Atlanta – When news of the death of Frank Robinson, ever a Major League Baseball legend, came on the television yesterday, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my Mom, who’s the same age as he, 83. I’m here helping my Mom (and not been to my place in Oakland but 69 days of the past year), and everything that a son’s supposed to do – including talking.
Anyway, when Mom’s ears caught the news about Frank Robinson, her first words, without hesitation, were, “He helped my friend go to college.”
See, before my Mom moved here to suburban Atlanta with her now passed on husband Chester Yerger, Jr., they lived in Oakland. And my Mom and moved to Oakland on April 8th of 1974. So, we have been in Oakland a while, and if you’re black in our town, or had a good set of African American friends (common in the really-diverse Oakland), and were alive about the same span of time as we, there’s a good chance you have a Frank Robinson story.
Maybe you saw him at the grocery store, or a restaurant, or a bar, or at a friend’s place. Or maybe you went to Skyline High School during the late 70s (I am Skyline High class of 1980) and saw Robinson hanging out at Joe Morgan’s place (easy to do if you walked down Bacon Road, next to Skyline Boulevard, and went past the house with the black gate that had the giant “M” on it! I once stopped and saw Morgan beat the crap out of Reggie Jackson in tennis!)
Or maybe you went to school with Mr. Robinson. Frank Robinson attended McClymonds High School along with another local legend, Bill Russell. On Twitter, Mr. Russell, a star not just at McClymonds, but at the University of San Francisco, tweeted this:
Heartbreaking news in the passing of my Dear Friend & @McClymondsHS classmate Frank Robinson. It was my pleasure & great honor to have known him. We all know we lost one of the Greats, what we really lost was a Friend. #RIP @MLB @NBA @BleacherReport @MSNBC @CNN @SFGiants pic.twitter.com/KETXL9MhT8
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) February 7, 2019
And in my case, I remember when Robinson almost owned the Oakland A’s.
I was economic advisor to Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, who entrusted me with finding potential buyers for the A’s in 1996. Why? Because our lease with the team at the time placed such responsibility in the hands of the City of Oakland, so that went to the Mayor, who passed it to me as his aide.
I received a call from a man named John Keriotis, the Sacramento Kings Limited Partner at the time, who was interested in purchasing the team but specifically wanted Frank Robinson to be a co-owner with him. As it happened, I had reached out to Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz, and he connected me with a man named Lon Rosen. Rosen was the agent for Ervin “Magic” Johnson. I put them together, but for some strange reason, Keriotis failed to keep me in the loop.
Not surprisingly the whole deal fell apart. (What John failed to do was involve Mayor Harris in his quest – he was interested more in doing the deal himself, but no one knew who he was.)
For a time, it seemed just plain right: Frank Robinson, a hometown boy, loved by everyone, the first black manager in baseball, owning the Oakland Athletics. It still seems right, even now.
Frank Robinson, a man of Oakland, rest in peace.