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The Passing of a Legend

So there I am, sitting across the desk from a hall of fame legend, and my new manager. Me? I’ve got a big ol’ mullet, line shaved in the side of my head (contrary to legend it was NOT blue at this time) and we are quite literally locked in a stare and it’s completely silent….

When I say 5 minutes I am not kidding. Stop and sit still, make no sounds, for 5 minutes. It will feel like an hour.

He and I stared at each other for 5 minutes. He never said a word, I was too scared to speak.

Finally, thankfully, he speaks.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“What do you mean”

“I mean what the hell are you doing?”

I uncomfortably laugh trying to lighten the mood (for me at least)

“Exactly what the hell is that?”

(Oh I might mention I had a diamond earring in my left ear too)

I chuckle again…. “What do you mean?”

“The hair, if that’s what you call it. The earring? I mean what is wrong with you son?”

I have no answer, I just uncomfortably laugh….

“Here’s how this is going to work. You will NOT throw a pitch, you won’t step on the playing field until you look like a young man and not some hoodlum with an earring”

“Yes sir”

I got up, left his office when to clubhouse bathroom, grabbed the clippers and shaved, all of it.

I removed the earring too.

As I walked onto the field for BP he looked at me, smirked and walked away.

That, was Frank Robinson. He was my first manager in the big leagues and while I spent less time with him than any other manager his influence was enormous and his friendship was lifelong.

Frank passed today. I wince at the thought of what the latter stages of bone cancer must be like but I’m comforted to know this wonderful man is now in heaven. I ache for his amazing wife Barbara Anne and his amazing children too.

I grew up “in’ the game. I was obsessed with it, knew it all front to back, stats, data, you name it I knew it. I KNEW who Frank Robinson was long before I met him. I still have enormous respect and reverence for my elders (I was raised like that) and even more for the men like Frank who played this amazing game at a time and in a place that had very little tolerance for minorities.

Frank won MVPs in both leagues. Now understand our game is FAR north of 100 years old. Over a century old and Frank is THE ONLY man to have ever done that. The ONLY MAN.

He was gruff, he was rough, he was hard but he was honest and he was fair. After my father died I was drawn to men like Frank to fill that hole my dad left when he died. I loved to play for hard ass men because you had to earn their respect.

I believe by the time I was dealt in 1990 Frank respected me. We were and still are friends. I got to see him enough through the years for us to laugh, often.

I can say this too. When folks talk of the Hall of Fame Frank was one of the reasons I wanted to make it. I wanted to stand in front of him and tell the world what an incredible man he was and how much he meant to me.

I’ll give you a few stories from my time with him and hopefully, you will smile.

1990 Baltimore. We are the surprise team of the year, worst to first O’s. Mickey Tettleton is having a monster season. Phil Bradley is on the DL.

Now Frank didn’t speak on the bench. When he wanted to make a move (which thankfully didn’t happen much in the AL) Frank would lean over, point down the bench and players would play the “WHO ME?? game until he nodded or wiggled his finger indicating yes. The player was then supposed to know what the call was for.

1st and 2nd, Cal up, Mickey on deck. (Don’t hold me to all the specifics but you’ll get it). Frank leans over and points down the bench. All the guys are pointing at themselves “Who me?”

Phil had just been activated and Frank wanted Phil to pinch run.

The hitter walks and Frank goes back into that “Frank daze” he would do on the bench sometime.

Now, remember, Mickey is having an MVP type season and hits cleanup.

The bases are loaded, Mickey is due up…

But he’s not….

Phil thought Frank wanted him to HIT FOR HIM so he strode to the plate to announce himself to the ump, all the while we are looking at each other thinking “What the hell?” and Frank doesn’t notice.

He doesn’t notice right up to the point Phil is announced!

He looks up and starts dropping choice words, many choice words. Nothing he can do though, the hitter has already been announced.

2 pitches later? Phil hits a grand slam…

We are laughing our asses off on the bench and Frank is smiling.

Fast forward to the post game  and Frank says to the press

“I just wanted to get Phil an at-bat in a meaningful spot since he’s going to be such a big part of this stretch run”

That was Frank. Quick as hell, and seriously funny as hell with that dry sense of humor.

Another time that makes me laugh. While being an idiot, I had bought a Corvette and installed a phone system that allowed me to call the car and start it remotely (huge tech thing back then).

I told him about it. His response?

“What the hell do you need your car to answer the phone for? So when a robber steals it you can call him and tell him to bring it back. You’re all sorts of dumb boy.”

He was right…

I love the man. A hall of fame career and honestly one of the most underrated players to ever play the game.

One more story.

I was asked by Sporting News to an interview. They wanted me to ‘interview’ Bob Gibson and record the conversation as a piece. BTW if anyone out there has that issue I would LOVE to see it and read it again!.

I was asking Mr. Gibson all sorts of questions and I asked the one I think most wanted to ask.

“You were and are remembered as an intimidating pitcher because you hit so many guys, what are your thoughts looking back?”

He replied “That was so not true. I was not a guy that tried to hit players. I pitched inside and was wild in, so I hit a lot of guys. Hell, I think I hit Frank Robinson more times than anyone I faced. You think I tried to hit him? Hell no! Because every single time I hit that bastard he homered on the next at-bat, every damn time!”

Frank, thank you. Thank you for being such an instrumental part of my life and for being such a good friend. Rest easy, you’ve earned it. You won’t be forgotten here. Your career, your influence and your passion for the game will always be remembered.

God Bless

The young idiot…

38 Pitches

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