You might have read the news of Frank Robinson’s death, accompanied by some of his many accomplishments on the baseball field. Many reports will observe that Frank Robinson was:
- the 1956 National League Rookie of the Year;
- a fourteen-time All-Star;
- winner of the Triple Crown in 1966;
- still the only player to win an MVP award in both the American and National Leagues;
- the first black manager in Major League Baseball;
- fourth all-time in home runs (behind Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, & Willie Mays) when he retired;
- a Hall of Famer.
Described by The Sporting News as “a Grade-A Negro” upon coming to Baltimore, Robinson was not yet a civil rights activist. When asked to join the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, he declined unless the organization would promise not to ask him to make public appearances while he remained active as a player. His attitude changed only after he was confronted by Baltimore’s segregated housing and a lack of support from the team in overcoming the bigotry of the city’s real-estate business.
Within a few years, he was one of the most outspoken players in the majors on a variety of racially charged issues, among them a lack of enthusiasm for rebuking white pitchers for throwing at black hitters.
Yet here was Frank Robinson, 70 years old, half a century in the game, with tears welling in the corners of his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. His right hand obscured part of his face. He all but chewed on his pinkie. As he pushed each phrase through his lips, he sighed deeply, all because he asked a grown man to perform a task he is ill equipped to perform.
That grown man, the Nationals’ backup catcher Matt LeCroy — now a manager himself, took it in stride; he understood: Frank cared.