During a stellar 21-season career, Frank Robinson became the first player to win League MVP honors in both the National and American Leagues, won the Triple crown, was a member of two teams that won the World Series (the 1966 and 1970 Baltimore Orioles), and amassed the fourth-most career home runs in history (he is currently sixth).
After retirement as a player, he became the first permanent African-American manager in Major League history. Currently, he is the manager of the Washington Nationals.
Robinson was born in Beaumont, Texas and grew up in California. Robinson attended McClymonds High School in Oakland, California where he was a basketball teammate of future NBA great Bill Russell.
Robinson had a long and successful playing career. Unusually for a star in the era before free agency, he split his best years between two teams: the Cincinnati Reds (1956 - 1965) and the Baltimore Orioles (1966 - 1971). The later years of his career were spent with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1972), California Angels (1973 - 1974) and Cleveland Indians (1974 - 1976). He was the first player to be named Most Valuable Player in both leagues, in 1961 with the Reds and again in 1966 with the Orioles.
In 1956, as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, he hit 38 home runs (then a rookie record) and was named Rookie of the Year. His best of many good seasons with the Reds was 1961, when the Reds won the pennant and Robinson won his first MVP award. The Reds lost the 1961 World Series to the Yankees.
Prior to the 1966 season, Reds owner Bill DeWitt made the controversial decision of sending Robinson to Baltimore in the same deal that sent ace pitcher Milt Pappas to Cincinnati. The trade tarnished Dewitt's legacy, and outrage over the deal made it difficult for Pappas to adjust to pitching in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Robinson's first year in Baltimore was a historic one. He accomplished the rare feat of winning the Triple Crown, leading the American League with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs and 122 runs batted in. The Orioles won the World Series (something Robinson's Reds had never accomplished), and Robinson was named the Series MVP.
On June 26, 1970, Robinson hit back-to-back grand slams (in the fifth and sixth innings) in the Orioles' 12-2 victory over the Washington Senators at RFK Stadium. Coincidentally, the same runners were on base on both home runs Dave McNally on third, Don Buford on second and Paul Blair on first.
Robinson's Orioles won three consecutive pennants between 1969 and 1971, and won the 1970 World Series.
His career totals include a .294 batting average, 586 home runs, 1812 runs batted in, and 2808 games played. At his retirement, his 586 career home runs were the fourth-best in history (behind only Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays), though he has since been passed by Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.
Frank Robinson became the first black manager of a Major League Baseball team, when he was a player-manager with Cleveland in 1975. He managed the Cleveland Indians (1975 - 1977), San Francisco Giants (1981 - 1984), Baltimore Orioles (1988 - 1991) and Montreal Expos (2002 - 2004). When the Expos relocated to Washington, D.C. after the 2004 season, Robinson followed them there, becoming manager of the new Washington Nationals starting in 2005.
Robinson's managerial record, as of April 20, 2006 is 1000-1095, a .477 record. He was awarded the American League Manager of the Year Award in 1989 for leading the Baltimore Orioles to an 87-75 record, a huge turnaround from their previous season in which they went 54-107. After spending some years in Major League Baseball as the Director of Discipline, MLB offered the former manager the chance to manage the Expos.
Robinson's style of managing is somewhat controversial. In 2005, the Montreal Gazette's Stephanie Myles reported that he had spent much time playing golf during his years in Montreal. The septuagenarian sometimes spent 16 hour days between the course and the games at night. This practice came under heightened scrutiny in the American capital. In addition, he has occasionally been caught talking on a cell phone during his team's games. Also, some journalists have questioned his lack of use of statistics to determine pitching match-ups with his hitting line-ups. Robinson defended his style of managing by saying that he goes by his "gut feeling."
In addition to his two Most Valuable Player awards (1961 and 1966) and his World Series Most Valuable Player award (1966), Robinson was honored in 1966 with the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year in any sport.
In 1982, Frank Robinson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Robinson is also a charter member of the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame (along with Brooks Robinson), and a member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, being inducted into both in 1978. Both the Reds and the Orioles have retired his uniform number 20.
In 1999, he ranked Number 22 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 9, 2005.