First-ballot Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who was Major League Baseball’s first Black manager, has died at the age of 83 after a prolonged battle with bone cancer.
Robinson is one of the most groundbreaking figures in MLB history. He heavily impacted the integration of Black players into the league. Nearly a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1946, Robinson broke into the majors earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1956 while playing for the Cincinnati Reds.
The then 20-year-old’s accomplishments were filled with adversity that included receiving death threats and racist taunts, yet his determination and talent would not be denied.
Robinson became the first player in baseball history to win MVP awards in both the National League with the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 and the American League in 1966 with the Baltimore Orioles.
Over the course of his playing career, Robinson won two World Series titles in 1966 and 1970; he made 14 All-Star game appearances and currently ranks tenth on the all-time home run list with 586.
In 1974, Robinson continued to create milestones after being hired as the first Black manager in the MLB by the Cleveland Indians while he was still an active player.
Robinson then became the first Black manager in the National League with the San Francisco Giants in 1981. The following season, Robinson guided the Giants into playoff contention. That same season he led the team to the playoffs, Robinson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a Baltimore Oriole in 1982. His number, No. 20, is retired by the Reds, Orioles and Giants’ organizations. He went on to manage the Orioles and the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals.
Robinson was the youngest of 10 children born on Aug. 31, 1935, in Beaumont, Texas. A few years later, his mother moved Robinson and his siblings to the East Bay area in northern California where he attended McClymonds High School. Robinson was a high school baseball teammate of Curt Flood, who is responsible for modern-day free agency and another Black trailblazer in sports. The Reds signed Robinson out of McClymonds High School in 1953 for a $3,500 signing bonus according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Due to Robinson’s involvement in the civil rights movement and his many accolades, in 2005 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. Robinson has statues dedicated to him outside Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.
The legacy of Frank Robinson will live on for future generations as a result of his countless contributions to baseball history and the trajectory of Black players and managers.
The Robinson family asked that contributions in his memory be made to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis or the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
The NAACP released the following statement on Robinson’s passing:
“The NAACP mourns the passing of one of baseball’s all-time greats, Frank Robinson.
A powerful hitter and great fielder, Robinson starred for the Cincinnati Reds and later the Baltimore Orioles and became a triple crown winner as well as a 2-time World Series winner.
Robinson first declined membership in the NAACP unless it was not made public until his experiences with Baltimore’s segregated housing market spurred a change of mind. He became a powerful supporter of civil rights issues.”