I was surprised by how hard Frank Robinson’s death struck me. I’m sure that many of you, even those casual sports fans, are aware of the news given that Frank had a 21-year Hall of Fame career, and was baseball’s first African-American manager.
Baseball players have life-cycles. They begin as rookies, then reach their peak. Eventually, their skills deteriorate, and they are replaced by the next generation of players. They go into coaching or the television booth, where the home runs get longer and the stories get funnier, and eventually, the inevitable end that befalls us all, befalls them.
I know this as an adult, but it was not the adult in me that received the news.
The reports on Robinson featured various clips and photos. There were Frank and Brooks Robinson joking with one another, both young and in their prime. In the background of one photo stood Mark Belanger, who died at age 54. There was Paul Blair, whom I saw hit a homer for the only run of the third game of the 1966 World Series, and who died the day after Christmas in 2013. Curt Blefary, whose 22 home runs netted him the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1965—his ashes were scattered in Memorial Stadium before they tore it down. Curt Motten, Elrod Hendricks, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Earl Weaver—all gone. And Dave McNally: I never think of him, but what I think of his 1964 baseball card, looking so young and just a little lost, like a kid.
It was my 9-year old self who pushed his way through all the adults that I had ever been, and stared at the television, which was tantamount to looking down on Frank’s casket, wherein a little piece of himself lay.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote in this blog about Satchell Paige’s famous line, “Don’t
look back: Something might be gaining on you.” We know what that is, and it has now overtaken Frank Robinson, but the children who we were, and who remain in us don’t understand it. That’s why they mourn so sincerely, and so deeply, untainted as they are by social conventions. At 9 years old, almost all of life is in front of us. At almost 62, a large chunk of life is behind me, and now, so too, is Frank Robinson.