O’s give Frank a fit­ting salute

Bal­ti­more cel­e­brates the life of one of its big­gest he­roes

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - ORIOLES -

The Ori­oles had hon­ored Frank Robin­son in a va­ri­ety of ways since he passed away at age 83 on Feb. 7, but not in a man­ner that brought to­gether his fam­ily, his friends and his Bal­ti­more fans for a poignant trib­ute to the man who put the O’s on the map.

There was a huge me­mo­rial ser­vice at Dodger Sta­dium on Feb. 24, but the Ori­oles waited for the first week­end of the reg­u­lar sea­son to cel­e­brate Robin­son’s life and the con­tri­bu­tion he made to the fran­chise as a player, man­ager and ex­ec­u­tive.

“Frank loved this place,” his widow, Bar­bara, said Satur­day. “He loved the peo­ple here. It was his home. His whole life was built around here. It’s so fi­nal for me. It’s so hard for me be­cause it’s his fi­nal place. This is a pain I thought I could never feel.”

His daugh­ter, Nichelle, said it was dif­fi­cult for her and her mother to make the trip to Bal­ti­more for such an emo­tional evening, but they could not stay away.

“I just want to thank this city and the fans for lov­ing him so much … and he loved them,’’ she said. “It has al­ways been spe­cial here. This is our home away from home.”

That love af­fair started when the Ori­oles traded pitcher Milt Pap­pas and two other play­ers to the Cincin­nati Reds to add Robin­son to an Ori­oles team that won 94 games in 1965 and had fin­ished higher than third just once in its first 12 sea­sons in Bal­ti­more.

“He changed the face of the fran­chise,” Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said. “We were a good team. He made it great. We had 24 re­ally good play­ers and he took us ex­actly where we wanted to go — to the World Se­ries.”

The pregame cer­e­mony fea­tured speeches by Ori­oles greats Palmer, Brooks Robin­son and Boog Pow­ell, Bal­ti­more’s acting mayor Jack Young and Jeff Idel­son, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Base­ball Hall of Fame and Mu­seum. Cal Rip­ken Jr., Ed­die Murray and a who’s who of for­mer Ori­oles sat with the fam­ily in three rows of seats fac­ing the stage that was built in front of the pitcher’s mound.

Young read a procla­ma­tion ex­tolling Robin­son’s achieve­ments and des­ig­nat­ing April 6, 2019 as “Frank Robin­son Day” in Bal­ti­more City. Idel­son also chron­i­cled Robin­son’s ca­reer from the year he was named Na­tional League Rookie of the Year for the Reds in 1956 through the sin­gu­lar achieve­ment of win­ning the Most Valu­able Player Award in both leagues to be­ing named Ma­jor League Base­ball’s first African Amer­i­can man­ager.

Brooks Robin­son, Palmer and Pow­ell all re­counted Robin­son’s ar­rival in Bal­ti­more and the im­me­di­ate im­pact he had on the team and their lives.

“As far as great­ness is con­cerned, he is in an elite class,” Brooks said. “Like play­ers like [Mickey] Man­tle, [Wil­lie] Mays and [Hank] Aaron, he could do it all. We started win­ning and we [went to] four World Se­ries af­ter Frank ar­rived, and that was in six years.”

Pow­ell talked nos­tal­gi­cally about the years he bat­ted be­hind Robin­son in the Ori­oles lineup, wit­ness­ing vir­tu­ally all of his offensive hero­ics from the best pos­si­ble van­tage point.

“I was for­tu­nate to be on deck for most of the time Frank was an Ori­ole,” Pow­ell said. “It was like watch­ing Pi­casso at work. And when Frank took Luis Tiant all the way out of Me­mo­rial Sta­dium, I asked him, ‘Did you get it all?’ And he said, ‘Naw, I might have broke my bat.’ What a bomb. Frank went on to win the Triple Crown and I had a front-row seat.”

For­mer Ori­ole Ken Sin­gle­ton was in the New York Yan­kees broad­cast booth dur­ing the cer­e­mony, but he re­mem­bers the way Robin­son was revered in the Ori­oles club­house long af­ter he was traded to the Dodgers in 1972.

That rev­er­ence spread across the na­tion when he broke the man­age­rial color bar­rier with the Cleve­land In­di­ans a few years later.

“First of all, he’s a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure, and not only for what he did on the field,” Sin­gle­ton said.

“He was one of the great­est play­ers ever and, of course, the first African Amer­i­can man­ager in both leagues. Cer­tainly that alone would place him in a his­tor­i­cal frame­work, but he was much more than that. He was a real leader.

“I played for the Ori­oles af­ter Frank was here, and from what I un­der­stand, he was so good he was re­ferred to by his num­ber in­stead of by his name. They know if ‘20’ got hot, they were go­ing on a roll. I’ve heard of sit­u­a­tions where he walked in the club­house and said, ‘Boys, I feel good, jump on for about a week or 10 days,’ and he would go do it. That was the type of per­son he was and the type of player he was.”

This night was about the mark Robin­son left on base­ball and the Ori­oles fran­chise, so it fea­tured play­ers from the golden era of Bal­ti­more base­ball. But Robin­son’s im­por­tance to the city and the sport was not lost on some of the vet­eran mem­bers of the cur­rent team.

“When some­body has im­pacted the game so much like he has, es­pe­cially a cer­tain or­ga­ni­za­tion, it’s nice to see that per­son gets their due re­spect,’’ said Ori­oles pitcher Alex Cobb, who met Robin­son sev­eral times when he was a kid grow­ing up in Vero Beach, Fla. “I know he played be­fore my time, but I was a big base­ball fan grow­ing up. He would al­ways come to Dodger­town for the fan­tasy camps and I would chase him around and get his au­to­graph.”

Re­liever My­chal Givens had a closer con­nec­tion. He said Satur­day that his great grand­fa­ther was a friend of Robin­son’s and was revered in his home.

“Frank once wrote me [a let­ter] when I was a young child play­ing base­ball, “Givens said, “so he meant a lot to me and my fam­ily and for ev­ery­thing he’s done, es­pe­cially be­ing the first black man­ager. That’s a great ac­com­plish­ment and I’d like to see more out there. To talk about his past and talk about what he’s done is a re­ally good thing for ev­ery­body now who doesn’t know.”

peter.sch­[email protected]­sun.com twit­ter.com/Sch­muck­S­top Read more from colum­nist Peter Sch­muck on his blog, "The Sch­muck Stops Here," at bal­ti­more­sun.com/schmuck­blog.

ROB CARR/GETTY

Brooks Robin­son speaks dur­ing a cer­e­mony hon­or­ing for­mer Ori­ole leg­end Frank Robin­son.

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