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Willie Horton On Frank Robinson: 'I Looked Up To This Man'

“If you’re lazy, you don’t want to be on the same team as guys like that.”

February 07, 2019 - 8:57 pm

97.1 The Ticket -- Frank Robinson is a baseball legend.

His 586 home runs rank 10th most all-time. He finished his career just shy of the 3,000 Hit Club. He is the only player to have his number retired by three different teams and the only player to win MVP awards in both leagues.

But Detroit Tigers legend Willie Horton says Robinson's legacy goes far beyond the numbers.

Robinson, who died at age 83 on Thursday after a battle with bone cancer, became the first black manager in Major League Baseball history when he took the reins in Cleveland as manager during his final three seasons with the Indians in 1975.

He was "a lot more than a Hall-of-Famer," Horton says. His legacy lies in him being "a good person and a good human being."

"I know myself, I looked up to this man," Horton told 97.1 The Ticket's Ryan Wooley. “He taught guys around him how to leave everything between the lines of the ball field. That’s what the ‘W’ is all about."

“Knowing what he’s done out beyond baseball and being the first black manager and then working at the commissioner’s office, I like what he did after he retired," Horton said. "First time around as a manager he kinda caught a rough time, but the second time he was a lot better at managing."

Robinson had managerial stints with the Indians, Giants, Orioles and the Expos/Nationals. He garnered Manager of the Year honors with the O's in 1989 when the Orioles improved their win total by more than 30 games and missed making the ALCS by just two games.

Robinson told Horton he "knew in his heart and soul" there would be more black managers to come after him -- and there have been. Cito Gaston became the first black manager to win a World Series when the Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back titles in 1992-93. Several others have made it to the Fall Classic, including Dusty Baker, Ron Washington and most recently, Dave Roberts with the Dodgers each of the last two seasons.

Horton says Robinson's intensity on the field and charming personality and kindness off it "set the standard" for the next 12-15 years in Baltimore when he joined the Orioles in 1966. The O's would win two World Series titles with Robinson as a player. 

Though Robinson left the Orioles as a player in 1971, he had rubbed off on the organization so much, Horton says, that intensity stuck around for years -- Baltimore won three more AL East titles and went to a World Series within the next eight years. That intensity came back during his managerial stint in Baltimore.

"Guys wanted to sign with Baltimore and go play with him," Horton said.

Horton has only seen one other baseball player with the same on-field intensity and likable personality off it -- the Tigers' own Kirk Gibson.

Robinson and Gibson both had the ability to hold a friendly conversation with opponents and ask how they were doing, Horton says.

"But in his eyes, he said I come here to beat ya,” Horton said. “If you’re lazy, you don’t want to be on the same team as Kirk and guys like that.”

In terms of modern day players who Horton thought would end up like Robinson, he says another former Tiger had that same look in his eyes. Curtis Granderson brought that same intensity to the field.

But off it?

"He'd hug ya, laugh, 'how ya doin'?' and all that. But in his eyes, he says I'm here to beat ya, too. You don't find too many people like that," Horton said.

Horton says, if not for injuries that put a bit of a damper on his career, Granderson could have ended up like Robinson.

Horton said he had to pull over while he was driving when his son called with the news of Robinson's passing on Thursday.

"He was a true professional," Horton said. "You’ve got to learn to live it on and off the field, and he did. He had a good passion for the game and he was more concerned with what's behind him.”