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Former Orioles Closer Gregg Olson: Frank Robinson Was 'Caring, Compassionate'

March 14, 2019
Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Robinson passed away in early February at the age of 83 after enjoying a career in baseball that spanned 60-plus years. He spent six seasons with the Baltimore Orioles as a player and four as a manager.

Robinson was former Orioles closer Gregg Olson's first manager in the major leagues. Olson was drafted in 1988 and debuted later that year, Robinson's first at the helm of the Orioles. 

"He had a lot of different layers, and the initial layer was this gruff and hard-edged man," Olson said on The Bat Around With Stan "The Fan" Charles Feb. 23. "The more you got to know him and the more you were around him, he was awesome -- caring, compassionate. It just took a little while to see that side."

The late manager was tough on average and below-average players, according to Olson, who said the two-time MVP and Triple Crown winner had a hard time relating to the lesser talent.

"I don't think he ever grasped how hard the game is, because it wasn't that hard for him," Olson said. "Some guys struggled underneath him that weren't great players, because he was hard on them."

Robinson often managed on gut instinct, Olson said, but he certainly had a deep understanding of the game.

"You don't manage that long if you're not a good Xs and Os guy," Olson said.

Olson appeared in 10 games in 1988, pitching primarily in the middle innings. It wasn't until late April 1989 when he grabbed hold of the closer role, saving 27 games with a sparkling 1.69 ERA that season and earning American League Rookie of the Year honors.

Olson said Robinson and his coaching staff protected him from difficult situations early in his career.

"For the most part, they started me with clean innings, whether it be the eighth and ninth. Very rarely was I in [during] the seventh in any sort of mess," Olson said. "I don't remember coming into a whole lot of jams. I think they did a really good job of giving me clean innings and letting me make my own mess."

Olson added that managers don't treat relievers as gently anymore, burning guys out and moving on to the next arm. Olson cited Buck Showalter, whom Olson played for with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 1998-1999, as an old-school manager who properly handled a bullpen. Showalter, who managed the Orioles from 2010-2018, prided himself on never warming up a reliever without getting him into a game, which hardly ever happens anymore, Olson said.

Olson saved 160 games for the Orioles from 1989-1993 and 217 for his career. Olson pitched in parts of 14 seasons with nine different clubs, finishing up with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2001. 

Olson filled in as an analyst for the Orioles Radio Network last year and will be on the call for 25 Orioles games this season. 

"I love baseball and I miss being around," Olson said. "This affords me the opportunity to be around and spend time on something that I love doing."

For more from Olson, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles