Robinson was also the World Series MVP. He is also the only
player to win an MVP Award in both leagues. Robinson played with the Orioles
for six seasons; the two Robinson's gave the Orioles a great nucleus,
and they remained one of the best teams in baseball, winning three
straight pennants from 1969-71, and another World Series in 1970. He was the first black athlete to star in Baltimore, and has been one of the most outspoken athletes in America on racial issues.
And yet, there were difficult times. His first three months of 1967 were sensational; near the midpoint of the season he was batting .337 with 21 home runs and 59 RBI (and also an astonishing .675 slugging percentage). He was besting Carl Yastzremski in all three Triple Crown categories. Yaz won the Triple Crown, of course; on June 27, Robinson slid hard into second base to break up a double play. His head struck Al Weis' knee; Robinson suffered a concussion, and began to experience blurred, double-vision. He missed a month, and his bat cooled down when he returned.
In the spring of 1968, Robinson held out for four days before signing a new contract. Everything went wrong the first half of the season; he still had vision problems, as he would the rest of his career. He fell ill with the mumps, and a sore shoulder limited him to throwing underhand. To top it all off, it was the Year of the Pitcher in baseball. Robinson hit just .203 the first two months of the season; he was criticized by the local press for not earning the raised he had received in the spring, and was booed by the fans.
He recovered, and hit .268 that season. He spent the winter managing in Puerto Rico, having already begun to think about becoming baseball's first black manager. He was popular again in 1969, when he hit 32 homers and had 100 RBI. In 1970, he became the seventh player in history to hit two grand slams in a game. After leaving Baltimore, he spent a year in Los Angeles, then two with the Angels as a regular DH. Asked why he was still playing, Robinson gave a typically honest answer: "Money, and I love the game. I like the competition and the challenge."
He had begun seeking a manager's job, but without success. By 1974, there were still no black managers in the game. Said Robinson: "I've had a lot of good fortune playing major league baseball and I'm not knocking it from a player's standpoint, but what happens to a black man after he's through playing? Why are we different then?" In late 1974, he was traded to Cleveland; after the season, on October 3, he was named player-manager of the Indians.
Thirty years later, he is still managing. His first two managerial stints, with the Indians and Giants, had mixed results. He took over the Orioles in 1988, after the team lost its first seven games; under Robinson, they lost another fourteen games, setting a futility record with an 0-21 start. The Orioles lost 107 games that year; in 1989, they won 87 games and challenged for the division title until the last weekend, an amazing turnaround. Robinson was voted Manager of the Year, the highpoint in his managerial career.
If Ruth and Aaron are the two greatest right-fielders ever, then Robinson has to rank as number three. There's competition from players like Clemente and Mel Ott, but I think Robby was better. Robinson
just missed 3000 hits, finishing with 2943. He crushed 586 career homers, was a career .294 hitter, had 1812 RBI and 1829 runs scored, and chipped in with over 200 stolen bases as well. He had some of his
best seasons in the late 1960's, when pitchers had taken over the game. In addition to his career as an onfield manager, Robinson has also held front-office jobs, and also served as baseball's Vice-President of On-field Operations. There isn't much more
that a player can accomplish in his career.
Never afraid to speak his mind, Robinson was inducted to the Hall Of Fame in 1982, and in his acceptance speech observed that, "I don't see anyone playing in the major leagues today who combines both the talent and the intensity that I had."
Brooks Robinson was runner-up in this year's
MVP vote, which I agree with. Another Oriole, Boog Powell, was third in
the vote, but I think Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva were better. Harmon
had his liabilities — he was, after all, a slow-footed slugger — but he was an awesome power
hitter. Oliva had another fine season, and was possibly the most complete player
in the AL at this time. Both Killebrew and Oliva played for the Twins, who
finished a close second behind the champion Orioles.
As I write this, Harmon Killebrew ranks
seventh all-time in career home runs. He hit 573, just a few behind Frank
Robinson and Mark McGwire. Killebrew was essentially the McGwire of his era; he
had awesome power, drew a huge number of walks, and had inconsistent batting
averages. But while McGwire had his best years in a great era for hitters,
Killebrew had his in a league that was dominated by great pitchers.
Killebrew debuted with the Washington Senators
in 1954; he was 17 years old, and played second base(!). He didn't play much for the next five years, but the Senators finally put him in the lineup
in 1959, and Killebrew led the league with 42 home runs. He led the league in
homers six times, and topped the 40-homer mark eight times. His career high
in home runs was 49, which he did twice. In addition to all the home runs, Killbrew had over 2000 hits, 1584 RBI, and walked over 1500 times.
"Killer" also led the AL in RBI and walks numerous
times. He played on eleven All-Star teams, and won an MVP Award in 1969. He
never settled in at one positon, and spent his career moving from first
base to third base to the outfield. Killebrew played for 22 seasons, all
but one with the Twins. He was slow and didn't have much defensive value
and he didn't age very well, but in his prime Killebrew was as powerful as
any player in baseball.