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Frank Robinson, Hall of Famer and baseball's first black manager, dies at 83

Still the only player to win the MVP in both leagues, Robinson was also named the AL manager of the year once.
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Frank Robinson, who after a Hall of Fame career on the field broke the color barrier as the first black manager in Major League Baseball, died on Thursday, league officials said. He was 83.

Robinson had been in failing health for months and was in hospice care at his home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. The league did not give a cause of death.

Robinson broke in with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956 at the age of 20, winning the Rookie of the Year award. He went on to play for the Baltimore Orioles, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the California Angels and the Cleveland Indians.

Despite his remarkable record as a player — he is still the only player to be named the MVP in both leagues — Robinson will go down in history as much for being a trailblazer in sports management, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said.

“Frank Robinson’s résumé in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations," Manfred said. "He was one of the greatest players in the history of our game, but that was just the beginning of a multifaceted baseball career."

Image: Frank Robinson
Hall of Famer Frank Robinson attends the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 28, 2013, in Cooperstown, New York.Mike Groll / AP

Robinson was honored with America's highest civilian award in 2005 when President George W. Bush bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on him.

Henry Aaron, a contemporary of Robinson’s and MLB’s second-greatest home run hitter, said his fellow Hall of Famer was much more than just a standout player.

“Frank Robinson and I were more than baseball buddies,” Aaron, 85, tweeted. “We were friends. Frank was a hard-nosed baseball player who did things on the field that people said could never be done. I’m so glad I had the chance to know him all of those years. Baseball will miss a tremendous human being.”

Robinson's family has asked that donations be made in his memory to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, or the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

"Frank Robinson was not only a legendary ballplayer, but a remarkable human being," according to a statement by the Major League Baseball Players Association.

The moment Frank Robinson took control of Indians may have been just as important to baseball as Jackie Robinson donning a Brooklyn Dodger uniform for the first time, according to Manfred.

“With the Cleveland Indians in 1975, Frank turned Jackie Robinson’s hopes into a reality when he became the first African-American manager in baseball history," Manfred said.

Noted sociologist Harry Edwards said Robinson came of age in a crucial era of American sports, when athletes asserted themselves in greater cultural debates.

“At the end of the day, his legacy of both what he did on the field and in society, is going to be stellar,” Edwards told NBC News on Thursday night. “Frank was right there in the 1960s and 70s when everything was happening and athletes were speaking up.”

Frank Robinson won his first MVP award for the Reds in 1961, when he hit 37 home runs with National League-highs in slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging.

Then, in the winter of 1965-66, Cincinnati traded Robinson to Baltimore in what is often regraded as one of the worst deals in baseball history.

Robinson didn't miss a beat in his new Baltimore home, with the best year of his playing career coming in 1966. He won that season's American League MVP award and captured baseball's rare Triple Crown — leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBI.

He was a 12-time All-Star and was the MVP of the All-Star Game in 1971.

The last uniform Robinson wore as a player was with the Indians, and in 1975 the Cleveland club elevated him to player-manager.

Robinson went on to manage the San Francisco Giants, the Orioles, the Montreal Expos and the Washington Nationals. While at the helm of the Orioles, he was named American League Manager of the Year in 1989.

His best two years as manager were with the Orioles in 1989 and the Giants in 1982, when his teams won 87 games.

In his 21-season playing career, Robinson belted 586 home runs, 10th most in baseball history, and racked up 1,812 RBI, ranking 21st on the all-time list.

Robinson was born Aug. 21, 1935, in Beaumont, Texas, the youngest of 10 children.

The family moved west and he attended McClymonds High School in Oakland, California, where he was a basketball teammate of NBA legend Bill Russell. His high school baseball teammates included future MLB stars Vada Pinson and Curt Flood.

Robinson is survived by his wife, Barbara, and daughter, Nichelle.