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Frank Robinson on Jackie Robinson's Legacy

Frank Robinson managed the Washington Nationals in 2005-2006. Previously, he managed the team when it was the Montreal Expos.
Jamie Squire / Getty Images
Getty Images
Frank Robinson managed the Washington Nationals in 2005-2006. Previously, he managed the team when it was the Montreal Expos.

Sixty years ago this weekend, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American player to take the field in the major leagues. When he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers on Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947, Robinson opened the door to other black players and, eventually, to managers like Frank Robinson.

"Everyone of color who's come through baseball or [was] connected with baseball should be very conscious of what Jackie Robinson did and what he had to endure and what he put up with ..., " says Frank Robinson, no relation. "And without him doing it the way he did it and the respect he collected over those years, it would have been very difficult for others to follow."

Frank Robinson says that early in his playing career with Cincinnati, he endured many of the same things Jackie Robinson did — including racial taunts from the stands and being barred from the hotels where his white teammates stayed.

Frank Robinson became the first African American to manage a major league baseball team, taking the helm of the Cleveland Indians in 1975. He later managed the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, Montreal Expos and, until last year, their successor team, the Washington Nationals.

He says that over the years as a manager, he had problems with some players, whom he suspected didn't respect him because of his race. Some thought he was singling them out because of their race.

"I treat ... men as equals and I don't look at the color of people's skin," he tells Steve Inskeep. "If I feel like you're not doing something I feel like should be done, I don't care what color your skin is. I don't look at it that way. You're going to hear from me."

Despite the achievements of Jackie Robinson and Frank Robinson, both of whom are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the number of African-American players has been on the decline for decades — largely due to the increased focus on recruiting players from Latin America.

"There are not as many scouts going into the inner city looking at kids ...," Frank Robinson says.

As for young players today, many of whom aren't familiar with Jackie Robinson's name or the role he played, Frank Robinson says, "I want them to be sure about what he did, not only on the field ... I think what Jackie Robinson did off the field was even more significant. I think he brought a country together with his play on the field. He showed the people that blacks should be treated equal, be just as good if not better than the white players ...."

Jackie Robinson died in 1972.

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