Orioles legend Frank Robinson has died. Many words will be shared about the Hall of Famer, whose stature in baseball history is undeniable. Here are some meaningful words, including Robinson’s own, with a local flavor courtesy of WBAL. You can also watch his Hall of Fame speech in the video above.
I never had the pleasure of watching Frank Robinson play baseball; he debuted as the sport’s first black manager just days after I was born. I couldn’t rightfully claim to be a Baltimore Orioles fan, however, without knowing something about him.
They don’t build statues in baseball stadiums of guys they want you to forget. (And three teams – the Orioles, Reds, and Indians – have done so for Robinson.)
Buck Showalter affirmed the importance of Robinson’s place in team history when he had Orioles minor leaguer Josh Hart write a one-page report about the judge of the 1969 team’s Kangaroo Court during Spring Training in 2014.
“It’s important that we realize there were some people that paved the way to have that strong fan base, the people that live and die with everything the Orioles do,” Showalter said on “Mike & Mike.” “There’s not a city in America that loves their baseball team more than Baltimore.
“This should be a hero of his. It should be. And it is now. I guarantee you. He and the other guys now will know.”
Two items came to mind from my own writing when I learned of Robinson’s passing. Both relate to his arrival in Baltimore.
First was the reaction on the field, where Boog Powell served as soothsayer after watching Frank Robinson punish baseballs at Spring Training.
“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.”
During that same Spring Training, Robinson’s wife, Barbara Ann Cole, struggled to find housing in Baltimore, among other indignities, due to racial discrimination.
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.”
For all his accomplishments in baseball, Frank Robinson’s fortitude away from the diamond deserves equal admiration.