As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, it is important to look back at a Hall of Famer who never played a game with the Giants. Instead, Frank Robinson broke barriers as a manager in San Francisco.
Frank Robinson was hired in 1981 and spent nearly four years managing the Giants. The teams he coached didn’t have the talent to match others in the National League at the time, but his hiring was bigger than the wins and losses on the field.
The importance of Robinson’s time in San Francisco was echoed years earlier by the man that broke color barrier in baseball.
At Game 2 of the 1972 World Series, Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson spoke for the last time publicly. He was their to be honored for the 25th anniversary of his debut in 1947. He took time during his final speech to speak about his desire for an African American managing a Major League Baseball team.
“I am extremely proud and pleased,” the former Brooklyn Dodger said. “But I will be more pleased the day I can look over at the third base line and see a black man as manager.”
Matt Rothenberg wrote an article about Robinson’s impact on the game and the importance of his choice to focus on managing and to live up to the legacy of Dr. King and Jackie.
Rothenberg noted, in the 40 years since Frank Robinson’s managerial debut, more than half of the teams in Major League Baseball have hired African Americans as managers. Former Toronto skipper Cito Gaston was also the first to lead a team into the playoffs and to a World Series championship.
Robinson was first hired in Cleveland as a player/manager and made his debut as manager on April 8, 1975. Robinson was fired after three seasons as the Indians hovered around .500 during his tenure.
Robinson was given a second chance by the San Francisco Giants four years later, and he led the Giants over the next four seasons.
It would be Robinson’s third stint as a manager, this time with the Baltimore Orioles, that would lead to his first Manager of the Year award and most success to that point. Turning around an Oriole team that had infamously lost 21 straight games in 1988, to a team over .500 in 1989, was his best work yet.
After his time in Baltimore ended in 1991, Robinson worked in the front offices of Major League baseball for several years. When the league temporarily owned the Montreal Expos in 2002, they asked Robinson to take over as their manager. He stayed with the team through their transition to Washington before being let go in 2006.
Robinson was born in 1935 in Beaumont, Texas and raised in Oakland, California before attending McClymonds High School. Robinson went to Xavier University before being signed as an amateur free agent in 1953 by the Cincinnati Reds. He won Rookie of the Year honors in 1956 as well as Most Valuable Player awards in 1961 and 1966.
In 21 years as a Major Leaguer, Robinson hit 586 home runs, and drove in 1812 runs. He had 2943 career hits while maintaining a slashline of .294/.389/.537 for an OPS of .926.
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Robinson, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, is one of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. He won MVP awards in both the American and National League during his career and was a Triple Crown winner in 1966.
In 2003, the Cincinnati Reds dedicated a bronze statue of Robinson outside Great American Ballpark and in 2012, he was dedicated with another outside Camden Yards in Baltimore.
In between those two honors, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, the country’s highest civilian honor.
As we continue to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy as well as Jackie Robinson’s impact on the game of baseball, it is important to remember Frank Robinson for his role in the advancement of our country and his place in baseball history.
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