Crowding the plate, fearsome and fearless, Frank Robinson hammered his way into the Hall of Fame.
His legacy, however, was cemented the day he simply stood in the dugout at old Cleveland Stadium as the first black manager in Major League Baseball.
Robinson, the only player to earn the Most Valuable Player award in both leagues, died Thursday at 83. He had been in failing health and in hospice care at his home in Bel Air. MLB said he was with family and friends at the time.
"Frank Robinson's resume in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.
Robinson hit 586 home runs — he was fourth on the career list behind only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays when he retired and now ranks 10th. An MVP with the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles, he won the Triple Crown while leading the Orioles to their first World Series championship in 1966.
An All-Star outfielder in 12 seasons and a first-ballot selection to Cooperstown, Robinson also was a Rookie of the Year and picked up a Gold Glove.
In 1975, Robinson fulfilled his quest to become the first African-American manager in the big leagues when he was hired by the Indians. His impact was immediate and memorable.
The Indians opened at home that year and Robinson, still active, batted himself second as the designated hitter. In the first inning, he homered off Doc Medich and the crowd went crazy, cheering the whole April afternoon as the Indians beat the Yankees.
The Reds, Orioles and Indians have retired his No. 20 and honored him with statues at their stadiums.
Robinson later managed the San Francisco Giants, the Orioles and the Montreal Expos. He became the first manager of the Washington Nationals after the franchise moved from Montreal for the 2005 season — the Nationals put him in their Ring of Honor, too.
More than half the major-league teams have had black managers since his debut with the Indians.
The Indians released a statement after learning of Robinson's death:
“The Cleveland Indians organization is deeply saddened by the passing of baseball legend Frank Robinson. Our organization and the City of Cleveland are proud to have played a role in Frank’s significant impact on the game when he became the first African-American manager in baseball history on April 8, 1975. The fact Frank hit a solo home run in his first at-bat that day as the Indians’ player-manager symbolizes his greatness as a Hall of Fame ballplayer. The entire Indians organization extends its thoughts and prayers to the Robinson family.”
In May 2017, the Indians unveiled a statue in his honor, which resides in Heritage Park at Progressive Field.
Robinson later spent several years working as an executive for MLB and for a time oversaw the annual Civil Rights Game. He advocated for more minorities throughout baseball and worked with former Commissioner Bud Selig to develop the Selig Rule, directing teams to interview at least one minority candidate before hiring a new manager.
For all he did on and off the field, Robinson was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2005.
Born Aug. 21, 1935, in Beaumont, Texas, Robinson attended McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif., and was a basketball teammate of future NBA great Bill Russell.
Former Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, who also gained first-ballot entry into the Hall, once called Robinson, "the best player I ever saw."
Starting out in an era when Mays, Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams were the big hitters, Robinson more than held his own in 21 seasons. He finished with 1,812 RBI and hit .294 — he played in the World Series five times, and homered in each of them.
Robinson was the only player to hit a ball completely out of old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and once connected for grand slams in consecutive innings of a game. But he didn't just slug away, as evidenced by a .389 on-base average boosted by 1,420 walks against 1,532 strikeouts. Extremely alert on the bases, he had 204 steals.
Robinson played the game with grace, yet was known as fierce competitor who combined hard work with natural talent. He crowded the plate, yielding to no pitcher, and didn't seem to care about being brushed back or getting hit by a pitch 198 times.
"Pitchers did me a favor when they knocked me down," Robinson said. "It made me more determined. I wouldn't let that pitcher get me out."
And opposing pitchers noticed.
"Frank Robinson might have been the best I ever saw at turning his anger into runs. He challenged you physically as soon as he stepped into the batter's box, with half his body hanging over the plate," Hall ace Bob Gibson once wrote.
"As a rule, I'm reluctant to express admiration for hitters, but I make an exception for Frank Robinson," Gibson wrote.
Robinson broke in with a bang as a 20-year-old big leaguer. He tied the first-year record with 38 home runs for the Reds in 1956, scored a league-high 122 times and was voted National League Rookie of the Year.
Robinson was the 1961 NL MVP after batting .323 with 37 homers and 124 RBI for the pennant-winning Reds, and reached career highs in runs (134) and RBI (136) in 1962. He was an All-Star, too, in 1965, but Reds owner Bill DeWitt decided Robinson was an old-ish 30 and time to make a move.
That December, Robinson was the centerpiece in what would ultimately be one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, going to the Orioles for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson.
Robinson became an instant hit with the Orioles in 1966 as the unanimous American League MVP.
Robinson batted .316 with 49 home runs and 122 RBI during his first season in Birdland. He then homered in the first inning of the 1966 World Series opener at Dodger Stadium and capped off the four-game sweep with another homer off Don Drysdale in a 1-0 win in Game 4.
Robinson hit two home runs against the Reds — of all clubs — in teaming with future Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson to win another crown for the Orioles in 1970.
Robinson was an All-Star in five of his six seasons with the Orioles, reaching the World Series four times and batting .300 with 179 home runs.
Robinson was traded to the Dodgers before the 1972 season. He played for the California Angels in 1973 and was dealt to the Indians late in the 1974 season.
Tough and demanding, he went 1,065-1,176 overall as a big-league manager.
Survivors include his wife, Barbara, and daughter Nichelle.