The Corner

Sports

‘Thanks for the Memories, Frank’

Frank Robinson (Nicholas Ramos via YouTube)

Today on the homepage, I have a “Salt Lake City Journal.” Darned interesting place. Very American too. Lots of history and lots of present, if you will. So, that’s a journal. If you’re interested in a chronicle — my “New York Chronicle,” for The New Criterion — go here. And here’s a bonus review of a Brahms Requiem at the New York Philharmonic.

Let’s have a touch of sports. Last week, Frank Robinson, the legendary baseball player, died. (He was also a manager — the first black manager in Major League Baseball history.) I received a letter from a friend and reader in California:

Frank Robinson was my greatest sports hero. There are two simple reasons. One is that the Cincinnati Reds have been and always will be the team I am most passionate about in any sport. That’s not too surprising for someone born and raised in Dayton. The other reason is that he was far and away the best player on the Reds at that time and one of the top players in the National League. I personally believe he performed at the same level as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Roberto Clemente. Arguing over which of them was the best is like arguing over whether Marilyn Monroe or Grace Kelly was more beautiful.

I attended my first baseball game as a seven-year-old on August 27, 1961, at Crosley Field in Cincinnati and started following baseball then. Frank didn’t get any hits that day, but he led the team to the 1961 National League pennant. In subsequent years he continued to perform at the highest level, although he had a bit of a slump in 1963. I was always watching him and following him when he played for the Reds.

It was through Robinson that I was introduced to disappointment and disillusionment. I never got his autograph, which was a disappointment. The one time I had a chance, he refused, saying he needed to get on the field. As a consolation, I got Gordy Coleman’s autograph. I never got his baseball card either. In those days, Topps was very sparing in their printing of the superstars’ baseball cards and very generous in their printing of the nonentities’ cards. The only person who ever had a Frank Robinson card was my sister and she wouldn’t part with it.

He wasn’t responsible for my first great disappointment with sports, which was the Reds blowing the 1964 pennant on the last day of the season. David Halberstam wrote a book about that, October 1964, which I recommend. But he was at the center of my great disillusionment with professional sports, which was the Reds trading him in December 1965 to Baltimore for three good-for-nothing pitchers. That truly broke my heart and ended my childhood passion for professional sports. After that, although I have enjoyed so much in subsequent years following the Reds, particularly during the 1970s, it’s never been with the same passion and innocence that I had in the early 1960s when Frank Robinson played for them.

In addition to being one of the greatest baseball players ever, Frank Robinson gave me so much joy at a young age. As Bob Hope would sing, thanks for the memories.

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