(Reuters) - Frank Robinson, who in 1975 became Major League Baseball’s first African-American manager and is considered one of the game’s greatest players, died on Thursday at the age of 83.
Robinson, known also for his leadership and competitive fire during a Hall of Fame playing career that spanned 21 seasons, will be remembered as a pioneer by the baseball world after paving the way for every minority manager who has followed.
“Frank Robinson’s resume in our game is without parallel, a trailblazer in every sense, whose impact spanned generations,” MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred said in a statement.
“He was one of the greatest players in the history of our game, but that was just the beginning of a multifaceted baseball career.”
The MLB website said Robinson, who died at his California home, had been suffering from a long-term illness.
After a standout playing career, Robinson went on to manage the Indians, San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals over 16 MLB seasons.
It was with Cleveland, 28 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, that Frank Robinson became MLB’s first black manager when he walked the lineup card to home plate as a player-manager for the Cleveland Indians.
“Every time I put on this uniform, I think of Jackie Robinson,” Frank Robinson said in 1975.
After the last of his managing jobs in 2006, Robinson went on to work for MLB in a variety of roles, among them the vice president of on-field operations, senior vice president for Major League operations and honorary American League president.
In 2005, Robinson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award, for setting a lasting example of character in athletics.
“Frank was a proponent of civil rights causes on and off the field, including policies that paved the way for minorities to have increased access to executive and management positions in baseball,” the Orioles said in a statement.
Robinson broke into the National League as a 20-year-old in 1956 and tied a rookie record with 38 home runs en route to NL Rookie of the Year honors. Over the next decade and a half, Robinson was one of the most feared hitters in the game.
When All-Star pitcher Jim Bouton was asked by a fan how he would pitch to Robinson, he replied, “Reluctantly.”
Robinson went on to become a 14-times All-Star who hit 586 home runs during a career in which he played for the Cincinnati Reds, Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels and Indians.
When Robinson retired, his home run total at the time was fourth on MLB’s all-time list, trailing Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.
“Frank Robinson and I were more than baseball buddies. We were friends,” Aaron said on Twitter. “Frank was a hard nosed baseball player who did things on the field that people said could never be done.
“I’m so glad I had the chance to know him all of those years. Baseball will miss a tremendous human being.”
Robinson also made history as the first Most Valuable Player of both the National and American Leagues, earned the 1966 AL Triple Crown and World Series MVP honors, and was a centerpiece of two World Series-winning Baltimore teams.
Robinson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility, and his No. 20 was retired by the Reds, Orioles, and Indians, with each team also erecting a statue in his honor.
“Frank will be forever remembered for his enormous impact on our game as an extraordinary player, a gifted manager, and a deeply committed member of the Board of Directors of the Hall of Fame,” said Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark.
“He brought great character, integrity, and sportsmanship to each of these roles. We are truly saddened by this loss and share our deepest sympathy with his family.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris