LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the first black manager in Major League Baseball and the only player to win the MVP award in both leagues, died Thursday. He was 83.
Robinson had recently been in hospice care at his home in Bel Air. MLB confirmed his death.
An MVP with Cincinnati and Baltimore, Robinson cemented his legacy when he became Cleveland’s manager in 1975. The Reds, Orioles and Indians retired his No. 20 and honored him with statues at their stadiums.
Fearsome and fearless in the batter’s box, Robinson hit 586 home runs — he was fourth on the career list behind only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays when he retired and now ranks 10th. He won the Triple Crown while leading the Orioles to their first World Series championship in 1966.
An All-Star outfielder in 12 seasons and a first-ballot selection to Cooperstown, Robinson also was a Rookie of the Year and picked up a Gold Glove.
Robinson’s place in the game’s history extended far beyond his abundant playing skills.
While still active, Robinson fulfilled his quest to become the first African-American manager in the big leagues. In his first at-bat as a player-manager for Cleveland, he hit a home run.
Robinson also managed San Francisco, Baltimore and Montreal. He became the first manager of the Washington Nationals after the franchise moved from Montreal for the 2005 season — he also was in the Nationals’ Ring of Honor.
More than half the major league teams have had black managers since his debut in the Cleveland dugout.
Robinson later spent several years working as an executive for MLB and for a time oversaw the annual Civil Rights Game. He advocated for more minorities throughout baseball and worked with former Commissioner Bud Selig to develop the Selig Rule, directing teams to interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a new manager.
Former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, who also gained first-ballot entry into the Hall, once called Robinson, “the best player I ever saw.”
Starting out in an era when Mays, Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams were the big hitters, Robinson more than held his own over 21 seasons. He finished with 1,812 RBIs and hit .294 — he played in the World Series five times, and homered in each of them.
Robinson was the only player to hit a ball completely out of old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and once connected for grand slams in consecutive innings of a game. But didn’t just slug away, as evidenced by a .389 on-base average boosted by 1,420 walks against 1,532 strikeouts. Extremely alert on the bases, he had 204 steals.
Robinson played the game with grace, yet was known as fierce competitor who combined hard work with natural talent. He crowded the plate, yielding to no pitcher, and didn’t seem to care about being brushed back or getting hit by a pitch 198 times.