Robinson records pinch-hit RBI single in final game

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Janey Murray

Frank Robinson recorded the last hit of his playing career on Sept. 18, 1976. But his influence on the game didn’t stop then.

At the time, Robinson was in his second season as player-manager for the Cleveland Indians. As his playing career began to wind down, he was named to the role following the 1974 season, making him the first African-American manager in Major League Baseball.

Robinson had played sparingly throughout the 1976 season, but in the Sept. 18 game against the Baltimore Orioles – his former team – he entered the ballgame in a key situation.

The Indians trailed 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, but they had staged a rally, putting runners on first and second with one out.

Robinson came to the plate as a pinch hitter for shortstop Frank Duffy, marking his first plate appearance since Sept. 4. But the 14-day break didn’t seem to faze him, as he singled to left field to score Joe Lis from second and cut Baltimore’s lead to 3-2, giving Robinson his 1,812th and final RBI.

After Robinson’s hit, the Indians were retired in order to close out the eighth and ninth and secure an Orioles victory. But the day still marked a significant point in history, as it was the final plate appearance of Robinson’s Hall of Fame playing career.

The game capped off a 21-year big-league career for the outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds, Orioles, Indians, California Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Robinson posted a .294 batting average, 2,943 hits, 1,812 RBI and 586 home runs in his storied career.

He was the first player to win a Most Valuable Player award in both leagues, and he was named to 12 All-Star games.

“A lot of people ask me if I get upset because I fell just short of 600 homers and 3,000 hits,” Robinson said in his Hall of Fame induction speech. “But I don’t have to apologize for those numbers. I never believed in personal goals. If I wanted to go after personal goals, I could have inserted myself in the lineup a lot more when I was managing Cleveland. I just wanted to be remembered as a winner.”

At the end of the 1976 season, Robinson decided to put an end to his playing career.

But he would enjoy 14 more years in the big leagues as a manager with the Indians, San Francisco Giants, Orioles, Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals, earning the American League Manager of the Year Award with the Orioles in 1989.

In the midst of his managing career, Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.

“(Leadership) is a matter of how much of yourself you are willing to give to another man and how much of you he is willing to accept,” said Robinson’s Orioles teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. “Frank gave everything of himself and we accepted everything he gave us.”

Janey Murray was the 2019 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series