Since I am probably the only one on the BirdsWatcher staff that is old enough to actually remember Frank Robinson as a player, I thought I’d write just a few words of tribute to him upon the dedication this past weekend of his sculpture at Oriole Park. This is, as you know, the first of six such additions planned for this season – the other five being Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, and Cal Ripken.
I was just beginning to really like baseball in the mid 60s – being a little league kid and attending my first games in Baltimore in 64 and 65. In those days, Baltimore was very definitely more of a football town than a baseball city. The Orioles had never done anything impressive; the Colts were great and first in everyone’s hearts.
When Frank Robinson was traded to the Orioles in 1966, he put the franchise on the map immediately. I remember the day the news came out that Robinson was traded for Jack Baldschun, Milt Pappas and Dick Simpson. Even at age 10, I understood it was an unbelievable deal for the Orioles and could not understand why in the world the Reds would have done such a thing!
As Frank several times over this past weekend remarked in interviews, the 1966 season was an amazing experience. Robinson, of course, won the Triple Crown that year and led the team to the improbable league title and 4-game sweep of the Dodgers in the Series.
Robinson was a true five tool player; he could do it all. Everyone remembers him for the 586 career homers, but folks forget that the guy could run – he had 204 career stolen bases. He won a Gold Glove in the National League. I remember as well how many times he did the little things to help the team win … like make throws to nail a runner or take the extra base when the throw went home on his own RBI single.
He was an intense player. I remember one occasion where there was a dispute about whether or not he had been hit in the leg with a pitch (he was grazed). While Earl Weaver was disputing it (screaming) unsuccessfully with the ump, Robinson was nowhere to be seen. When it came time to resume the game, he was not there. After a minute or so, he finally came out of the clubhouse – still hitching up his belt! He added to the effect of the situation to stick it to the ump by going into the clubhouse to “receive treatment” for his injury.
The 66 Orioles team was such a delight to follow – always exciting games and heroics with a solid lineup from top to bottom. But it was difficult to follow them from far northwest New Jersey where I lived. WBAL radio could be heard there – especially at night (almost never during the daytime) – but it was often a faint signal. I would carefully tune the dial on the console radio (on top of the fridge) just right, and would often still have to stand on a stool and place my ear against the speaker to just barely hear the games. By the era of the great Orioles teams in 69-70-71, transistor radios made listening much easier, though far from perfect. And of course, cable TV and all the resources we have with computers was simply the stuff of the Jetson’s and Lost in Space (TV programs from that time).
Frank Robinson also put ME on the map with the other kids. Most kids in NJ in 1966 had never even heard of the Orioles. Whatever was known about pro baseball involved either the Yankees or Phillies. But EVERY kid knew that Randy was crazy about this other team called the Baltimore Orioles, and I am sure that even to this day that would be the first remembrance classmates have of me. It was great fun in October of that year to walk into school the Monday after the World Series championship and show them my game tickets from the day before! Yep! Somehow my family secured them (at a huge cost of $17 for the pair!) and I was in the right field bleachers when Frank scored the only run of that decisive fourth and final game with a long homer to left field.
Frank Robinson – truly one of the all-time greats!