5:24 AM UTC
It wasn’t an order so much as a suggestion. Cleveland general manager Phil Seghi pulled Frank Robinson aside the morning of Robinson’s debut as player-manager — 47 years ago today — and said, “Why don’t you hit a homer the first time you go to the plate?”
Robinson looked at his boss incredulously.
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
There was no kidding around mere hours later, when Robinson, Major League Baseball’s first African-American manager, made history in his first at-bat.
In the lineup as his team’s designated hitter in just the third season of that position’s existence, Robinson stepped to the plate against the Yankees’ Doc Medich, got a 2-2 fastball low and away and ripped it over the left-field wall for a solo shot.
The crowd of 56,204 fans at Cleveland Municipal Stadium went berserk.
“Any home run is a thrill,” Robinson said afterward. “But I’ve got to admit, this one was a bigger thrill.”
What a thrill it was for a man to not only break the managerial color barrier but to do so in such a dramatic way. Cleveland had already established itself as a progressive organization in 1947, when Larry Doby became the second Black player in the AL or NL.
Robinson, who would also go on to become the NL’ first Black manager (with the San Francisco Giants in 1981), added to that legacy.
So the 1975 season started with a bang. It didn’t end that way, as Cleveland would go on to a 79-80 finish, good only for fourth place in the AL East. Then again, that was the club’s best record in more than a decade, and it would finish three games over .500 in 1976.
Robinson, therefore, didn’t yank Cleveland out of its long, fire-engine-red-clad doldrums, but he did oversee two respectable seasons before things went awry with a slow start in 1977, leading to his dismissal.
The Hall of Famer went on to manage not just the Giants but also the Orioles and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise. Robinson, who passed away in 2019, also served as a senior adviser to Commissioner Rob Manfred and the honorary president of the AL. In Cleveland, people of a certain age still cite Robinson’s Opening Day home run as one of their more cherished memories from the local sports scene.
As far as how Robinson celebrated that moment in its immediate aftermath, well, he did it in a perfectly understated way — with a hamburger, a Coke and a piece of cake.