May 18, 2006: F. Robby, Going Strong at 70
To say that Nationals manager Frank Robinson has seen it all and done it all in his 50 years in Major League Baseball would be an understatement of mammoth proportions.
The list of his accomplishments in the game is seemingly never-ending.
He was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1956 with the Reds at age 20. He became the only person to win the MVP award in both leagues (Reds in 1961 and the Orioles in 1966). He won a Triple Crown and played in five World Series, winning two.
He became the first African-American manager in the Major Leagues with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. He went on to manage the San Francisco Giants, the Orioles, and the Expos, who are now the Nationals.
And, oh by the way, he became the 53rd skipper to reach 1,000 career wins with the Nationals 4-2 win over the Phillies on April 20.
Yes, Frank Robinson has seen it all and done it all in his 50 years in the game. He is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of that Triple Crown in 1966, his first season with the Orioles which also included a World Series win over the Dodgers in a four-game sweep.
As the Orioles get set to play his Nationals this weekend in the first installment of the "Battle of the Beltway," Robinson's accomplishments in the game, especially while playing in Baltimore, will be in the minds of media and fans alike.
As for his years in the game and his accomplishments, it's something the Hall of Famer doesn't get too wrapped up in.
"I really don't think about things that have happened in the past or things that happen around me," said Robinson. "I just focus 100 percent on what I am doing and my job is to manage this ball club. I have never done that and I won't. Only when you guys bring it up does it bring my attention to it.
"The 50 years is an impressive stat in this game today, the way changes are made so often and so quickly. But, when you start resting on your laurels is when you are not doing the job that you are supposed to be doing."
It's that attitude that made Robinson the player he was. Make no mistake, it's the players who played with him and against him who will attest to the greatness of the player and the teammate.
The Orioles had finished the 1964 season two games behind the Yankees and then finished eight games out in 1965 before acquiring Robinson in a trade with the Reds for Milt Pappas and two others.
The following spring, Robinson's new teammates watched him in batting practice and knew the Orioles had done something special by trading for him.
"I remember the first day of spring training when he hit one right over the palm trees," said former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell. "I'm sitting there looking at Etch [Andy Etchebarren] and saying -- thumper! Nobody is going to beat us. That's all we needed was that little extra push right there."
Robinson played the game the right way. He was an aggressive outfielder and a hard-nosed base runner. He was a smart baseball player and the way he played the game and respected the game rubbed off on his teammates.
Brooks Robinson once told me, "We were a good team when Frank got here but he taught us how to win."
"I agree with that whole heartedly," Frank said. "And I am not saying that about the 'Frank made us a winner' part. I was an ingredient that was missing on a good ball club. I have always said one player does not win championships. I was just added to the mix and I had a very good year and I helped the team win ball games."
His Triple Crown year in 1966 (49 HR, 122 RBI, .316 AVG) ended by beating the Dodgers, a team that no one expected the Orioles to have a chance at beating.
"I think for people who didn't know us, people outside the American League, they didn't know how good we were as a team. I think the people in the American League knew it, but I remember the headlines, especially in the Los Angeles papers. We weren't supposed to be on the same field with the mighty Dodgers. Everybody expected them to do to us what we did to them."
Jim Palmer pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout in game two.
"If Reggie was the straw that stirs the drink in New York, and we knew that wasn't true, Frank was the guy who made us all better," said Palmer. "All true superstars do that. Michael Jordan did that to the Bulls and Frank did that to the Orioles."
Robinson helped the Orioles to three more World Series appearances between 1969 and 1971.
He had one of his best games ever at RFK Stadium against the Senators on August 20, 1970, hitting two grand-slam home runs in consecutive at bats off Joe Coleman and Joe Grzenda. It's something that is sure to be talked about this weekend.
As a manager, Robinson hasn't been to the postseason despite coming close a few times. In 1982, his Giants finished three games out in the NL West. Then in 1989, he gave Orioles fans something to remember taking a team of basically youngsters to the brink of the Eastern Division title before losing out to the Blue Jays on the final weekend of the season.
He had the Nationals in contention for a wild card spot last year until the final two weeks of the season.
Some say he has mellowed throughout the years but to watch him manage at age 70, there is no doubt about his fire and desire to win.
"If you're in the game of baseball, and you can't respect a guy like Frank as your manager because of what he was able to do -- I mean, if I was a hitter and he told me something I would think it's the gospel," said Palmer.
"It's hard to believe it's been 50 years. Every time I look at him I still think he has a mop on his head and he's a judge in our kangaroo court. I remember the clutch home runs he hit for us and how hard he played the game."
For those who see Frank in the dugout this weekend managing against the Orioles, they won't forget either.
About Craig Heist
Craig grew up in Baltimore and attended Kenwood High School. A graduate of Salisbury State University, he got his start in radio on WKHI in Ocean City before moving back to the Baltimore-Washington region. Craig is currently a sports anchor for WTOP Radio in Washington, and is also the Mid-Atlantic correspondent for several national sports radio networks including ESPN Radio.
Issue 1.4: May 18, 2006