Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is on the verge of becoming the first Latino to win an MLB Triple Crown. Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles was the first African American to accomplish the feat. He did it in 1966. No African-American has done it since.
The 1966 season was one of redemption for Robinson. He was traded to the Orioles from the Cincinnati Reds for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun and outfielder Dick Simpson. The Reds reason for trading Robinson was that they thought he was an ‘old 30’. Robinson also came to Baltimore as a player with some baggage. So a player who had won NL Rookie of the Year in 1956 and Most Valuable Player in 1961 found himself labeled as past his prime.
Robinson would make Cincinnati regret ever making the trade.
The Orioles of 1966 were similar to the team they have today. They were a group of young, talented players who were close to being very good. All Baltimore needed was a veteran leader who could lead by example on and off the field. Robinson fit the bill.
He immediately fit in with his new teammates. From the first day of spring training every member of the Orioles sensed that 1966 would be their year. When Robinson lined a sharp curve ball down the line one day against the Atlanta Braves Baltimore, pitcher Jim Palmer turned to second baseman Davey Johnson and said, ‘We just won the pennant.’ He was right.
With a chip on his shoulder Robinson tore through the American League. One could make the case that no player had as big an impact on his team immediately after being traded to them as he did. On June 8 the Orioles took over first place for good. They won the pennant by nine games.
Robinson finished the season with a .316 batting average, 49 home runs and 122 runs batted in. The old man had put together a season good enough to win the Triple Crown. It was also good enough to earn Robinson AL MVP. This made him the first and only man to win the award in both leagues.
Robinson was not done. Baltimore faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. The Dodgers pitching staff was led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. It was thought that the young Orioles had no chance to beat Los Angeles. Robinson wasted no time in proving the experts wrong.
In his first at bat of the series he faced Drysdale. The two had been involved in some legendary battles when Robinson was in Cincinnati. This one would join the list. Drysdale threw one of his blazing fastballs and Robinson hit it out of the park for Baltimore’s first run of the series. When Brooks Robinson followed with a homer of his own the 1966 World Series was basically over.
Robinson hit another home run off of Drysdale in game four. It was the only run of the game and brought Baltimore its first world’s championship as they swept the Dodgers in four straight. Robinson completed his season of redemption by being named series MVP.
Since then many great players from Dave Winfield, to Eddie Murray, to Ken Griffey Jr. to Frank Thomas have come along. None of them won the Triple Crown.
The only African-American to win the Triple Crown is Frank Robinson.