Wise men and baseball fans alike (let’s not confuse the two) say that stats don’t lie…but Frank Robinson is proof that they do.
Oh, his stats are terrific. 586 homeruns, over 1,800 rbi. He even stole 200 bases with those spindly legs. Frank was Rookie of the year in 1956 slugging 38 homers, perhaps dwarfed by Aaron Judge standards, but record tying in their day. He led his league in slugging percentage 4 times and intentional walks 4 times. For stat-seeking modernistas, his WAR was 107 and he led the league in OPS 4 times. He is a Hall of Famer because of those stats.
But the stats lie.
He also led the league in getting hit by pitches 7 times, (including 38 times his rookie and sophomore campaigns combined). And lest we forget, in 1966 Frank Robinson won the first Triple Crown in his inaugural season in the American League, the first crown since Mickey Mantle achieved that milestone. And Frank did it without ever having faced most of the pitchers since there was no interleague play way back then.
But the stats still lie.
Even considering that he was MVP in both leagues, still the only man to achieve the feat, they don’t accurately measure his overall impact and value. And despite retiring with the 4th or 5th most career homers (“you could look it up” as Casey Stengel would quip), he struck out an even 100 times once, the only time in his career (1965) that he ever reached 100.
Still the stats lie, because they don’t tell you the true value of his aggressive leadership on the field and his tension breaking “kangaroo court” in the Orioles dugout, especially when set against the panorama of the 1960s. They also don’t tell you how an injured Robinson got enough mustard on his throw from deep right to third to cut down a Cincinnati runner going first to third in the 1970 World Series, when the Orioles defeated his former team, the Big Red Machine.
And how that victory must have thrilled the man! When Bill DeWitt called him an “old 30” after the 1965 season and traded him to Baltimore, what did Frank do? In 1966 he teamed up with his Brooks Robinson the human vacuum cleaner, big Boog Powell, Davey Johnson, that ballet dancer of a centerfielder, Paul Blair along with one of the best pitching staffs ever… to push and prod and lead Baltimore to the World Series for the first time ever…and to sweep the champion LA Dodgers of Sandy Koufax and company.
The stats lie because they don’t tell you how good a right fielder Frank was, good enough to win a golden glove in a league that featured the likes of Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Felipe Alou in right field.
The stats lie because they don’t reveal the drama of Frank Robinson standing an inch off the plate versus tough-as-nails Bob Gibson or high-and-tight Don Drysdale, or the now-forgotten great Cuban palm baller Camilo Pascual, the closest thing to Sal “The Barber” Maglie you ever saw. And still Frank triumphed, never budging an inch all the way to Cooperstown.
And the stats don’t reveal ferocious competitor that he was, (the hard slide fray with Eddie Mathews notwithstanding), or the depth of his knowledge of the game, and his love for it.
Sure, Frank Robinson will be remembered as the first black manager, something he was certainly proud of. And he was an extremely good manager. But Frank Robinson will always be remembered in my book for one thing. Frank Robinson was a winner.
And that why the stats lie.