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Thinking about Frank Robinson, a day later

By Dan Connolly

The Baltimore Sun

9:08 AM EDT, April 29, 2012

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Before I get into this, remember, it’s an opinion from a guy who never saw Frank Robinson play. If I did, I don’t recall specifically. But I would have been about 5 or 6 and he would have been a player-manager in Cleveland.

So I don’t have any of those memories that many Orioles fans do. That’s not to say I don’t know much about Frank Robinson. I grew up as a kid in Baltimore in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the youngest in a baseball family.

My brothers – and heck, my father – would explain to me that as good as those Eddie/Cal Orioles clubs were, they weren’t close to those Frank/Brooks/Palmer teams. I argued, of course. And, in retrospect, I was wrong.

I didn’t have any real interaction with Robinson until the Montreal Expos moved to Washington in 2005 and I covered the first month of their season at home and on the road – with Frank as the manager.

What struck me then is what struck me Saturday during Robinson’s statue unveiling at Camden Yards.

Frank Robinson has a presence that really is only found in the great ones. The man is 76 now, and he could still throw an icy glare that instantaneously would melt anyone’s bravado. On Saturday, though, we got a gentler Robinson, one so many of his friends and fans have seen over the years.

He talked about what the statue meant, and what it’s like to see a bronzed version of himself staring back at him – that must be a pretty overwhelming experience.

What also struck me Saturday was the humility Robinson demonstrated in reminiscing about his career. Time has a way of making accomplishments seem brighter. Robinson’s career numbers – 586 homers, 1,812 RBIs – remain neon bright, but he almost downplayed them Saturday, a day when chest-pounding would have been accepted.

He talked about team unity: “We were a team. Pittsburgh may have coined the phrase ‘We are family,’ but we were family before that, throughout.”

He talked about how winning can mean so much: “We laughed at each other in the dugout, Somebody have a funny swing up there, we laughed at them. But the only reason we could do that was because we were winning. And the players understood each other. We didn’t get upset. That’s why we had the kangaroo court.”

And he talked about how his teammates made him: “I could have had a so-so year and that team would have won in [1966], believe me. I was capable of having better than a so-so year and I did have a tremendous year, but it was because of the players around me that I was able to do that.”

With the exception of a tangential and slightly bizarre set of questions during the post-ceremony news conference, the night was all about Frank Robinson. That’s pretty much what most everyone tried to make it. Yet Robinson did his best to throw the spotlight around – and that, in itself, says plenty about the man.

One other quick quote from Saturday night that I thought fans might find interesting, for what it’s worth. Frank was asked about the current Orioles – and this is what he had to say:

“I’ve followed the team ever since I left. I’ve been miserable a lot of years. I have suffered with this organization, and I think they are on the upswing now. I think they are headed in the right direction. They are developing some good young players here. They are stabilizing the front office and they have good management on the field and in the dugout. Buck Showalter is a very good manager, and his staff is a very good staff. These kids now have responded to them, and I don’t think they are that far away.”