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Don't Call Me Old!- The Frank Robinson Story

Posted by on June 12, 2013 at 6:45 PM

xu0PONQI No one enjoys getting old. It seems that everytime I attend a wedding, the couples are younger and younger. When I DJ at the bar, it seems like the people drinking are younger and younger. I will tell you and I am convinced it is true, that age is a number and how you feel is far more important than what your birth certificate says. I am 47 and yet I do not feel that age. I enjoy too many youthful diversions, like Disney World, and zoos and childrens museums and Bugs Bunny cartoons to feel my age. When my father was 47, he seemed old, he smoked a pipe and drank Drambuie (I have recently discovered why) and played Roger Whitaker on his car stereo. He wore shirts I wouldn’t be caught dead in and didn’t play any sports because of fear of injury. Over the years, he has mocked me for playing softball and any other sport I can find people playing. Needless to say when people say 40 is the new 30 or 50 is the new 40, I believe them. Sports had replicated life in its regard to longevity and age. Last year Jamie Moyer retired at age 49 as a major league pitcher, the oldest pitcher to win a major league game and the oldest to drive in a run. He is one of only 29 players to play in four decades and until the end of his career, he continued to show excellence at times. In hockey, Gordie Howe played professionally until he was 50, long enough to star with two of his sons. He continued to play semi-professionally for years afterwards. More recently, Chris Chelios played 7 games for the Atlanta Thrashers at age 48. In basketball, Grant Hill just retired after playing over 1000 NBA games. In the NFL, George Blanda played kicker and quarterback until retiring at 48. So you can imagine how I reacted when I read about what many people consider the worst trade in baseball history, the trade that took place December 9, 1965 when the Cincinnati Reds traded Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for Milt Pappas. It isn’t so much the talent or the players reputation up to the trade date that makes it the worst trade, it is the reason the Reds used: Frank Robinson was an “old” 30. Frank Robinson debuted with the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 20 on April 17, 1956. He immediately set the National League on its ear by winning the Rookie of the Year award with one of the most prodigious rookie seasons ever: .290 average, 38 home runs and 83 runs batted in. His brash style reminded people of the just retired Jackie Robinson and largely because of his brazen attitude, Robinson also led the league in Hit by Pitches with 20. He played well for the next several seasons, averaging 30 homers per year and batting nearly .300 including a .322 in 1957. In 1961, he came unto his own by winning the National League Most Valuable Player award hitting .323 with 37 home runs and 124 runs batted in. He also got the Reds into the World Series versus the New York Yankees, where although losing to the Yankees 4 games to 1, Robinson contributed 4 runs batted in during the series. He followed up his MVP season with an even better 1962, 39 home runs, 136 runs batted in, and a .342 average. After an “off” year in 1963, Robinson picked up his torrid hitting with 29 homers in 1964 with 91 runs batted in and a .306 average. Milt Pappas was signed by the Baltimore Orioles as a bonus baby in 1957 at the age of 18. He made his major league debut at 18 and the following year at age 19 was in the big leagues to stay with a ten win, ten loss record. From 1958 to 1965, he won 110 games for the Orioles while losing only 74. He never had a losing record during those years and at age 26 looked poised to win many more major league games. In 1965, Pappas was 13-9 with an excellent 2.60 Earned Run Average and started the All-Star game for the American League. Frank Robinson, lit up the National League with 33 homers 113 runs batted in, and a .296 average. He played in his 6th All-Star game and received MVP votes for the ninth time in ten seasons. No one watching from the stands felt like Frank Robinson was aging. In the boardrooms around Crosley Field, however, General Manager Bill DeWitt traded his star player to the Orioles for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson When responding to the hostile attitude of the press and fans, DeWitt declared infamously, “Robinson’s an “old” 30“ . Milt Pappas was never fully welcomed in Cincinnati. He pitched two and a half seasons for the Reds, compiling a 30-29 record. Jack Baldschun left after two seasons and a 1-5 record and Dick Simpson also left after two mediocre seasons of batting .238 and .259. In fairness to Pappas, he did continue to win more than he lost and he had some more glory years ahead of him, although not with the Reds. With the Chicago Cubs, Pappas won his 200th game and pitched a no-hitter in 1972. By 1973, he was out of baseball. And how did the “old” Frank Robinson fare in 1966? Robinson tore through the American League like someone who was called old prematurely. He not only led the Baltimore Orioles to their first World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he won the Triple Crown, leading the league with 49 home runs, 122 runs batted in and a .316 batting average. He was the unanimous choice for Most Valuable Player, becoming the first player to win in each league. But Robinson wasn’t done with his 1966 performance. He played in 6 American League All-Star games, and finished 3rd in MVP voting in both 1969 and 1971, the latter at age 35. He spent 6 years with the Orioles and led them to the World Series 4 times. He won the World Series in both 1966 and 1970. Robinson also hit 7 homeruns in 21 World Series games with the Orioles. He was traded to the Dodgers in 1972 and to the California Angels in 1973, where as a 37 year old again hit 30 home runs and drove in 97. He ended his career in 1976 at age 41 with the Cleveland Indians, where in 1975 he was named player/manager, the first black manager in the major leagues. He ended his playing career with 2943 hits, a career .294 average and 586 home runs , 4th highest in history when he retired. The momentous occasion of Frank Robinson becoming a major league manager fulfilled a wish that Jackie Robinson had made three years earlier during the 1972 World Series. Jackie, ill and just two weeks from his premature death at 53, told the crowd that he wanted to see a man break the color line of management, just as he did as a ballplayer. Frank Robinson would have made Jackie proud. After managing the Indians, Robinson went on to manage the San Francisco Giants, the Baltimore Orioles and the Montreal Expos, which went on to become the Washington Nationals. He won over 1000 games as a manager before retiring in 2006. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, and when he went in, he went in as an Oriole, despite playing only six years there, versus ten in Cincinnati. Nearly 50 years after the trade, fans in Cincinnati rumble about the trade. Even though the Reds became the Big Red Machine in the 1970‘s, many wonder about the addition of Frank Robinson to the Reds of the late 60‘s and early 70‘s. This trade along with the Cubs trade of Lou Brock in 1964 are discussed as the worst trades in baseball history.

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