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Operation: Frank Robinson Biography

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I am enlisting your help. And I'm serious about this. I am enlisting your help, and I'm serious.

A few days ago, I wrote a short post noting Bill Ladson's reference to the fact that Frank Robinson has been in the big leagues for five decades. A day or two after posting that entry, the thought occurred to me that maybe I want to read a biography of the man; well, first I tried to recall whether I ever had, and then I resolved to find a good one. In the process, I noticed something:

You know what? There hasn't been a good Robinson biography in a long, long time. The Baseball Library provides the list through 2000, and there's not much there beyond the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. I did a quick search on Amazon and didn't find anything interesting in the past five or six years, either. A man of Frank Robinson's stature and recent experience---not to mention the experience of a lifetime in the game---deserves better than that.

Thereafter, I searched under "Frank Robinson" at Barnes & Noble's website. In a hyphenated word, I pretty much got jack-squat. There's certainly nothing of recent interest here:

  • Picture Story of Frank Robinson (1977): If you were born in 1967-69, this is the book for you---or at least it was, when you were ages 8-10.
  • Frank Robinson: The Making of a Manager (1980): A better selection for baseball fans, I would imagine. Of course, the publication date probably precludes a certain currentness, wouldn't you think? It's a theme that will emerge, one of two prevalent ones: lots of kids books, and lots of old books.
  • Frank Robinson: Superstars (1974): Both old and for kids (ages 12 and up); a certain useless versatility for our purposes.
  • Frank Robinson: Born Leader (1973): You know what the number one song was when this book was released? Will it go round in circles, will it fly high like a bird up in the sky.
  • Frank Robinson (1974): Banal title, 32 pages---seemingly limited probative value.
  • Frank Robinson (1989): Gotta love the original title. The publication date of '89 reminds me of when I was in college. I'd leaf through all these journals from the 1970s looking for research in one of my make-it-up-as-we-go-along majors, and I'd see an article from 1989, and I'd get excited because it would seem so recent. Then I'd remember it was 1996, and something seven years old wasn't all that more preferable than the old junk on the 'fiche. Anyway, does the "From the Critics" review by the School Library Journal clue you in to the target audience?
  • Frank Robinson (1991): Same title, same author as the previous entry; looks like a second edition.
  • My Life is Baseball (1975): Hey! A serious book! For adults! Written during the Ford administration! (Not even; the first edition of this original Robinson autobiography was published at the end of the Johnson administration.) Also, the title is creepy; when a guy is in baseball for fifty years---as Frank was destined to be---baseball obviously is your life, but your publisher doesn't have to make it sound like you're all compulsive about it.
  • Frank Robinson: The First Year (1976): Nice little memoir (co-authored by Dave Anderson), I'm sure; however, we can do better. I would say that this was published thirty years ago, but I'm in denial about that. Excuse me . . .
  • Extra Innings (1988): Okay, a serious biography---actually, from the description, another autobiography, co-authored by Barry Stainback. From Publisher's Weekly:
Robinson, the only man to be named most valuable player in both major leagues and the first black manager in baseball, scores another triumph with this book, the most forthright sports volume in several years. With coauthor Stainback (Snake, etc.), Robinson discusses racism in the diamond sport, which he experienced in the minor leagues (he could not stay in the same hotels as his teammates), in the major leagues (he found virtually no off-the-field contact between black and white players) and in the front office. He also deals with the problems of drug abuse and cheating by pitchers and batters, both of which he considers widespread and about which he claims that those in positions of power do nothing. The memoir is certain to be talked about.

Here's our best candidate for a good read. (Speaking of which, Stainback has an eclectic little collection there. The first page of his link yields this book, an Earl Weaver autobiography, lots of football stuff, a biography of a cop, a book on overcoming agoraphobia, and Needham's favorite, a book about an ex-porn queen reuniting her family. As Homer J. would say, "Sounds interesting.")

The Baseball Library's Robinson bio link lists no other serious biography of the man. Consequently, I ask you: is that all there is? A 1988 publication date? We can do better, can't we?

Well, not we. You're not going to write the definitive late-in-life Frank Robinson biography, and neither am I. We couldn't get within ten feet of the guy, except maybe to get an autograph, and I'm not convinced we could actually write a biography of the man, anyway.

But sportswriters can write biographies; biographers can write biographies. A collaborator can help him write an updated autobiography. Something has to happen. The guy's a living legend---MVP in both leagues, Triple Crown winner, fifth on the all-time home run list, first African-American manager, big league executive, first manager of the return of DC baseball, total inner circle Hall of Famer in every sense of the word. He'll be 71 in August; he certainly looks fit, but you never know. We need someone to step the plate.

And we need someone to step to the plate not because Robinson's a great manager and not because he's a nice guy; judging only from last year's events, Angels' fans might have issue with the latter, and Natospherians ourselves might debate the former. No, we're beyond all that. Quite simply, we need someone to step to the plate because there must be a biography (or autobiography) of him more timely than bearing a 1988 publication date and, meaning no offense to Mr. Stainback, who is likely an excellent writer, put forth by someone who hasn't gone on to do books about agoraphobia and porn stars.

Frank Robinson has lived a lifetime of baseball since 1988: the thrilling '89 Orioles, his work for MLB, the vagabond Montreal/San Juan years, the return to DC. The story of his years in baseball must be told again---and told fully.

How much longer is he going to manage? Given the (fingers crossed) likelihood of an owner emerging, Frank's got probably a season, if he's lucky, two tops. So we've got a little time, but not much. Once he's done as a manager, he's got too much golf to occupy him forthwith. This must get done, and with some urgency.

So here's what I want---not for me, of course, but for Frank and for all fans of baseball, including me: get the word out. Nats bloggers---please support this. If we can make the Google Bomb Hall of Fame, we can use our obsessiveness for good, too. Nats fans---please mention this whenever and however you can. Toss in plenty of Don't you think Frank Robinson deserves a definitive biography? questions whenever Svrluga or Boz or Sheinin chats at the Post website. Write in on the subject to Ladson's mailbag; if he's inclined to respond to your query, of course, that's getting the word out. Fellow SBN bloggers---if you're reading this, please pass it on. It's not about the Washington Nationals; instead, it's about giving a baseball legend his due.

Look, I know how to read my Sitemeter and how to make inferences and deductions based on what I see at my blog and the blogs of others. Ladson reads the blogs, at least from time to time. I know he doesn't like most of the blogs, and I'm sorry about that---I'm sincerely asking for his help here. Maybe a little (mention the idea to the kind of baseball people with whom he interacts), or maybe a lot (write it/collaborate on it himself). I'm pretty sure Loverro's read some of the blogs. If you're out there, Thom, you've certainly written your share of sports books. Get on this one. Same with you, David Elfin; you've written a DC baseball book lately, and I liked it.

Boz? Come on, it's been awhile since you wrote a good baseball book. Svrluga? I'm sure your new book could provide a substantial basis for part of Frank's post-'88 story. Run with it and get yourself a second "Author" line.

Anyway, you get the point. Frank Robinson deserves another shot at telling his story; fans of baseball need the opportunity to read it. This is imperative.

Oh, and if somebody's already in progress on a Robinson book, good work my friend. But let's not forget the cause---we'll have to read it eventually.

Let's just make sure there is something to read.