealt him to the Orioles on Dec. 9, 1965, for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson, none of whom made any substantial impact in a Reds uniform.
Robinson, meanwhile, had plenty left in the tank. In the ultimate statement season, Robinson paced the American League with 49 homers, 122 RBIs and a .316 average to capture the Triple Crown. Robinson was an easy choice for the Junior Circuit's MVP Award, which made him the first -- and, to this day, only -- player in history to claim an MVP in both leagues. The O's won the pennant by nine games, while the Reds dropped to seventh place in the NL standings.
World Series champs (1966)
The Triple Crown and AL MVP Award were only part of Robinson's story in 1966. There was still unfinished business in the World Series, and the Orioles entered as underdogs to the Dodgers, winners of two of the prior three Fall Classics.
But Robinson set the tone in his first World Series at-bat, hitting a two-run homer off Don Drysdale in the top of the first to spur the Orioles to a 5-2 win in Game 1. Robinson tripled off Sandy Koufax in Game 2, helping 20-year-old Jim Palmer score a 6-0 shutout, and then homered for the only run of the O's series-clinching 1-0 win in Game 4. Baltimore's new slugger added a World Series MVP Award to his mantel after hitting .286 and slugging .857 in the Orioles' four-game sweep. Robinson helped lead Earl Weaver's O's to three more pennants in 1969-71, beating his former Cincinnati club in '70.
Double slam (1970)
Robinson's back was ailing from a wall collision the night before when he and the Orioles took the field on June 26, 1970, for a game against the Senators. But his swing looked just fine when he hit a two-strike grand slam to right field in the fifth, and then crushed another bases-loaded homer an estimated 462 feet into RFK Stadium's upper deck the next inning. Robinson became the seventh player to knock two slams in the same game, adding yet another homer feat to his resume.
Star of the All-Stars (1971)
Robinson was helping the O's to their fourth pennant in a six-year span when he arrived at Tiger Stadium for his 13th All-Star Game on July 13, 1971. The AL had not won a Midsummer Classic since '62, but Robinson saw to it that the drought would end that day as he hit a two-run homer in the third to give the Junior Circuit a lead it wouldn't relinquish. Robinson became the first player to homer for both leagues in an All-Star Game, and took home the exhibition's MVP Award.
The big 500 (1971)
Only 10 players had knocked 500 home runs when Robinson strode to the plate in the ninth inning of a doubleheader just minutes before midnight on Sept. 13, 1971. Before a crowd of roughly 800 diehard Orioles fans, Robinson expanded that club to 11 when he smacked his 500th dinger off Tigers pitcher Fred Scherman. It might have been the smallest crowd to witness any 500th homer, but Robinson had plenty more in the tank; his 586 homers were the fourth-most in MLB history at the time of his retirement in '76.
Barrier broken (1975)
Robinson had his heart set on managing by the early 1970s, but he was rebuffed several times in an era when the idea of an African-American manager was still unchartered territory. The Indians gave Robinson his chance in '75 when they made him player-manager and gave him the distinction as the first black manager in the Major Leagues. Robinson homered off Yankees pitcher Doc Medich in his first at-bat in his new role on Opening Day, and went on to skipper four franchises through the turn of the millennium. He earned the AL's Manager of the Year Award in 1989 after leading an O's club that famously lost its first 21 games the year prior to an 87-win season, and helmed the Nationals in their first season in Washington, D.C., in 2005.
Cooperstown bound (1982)
It's hard to get a more powerful Hall of Fame class than the one enshrined in 1982, when Robinson and Aaron -- and their combined 1,341 home runs -- went in together as first-ballot inductees. Robinson's name appeared on 89 percent of the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballots, and he went into the Hall with an Orioles cap on his plaque.
That number's taken (2017)
Robinson's number isn't just off limits with one team; it's retired by three Major League clubs. The Indians retired Robinson's No. 20 on May 27, 2017, following the Reds in 1998 and the O's in '72, to join the slugger with Nolan Ryan (Angels, Astros, Rangers) as the only players to receive the honor from three teams.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.