Baseball's 1972/73 off-season was gifted a huge story on November 28th when the Los Angeles Dodgers and the California Angels announced their seven-player, blockbuster trade that sent Angel starting pitcher Andy Messersmith and Angel starting third baseman Ken McMullen to the Dodgers for former All-Star infielder Bill Grabarkewitz, up-and-coming outfielder/infielder Bobby Valentine, pitchers Mike Strahler and Bill Singer, and the great Frank Robinson.
Although he was entering his age 37 season in 1973, the no-doubt-about-it Hall of Famer would turn in two more great years for the Angels.
He started things off by hitting a home run in his first ever at bat for the Halos, off of Steve Busby in a 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals. A few weeks later, he hit a three-run homer against the Baltimore Orioles in his first game against them since they had traded him at the end of 1971 (Robinson's homer helped fuel an Angel comeback that saw a 5-0 deficit end up a 6-5 Angel victory). At the end of his first year with the Angels, Robinson finished the season second in the league with 30 home runs.
He was clearly the best hitter on that 1973 Angel squad, as he led the Halos in HR, RBI, OBP, and Runs Scored. He also had a commanding 151 OPS+ (Bob Oliver, Darren Oliver's father, was second on the Angels that season with a 118 OPS+).
Frank Robinson had another great year in 1974 for the Angels, to the tune of a 146 OPS+ while leading the Angels again in HR, RBI, OBP, and Runs Scored. He was selected as a reserve on that year's All-Star team (he hit into a force out to end the sixth inning in his only at bat). He was such a feared hitter, even at age 38, that he ended up third in the league that year in intentional walks (14).
On June 27th of 1974, about a month before the All-Star break, the Angels fired manager Bobby Winkles. A year ago on this date, the Angels had been in first place in the American League West, but they had floundered since then and were in last place at the time of Winkles' firing. One of the reasons commonly cited for the dismissal was that Robinson and Winkles did not get along with each other.
On September 12th, the Angels traded Robinson to the Cleveland Indians with just a couple weeks left to go in the season, and then that October 3rd, the Indians announced that Robinson was their new manager.
What I would like to know, and hopefully some of the readers out there can fill me in on this, is why the Angels did not hire Robinson to be their manager. The Angels had an opening. When there was a conflict between Winkles and Robinson, the Angels clearly favored Robinson. The Angel general manager at the time was Harry Dalton, who had been the Baltimore Oriole GM who acquired Robinson from the Cincinnati Reds in 1965 and was the Orioles' GM for the entire time Robinson played in Baltimore, so the two men had a deep and seemingly positive history.
Frank Robinson, manager of the California Angels. That could have really been something.
But as fate would have it, Robinson would still have an influence over future Angel teams.
It was in 1977 when Don Baylor started his momentous six-year run with the Halos. Baylor, you may recall, started out as a highly touted prospect with the Baltimore Orioles and saw some time with the big league club while Robinson was there. Baylor idolized Robinson and was keen to emulate the qualities that made him so great. When Baylor was signed by the Angels as a free agent in 1977, he brought Robinson's tough-as-nails, give-it-everything-you-have style of play with him, as well as Robinson's behind-the-scenes leadership skills, complete with Baylor's version of Robinson's kangaroo court that punished players for not hustling or for not keeping their head in the game.
Baylor's play on the field coupled with his clubhouse leadership became two of the driving forces behind the first golden age of Angel baseball, and Angel fans will always, in part, have Frank Robinson to thank for that.