It’s scary all right. It’s coming up on 46 years ago. And as the story goes outgoing O’s general manager Lee MacPhail had engineered a trade with Cincinnati and he was handing it off to the new general manager, Harry Dalton.
Put it this way, Frank Robinson was on the Orioles for six seasons and in four of those campaigns, the O’s went to the World Series.
Why did the Reds part with Robinson? He had driven in 113 runs and hit 33 homers for the club in 1965. However, on Dec. 9th, he was traded to Baltimore for starting pitcher Milt Pappas, reliever Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson.
We now know this was one of the worst trades (for Cincinnati) in baseball history.
Robinson was the missing piece in the Orioles quest to compete in the American League.
It’s April 12, 1966 and Orioles open the campaign in Boston. His first American League at-bat was not a home run but rather a hit-by-pitch from right-hander Earl Wilson. Brooks Robinson would retaliate for the beaning with a two-run homer. By the fifth inning, Robinson had his first single in the AL and his first homer.
Robinson’s first AL game went 13 innings. Win one of the season came via a Jim Lonborg balk. Eddie Watt notched his first save in his first major league game.
It’s July 19, 1966. Earl Wilson is again the mound opponent. This time, he’s hurling for the Detroit Tigers. Luis Aparicio singled. Russ Snyder singled. Frank Robinson homered. Earl Wilson was gone.
Robinson homered later in the 13-3 romp. And get this, Watt pitched a complete game for his seventh win of the season.
Two nights later, the Tigers series is still going on. This time it’s 8-game winner Dave McNally for the Birds and right-hander Bill Monbouquette for the Tigers. Frank singled in his first two-bats and cracked two homers in his next two trips to the plate.
After this 6-4 victory, the Orioles stood at 64-32. It was the best record in baseball. And better yet, the second-place Tigers were buried at 11.5 games out.
Seven times during the magical 66 season, Robinson hit two homers in a game. The last time came on Sept. 21. His 48th and 49th homers of the campaign came in a 10-8 win over Kansas City. The O’s trailed 6-3 heading to the eighth inning. Robinson had homered in the seventh and he also connected in the eighth. That was a seven-run eighth inning.
Robinson won the batting title at .316. He edged Minnesota’s Tony Oliva by seven points. Those 49 homers were 10 more than runner-up Harmon Killebrew. His 122 RBIs were 10 more than Killebrew. He also led the AL in slugging percentage (.637) on-base percentage (.410) and runs scored (122). In addition to those awards, he was third in both doubles (34) and hits (188). He was the easy choice as AL MVP.
He won the triple crown as he was the first to do that since Mickey Mantle a decade before. Let’s be honest. Carl Yastrzemski was a great player but he wouldn’t have won the triple crown the next season if Frank Robinson didn’t get hurt. In late August of 67, Frank was hitting .335 and Yaz was 17 points behind.
Orioles fans certainly recall how Robinson’s first World Series at-bat turned out. He took a Don Drysdale pitch out of left field. He was named the World Series MVP in the four-game sweep of the Dodgers.
Frank Robinson had 77 at-bats in World Series game for the Birds. He hit 7 homers. The Reds traded the Orioles a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And we thank them for it.