Frank Robinson stars in first big league game

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Isabelle Minasian

Much like the rest of his life, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson’s big league debut was exceptional.

On April 17, 1956, against the St. Louis Cardinals’ left-hander-turned-Congressman Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, Robinson – playing in his first big league game for the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 20 – connected on a 1-1 pitch in the bottom of the second inning for a book rule double.

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Two innings later, Robinson recorded a hit off of Mizell again, this time with a single to left field.

In the bottom of the eighth, with two runners on, Vinegar Bend took one look at the 20-year-old rookie and promptly intentionally walked him.

Only 46 players in Major League history have ever been issued an intentional walk during their big league debut.

The most recent player to be intentionally walked in his big league debut is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger in 2017. Bellinger would later go on to earn National League Rookie of the Year honors, just like Robinson.

There were two other Hall of Famers at Crosley Field when Robinson broke into the big leagues – Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial – but Robinson is still the only Hall of Famer to be intentionally walked in his first Major League game.

The young left fielder followed up his historic debut with a rookie season for the ages.

After more than a decade with losing records, the Cincinnati Redlegs sparked to life in 1956 and ultimately finished with a stellar 91-63 record. Robinson was a large part of their success.

The Oakland, Calif., native led the team in home runs, with 38, drove in 83 runs and hit .290/.379/.558 to earn himself both a trip to the All-Star Game and National League Rookie of the Year honors.

Over the next 20 years, Robinson continued to demonstrate his prodigious talent, with 13 more All-Star Game selections, including two years in which he was recognized as his league’s Most Valuable Player.

In 1966, following his trade from the Reds to the Baltimore Orioles, he even doubled up on MVP awards, earning both the American League award and the World Series title.

Robinson, of course, did not let the end of his playing career stop him from making history.

In 1975 he became the first African-American manager in baseball history when he became the Cleveland Indians player/manager.

Robinson celebrated the appointment as only he could: with another mark in the history books.

On a 2-2 fastball from the New York Yankees’ Doc Medich, he slugged the ball over the left field wall for a solo home run.

Robinson eventually retired as a player after his 1976 season.

He later spent nearly two decades as a manager, leading the Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals.


Isabelle Minasian is the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series