Frank Robinson used to joke that if he knew it would be such a big deal to have 600 career home runs and 3,000 hits, he would have played a few more games.
Well, Frank, maybe you were right. It turns out that 586 career home runs and 2,943 hits, along with 1,812 runs batted in, Most Valuable Player awards in both leagues, a Triple Crown, five pennants and two World Series titles wasn’t enough.
The ongoing crime of lack of proper respect to one of the greatest living baseball players continued Tuesday night in, of all place, the city he got his start. Robinson was not introduced as one of the four greatest living ballplayers before the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.
They introduced Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax and Johnny Bench, and I’m betting if you asked Koufax and Bench if they think they should have been out there instead of Robinson, they would say no.
No honest person would say otherwise.
Three quarters of this list is simple, really — Aaron, Mays, Robinson. The fourth is open to debate, but on any stage, on any field, before or after an event, on any ballot on any planet, the first three are Aaron, Mays and Robinson.
Supposedly, fans voted on the greatest four introduced before the All-Star Game. I’m not big on fixes and conspiracies because it often takes a lot of people keeping their mouths shut to pull them off, but this one smells like a Florida hanging chad.
It’s clearly not a generational thing, because Koufax played in the same era as Robinson. And Koufax, for much of his post-playing career, has been a hermit, while Robinson has been in the public eye — 17 years as a manager, most prominently as the first African-American manager in the history of the game in Cleveland in 1975 and then most recently as manager of the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals. He has been in the spotlight in a various roles working in the commissioner’s office.
Plus, simply, he’s Frank Robinson.
Why is this so hard?
Robinson wasn’t event one of the eight finalists — selected by a so-called “blue ribbon panel” — on the ballot for fans to select. The remaining four were Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Pedro Martinez and Tom Seaver.
Bonds is in the conversation, but he has only himself to blame for recognition and respect that he doesn’t get. Henderson is in the conversation, but ahead of Robinson?
If you wanted to put Martinez ahead of Koufax, I would be fine with that, but if you insist on putting one pitcher on that final four list, it would be Greg Maddux and his 354 career wins in the steroid era. I wouldn’t put him on my final four.
Bench just happens to be one of the final four to be picked in Cincinnati? Bench may be the greatest catcher of all time, but no one is putting him in the final four of greatest living players — except the so-called fans who voted on this.
And where is Ken Griffey Jr.? “The Kid” hit 630 home runs and drove in 1,836 runs over 22 seasons — many of them plagued by injuries — and played some of the best center field we’ve ever seen, winning 10 Gold Gloves.
My four greatest living players would be the three easy ones — the ones who should be no brainers — Aaron, Mays and Robinson, along with Griffey.
These lists are fun and ripe for debate. They also selected the “Franchise Four” for each team, and Nationals fans had to suffer with the representation of four Expos players. I get that you can hardly put out a list of the Nationals’ greatest players this early in their existence, but that doesn’t make it any less awkward and frustrating.
The Orioles list left off Eddie Murray, and I don’t see how you can do that. As influential as Robinson, named one of Baltimore’s Franchise Four, was in the Orioles championship runs from 1966 to 1971, so was Murray during the 1979 to 1983 run. Ask Cal Ripken.
Not that any would notice, but the Negro League list of greatest players of all time included Buck O’Neil, as that illusion keeps being perpetuated. O’Neil was a fine ambassador to the game, but he was an average player as best, and not in the same class as Buck Leonard and Martin Dihigo, two of the eight that were on the ballot. For some people, the only Negro Leaguer they’ve ever heard of is O’Neil.
But all these are misdemeanors, parking tickets. Overlooking Frank Robinson is first-degree stupidity.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at email@example.com.
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