Frank Robinson was probably the most underrated superstar ever
Picked-up pieces while transitioning from Fort Foxborough to Fort Myers . . .
■ Frank Robinson, who died Thursday at the age of 83, was quite possibly the most underrated superstar in the history of American sports.
Hall of Famer Jim Palmer called Friday to tell a story that reveals everything you need to know about Frank Robinson the competitor.
“I’m thankful I got to play with a guy like Frank all those years,’’ said Palmer. “On the field, Frank never talked to anybody. Frank didn’t talk to the other team. He didn’t care about the other team. He came to the park to win and led everybody by example.
“One night in Fenway, he hit a shot off the Wall that he thought was going out. He jogged out of the box. But the ball didn’t go out and Yaz played it for a single. We won the game, something like 9-4, so it didn’t really matter, but it mattered to Frank.
“When [manager] Earl [Weaver] got to his office after the game, there was a note from Frank and a couple of $100 bills. The note said, ‘I embarrassed the ball club, I embarrassed myself. It will never happen again.’ ’’
Robinson broke in with the Cincinnati Reds and was a National League All-Star outfielder when the league had outfielders named Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente (go ahead, pick three starters out of that quartet!). The Reds traded Robinson to the Orioles before the 1966 season, and he won two World Series in Baltimore.
When he retired, Robinson ranked fourth on the all-time home run list (586), trailing only Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Mays. He was MVP in both leagues. He was the first African-American manager in big league history (Cleveland, 1975). He was an intense competitor on a par with Bob Gibson. He hung over the plate when he batted, and took no prisoners on the basepaths. He despised fraternization with players from other teams.
He certainly made his mark at Fenway. Robinson started his American League career on April 12, 1966, against the Red Sox in a 5-4 Orioles win at Fenway. In the first five innings, Robinson was hit by a pitch (he led his league in HBP seven times), singled, and homered off Sox starter Earl Wilson.
Robinson went on to win the Triple Crown that season (.316/49/122). His Orioles went 97-63, then swept the heavily favored and defending world champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Robinson hit a homer off Don Drysdale in Baltimore’s 1-0 Game 4 clincher.
“We all knew Frank would make us a better team when we got him,’’ said Palmer. “In his first at-bat in spring training, I saw him fall behind a young pitcher, 0 and 2. Then the kid threw a perfect curveball low and away and Frank jumped out and hooked it off the chalk line in left for a double. I turned to Dick Hall, who was sitting next to me, and said, ‘We just won the pennant.’
“Frank hit 49 homers that year. If we’d been playing at Camden Yards, he’d have had 20 more. He helped pave my way to Cooperstown. He was a special player. You could not intimidate him and he had an indomitable spirit to be the best player he could be.’’
Robinson was a first-year player-manager with the Indians when 20-year-old Dennis Eckersley came to the big leagues.
“I was so intimidated by him,’’ recalled Eck. “I don’t think I ever stopped being intimidated by him. He was beyond competitive. He was angry. He had that chip that he had on his shoulder.
“I remember him taking Frank Tanana deep twice in the same game and [expletive] screaming at Tanana from the dugout. He was intense, he really was.
“He had a thing with Gaylord [Perry], and one day on an airplane when somebody asked me to sign a ball, I wrote my name and then added, ‘The Ace.’ Oh, Frank couldn’t wait to go to Gaylord with that. ‘Hey Gaylord, look what this kid wrote on the ball! Ha ha.’ It was a hell of a way to break into the big leagues.’’
Robinson was the only man ever to hit a baseball out of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, a 541-foot blast off Luis Tiant. He played high school baseball with Curt Flood and Vada Pinson at McClymonds in Oakland and also was a high school basketball teammate of Bill Russell.
Robinson often teased about Russell being a late bloomer. A favorite line of his was, “I was the high scorer back then. Russell couldn’t even put the ball in the basket when he dunked.’’
Robinson had no tolerance for fools. He loved sports (he was a season ticket-holder of the LA Clippers when they were really bad) and had an opinion about everything.
He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2005. It was an honor to know him and cover him.
■ Wonder how Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans (are there any?) feel about Greg Schiano taking over as defensive coordinator of the Patriots. Schiano appeared to be an embedded Patriot during his two-year stint as head coach of the Bucs (2012-13). He came to Tampa on the recommendation of Bill Belichick, after having son Steve Belichick as his long snapper at Rutgers.
With Tampa, Schiano engaged in joint practices with New England, then got spanked by the Patriots, 23-3, in Week 3 of the 2013 season. While in Tampa, he also traded Aqib Talib and LeGarrette Blount to the Patriots, and he ran off Darrelle Revis, who joined the Patriots moments after he was released by the Bucs, who had already fired Schiano.
Deflating footballs? Roger Goodell should have looked into this Schiano working as a double agent for the Patriots while coaching the Bucs.
■ Bumped into Patrick Mahomes Sr. at our downtown Kansas City hotel the night before the AFC Championship game. Dad Mahomes pitched for the Red Sox in parts of the 1996 and 97 seasons, commuting from Quincy.
He said he liked manager Kevin Kennedy and remembered telling his friend John Valentin that he’d have to move to third base to make room for Nomar Garciaparra.
“Johnny Val was my man,’’ said Dad Mahomes. “But I told him, ‘Johnny, this kid Nomar is better than you.’ ’’
Mahomes cited Mo Vaughn as one of his favorites and said he had no issues with the Boston media. He also pitched for the Mets in parts of 1999 and 2000 and said, “I loved playing for Bobby Valentine.”
I fully expect my expense account (“beers for Patrick Mahomes night before AFC Championship”) to bounce back from Globe accounting, but so far so good.
■ Old timers who watched the 2018-19 Patriots might have been reminded of the 1968-69 Celtics, who finished fourth in their division, then rallied behind Russell and Sam Jones to win the franchise’s 11th championship in 13 seasons. Russell and Jones both retired before the start of the next season
■ Watch HBO’s “The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti” starting Tuesday and you will be reminded that the Hall of Fame linebacker was the backbone of the Patriots defense before he found fame in Miami. I forgot that he later became a player agent, and represented Hall of Famer Andre Dawson and Bucky Dent.
■ Back-to-back championships in baseball and football? Boston did it in 2004-05 and again in 2018-19. The Steelers won the Super Bowl in January of ’79 and January of ’80. In between those Lombardi Trophy presentations, the Pirates beat the Orioles in the 1979 World Series.
■ Curt Schilling should be the baseball coach at Covington High School.
■ Did you notice Patriots backup quarterback Danny Etling wearing a Larry Bird Indiana State game jersey at the parade? Etling is from Terre Haute.
■ Kudos to the Washington Post’s Norman Chad for his reference to Jonathan Kraft as “Donald Jr.’’ Bill Parcells called Jon “The Pocket Rocket.’’ This much is certain: No one was going to pry that Lombardi Trophy from the hands of Jonathan during the duck boat parade.
■ Congrats to NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin on the birth of son Silas. Alas, the baby’s name is not an homage to Paul Silas.
■ With his stylish beard and hat, new Pro Football Hall of Famer Ed Reed was rocking the William (from “This Is Us”) look at the Super Bowl.
■ The Patriots are the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to win the Super Bowl one year after losing the Super Bowl.
■ Fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium were not gouged at the concession stands on Super Bowl Sunday. You could get a hamburger, hot dog, and fries for less than $10. Try doing that at Fenway, Gillette, or the Garden.
■ Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien must have gotten a chill when he saw footage of the Patriots parade Tuesday. It was two years ago that Claude was fired by the Bruins on the day of a Patriots parade.