Frank Robinson, Jr. (born 1935), was the only baseball player to win Most Valuable Player awards in each major league, the first African American player to manage a baseball team in each major league, and the first to be named Manager of the Year in the National as well as the American League.
Frank Robinson, Jr., was born on August 31, 1935, at Silsbee, Texas, the son of Ruth (Shaw) Robinson and her third husband, railroad worker Frank Robinson. Robinson was the last child born to his mother, whose previous two marriages had produced nine children. When separated from the senior Robinson, the mother moved to California with four-year-old Frank and his two half brothers, eventually settling in the Oakland area. Frank Robinson grew up in a poor, ethnically diverse neighborhood where he starred as an athlete. Excelling in baseball, the 15-year-old Robinson was a right-handed hitting and throwing out-fielder on Coach George Powley's 1950 American Legion team, which won a second consecutive national title. Robinson later played under Cowley at McClymonds High School, whose baseball program also developed future out-field stars Vada Pinson and Curt Flood.
After graduating in 1953, Robinson signed with the Cincinnati Reds for a $3,500 bonus. Assigned to Ogden, Utah, in the Pioneer League, outfielder Robinson batted. 348. The following year, after playing eight games at second base with the Tulsa, Oklahoma, team of the Texas League, Robinson played with the Columbus, Georgia, team of the South Atlantic (Sally) League, batting .336 with 25 homers and 110 RBIs (runs batted in). Over the winter he injured his right arm playing in Puerto Rico. In the spring of 1955 Robinson trained with the Cincinnati Reds, but reinjured his arm and was reassigned to the Columbus team. In his three-year minor league stint Robinson learned to cope with the racial discrimination that also marred his early years in the majors.
Following a strong second half performance at Columbus, Robinson joined the Cincinnati Reds in the spring of 1956. In a brilliant debut he batted .290 with 38 homers and a league-leading 122 runs scored and won National League Rookie-of-the-Year honors. An established star with the Reds, over the next nine seasons the 6 foot 1 inch outfielder topped the .300 mark five times, struck 25 or more homers eight times, led the league in slugging percentage over the years 1960 to 1962, and four times drove in 100 or more runs. During those years Robinson's harddriving, aggressive style of play earned him a reputation as a "vicious" player, but Robinson endured frequent injuries and perennially led the league in being hit by pitched balls.
In 1961, after being arrested and fined $250 for wielding a gun in a pre-season lunch counter fracas in Cincinnati, the contrite Robinson led the Reds to their first National League pennant since 1940. For batting .323 with 37 homers and 117 RBIs, he won the league's Most Valuable Player award. On October 28, 1961, Robinson married Barbara Ann Cole of Los Angeles; an enduring union, it produced a son, Frank Kevin, born in 1962, and a daughter, Nichelle, born in 1965.
In the wake of contract disputes with Cincinnati general manager Bill DeWitt, who labeled him "an old 30 year old," Robinson was traded to the American League Baltimore Orioles following the 1965 season. In belying that judgment, Robinson's Triple Crown (.316-44-122) batting carried the Orioles to their first World Championship. After winning the World Series Most Valuable Player award, Robinson was voted the American League's Most Valuable Player, thus becoming the first player to win the honor in both major leagues. As a high-salaried star, Robinson's six years with the Orioles (1966-1971) saw his team win four pennants and two world titles; Robinson's contribution to these achievements included four .300 plus batting performances and five 25 plus homer seasons.
In 1972 Robinson was traded to the National League Dodgers, who dealt him to the American League California Angels in 1973. By then the aging Robinson was performing mostly as a designated hitter. In 1974 the Angels traded him to the American League Cleveland Indians, where Robinson soon realized his dream of becoming the first African American manager in the major leagues. In pursuit of that goal, over the past several winters Robinson had gained experience by managing the Santurce club of the Puerto Rican (winter) league.
Robinson's appointment as a manager of the Indians in October 1974 was a media event that drew a congratulatory telegram from President Gerald Ford. In his first game as playing manager in April 1975 Robinson homered in his first at bat to lead his team to victory. Robinson's 1975 Indians finished at 79-80, and the following year the team's 81-78 mark was Cleveland's first winning season since 1968. But when Cleveland faltered in 1977, Robinson became the first Black manager to be fired. By then Robinson's playing career had ended. As a player Robinson played 21 seasons in the majors, batting .294 with 2,943 hits. His 586 homers ranked him fourth among major league sluggers and his 1,829 RBIs ranked tenth.
After three seasons of coaching with the American League Angels and Orioles, including a 1978 managerial stint with the Orioles' Rochester, New York, club, Robinson became the National League's first African American manager in 1981 when he signed with the San Francisco Giants. In 1982 his team's 87-75 record won him National League Manager-of-the-Year honors; that year Robinson was also honored by election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But after the Giants slumped in 1983 and in 1984, Robinson was fired.
Returning to the Orioles, Robinson coached under three managers, including Cal Ripken, under whose leadership the 1988 Orioles faltered badly. Replacing Ripken that year, Robinson directed the 1989 Orioles to a remarkable turnabout; mounting an 87-75 record, the Orioles finished a strong second in their division. That feat won Robinson recognition as National League Manager of the Year. But the following year (1990) the Orioles fell to 76-85 and when they started slowly, 13-24, in 1991 Robinson was replaced as manager by John Oates. The Hall-of-Famer then moved into the Oriole front office as assistant general manager. Robinson continues to remain active in the field of baseball.
Further Reading on Frank Robinson Jr
Jules Tygiel's Baseball's Great Experiment (1984) surveys the struggles of Black players in gaining admission to the major leagues. David Q. Voigt's American Baseball: From Postwar Expansion to the Electronic Age (1983) and Baseball: An Illustrated History (1987) treat Black players both in the segregated leagues and in the era of integration in baseball's major leagues.
Robinson's three semi-popular autobiographies trace his major league baseball odyssey as a star player and as the first Black manager in both major leagues. The first, Frank Robinson with Al Silverman, My Life in Baseball (1968), covers his playing years to 1967 and offers important insights into his formative years, his encounters with racism in baseball, his views on hitting and fielding, and his aggressive style of play. A second volume, Frank Robinson with Russell Schneider, The Making of a Manager (1976), updates his playing career and furnishes a candid account of the trials and tribulations he encountered as the rookie manager of the Cleveland Indians. A third volume, Frank Robinson with Berry Stainback, Extra Innings (1988), covers Robinson's years as a manager of the Giants and offers forthright comments on problems of racial discrimination in major league baseball.