Tuesday, March 01, 2011

#120 Frank Robinson

#120 Frank Robinson
That's right, it's the baddest mamma-jamma to ever hike his stirrups up extra-high. This is Robby's last card as a member of the Reds; he was somewhat famously traded to Baltimore in the following offseason and appeared hatless and assigned to the Orioles in 1966 Topps.

Fun facts about Frank Robinson:

-Frank was born in Beaumont, TX but attended McClymonds High School in Oakland, CA. He was on the same high school basketball team as Celtics legend Bill Russell, and the McClymonds baseball team featured an outfield of Robinson, Curt Flood, and Vada Pinson. The Reds signed all three young players, including Robinson in 1953.

-He made short work of the minor leagues, and earned the nod as Cincy's left fielder in 1956 at the age of 20. He was the unanimous choice for National League Rookie of the Year with a league-leading 122 runs scored. The first-year player also led his team with 38 home runs and a .558 slugging percentage and batted a robust .290 with a .379 on-base percentage. He was an All-Star for the first of 12 seasons, and finished 7th in MVP voting.

-In 1961, Frank led the Reds to the N.L. Pennant and was named MVP in a rout. He paced the league with a .611 slugging percentage and 1.015 OPS and batted .323 with a .404 on-base percentage, 37 home runs, and 124 RBI, not to mention 22 steals. Unfortunately the Yankees bested Cincinnati in a five-game World Series as Frank batted .200 (3-for-15) with three walks, two doubles, a homer, and four RBI.

-As incredible as it seems, he was even better in 1962 as the top National Leaguer in runs (134), doubles (51), OBP (.421!), SLG (.624), and of course OPS (1.045). He batted .342 with 39 home runs and a career-high 136 RBI, and the Reds finished third despite 98 wins. He finished fourth for the MVP, which was won by Maury Wills (104 SB, .720 OPS) in a ridiculous consensus. Willie Mays and Tommy Davis were 2-3,  and they each had their own case for the award.

-After averaging 32+ home runs and 101 RBI in 10 seasons in Cincinnati, Robinson was shocked to be traded to the Orioles for a package headlined by Milt Pappas. Reds' owner Bill DeWitt famously explained the trade by asserting that the outfielder was "an old thirty". Frank got the last laugh, winning the Triple Crown in his 1966 American League debut (.316 AVG, 49 HR, 122 RBI). He also topped the A.L. in OBP (.410), SLG (career-high .637), runs (122), and total bases (367). His OPS+ was 198, meaning that he was practically twice as good as the average player in the league. He became the first (and to date, the only) player to win MVP awards in each league, and added the World Series MVP as well. He slugged .857 in the Birds' shocking four-game sweep of the Dodgers, setting the tone with a two-run homer off of Don Drysdale in the first inning of the first game and bookending the Series with a home run off of Drysdale to account for the only run in the clincher. It's fair to say that the O's would have won the trade even if he retired after that first season.

-One more milestone from the 1966 season: In the second game of a May 8 doubleheader against Cleveland, he hit a two-run homer off of Luis Tiant. It was the only fly ball to ever leave Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, and was marked with a flag that simply said "HERE".

-But Frank remained productive in Baltimore for another five seasons, although injuries and age brought his numbers closer to Earth. The Orioles won four pennants during his tenure, and won another World Series over his former team in 1970. He added two more home runs to his ledger in that Series, and ultimately finished his career with 10 home runs in 35 postseason contests.

-The aging slugger was traded three times in a three-year span near the end of his career, going from the Orioles to the Dodgers to the Angels and finally to the Indians. Prior to the 1975 season, Cleveland appointed him player-manager, making him the first African-American manager in major league history. During his final season on the active roster, he inserted himself into a June 11, 1976 home game against the White Sox. It was the bottom of the 13th, and Chicago led 4-3 with two outs and Larvell Blanks on first base. Manager Robinson pulled the right strings, sending up pinch-hitter Robinson to deliver a walk-off two-run home run against reliever Terry Forster!

-Frank hung up his spikes after 21 seasons with a batting line of .294/.389/.537. His 586 home runs were fourth-best all-time (now ninth-best), and his 1,812 RBI are still #20 on the list. His uniform number (also #20, incidentally) has been retired by the Orioles and the Reds, and he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer along with Hank Aaron in 1982.

-In addition to the Indians (1975-1977), he managed the Giants (1981-1984), Orioles (1988-1991), Expos (2002-2004), and Nationals (2005-2006). He was named Manager of the Year in 1989 after the Orioles improved from 54-107 to 87-75 in one season and came within two games of the AL East crown. He has also worked in the Orioles front office and the commissioner's office.
#120 Frank Robinson (back)


  1. What a great career. On the field, in the dugout, as an executive. Frank stood up for what he believed was the right way to do things. I admire him as much as any athlete I've ever come across.

    I taped this card inside my locker the winter he came to the Orioles. I was ready for good things for the O's but I never dreamed they's be THAT good.

  2. Bob - I sincerely hope that you didn't write "ORIOLES" on the back of YOUR card in blue ink. ;)

  3. LOL, no I actually didn't even notice that until after I made the comment. I would NEVER have written on a card. I 'flipped' them (a lost art for sure) but that was acceptable. Writing on them was a mortal sin.

    I've come across several cards with ...umm... alterations in my '59 set.

  4. I think Frank was traded to the Orioles because Cincinnati is sort of a southern-type city and he was considered a bit too outspoke (i.e., "uppity") for that time and place. Just think, though, how good the later Big Red Machine would have been with Frank Robinson (albeit aging and somewhat in decline) in addition to Rose, Morgan, Perez, and Bench.

  5. He was traded because the Reds owner at that time was a clueless individual who didn't want to pay Robinson what he was worth. Baltimore must have thought he was joking when he agreed to the trade. The worst trade in the modern era.

  6. Bob - It happens. I need to remember to scan a 1965 Walter Alston card that Max sent me...it's the most hilariously defaced card I've ever seen.

    Marc - Word has it that Bill DeWitt and Robinson never got along.

    Anon - An interesting note about the trade: on Baltimore's end, it was the handiwork of outgoing GM Lee MacPhail. He handed the deal off to new GM Harry Dalton and gave him the choice of signing off on it. I'd certainly say Dalton passed his first test.

  7. I was surprised a few months ago to learn that Robinson had been the Reds' starting 1st baseman for a few years in the early 1960s.

    Commish, Kevin,

    My original 1967 Luis Aparicio card had THERESA scrawled in ink on the back in big letters. If any of you have that card, it was mine once!