Two Robin­sons set the tone for Ori­oles

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

Brooks Robin­son is from Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas — a battleground in the civil rights strug­gle.

It was the place where nine AfricanAmer­i­can stu­dents en­rolled in the seg­re­gated Lit­tle Rock Cen­tral High School in

1957 and were met by Na­tional Guard troops who re­fused them en­try, only fi­nally walk­ing into the school un­der the pro­tec­tion of the 101st Air­borne Di­vi­sion of the U.S. Army, un­der or­ders by Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower.

Two years ear­lier, Brooks was a stu­dent at Cen­tral High.

Frank Robin­son, who passed away last week at the age of 83, was born in Beau­mont, Texas, but was raised in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, a place whose racial pol­i­tics led to the birth of the Black Pan­thers, founded by Bobby Seale and Huey New­ton.

A white player and a black player com­ing from very dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments, thrown to­gether in a his­toric 1966 Cincin­nati Reds trade of Frank to the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles with a back­drop of a na­tion on the verge of ex­plod­ing over racial ten­sions. Bal­ti­more would be where the civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tion CORE — the Con­gress for Racial Equal­ity — would fight hous­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion. It held

its na­tional con­ven­tion in the city in 1966, and the Rev. Mar­tin Luther King came to Bal­ti­more twice that year to de­mand fair hous­ing laws.

Yet dur­ing one of the most volatile times in Amer­ica dur­ing the 20th cen­tury, a time when so­cial and cul­tural change was caus­ing tur­moil on the streets, the Ori­oles club­house was a fortress of sorts against the tide that en­gulfed the coun­try.

Amid a time of of­ten bit­ter con­fronta­tion be­tween black and white Amer­ica, Frank Robin­son, a black base­ball player, and Brooks Robin­son, a white base­ball player, forged a friend­ship that would last a life­time.

They set a tone of hu­man­ity, not ha­tred, in­side the Bal­ti­more club­house — a spirit of broth­er­hood that likely helped the team win four Amer­i­can League pen­nants and two World Series in the six years Frank was there.

“Once they be­came team­mates they be­came friends, too,” Paul Blair, the Ori­oles Gold Glove out­fielder who died in 2013, told me in an in­ter­view. Blair, a black player who had been drafted by the Ori­oles in 1962, said the team’s two stars set the ex­am­ple for oth­ers.

“They were the lead­ers ... they un­der­stood their roles, and they em­braced their roles. Every­body on the team was like fam­ily, and Frank just came in and be­came part of the fam­ily.”

Brooks had al­ready been with the Ori­oles for 10 years and was the AL Most Valu­able Player in 1964. It was his team. Then Frank ar­rived in 1966 with a rep­u­ta­tion as a hard-nosed player with a strong per­son­al­ity and pres­ence.

“I don’t think any­body on our team re­ally knew Frank,” Brooks told me in an in­ter­view. “But he came here and he fit right in. We all looked at him, won­der­ing what to ex­pect. But he was a hell of a player.”

“We had a great re­la­tion­ship,” Brooks said. “A lot of guys took that as a cue, if Brooks and Frank are this close, we need to get along. If it had gone the other way, it would have been bad. We didn’t know how Frank was go­ing to fit in here. We didn’t know him, but from spring train­ing, he was just one of the guys.”

Frank was traded to the Dodgers af­ter the 1971 sea­son, but he and Brooks re­mained close right up un­til Frank’s death.

“To­day is a very sad day be­cause I lost not only my team­mate, but also a very dear friend,” Brooks said in a state­ment re­leased upon the news that Frank had passed away. “I loved Frank and got to know him so much bet­ter af­ter we both re­tired. I spoke to him a few days ago and he sounded good. He wanted to be home. I let him know that Con­nie and I were pulling for him, and that he, Bar­bara, and Nichelle were in our prayers. As a player, I put Frank in a class with Wil­lie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Man­tle. He was the best player I ever played with. When he came here in 1966, he put us over the top. He was a great man and he will be deeply missed.”

In a con­ver­sa­tion I had with Frank when he was man­ag­ing the Washington Na­tion­als, he got emo­tional when talk­ing about his friend­ship with Brooks.

“If I needed Brooks here, all I would have to do is pick up the phone and he would be here,” he told me.

They had come a long way from Lit­tle Rock and Oak­land.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bal­ti­more Ori­oles team­mates Frank Robin­son (left) and Brooks Robin­son forged a friend­ship that would last a life­time dur­ing an era of of­ten bit­ter con­fronta­tion be­tween white and black Amer­ica.

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