CLEVELAND (AP) _ The Cleveland Indians and Frank Robinson made history four decades ago. They celebrated again on Saturday.
The Indians unveiled a statue of Robinson prior to their game against Kansas City. Robinson became the first African-American manager in the major leagues with the team.
“It’s such a great day here,” he said in a speech during the ceremony. “I didn’t think I would see this day. I never thought I would be here to see something like this.”
The Indians hired Robinson following the 1974 season and he made his debut on April 8, 1975. Still active as a player, he made the day even more memorable by hitting a home run in his first at-bat.
The statue shows Robinson holding the lineup card with the Indians’ batting order from that game against the New York Yankees. He was the designated hitter and batted second.
Robinson joined the Indians as a player late in the 1974 season and recalled the day he agreed to take job as player/manager on Oct. 3.
“I had a decision to make and I made it, for the better,” he said. “I’m glad I did.”
Robinson believes there’s still room for progress for African-Americans in the game.
“It can get better,” he said. “We’re still not where we should be in the front office, in the dugouts and even now, the players’ roster. We’re losing ground all the way around. We’re not asking to be given anything. I wouldn’t want anyone of color to be given something. I want the people that want to be in this game to earn what they get.”
Robinson’s statue will stand in Heritage Park, located beyond the center-field stands at Progressive Field. It will be alongside statues of Bob Feller, Jim Thome and Larry Doby. Doby became the first African-American player in the American League in 1947.
Robinson was also introduced on the field before the game and was presented with a framed plaque containing his Indians jersey and No. 20, which has been retired by the club.
Robinson compiled a 186-189 record in his three seasons managing the Indians. He also managed the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles, Montreal Expos and Washington Nationals.
Robinson had 2,943 hits and 586 home runs in his Hall of Fame career. He also played for the Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels. Robinson played in the majors for 21 years and was inducted into Cooperstown in 1982.
Hank Aaron, baseball’s home run king from 1974 to 2007, attended the ceremony. Sharon Robinson, the daughter of Jackie Robinson, was also in attendance. Robinson became the majors’ first African-American player in 1947.
“This is not anybody else’s day but Frank’s,” Aaron said. “Frank and I have so much in common. We went into the Hall of Fame together. To me that was a given.”
Robinson broke into the majors with the Reds in 1956, two years after Aaron made his debut.
“He doesn’t realize how long I had to chase him, looking up at him doing something great,” Robinson said. “It started in the minor leagues. I started trying to do what Hank Aaron did. Didn’t work. He made me a better ballplayer.”
Cleveland manager Terry Francona and the entire Indians team attended the ceremony. Several players spoke with Robinson following his speech.