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Mark Kram
October 05, 1970
"Trouble," people with an eye for that sort of thing said when Frank Robinson was traded to Baltimore. And trouble was exactly what did not develop as the Robinsons, Frank and Brooks, struck a delicate, winning balance
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October 05, 1970

Discord Defied And Deified

"Trouble," people with an eye for that sort of thing said when Frank Robinson was traded to Baltimore. And trouble was exactly what did not develop as the Robinsons, Frank and Brooks, struck a delicate, winning balance

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But Frank's style of play does not trail him into his 15th season. It is the word attitude or what was his attitude; stamp "bad" beside the word and it is a fatal prognosis in baseball. Frank's trouble with the Reds seemed to begin with the departure of Tebbetts. Avuncular and facile with con, Tebbetts chaperoned Frank, made a litany of his abilities. Often, slyly spotting Frank moving into the batting cage, Tebbetts would walk out to the outfield and stand with reporters with his back to the cage. Then he would suddenly say, "I bet I know who's hitting. Listen to that crack. It could only be Frank Robinson."

Then came the arrival of Fred Hutchinson, a tough, respected manager who hated to see talent squandered. Hutchinson admired Frank's ability, but his relations with him were strained. He was annoyed by Frank's attitude, sometimes careless and resentful. Robinson smelled prejudice. "Listen," a coach told Frank, "when he chews you out he's doing it for your own good, not because he dislikes you. Hutch never had your great natural ability. He hates to see you waste it." Then, in February of '61, he pulled a gun on a cook in an all-night diner, with whom he had been exchanging dark glowers. "The cook," he said then, "had waved a knife and made a motion as if he was going to slit my throat. I just warned to show him I had something a little better than a knife." In jail he kept muttering something about being called a boy, that he was a man. He could be bailed out by 8 a.m. and he was, but not by club owner Bill DeWitt or anybody else from the Reds.

Robinson never did forgive DeWitt for deserting him. Later DeWitt would tire of Frank's aggravations: mysterious maladies, intransigent postures with Hutchinson, his unexemplary behavior on planes, his obscenities toward a reporter, his influence on Vada Pinson and Leo Cardenas. "I'm much more mature now," he says. "I've learned a lot. At Cincinnati I was just speaking up for the players because they came to me." The move to Baltimore, of course, did alter his vision of himself. He came to understand what the kid in a Chicago ghetto once said: "Doin' good's a hustle, too. Ain't it?"

His view of last year's Richie Allen dramatized his metamorphosis from outlaw to Establishment. "It's a shame that a guy like Allen is wasting all that talent," he said. "It hurts the spirit and harmony of the club. He's done more harm with his behavior than his bat."

The quote, to some, was laughable, but Frank was quietly laying one more block in the building of the new Robinson; he would make baseball do what it so seldom does—forget; he would become the first black manager in the majors. His drive, once subtle, much more bold now, toward the only real racial barrier left in baseball draws a predictable reaction. The hard-line whites in baseball smirk, the blacks do not care. That is, except for Jackie Robinson.

Piqued by Frank's apathy on civil rights, he wrote to him, "I suppose, Frank, you feel your attitude will get you a manager's job and that some white people may like you better, but respect you is another thing.... But if this is your bag, so be it."

Frank is deep in that bag, which is purely a matter of survival to him. Time crowds, the arm is still a crane that must be lifted every day, and with each day he sharply feels what Brooks Robinson said: "I don't think anybody will care what I did here 20 or 25 years from now." The game has a place in Brooks' life, but that's all it has. Unlike Brooks, however, who seems indifferent toward the future, certain that another piece will fall neatly into the fabric of his life, there is no future for Frank outside of baseball. The game is the sum of what he is, and if you are black and aging and each spring is a little death, you begin to wonder what all that brilliance was for, wonder whether it all, which began in obscurity, will end there, too. "The day I have to quit," he says, "will be the saddest day in my life." He does not smile.

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