Through the raindrops, the Orioles honored Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, unveiling a statue of the Orioles great beyond the left-center-field fence at Camden Yards, kicking off a season-long celebration honoring the club's six Hall of Famers.
Those in attendance for the ceremony included Robinson and fellow Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver.
Rick Dempsey, Brady Anderson, Boog Powell and Don Buford — all members of the Orioles Hall of Fame — were there, too, as were current Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, right fielder Nick Markakis, manager Buck Showalter, first base coach Wayne Kirby and Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin, a former Oriole — all in uniform.
About 500 fans arrived more than two hours before game time, packing the newly remodeled picnic court where statues of the six Hall of Fame Orioles will be unveiled this year as part of the team's season-long celebration of the 20th anniversary of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Robinson was the first.
Aaron, former Orioles general manager Roland Hemond and MASN play-by-play man Gary Thorne spoke at ceremony before Robinson took to the podium.
Aaron, a longtime friend of Robinson's, spoke about the impact of Robinson's arrival in Baltimore in December 1965, when he was traded from the Reds to the Orioles. Robinson, Aaron said, turned the Orioles into immediate title contenders. The Orioles went on to win the World Series in Robinson's first season in Baltimore, a season in which Robinson became the first player to win MVP awards in both leagues.
"When he got here [to Baltimore], he kind of glued all the pieces together," Aaron said.
Robinson, whose 586 career homers rank ninth all time, spent 19 seasons with the Orioles as a player (’66-’71), coach (’79-’80 and ’85-’87), manager (’88-’91) and assistant general manager (’91-’95).
His six seasons with the Orioles were among the most successful in franchise history as Baltimore went to four World Series, winning the 1966 and 1970 world championships.
He won the 1961 NL MVP with the Reds and the 1966 AL MVP with the Orioles. He played in 11 All-Star games and was MVP of the 1971 classic. While still an active player, he became the first black manager in major league history with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. He was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible in 1982. He managed the O's from 1988 to 1991, including the team's memorable 1989 "Why Not?" season.
The Orioles will also unveil statues of Brooks Robinson, Weaver, Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. this season.
Here's what the other Orioles Hall of Famers said about Robinson:
Brooks Robinson: “I am thrilled that Frank is being honored today with this statue. He was a fantastic player. His arrival put us over the hump and turned us into a championship team. He has also had numerous accomplishments after his playing days, including being named the first African-American manager in major league history. His work in the baseball commissioner’s office continues to make an impact on the game today. He is a great friend, and we had a lot of good times together. He deserves this honor, and I congratulate him.”
Earl Weaver: “The Orioles are honoring a man who played the game of baseball the way it should be played; with intensity and intelligence. Each at-bat was a war against the fellow who stood on the mound to oppose him. His success shows in the statistics he posted through his career. Baltimore, after getting back into the major leagues in 1954, became a pretty good ballclub in the early '60s. But when Frank was acquired in 1966, they became the powerhouse of baseball for the next eight to 10 years. He was a leader on the field and expected his teammates to play just as hard as he did. His influence in the clubhouse was very noticeable, and had a lot to do with the Orioles' first two world championships. Now with the statue being placed in Camden Yards, his feats as an Oriole will always be remembered, as well they should be.”
Jim Palmer: “Frank coming to the Orioles took the club from good to great. He was by far the best hitter I ever played with. While not the fastest runner, he had great base-running instincts. In the outfield, he always seemed to be in the right place. Middle infielders beware; when he was breaking up the double play, it did not take long for me to realize that I was glad he was on our team. He made us all proud to wear the Orioles uniform.”
Eddie Murray: “I want to congratulate Frank on this honor today. He has had such an impact in Baltimore, and it is fitting that the Orioles dedicate this permanent monument honoring his achievements. As a player, he set the standards for how the game was played. I am thrilled to be part of this tribute today.”
Cal Ripken, Jr.: “Frank is one of the game’s all-time greats. He has dedicated his life to baseball as a player, a ground-breaking manager and executive, and I am very happy to see him being honored. Frank was a rare combination of hitting for power and average, and Orioles fans will always remember his greatness as a triple-crown winner and a leader on the O’s championship teams in 1966 and 1970. I will remember our conversations about hitting. He really studied the game, and we all benefited from his wisdom.”