Is it possible for a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame to be underrated? Can someone who has achieved the highest honors in the game look around and say “Man, they just aren’t giving me my due”?
It is a hard sell, I admit. But it is possible that the great career of Frank Robinson, whose influence stretched over six decades, has been somewhat under valued.
Born in Texas but raised in Oakland, as a high school student played basketball with Bill Russell and baseball with Vada Pinson and Curt Flood.
As a 17 year old, he signed with the Reds and would attend Xavier University when he wasn’t playing. He made minced meat of the minor leagues, smacking homers and hitting for a high average.
By age 20, he was starting for the Reds and led the league in runs scored during his Rookie of the Year winning campaign.
Year in and year out, he would hit 30 or more homers, keep his average over .300 and see his RBI total hit triple digits.
In 1961, he led the Reds to the World Series and won the Most Valuable Player. Nobody knew it then, but he also consistently led the league in OPS then as well.
The year after his MVP season, he led the league in on base and slugging while hitting 39 homers and driving in 136 runs.
Unbeknownst to anyone, he consistently was in the top 10 of WAR in the National League. Advanced metrics showed he might even have been better than his eye popping numbers would indicate.
He had a .925 OPS in 1965 when he also hit 33 homers and drove in 113 when the Reds figured he was washed up and sent him off to Baltimore.
Can you imagine if Frank Robinson was part of the Big Red Machine? Well, instead he went to Baltimore, won the Triple Crown, had an OPS of 1.047 and became the first to win MVPs in both leagues.
Oh yeah, he led the Orioles to the World Series title, their first ever including their years as the St. Louis Browns.
He continued putting up solid traditional numbers and terrific advanced metrics into the 1970’s and played on a total of four Orioles pennant winners and two World Series champs.
After bouncing between the Dodgers, Angels and Indians, he became a player manager for Cleveland. He was the first ever African American manager in MLB history, fulfilling what Jackie Robinson had lobbied for in his final public appearance.
Jackie Robinson and Frank Robinson were not related by blood but they are tied together by their legacies. Robinson became the first African American manager in both the American and National League. He took over the Giants in the 1980’s and they contended until the last weekend in 1982.
Later in 1988, he was named the Orioles skipper and won the Manager of the Year when they stunned baseball by challenging the Blue Jays until the final weekend.
When MLB took over the Expos in 2002, Robinson was installed as manager in a hopeless situation. The Expos, despite no money and no support, were surprise Wild Card contenders late into the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
When the club moved to Washington, they were in first place for much of the first half of the season before fading to Atlanta. He managed one more season before becoming an executive for MLB.
He was a Rookie of the Year, won the NL and AL MVPs, was a 14 time All Star, won a pair of World Series, took home the Triple Crown, the Gold Glove was named manager of the year and had his number retired by three organizations.
He was 57 hits shy of 3,000 while finishing with 586 homers and lifetime batting average of .294 and an OPS of .926.
He was a pioneering player, an all time great and blazed trails in the dugout over several generations.
His career spanned from his playing against Jackie Robinson to managing Vladimir Guerrero.
As an All Time great and influential figure in baseball history, he has to be considered one of the biggest.
For that reason, as odd as it seems, I believe this Hall of Fame titan may be underrated.