⏩ Frank Robin­son:

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTING GREEN - By John Shea John Shea is The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle’s na­tional base­ball writer. Email: [email protected] sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @JohnSheaHey

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.”

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