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Frank Robinson had deep impact on Orioles' first title team

BaseballBaltimore OriolesWorld SeriesFrank RobinsonLos Angeles DodgersOakland Athletics

Ask him for the highlight of his Hall of Fame career and Frank Robinson jumps on it like a high fastball.

"The '66 season," he told The Baltimore Sun last month. "I couldn't have scripted the first year [with the Orioles] any better. That's winning the pennant, that's sweeping the Dodgers [in the World Series], that's winning the Triple Crown and the Most Valuable Player. That's Hollywood stuff."

None of that happens without Robinson, the headstrong 30-year-old outfielder obtained from the Cincinnati Reds. He played six years here and led the Orioles — never top-drawer before — to four World Series appearances and two championships. He averaged 30 home runs and batted .300. And he instilled in the team a cheeky can-do mindset that put the Birds over the top and lingered here for decades to come.

His impact on the club began Opening Day in 1966:

April 12: In his third at-bat as an Oriole, Robinson homers in a 5-4 victory against the Red Sox in Boston.

May 8: Against the Cleveland Indians' Luis Tiant, who had thrown three straight shutouts, Robinson drives a pitch completely out of Memorial Stadium — an unprecedented feat. The ball sails 451 feet on the fly and rolls under a car in the stadium parking lot, 540 feet from home plate. A crowd of 49,516 gives No. 20 a one-minute standing ovation.

June 12: His American League-leading 15th home run against Boston triggers the Orioles' sixth win in seven games. Also, Robinson catches the Red Sox napping and scores from second base on a double-play ground ball.

June 21: With two New York runners on base, two outs in the ninth inning and the Orioles leading 7-5, Robinson makes a game-saving catch at the fence in Yankee Stadium, then falls into the right-field seats. He tells reporters, "People tried to get the ball from me, but they didn't."

As he trots to his position in the second game of the double-header, Robinson is pelted with fruit and beer cans. In the sixth inning, he reaches into the stands to rob Elston Howard of a home run. A fan who tries to grab Robinson's arm gets an elbow in the kisser.

July 12: At the All-Star break, the Orioles are a gaudy 58-29. Says the outspoken Robinson: "We've passed the halfway mark with more than 50 wins. I'd have to say it's all downhill now."

July 16: Robinson's aggressive, all-out play has rubbed off on his teammates, manager Hank Bauer says: "One game, Frank took out [New York's] Bobby Richardson with a body-block slide at second base, and I'll be damned if Luis Aparicio, the smallest and lightest man in the league, doesn't do the same thing the next time he gets a chance."

July 17: With Curt Blefary mired in a slump, Robinson suggests the Orioles' outfielder use his heavier bat.

"I'm not strong enough," Blefary complains.

"It's not that I'm stronger than you," Robinson replies. "It's just that I'm smarter."

July 21: Heeding a batting tip from rookie second baseman Davey Johnson, Robinson breaks out of a slump of his own, getting four hits (two homers) in a victory over Detroit.

Aug 3: For the fourth time this year, he hits two home runs, monstrous blasts of 425 and 440 feet against Cleveland. "I don't believe I ever hit two balls any harder in a single game," he says afterward.

Aug. 11: Again, Robinson's fielding saves the Birds. His jackknife catch of a fly ball in the 11th inning carries him into the left-field pavilion at Yankee Stadium and sends the Orioles home 6-5 winners.

Sept. 20: In a 4-0 victory over the Kansas City Athletics, he slams home run No. 47, a club record.

Sept. 22: The Orioles clinch the AL pennant, 6-1 over the A's. Robinson's contribution: a single, two doubles, two RBIs and a stolen base. A Sun editorial congratulates the team and gives "a special mention to Frank Robinson who has been, shall we say, helpful."

Sept. 23: Grateful city officials change the name of the slugger's street in northwest Baltimore, Cedardale Road, to Robinson Road until after the World Series.

Oct. 2: Robinson becomes the AL's first Triple Crown winner since 1956. His numbers: a .316 average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs.

Oct. 5: The Orioles take Game 1 of the World Series, 5-2 over the Los Angeles Dodgers as Robinson parks a fastball from Don Drysdale into the left-field seats for a two-run shot in the first inning.

Oct. 9: Baltimore completes the four-game sweep, 1-0 on Robinson's 410-foot homer. He is named World Series MVP. In the Orioles' jubilant clubhouse, infielder Bob Johnson sums up the championship season: "Our spirit was great, from the time Frank hit a homer Opening Day in Boston to the one he hit today — and that's all she wrote."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

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