In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Orioles’ first World Series, I will dedicate Flashback Fridays throughout the 2016 season to remembering the 1966 Orioles. Where else to start this journey than at the outset of Spring Training?
The Baltimore Orioles’ 1966 Spring Training camp kicked off on Feb. 22 of that year in Miami. The biggest storyline for the O’s, who never finished higher than third the previous two seasons despite having won 97 games in 1964 and 94 games in 1965, was the acquisition of Frank Robinson from the Cincinnati Reds.
The O’s traded Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas, and Dick Simpson to the Reds on Dec. 9, 1965, in exchange for Robinson, who was the 1956 Rookie of the Year, the 1961 National League Most Valuable Player, and a six-time All Star.
In an era of limited media, Baltimore players didn’t know exactly what they were getting until Spring Training commenced. Robinson had been termed “an old 30” by some, but his teammates soon learned otherwise.
“I’ll tell you the truth, when I first saw him in spring training, I knew I’d rather do it with him than without him. Watching him pop the ball through the palm trees in spring training and the other qualities that Frank had — the intangibles that he brought to the team and the way he played the game. The ferocity with which he went about his trade was a pretty awesome thing to see.”
“When Frank came over to the club, we were down in spring training, and Frank hit one over the palm trees. I turned to Etch [catcher Andy Etchebarren] and said, “Etch, I think we just won the [expletive] pennant.”
“It wasn’t like we didn’t give the Reds some guys who could play a little bit. But to get Frank Robinson? But with all the dialogue, all the rhetoric about ‘an old 30,’ I don’t think any of us realized how good Frank was. That sounds like an insult, but you don’t often get a guy like that. How do you know, even in your wildest dreams?”
Baltimore fans shared in the enthusiasm of Robinson’s arrival, at least on the field.
As noted on Retro Baltimore, season ticket sales rocketed up 150 percent from the 1965 season. The enthusiasm wasn’t quite the same off the field, however.
Robinson nearly left the O’s spring camp to return to Baltimore due to his wife’s struggles to find housing for their family.
I consider Mike Klingaman’s January article on Robinson’s challenges in a segregated Baltimore to be must-read material. A telling excerpt is provided below.
In spite of his baseball accomplishments, Robinson in 1966 had to cope with the complicated day-to-day realities of a city that remained racially divided in many ways. Time and again, he and his family were denied housing in a number of all-white neighhborhoods. He couldn’t patronize most taverns in town. And his wife was rebuffed at a beauty shop whose female proprietor said, “If you were Mrs Brooks Robinson, we could serve you.”
Additional Reading/Source Material for this Post:
When Frank Robinson arrived at Orioles Spring Training
Fifty years ago today, Frank Robinson arrived in best trade in Orioles history
Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun
Robinson opened doors for others
Mike Klingaman, Baltimore Sun