For me growing up, Frank Robinson was an iconic symbol unlike any other. I always tell everyone Cal Ripken Jr. was my favorite all-time Oriole growing up, but Frank was my all-time favorite ballplayer.
Honestly, due to my age, I really didn’t see him play at all - well, except on videotape. Really, the only link to his legend for me as a fan was hearing stories about him from other fans that had the privilege of watching up close - or perhaps in the nosebleeds of Memorial Stadium.
My recollection of his time as an Orioles manager is fuzzy at best, so my first chance to really see him on a regular basis came when the Nationals came into the region. As we all know, he managed the Montreal Expos before they came in the mid-Atlantic and were renamed the Washington Nationals.
I went to the last Washington Nationals game of 2006 at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., which incidentally, was Robinson’s last one as manager.
As a baseball fan in general, I often catch teams other than the Orioles, and even though Robinson donned the Nationals’ red and blue, he was still the man to me.
I saw a sometimes stubborn icon, a man who had a will of steel, show his emotion. He cried and showed love to his fans that Sunday. It sent chills up my spine.
That day, 30,000 of us, along with Robinson’s family, showered him with respect, love and empathy. The only time I felt that way previously was when I saw Ripken run across the warning track at Camden Yards while watching TV the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak.
Letting Robinson go as manager was surely a business move on the Nationals’ part, and most people understood and respected it. Some people, however, felt the organization disrespected Robinson by the way they handled his departure.
No matter how anyone felt and despite the amount of wins and losses, people loved Robinson. They loved him even though he was not touchy-feely, grandfatherly type, the possessor the aura or charisma of a Joe Torre, or the supposed managerial brilliance of a Tony LaRussa. He was a hard-ass and an old school guy, but he wanted to win.
I admired Robinson during his time in Washington, although it seemed he was stuck between a rock and a hard place at times. Maybe it is because we have a common ethnicity, and he was a legend; maybe I respected the way he played ball and his competitive fire.
Perhaps it was that he wore the black and orange with pride, although younger fans know him as the first manager of the Nationals.
What struck me though in watching - and later meeting him - was that Robinson was a tough, proud man who did not take disrespect from anyone. Just imagine - Robinson at AARP age, took on Mike Scioscia, a man more than 20 years younger.
When someone threw at him, he got mad and didn’t get back with violence, but at the plate with the bat. Lord, did he ever take it out on a ball.
He wore number 20 for the Orioles and the Nationals. He hit 586 homers. He was the Triple Crown Winner in 1966. Robinson was a two-time World Series winner. He became the first African American manager with the Cleveland Indians in 1974.
Based on his managerial statistics, he was not a great, numbers-wise. He never took a team to the playoffs, and he surely never had the best talent on his teams, but he seemed to approach his job with an old-school grit and workman-like ethic.
In life, you work hard, take your lumps, do your job even though you may not have the resources, and do everything with integrity. Robinson was the embodiment of those values, not only when he played, but when he managed.
He’s an icon of two cities, and not many athletes, much less, many people can claim that.
We all should be grateful.
Anthony Amobi blogs about the Orioles at Oriole Post. His observations about the O’s appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.