He had a hitch in his swing.
He crowded the plate like few others ever had done. His arm went dead
one year, and he couldn't play the outfield.
But that didn't prevent Frank
Robinson from becoming one of the best players ever to put on the
red-and-white Cincinnati uniform.
Robinson was a product of
Oakland, California, and was first noticed by scouts at the age of 14
playing American Legion baseball. He had a big hitch in his swing then -
just as he did when he terrorized National and American League pitchers.
"This kid has a hitch in his
swing, but don't let anyone tamper with him. It's how he generates his
power," Reds scout Bobby Mattick told Reds general manager Gabe Paul
about Robinson. Mattick eventually signed him, hitch and all.
Robinson roared through the
Cincinnati farm system, and in 1956 he was voted the
National League Rookie of the Year. He smashed 38 home runs, tying the
National League record for a rookie, a record he still shares with Wally
Berger. Those 38 homers were tops for the club that year when it tied
the National League mark.
Robinson's career at one
point seemed to be short-lived. His right arm went dead, powerless. He
couldn't throw. And ballplayers who can't throw are about as useless as
automobiles without wheels. He was moved to first base. But after a
season there, the arm came around. The only answer seemed to be that
Robby had a sore arm, and a season of not
throwing much let it heal.
Because Robinson crowded the
plate - sometimes he actually leaned out over it - he continually was
knocked down. But he seemed to thrive on it: many times he would get up
out of the dirt and hit the next pitch over the fence. He was absolutely
fearless at the plate and, regardless of how many times he was hit, he
bounced right back up.
During Gene Mauch's reign as
Philadelphia Phillies manager, he automatically fined any pitcher who
knocked down Robinson $50 quite a reversal for a manager known as one
of the feistiest in the game.
Robinson played the outfield
much the same way as he batted. He did not give in to fences and often
crashed into an outfield wall on the dead run. When he played hard,
there were few better at the game than Frank Robinson.
1961 was one of his finest
years: he batted .321, hit 37 home runs and knocked in 124 runs. He led
the Reds to their first pennant in 21 years and won the Most Valuable
Player Award. Five years later he won the MVP again, but that time for
the Baltimore Orioles.
It was after the 1965 season
that Robinson was traded to Baltimore. Team-owner Bill DeWitt will never
live down his statement that Robinson was "an old 30." But, at the time,
the deal looked like a good one. Frank hadn't done much since his MVP
year, and the Reds needed pitching, which they got.
Robinson's competitive spirit
came home to haunt DeWitt and the Reds. He won the Triple Crown for the
Orioles in 1966, and when he picked up his MVP trophy he laid claim to being
the only player in baseball history to be named Most Valuable in both
In the early 1970s Robinson
began setting his sights on managing. In 1975 he got his chance when
Cleveland hired him as baseball's first black manager. Two years later
he became the first black manager to be fired. He went on to Rochester
in the minor leagues, then coached for Earl Weaver in Baltimore, and
finally returned to managing in 1981 with the San Francisco Giants.
Robinson's career has been
one of baseball's most unique. And one of the best. For that reason, he
was ushered into the Hall of Fame last January - only the 13th player
ever elected on the first ballot. Not bad for a kid who had a hitch in