- Frank Robinson: A Baseball Biography by John C. Skipper
John C. Skipper tells the story of a man’s baseball career. Frank Robinson’s numerous achievements during his baseball career include 586 homeruns, 2,943 hits, a .294 lifetime batting average, and 49 homeruns in one season. He was Rookie of the Year in 1956, Most Valuable Player in the American and National Leagues, World Series MVP, the first black manager in the American and National Leagues, Manager of the Year in the American and National Leagues, and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to the stats, Skipper shows that Frank Robinson was a member of the first generation of professional athletes who challenged the color line in sports and society in the 1950s. Skipper carries the story beyond the first player on each team and shows that there were still barriers to be broken into the 1970s.
Frank Robinson’s baseball career began in Oakland, California, with Coach George Powles. Powles invited Robinson, as a junior high school student, to join the Bill Erwin Post 237 American Legion team. Powles noticed Robinson’s skill as a baseball player, even at a young age. The American Legion team, which included mostly white players, provided Robinson an experience on an integrated team that would be a foundation for challenging racial barriers in professional baseball. Breaking racial barriers became a theme in the professional career of Frank Robinson.
The professional career of the future Hall of Famer began in Ogden, Utah, in 1953. After signing a $400-a-month contract with a $3,500 signing bonus, seventeen-year-old Frank Robinson headed to Utah’s second largest city. Robinson succeeded on the field, helping the Ogden Reds to win the Pioneer League Championship in 1954, but life off [End Page 451] the field was very different from that which he had experienced in his West Oakland neighborhood. Rather than living in a private home as the white players did, Robinson and Chico Terry, the other player of color on the team, lived in a cheap hotel room. Since Terry only spoke Spanish, communication between the two was difficult.
Frank Robinson’s minor league career continued in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Columbia, South Carolina. His travels around the country reveal the segregated society that black players had to face. Robinson found support in fellow African American player Marv Williams and found escape in movie theaters. The Cincinnati Reds added their first players of color to the roster on April 17, 1954. The major league debut of twenty-year-old Frank Robinson came on April 17, 1956. Robinson was not the first black player on the team, but he faced challenges of living in a segregated Cincinnati. As he had in South Carolina, Robinson found support in another African American player who was a pioneer in integration, Chuck Harmon. In 1957, Vida Pinson, also from Oakland, joined Robinson on the Reds, or actually, the Redlegs, as the team was renamed to avoid associations with communism during the Cold War, and the two became close friends and roommates.
Frank Robinson wanted to be the first black manager. To gain experience, he sought out a managerial position with the Santruce Crabbers in the Puerto Rican winter leagues. After a playing career that included the Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels, and Cleveland Indians, Robinson made the transition from player to player/manager. He became the first black manager in the American League in 1975 and the first black manager in the National League in 1981 with the San Francisco Giants. He also managed the Baltimore Orioles before they promoted him to assistant general manager in 1991. In 2004, Major League Baseball hired Robinson to manage the failing Montreal Expos as they moved to Washington, D.C. Even though his last game as manager at the end of the 2006 season was a loss, the career of Frank Robinson can only be considered a success.
With a stated focus on Robinson’s baseball career, John Skipper also provides...