Jackie's legacy has lasting impact on Orioles
Jones to honor No. 42; Frank Robinson helped trailblaze path
TORONTO -- They hung proudly outside the Baltimore Orioles' brand-new spring baseball facility in Sarasota, Fla.: tributes to No. 20 and No. 42, two of only six numbers retired in club history, two men who used their baseball talents to leave behind a legacy.
Frank Robinson and Jackie Robinson shared more than a last name and a place among the Orioles' retired numbers list. They also showed a commitment to integrating baseball, trailblazing a path that is still appreciated decades later.
Frank Robinson's achievements during his 21 seasons as a player rank him among the top players of all time in 10 categories. He hit 586 home runs, ninth on the all-time list. He spent 19 seasons with the Orioles as a player (1966-71), coach (1979-80 and 1985-87), manager (1988-91) and assistant general manager (1991-95). While still an active player, he became the first African-American manager in Major League history with the Cleveland Indians in 1975.
Robinson won the Triple Crown his first year in Baltimore, leading the American League with a .316 average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs. He remains the only minority player in history to win the Triple Crown in batting, and his gutsy style -- both on and off the field -- helped lead the organization to its first World Series title.
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"One thing I know about Baltimore is they pay attention to your level of effort," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "And if you hot-dog something, you are not giving it your full effort, and the fans in Baltimore will let you know. I think they appreciated the way [Robinson] played the game.
"Robinson, every time I've seen a clip of him, from the stories I've heard from older guys, he always hit the ball, put his head down and ran. He played this game hard. That's something that it doesn't take talent to work hard and play hard. That's a mindset, and he always had that mindset of playing hard."
While he wasn't the Orioles' first African-American player, Robinson really began to embrace his role in the community and become a strong public advocate for civil rights issues while with Baltimore.
"I think Frank had dealt with most of that [racial tension] before he came here," fellow Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said over the winter. "It's funny, I never thought of Frank being black. I just thought of Frank as being as good of a player as you could ever see, and how meaningful he was to our ballclub because he was Frank.
"It's hard to explain. Guys who played with Willie Mays will say, 'Wow, he was Willie Mays.' [Reds manager] Dusty Baker will tell you, 'I learned from Hank Aaron because Hank Aaron saw everything.' Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs. Well, Frank was that kind of player. I never thought of Frank as a great black baseball player. Frank was just a great baseball player."
So, of course, was Jackie Robinson, who had his number retired all around baseball on the 50th anniversary of his debut in 1997. This year on Jackie Robinson Day, as in the three prior, Jones will wear special cleats Sunday to commemorate the event and pay tribute to everything Robinson stood for.
"I think it's my duty, especially as an African-American, to understand who paved the way, not just African-Americans, but Latin players also," Jones said. "He paved the way just for everyone, minorities. I've done my research on him. I know he was an unbelievable athlete [at] UCLA, a three-sport starter."
Jones is one of six players -- joining Andrew McCutchen, Torii Hunter, Orlando Hudson, Ryan Braun and Jason Heyward -- this year who will wear UCLA-colored "Swingman" cleats, custom made by Nike with No. 42 printed on the sides and "Jackie" scrawled on the front.
"I've done my due diligence on him," Jones said of Robinson. "I don't have enough time to sit down here and talk about him because he was just remarkable. A remarkable human being."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.