Frank Robinson was one of the all-time great Cincinnati Reds. He played for them for ten years from 1956 to 1965. In ’56 he won the Rookie of the Year after batting .290 with 38 home runs and 122 runs scored. Five years later he won the NL MVP for them while pushing the Reds to a first place finish in 1961. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting six times during his tenure in Cincinnati and collected a gold glove in 1958. In his ten years as a Red, he racked up a .303 batting average, 324 home runs, 1009 RBI, and 60.5 WAR points.
But then Reds owner Bill DeWitt thought that Robinson was nearing the end of his prime years. Especially when he considered how Robinson left it all out on the field crashing into outfield walls to secure an out, sliding hard to break up the double play, and leading the league for the last decade in being hit by a pitch. So DeWitt traded him to the Baltimore Orioles saying that although Robinson was only 30, “he was an old 30.”
Hardly. The next year all Robinson did was win the AL Triple Crown and become the only person to win both the NL and AL MVP awards. In his six year stay in Baltimore, he was selected to five more All-Star Games. He led the Orioles to the World Series four times, bringing two championships to Baltimore (one against the Reds!). He hit 179 home runs, one of which was the only ball ever hit completely out of Memorial Stadium.
Then he was traded to the Dodgers and had, for him, a sub-par year due to leg injuries. He only hit 19 homers that season and had a .353 OBP. He was traded once again at the end of the season in 1972 with four other Dodgers to the California Angels for third baseman Ken McMullen and pitcher Andy Messersmith.
With the Angels, Robinson was reunited with an old friend, Harry Dalton, who had acquired Robinson from the Reds when he was the director of player personnel in Baltimore. Now working for the Angels, Dalton was especially keen on Robinson because of the Angels’ new manager situation. The Angels had just hired Arizona State University head coach Bobby Winkles to take over the helm. Although Winkles was very successful in collegiate baseball, he had never managed professional baseball. Everyone knew that Robinson wanted to manage in the major leagues, so if Winkles didn’t work out, Robinson was plan B.
Robinson’s happiness with this situation reflected onto his performance at the plate that year. He smacked a home run in his very first at bat as an Angel on Opening Day against the Royals in Anaheim, and even though he was 37 years old, he led the Angels in many offensive categories that year. Standing tall in the batter’s box with just a slight bend at the waist, “The Judge” swung his heavy bat to the tune of a .372 OBP, 30 home runs, and 97 RBI. And he achieved this on an Angels team that couldn’t hit. They were second to last in runs scored in ’73, so the opposing teams had the option of pitching around him whenever they wanted!
The next season didn’t go as well for Robinson. The Angels were not winning, and just about everyone in the clubhouse was frustrated and angry. In Bill Libby’s book, The Other Game, Nolan Ryan said that Robinson “tried to manage the Angels while he was playing with them, and he was a disruptive factor on the team. . . You were either Robby’s player or you were Bobby’s.”
Eventually Winkles was fired. He was replaced by Dick Williams, the former World Series winning manager of the Oakland A’s. And then later in the season when it looked as though the Angels were committed to Williams as manager, Robinson was traded to Cleveland, becoming a player-manager for the Indians.
But that didn’t end the story of Frank Robinson and the Angels. After he was fired as the Indians’ manager in 1977, the Angels hired him to be the team’s hitting coach for the rest of the season. This move had a tremendous impact on Don Baylor, who was in a funk all year until Robinson worked with him and got him back on track to being the slugging RBI-guy the team could count on.
With the dizzying array of achievements accrued over a long and celebrated career, Frank Robinson easily entered Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1982. But don’t forget that 50 of his 586 home runs and 160 of his 1812 RBI came in a California Angels uniform.
Special thanks to baseball-reference and Ross Newhan’s The Anaheim Angels: A Complete History.