In the Summer of 1981, the strike season, my family took an impromptu late summer trip to Cooperstown, which wasn’t all that far from our Westchester home. We didn’t plan it well, and arrived just after the Hall of Fame ceremonies had ended (but in time to catch the Hall of Fame game, played between the Elmira-Pioneer Red Sox and Oneonta Yankees). Cursing our misfortune, my father and I vowed to make a return trip the next year, to take in the entire Hall of Fame experience.
We kept our promise. And by doing so, we got to witness the Hall of Fame inductions of two legendary outfielders, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson. It’s not an exaggeration to say these two gentleman were two of the towering figures of the last half of the 20th century in baseball.
After the ceremony, we headed over to the Otesaga Resort Hotel, where all of the players stay. I snuck into the lobby while dad stayed outside (and got an absolutely amazing photo of Joe Dimaggio, standing with no one near him while the other Hall of Famers enjoyed each other’s company).
Inside, I managed to meet Negro League great Cool Papa Bell, perhaps my all-time favorite celebrity meeting. I was also the first to spot Hank when he walked through the door, but the other autograph hounds beat me too him. I saw Frank from a distance, but otherwise missed him.
Hank was obviously the biggest name in that induction ceremony, but as the years have gone on, my admiration for Frank has grown exponentially. He was obviously a great, great ballplayer, an inner circle Hall type. He was also a groundbreaker, doing for the management ranks what Jackie did for ballplayers. And though he was generally stuck piloting crappy lineups for virtually his entire career, he was actually a damn fine skipper. When he wasn’t in the dugout, he was serving in various capacities in the sport, a reflection of the stature he was held in by the entire baseballing community.
In some ways, Frank Robinson is baseball’s all-time best second banana, whether that was an NL outfielder in the shadow of Willie, a Hall of Fame inductee going in with the Home Run King, or the guy who broke baseball’s other color barrier. But when it comes to an entire baseball life, there aren’t many who top him.
He also was a part of my all-time favorite baseball highlight, both for the brilliance of the oft-maligned Neifi Perez and for the utter disdain Frank demonstrated for his boneheaded players. Enjoy it here.