Former Indians Manager Frank Robinson Dies at 83

Frank Robinson, whose stint managing the Indians made him the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball, died today at the age of 83.

“The Cleveland Indians organization is deeply saddened by the passing of baseball legend Frank Robinson,” the Indians said in a statement. “Our organization and the city of Cleveland are proud to have played a role in Frank’s significant impact on the game when he became the first African-American manager in baseball history on April 8, 1975. The fact Frank hit a solo home run in his first at-bat that day as the Indians’ player-manager symbolizes his greatness as a Hall of Fame ballplayer. The entire Indians organization extends its thoughts and prayers to the Robinson family.”

Robinson broke in with the Reds in 1956 and was named National League Rookie of the Year. He won the MVP award in 1961 as the Reds won the National League pennant. After the 1965 season, Robinson, derided famously by Reds General Manager Bill Dewitt as “an old 30,” was traded to the Orioles, who promptly won four pennants and two World Series in the next six years. In 1966, Robinson won the Triple Crown and a second MVP as the Orioles beat the Dodgers for their first World Championship (he remains the only player in MLB history to win MVP awards in both leagues).

After the 1971 season, he was traded to the Dodgers, and after one season there, he was traded across town to the Angels. Robinson made no secret about his desire to manage, and he was dealt to the Indians in the last month of the 1974 season. After manager Ken Aspromonte was shown the door, Robinson became the Indians’ manager for 1975. He also inserted himself into the lineup on occasion, most famously on Opening Day of 1975, when he hit a home run in his first at bat as player-manager against the Yankees. When he retired, his 586 home runs were fourth all-time.

After his time in Cleveland, Robinson was a manager in San Francisco, Baltimore and Washington. His number 20 is retired by the Orioles, Reds and, following a ceremony in 2017, the Indians. (He’s one of two players – the other being Nolan Ryan – to have his number retired by three different teams.) Robinson’s retirement ceremony in 2017 also saw the dedication of a statue in Heritage Park.

Photo credit: The Cleveland Memory Project

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