⏩ Frank Robinson:
Joe Morgan recalls fellow Oakland native’s days with Giants, legendary career.
Joe Morgan was thrilled that he got to share one of the grandest moments in Giants history with Frank Robinson.
When Morgan hit his extraordinary home run at Candlestick Park on the final day of the 1982 season, lifting the Giants to a 5-3 victory that eliminated the Dodgers from the playoff race, Robinson was completing his second season as San Francisco’s manager.
“For me to be able to hit that home run on that last day of the season and to run over and have someone of Frank Robinson’s caliber greet me, that was a big deal,” Morgan said in a phone interview, “because I know Frank hit home runs like that all the time through his career.”
When Robinson died on Thursday at 83, Morgan lost a longtime friend whom he emulated growing up in Oakland, where Robinson was a star athlete at McClymonds High School. Morgan, 75, read about Robinson’s athletic exploits in the Oakland Tribune and followed in his footsteps from Castlemont High all the way to Cooperstown.
They were close since their Giants days, and Morgan remained in steady contact with Robinson through the final days of his life.
“We always had a lot of things connecting us,” said Morgan, who was on the Hall of Fame board of directors with Robinson, “and I had the honor to play for him in ’81 and ’82.”
Robinson took over the Giants in 1981, becoming the National League’s first African American manager — he already had been the first in the American League with Cleveland. After Robinson was named the Giants’ manager, Morgan signed as a free agent, and the team contended the following year.
On the penultimate day of the season, the Dodgers knocked out the Giants, who returned the favor in the finale, thanks to Morgan’s homer, paving the way for the Braves to win the division.
“That was one of the highlights of my baseball career, playing there,” Morgan said. “I played with the Big Red Machine. We were supposed to win. We had the best players. We played the way it was supposed to be played. We had some great teams.
“That 1982 Giants team, Frank Robinson led us to where we got to go. He was the inspiration. We had a lot of good players. Reggie Smith, Darrell Evans, Chili Davis, Jack Clark. I mean, we had a group of guys who played their tail off.
“They didn’t have the ability the Big Red Machine had, but they played hard, and I was probably as proud of that team, led by Frank Robinson, as any team I played on.”
When Robinson retired, he was fourth alltime in home runs (he’s now 10th) and a 14-time All-Star. He’s the only player with MVPs in both leagues. He won a World Series MVP, All-Star Game MVP, Triple Crown, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year.
Yet, he wasn’t included on Major League Baseball’s All-Century team, which listed 10 outfielders and was revealed during the 1999 World Series.
“One thing that bothers me to this moment is that Frank Robinson is the most underrated superstar in the history of this game,” Morgan said. “When I played, we always talked about (Willie) Mays, (Henry) Aaron, (Roberto) Clemente, all those guys. They obviously were the greatest players, but Frank Robinson was right there with them, and he doesn’t get the credit for that.”
The All-Century omission “still sticks in my craw, and I know it was something that bothered him, too,” Morgan said. “Frank deserved more adulation than he got.”
Morgan witnessed Jackie Robinson’s final public appearance, before Game 2 of the 1972 World Series between the Reds and A’s. Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier as a player in 1947, urged baseball to hire its first black manager, and Frank Robinson took over the Indians three seasons later.
At his news conference in Cleveland, Frank Robinson said he was sorry Jackie Robinson couldn’t be in attendance.
“I remember Jackie’s words as if they were yesterday,” Morgan said. “I idolized Jackie and Nellie Fox (like Jackie, a second baseman) growing up. So I’m sitting there listening to everything he said, and at the end, he said, ‘I’ll never be happy until I see a black face managing from one of these dugouts.’
“I always remembered that. That was 1972. There obviously was not an African American manager then, and there’s only one African American manager now, Dave Roberts. I guess Jackie could say a lot of things haven’t changed, to be honest with you.”
As a kid, Morgan followed Robinson’s legendary high school career. Robinson played for prominent Oakland coach George Powles, including on a national championship American Legion team.
“I’m from Oakland, he’s from Oakland. So he was a guy I wanted to emulate,” Morgan said. “He and Curt Flood and Vada Pinson all went to the major leagues, so I wanted to follow in their footsteps, and Frank was the best of all those players.
“I couldn’t be like him because he was a lot bigger than I was, but I looked up to him.”