Here’s How Frank Robinson Became First Black Manager in MLB History

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Major League Baseball (MLB) still has a diversity problem, long after the initial barriers were broken. As of 2023, only 6.2% of the players were black and as of 2022, there were only two black managers. This comes 47 years after Frank Robinson became the first black manager in the sport.

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Although his reign was tumultuous, Robinson etched his name into the history books. Before that, he played for several teams. Let’s look back on his career.

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Frank Robinson’s Early Life & Career

Here’s How Frank Robinson Became First Black Manager in MLB History
Willie Mays (Left) and Frank Robinson (Right). Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-4.0

Frank Robinson was born in Texas to a family of 10 children. His parents divorced when he was young and then moved to Oakland. He went to McClymonds High School, where he played basketball alongside Bill Russell and baseball with Curt Flood and Vanda Pinson. 

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Professional Career

Frank Robinson’s career highlights. Video Credit: Dominick Claflin

After high school, Frank Robinson joined the Cincinnati Reds after Bobby Mattick paid $3500 for him. He started in the lower leagues and later debuted for the team in 1956. Robinson immediately impacted the team, scoring a .290 batting average, 83 batted, and 38 home runs.

He won the 1956 National League Rookie of the Year Award and made it to the All-Star Game. His star continued shining and improved his batting average to .322. In 1961, he won the National League Player of the Month and helped the team get the NL Pennant.

In 1962, Frank Robinson dominated the major statistics in the league. He led in runs scored, doubles, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging and only ranked third after Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

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Baltimore Orioles

After nine years with the Cincinnati Reds, Robinson moved to the Baltimore Orioles. Here, he won two World Series, in 1966 and 1970. In the former, he won the Most Valuable Player (MVP award), an award he also won in 1961 when his former team played in the World Series against the New York Yankees. 

He was a Triple Crown winner after he led with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs and 122 runs batted in. 

After leaving the Baltimore’s, he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angeles and the Cleveland Indians.

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Managerial Career

Review of Frank Robinson’s managerial career. Video Credit: ABC News

Frank Robinson’s managerial career began at his former team the Cleveland Indians team who bought him from the California Angels. He stated his intention of becoming the first African-American manager in the league and, true to his word, he achieved this feat in 1974 when the General Manager Phil Sandeghi hired him as a player-manager. 

He had a difficult time, as he didn’t get along with some players. Although he had a good record in the 1976 season, Frank Robinson was fired the following year after a poor start. 

He then moved to the San Francisco Giants, where he was also fired. He also managed the Baltimore Orioles and the Montreal Expos. 

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Awards

Although he wasn’t the most successful manager, Frank Robinson is remembered for his impact. He won numerous accolades and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Former American President George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was given the first Jackie Robinson Society Community Recognition Award.

Frank Robinson is one of the biggest contributors to the growth of the game. He was one of the best players of his time and even challenged those in the ranks for a managerial position. 

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