One of the most important players in baseball history is also, in my opinion, one of the most undervalued players in the hobby. Fortunately for collectors, that means cards of this historic figure can be added to just about any collection on any budget.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American player to suit up for a Major League Baseball team. Ten seasons later, in 1956, another Robinson — Frank — made his MLB debut the same season Jackie played in his final game. Though they had no relation to each other, Frank Robinson was a trailblazer in his own right.
On the field, Frank Robinson was a beast of a player. In his illustrious career, he hit nearly .300 (.294), had almost 3,000 hits (2,943), and almost amassed 600 home runs (586). When he retired, he was 4th all time in career home runs, behind only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays. Despite the swell of home runs the last three decades have brought, he still ranks 10th all-time.
A 14-time All Star, Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award in 1956 and was named MVP of the National League in 1961, all while playing for the Cincinnati Reds. After a trade to the Baltimore Orioles for the 1966 season, Robinson hit for the Triple Crown and won the American League MVP award, making him the first person to win an MVP in both leagues. To this day, he is still the ONLY person to achieve that feat. He was also named World Series MVP in 1966 while leading the Orioles to the first of two championships they’d win with him in the heart of the order.
For all these reasons, you can see why a player like Frank Robinson should be very highly valued. However, it’s what he did after his playing days were over that made him a true pioneer in the sport.
After quick stops with the Dodgers and Angels, Robinson was traded to the Cleveland Indians. Almost immediately, Cleveland named him as player-manager for the 1975 season. In so doing, Robinson became the first black manager in the majors, nearly three decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. When he signed on as the manager of the San Francisco Giants for the 1981 season, he became the first black manager in National League history, too.
So, to recap: only MVP in both leagues, Triple Crown winner, first black manager in each league. Frank Robinson is certainly an iconic trailblazer.
Though they’ve seen increases commensurate with all Hall of Fame cards rising over the past two years, many of Robinson’s issues are affordable. A mid-grade rookie from 1957 Topps has risen in value quite a bit — a PSA 5 now sells for around $500. But there are plenty of other options for buying Frank Robinson cards. His second year 1958 Topps card sells for around $30 or $40 raw, and his All Star card from the same set is even more affordable, around $15 or $20. Early-career Kahn’s Weiners issues are tough oddball sets with beautiful imagery that can be had for $50 or less. And because Robinson played so long, he has issues into the mid-1970s, which allows for fairly common singles from the end of his career to be purchased for a buck or two.
Frank Robinson was a trailblazer in his own right. Black History Month is the perfect time to add a Frank Robinson card to your collection.