May 10, 2006


Robby powered first Red machine (Lonnie Wheeler, 5/10/06, Cincinnati Post)

Frank Robinson's first look at Crosley Field met very much with his approval. "You walk up to home plate," he said Tuesday from the visiting manager's office at Great American Ball Park, 50 years and a few miles from where he was then, "and there's no 400-foot sign anywhere in the ballpark. That's a good ballpark."

It was not, however, a good team that he joined in 1956, as a ferocious 20-year old. The Redlegs, as they were called in the day's raging overreaction to communism, had schlepped around with losing records for 11 straight seasons, to the point that not so many people cared anymore. Fewer than 700,000 showed up for their home games in 1955.

The young outfielder from Oakland - a former teammate of Bill Russell's in high school basketball - had spent that season in Columbia, S.C., with Cincinnati's affiliate in the Sally League, which, newly and somewhat irritably integrated, was not a particularly pleasant place for a young black athlete to make his way; much less one with an aching shoulder. "I would have made it up the year before," Robinson allowed, "if I'd been able to throw."

And yet, it certainly seemed that power was the thing the Redlegs needed least. They had Ted Kluszewski and Wally Post and Gus Bell and Ed Bailey, which is why the new left fielder was batting seventh on Opening Day. First time through, he whaled into one from Vinegar Bend Mizell and slammed it against the center field wall. The next day, he hit a ball to the same spot, only over.

It was the first of 38 home runs for the National League Rookie of the Year. [...]

So changing was his influence that the Redlegs' attendance soared in his first season to more than 1.1 million, a Crosley Field record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 10, 2006 12:08 AM


Posted by: oj at May 10, 2006 8:14 AM