By Dennis J. Freeman
Los Angeles, CA-Frank Robinson has accomplished a lot of firsts as one of the all-time baseball greats. He slugged 586 home runs in his storied big-league baseball career. He is the only player in the history of the game to win the MVP award in both the American League (Baltimore Orioles) and the National League (Cincinnati Reds). He’s a two-time World Series winner.
Robinson is one of just two players in the history of the game to win Rookie of Year accolades in one league and earn most valuable player honors for another baseball team. He became the ultimate hitting threat, capturing baseball’s triple crown, leading the American League in home runs, batting average and runs driven in (RBI).
But Robinson’s impact on the game of baseball goes well beyond any stat sheet. Numbers don’t come close to measuring Robinson’s influence on the sport that was once dubbed as “America’s Favorite Pastime.” Robinson was a barrier-breaker. He became the first African American to earn the distinction as head of a Major League Baseball team when he took over the reins of the Cleveland Indians as a player and manger during the 1975-76 season.
Robinson then went on to make history again when he took over managerial duties for the San Francisco Giants from 1981-1984, making him the first African American to run a team at that level in the National League. Now senior advisor to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, Robinson sometimes gets overshadowed and lost in the shuffle when best of the best baseball discussions come up.
He shouldn’t be. He’s a first ballot Hall of Fame member, and just one of 44 men to earn that distinction. The Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation recognizes Robinson’s accomplishments and feted the legendary slugger with one of their more distinguished awards at their annual In the Spirit of the Game gala.
Robinson, who received the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation’s Player Lifetime Achievement Award, shared the spotlight with the likes of Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, the trailblazing Dr. Frank Jobe and longtime manager Jim Leyland at the event, celebrated annually for the past nine years to raise awareness of the contributions of baseball scouts.
“I guess I did something right with my career,” Robinson said. “The main thing here is the worthy cause as far as the (Professional Baseball) Scouts Foundation. They’re the forgotten people in the game of baseball. They’re probably the most important people because they go out and find the talent. It’s always nice to come here and support this event.”
Television news icon and former CNN host Larry King, Emmy Award-winning actor and director Rob Reiner, hotshot actress Bo Derek (10), former New York Yankees skipper Joe Torre, Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield, Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Matt Kemp and actor Joe Mantegna (Criminal Minds) were among the 1,500 people who took part in the festivities.
The night and the big stage, however, belonged to Robinson. Selig, who attended the event, said both Robinson and Bench had “an enormous impact” in every way on the game.
“Johnny Bench and Frank Robinson, you’re talking about two of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Selig said. “Frank’s career in Cincinnati and Baltimore is legendary. And then Johnny Bench…my goodness gracious. All you have to say is Johnny Bench. That says it all.”
Kemp, who flirted with the triple crown during the 2011 season, presented Robinson with his award. If it was not for Robinson and other pioneers of the sport, Kemp said he wouldn’t be the player he is today.
“He’s definitely a trendsetter, something you want to be like, somebody you admired as a kid,” Kemp said. “He’s a Hall of Famer, and a good friend of mine. I’m just happy to be here to support him in this big day for him.”