Celebrating 60: Frank Robinson reflects on winning two World Series with O’s, playing at Memorial Stadium

Outfielder Frank Robinson started his career in 1956 and played his final game in 1976. In between, he put up Hall of Fame numbers.

Robinson finished with 586 home runs, 2,948 hits and 1,812 RBIs. As an Oriole in 1966, he hit .316 with 42 homers and 122 RBIs to win the American League Triple Crown. He won National League Rookie of the Year and an MVP award in each league.

He helped the Orioles to two World Series titles in 1966 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and in 1970 against Cincinnati. He was the MVP in the ‘66 World Series.

Robinson, elected to Cooperstown in 1982, took time to answer questions for MASNsports.com.

Q: How much baseball do you watch daily?
A: “Anywhere from two to 10 games a day. I try to be neutral because of my position with the commissioner’s office. I probably watch the Orioles, Nationals and Reds games more regularly than other teams.”

Q: What do you remember about where you were and your reaction when you heard that you were traded to Baltimore?

A: “I’ll never forget that. I was at the dinner table, getting ready to have a steak dinner that my wife, Barbara, had prepared with the kids. After that, I was going bowling. The phone rang and Barbara answered just before I was getting ready to cut my steak. Everything was kind of a blur after hearing that I had been traded. The steak didn’t taste the same, the meal didn’t taste the same and I didn’t bowl very well that night, probably the worst three games of my (bowling) career. I was crushed. However, it wound up being the best thing for me and the direction of my career.”

Q: What was the most difficult segment of the Triple Crown to accomplish?

A: “All three of them are difficult, but the most difficult for me was the average. Tony Oliva (of the Twins) had won the batting title two years in a row and I was in a race with him. It came down to the last series when we played the Twins in Baltimore. My pitching staff guaranteed they would shut down Oliva. I had never heard of anyone doing that before. Before the last game, (manager Hank Bauer) asked me if I wanted to sit because I was ahead of Tony. I said, ‘No. I played 161 games and if I’m going to win it, I’m going to win it on the field.’ I was fortunate that Oliva didn’t have a hot series and I won the batting title.”

Q: You hit two home runs in the 1966 World Series against the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale, including the 1-0 series-clinching win. What was it like facing Drysdale?

A: “I had faced him for 10 years, so there was nothing special about it. I didn’t have a home run against him in those 10 years. Drysdale wasn’t the Drysdale that he had been. He was throwing the ball more over the top than on the side, and his ball didn’t move as much. I was fortunate enough to hit one in the first game. In the fourth game, the first two batters made outs on the first pitch. The rule of thumb those days was if the first two guys make quick outs, the third hitter always takes a strike. That’s how I approached the plate, but as I stepped in, I said to myself, ‘No. It is 0-0. If you get a pitch that you can drive, you should take a swing at it.’ And I certainly did on the first pitch, which was knee-high and in. I was fortunate enough to hit it clear out of the ballpark.”

Q: What is your lasting image of winning the 1970 World Series?

A: “That (pitcher) Eddie Watt took us an extra day. The scouting report was do not, DO NOT, throw the Reds’ Lee May a fastball. And that’s what we emphasized to our pitching staff. We were up two or three runs (going for a sweep in Game 4) and Lee May comes up with two men on in the ninth inning, and what does Eddie throw? Threw him a fastball and we got beat. We had to go an extra game. The main thing was the satisfaction of the win. The Big Red Machine was overwhelmingly favored to win the World Series. That was another series when (Series MVP) Brooks Robinson was Brooks Robinson. He was unbelievable (with his defense). He drove Johnny Bench crazy. I asked Bench, ‘Why don’t you try somebody else? You’re not going to get anything by that guy.’ “

Q: You hit a home run completely out of Memorial Stadium. Did you ever go out and visit the spot?

A: “No, I never did. They don’t really know where it hit. All they said is that it wound up on a car. A couple of kids rounded up the ball and brought it back. I traded in my jersey and bat for the ball. I knew I hit the ball good, but I didn’t realize I hit it out of stadium. I didn’t believe it because we had a few jokers on the team. They said, ‘Man, you hit that one completely out of the stadium,’ and I would tell them to, ‘Get out of here, I didn’t hit no ball out of the stadium.’ When I got a standing ovation when I went out in right field the next inning, I knew it had to be something special, not just a home run, and figured maybe I did hit it out of the stadium. It was a good feeling when I came to grips with it, and for the rest of my career and until that stadium was torn down, I rooted for no more balls to be hit out of there.”

Q: In 1989, you were AL Manager of the Year for the Orioles after taking a 54-win team and changing it into a contender with 87 wins. What did you tell them at the start and what was the key to the turnaround?

A: “I told them what I felt at the time. I really did feel that if we go out and play sound fundamental baseball, we could be in about every game. And when you’re in every game, you’re going to win your share. We started the season so-so, but I looked up in May and no one had taken off, and I said, ‘We have a chance.’ We caught fire in May, June and July, and by the All-Star break, we were 7 1/2 games up. I thought we had a shot, but we faded. That was a fun team to manage because they did a lot of things that people didn’t expect us to do. Everyone rose to the occasion. The phrase, ‘Why Not?’ caught on. Fans were amazing. I was very happy for that team.”

Q: What pitcher gave you the most fits?

A: “Don Drysdale, without a doubt, gave me the most trouble as a hitter. I always stood close to the plate and he threw from the side. He was 6-foot-4, 6-5. He was like a whip. He had a good slider, the fastball ran in on you. And he was mean. He didn’t mind throwing at you. He didn’t mind knocking you down. One time he was told to intentional walk me, but then hit me in the ribs on the first pitch. He was asked afterward, ‘Did you see (manager) Walt (Alston) give the intentional walk to Frank?’ Drysdale said, ‘Yeah, but why waste three pitches?’ I didn’t like him when he was out on the mound. He didn’t like me when I was in the box, but I respected him and I think he respected me. When I would go against him, I would be tired after the game from diving back away from the fastball and trying to stay in on the slider. It felt like I wrestled a bear every time I hit against him.”

Q: Growing up, who was your baseball hero?

A: “I didn’t have a baseball hero. The major leagues wasn’t on the West Coast. I didn’t believe in heroes. My mother always taught me to be myself. Don’t try to be someone else.”

Q: As a player, would you have liked to hit in Camden Yards?

A: “Yes because I enjoyed hitting in a ballpark similar to Camden Yards in Cincinnati for 10 years. That (Crosley Field) was a cozy ballpark. There wasn’t a 400-foot sign anywhere. There was a clock and scoreboard in left-center that you had to clear, about 53 feet high. If you hit the clock or scoreboard, you better run hard. I must have hit them at least 10 to 15 times a year. It was a great ballpark with the fans right on top of you. It was nice and cozy.”