Known for his elite talent and intense demeanor, Robinson became a central figure in advancing Major League Baseball’s integration of black players after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
Robinson exploded on the scene in 1956 and for the next six decades established a legacy that’s second to none. That includes becoming MLB’s first black manager in 1974.
On the field, Robinson was a history maker as well. After signing with the Cincinnati Reds in 1953, he faced a tough road filled with racist taunts and death threats. It’s a road Robinson not only overcame, but conquered en route to producing one of the greatest careers in MLB history.
Robinson is still the only player to win MVP in both leagues, earning National League honors with the Reds in 1961 and the American League award with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. At age 20, he was voted NL Rookie of the Year after hitting a then rookie-record 38 home runs. He went on to make 14 All-Star game appearances, and currently ranks tenth on the all-time home run list with 586.
In 1974, the Cleveland Indians made Robinson MLB’s first black manager while he was still an active player. Robinson would go on to have managerial stints with the San Francisco Giants, which made him the NL’s first black manager, as well as the Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos during their transition into the Washington Nationals.
Robinson’s No. 20 is retired by the Reds, Orioles and Giants.
Because he helped pave the way for future generations of black players and managers, Robinson will always be one among the most important figures in MLB’s history.
Black athletes who made history
Black athletes who made history
Marlin Briscoe was the first black quarterback to start a pro football game, starting for the AFL's Denver Broncos against the Bengals on Oct. 6, 1968.
(Photo via AP)
Boxer Jack Johnson was the sport's first black world heavyweight champion.
Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947. He was also the first black player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and his No. 42 is retired league-wide.
(AP Photo/John Rooney, File)
Boxer Joe Louis is regarded by many to be the first black national hero after reigning as the world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1942.
(Photo by Max Machon/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Frederick "Fritz" Pollard became the first black NFL coach in 1921. He was also among the first two black players in the league.
(Photo via AP)
In 1966, Texas Western College fielded college basketball's first all-black starting lineup and defeated Kentucky in the national title game.
Althea Gibson was the first black woman to compete on the world tennis tour and the first to win a Grand Slam in 1956 when she won the French Open.
(AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)
Track and field athlete Wilma Rudolph helped bring more attention to her sport after her successes at the Summer Olympics in 1956 and 1960.
Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell became the first black coach in NBA history and was the first black coach to win an NBA championship. He was also the first black player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
(Photo by Sporting News/Sporting News via Getty Images)
During the 1968 Olympics, U.S. medalists Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos raised their fists during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the United States.
(AP Photo, File)
In 1970, an integrated USC Trojans roster defeated an all-white Alabama Crimson Tide team. After the game, many colleges began integrating their football teams.
(Photo by University of California LA/WireImage)
Charlie Sifford was the first black golfer to play on the PGA Tour, and later became the first black member inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Tennis player Arthur Ashe was the first black player to win a Grand Slam event when he won the U.S. Open in 1968. He remains the only black man to win Wimbledon to this day.
The Cleveland Indians hired Frank Robinson as the first black manager in the MLB in 1975.
Val James became the first black player in the NHL in 1981.
(Photo by Graig Abel Collection/Getty Images)
Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins became the first black quarterback to start (and win) a Super Bowl. Williams and the Redskins defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII on January 31, 1988.
(Photo by Icon Sportswire)
Tony Dungy became the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl when his Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI in 2007.
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
Tiger Woods became the first black man to win a major golf championship when he won The Masters in 1997.
(AP Photo/Bill Waugh, File)
In 2002, Bobsledder Vonetta Flowers became the first black athlete to win a Winter Olympics gold meda.