You talk about a man who had a massive impact on a sport - and his country, really - it was Frank Robinson, who died yesterday at 83. The tributes has been flooding in from so many.
He made his mark on the Orioles, leading the club to four World Series, winning two, during his six years as an O’s player from 1966-1971. He was later a coach, manager and executive for the Orioles, the only person in team history to play for the club and serve in those roles as well.
On April 28, 2012, Robinson’s statue was unveiled beyond the left-center fence at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, in the area known as Orioles Legends Park.
That day, Robinson said this of that honor: “Since this is going to be a lifetime thing as far as the statue is concerned, it ranks right up there with the Hall of Fame. It is a tremendous honor. It’s something you don’t think about and when you hear about it and that they are going to do it for you, it takes a while for it to absorb. I’m just very happy and very proud to have that honor bestowed on me by the Orioles.”
Robinson also that same day discussed the trade in December of 1965 that sent him from Cincinnati to the Orioles.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to come, I had no choice. What it was, I was just crushed, crushed, remember that was the organization I signed with, Cincinnati,” Robinson said. “It took me about three days to get over it, but once I was over it, I was ready to go. I was happy to come here and I was happy I did come here. This was the perfect fit for me here, in this city, with this team, this organization and the players we had here and the players that came after that.
“That’s one thing about this game of baseball, it’s the friends that you make. The people that you meet and come in contact with and the friendships that you make in this game. And with the players here, we had a friendship. We don’t see each other a lot. But when we do it’s like we haven’t missed a beat, that’s how much we respect each other and think about each other.”
Here are a few other quotes from around the baseball world since Frank’s passing, most of these compiled from Twitter. It’s a random collection, but it shows how many different people Robinson affected, and in many different ways.
From Hank Aaron: “Frank Robinson and I were more than baseball buddies. We were friends. Frank was a hard-nosed player who did things on the field that people said could never be done. I’m so glad I had the chance to know him all of those years. Baseball will miss a tremendous human being.”
From ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian: “Frank Robinson is the most ferocious competitor I’ve ever met, the most underrated player of all time. The Orioles won the World Series in his first year in Baltimore. Brooks Robinson told me, Frank taught us how to win. Frank taught me so much about the game. R.I.P. my friend.”
From Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell, a former high school hoops teammate: “Heartbreaking news in the passing of my Dear Friend & @McClymondsHS classmate Frank Robinson. It was my pleasure & great honor to have known him. We all know we lost one of the Greats, what we really lost was a Friend.”
From our MASNSports.com colleague Mark Zuckerman, who has covered the Nationals a long time, including when Robinson managed the team: “I’ve been blessed to be able to experience so much in my career, but nothing will ever top two seasons spent talking baseball - and life - daily with Frank Robinson.”
From the Oakland A’s: “The A’s are saddened to hear of the passing of McClymonds High grad, Hall of Famer, and baseball trailblazer Frank Robinson. Frank played in the very first game hosted at the Coliseum on April 17, 1968 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles. Our thoughts are with his family.”
From sportscaster Brent Musberger: “Rest in Peace, Frank Robinson. When I covered baseball daily for Chicago’s American in the ’60s, I considered Frank the toughest clutch hitter in the game.”
From the Orioles’ Trey Mancini: “The baseball world lost a legend today. If you don’t know much about Frank Robinson, I recommend looking him up. He is what every player and person should strive to be!”
From the Orioles’ Cedric Mullins: “Sad day in history, one of the greatest to ever do it! My condolences and prayers to all family and friends of the great Frank Robinson #RIP”
Remembering 1989: Robinson managed the Orioles from early in the 1988 season through early in 1991. The 1988 club started the season 0-21 and were 0-6 when Robinson took over. The Orioles went on to finish the season at 54-107. But a year later, the “Why Not” Orioles went 87-75 and just missed the playoffs.
The starting right fielder on both those clubs was Joe Orsulak.
“Frank was a tough guy,” Orsulak said. “He would sit on the bench and call every pitch (by the opponent pitcher). He might not tell you how he could do that. His thought was you had to figure that out. You had to study harder, and it helped you in the long run. It made you think and become a better player.”
Many have said that Robinson was a man of few words, but when he spoke you listened. Orsulak said he experienced that first-hand.
“When I was in one of my annual swoons early in the season (in 1989), I came in after breaking my bat on a groundout to second. Frank said, ‘Joe, you’re better than that.’ Most managers might say ‘keep your head in, keep your shoulder in.’ But Frank said, ‘You’re better than that.’ It sent chills through my body, goose bumps. When a player like Frank Robinson said that, it had a big impact on me and I hit great the rest of that season. I don’t even know if he realized how much weight he carried when he spoke, but he did to me. I played for a lot of good managers, but he was the only one that said that and it could have that kind of impact. There was a presence that he had.”
O’s add a pitcher: Just days before the Orioles report to spring training, they have signed their first major league free agent of the offseason. Right-hander Nate Karns agreed to a one-year deal that guarantees him $800,000, and he could earn another $200,000 through innings incentives.
Karns hasn’t pitched since May 19, 2017 with Kansas City. He underwent thoracic outlet surgery two months later, was shut down the following March with inflammation in his right elbow and didn’t return to the mound. But for the Orioles, it’s a low-risk and potentially high-reward deal if Karns is healthy and pitches as he did in the past, especially when he was with Tampa Bay.
We don’t know if he will be tried as a starter or reliever, but if Karns pitches well, the Orioles will have a player at a low dollar amount who would become either a trade chip this year at midseason or someone the club could re-sign and keep through 2020.