Thursday, February 7, 2019

Frank Robinson MVP 1935-2019

This is possibly my favorite baseball card of all time. Its subject is Frank Robinson, one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Before Aaron Judge, before Mark McGwire, Frank Robinson held the record for most homers by a Rookie, hitting 38 in 1956 enroute to the Rookie of the Year award. That would be just the beginning of an illustrious career.

Robinson was on 14 All-Star squads in his career, and was the MVP of the 1971 All-Star game. In 1958, Frank won his only Gold Glove award.

Robinson's first league MVP award came in 1961 with Cincinnati. He led the league in slugging pct. and was walked intentionally more than any other player in the NL, and would lead his league in both categories 4 times over his career. His 1961 MVP season? He hit 37 homers, drove in 124 runs, scored 122 runs of his own and slashed .323 / .404 / .611.  His 1962 season was even better, with 39 Homers and 136 RBI, leading the NL in runs scored, OBP, SLG, and doubles.

Following a decade in Cincinnati, during which he averaged over 100 RBI, 100 runs scored, 167 hits, 32 homers and 16 stolen bases per season, the Reds traded away their superstar for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschin, and Dick Simpson. The Reds owner said that Robinson was now an "old 30" and that his skills were declining.

About that... How about 49 homers, 122 RBI, and a .316 average, all league leading totals. He was the AL MVP, the first player in MLB history to win an MVP in both leagues. Robinson was also the MVP in the 1966 World Series, completing perhaps the best season of his amazing career. This was nothing out of the ordinary for Robinson - his batting style was stand very close to the plate, daring the pitcher to come inside. He would take first base if they did hit him, and was never shy to come back in the next at bat with a hard base hit.

Robinson would play 6 seasons with his brother from another mother Brooks Robinson, bookended with World Series titles in 1966 and 1970. The 1970 World Series victory was against his former team, the Reds. He would return to Southern California, where he grew up, following the 1971 season, again coming off an American League Pennant. He had an injury shortened stint with the Dodgers, but he would hit 30 homers for the Angels in 1973, and was traded the following season to Cleveland, where he would once again make history.

Frank Robinson was the first Black Manager in Major League Baseball history, serving as a Player / Manager in Cleveland starting in 1975. His first at bat as a Manager / Player was a Home Run, that Cleveland fans would vote as the most memorable moment in the team's history.

After a stint with the Giants in the early 80s, Robinson would return to Baltimore, this time as the team's manager. In 1988, the Orioles had a rough season until Robinson came aboard to change the team's fortunes around. While they finished second in the AL East, Robinson was named the Manager of the Year in 1989, thanks to the hard work he did to make them a competitive squad.

Despite the great play on the field and the history making turn as manager, Robinson sometimes seems to be an afterthought in newer releases - the Reds tend to get players from the 70s "Big Red Machine" teams first, and the Orioles' tend to focus on guys like Ripken, Murray, and Jim Palmer. Robinson still has a lot of post career cards, but you'd think the guy with the 4th most homers in the 20th Century would be closer to Aaron/Mays/Ruth on new cards too.

This was not the post I planned to make today, but I learned this afternoon that Frank Robinson passed away. The '61 NL MVP, '66 AL MVP, '66 World Series MVP, '71 All-Star Game MVP, and 1989 Manager of the Year was a giant in the game of baseball, from his 1956 Rookie of the Year campaign to being named President of the American League following his retirement from Managing the Washington Nationals. He will be greatly missed.