Saturday, September 27, 2003

Robinson touched by statue

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Former Reds great Frank Robinson - moved by a ceremony honoring him and the unveiling of his statue in Crosley Terrace before Friday's game at Great American Ball Park - raised his right fist in a triumphant gesture at the end of his speech and declared: "You can come back home; I am home!"

After the Reds traded Robinson following the 1965 season - and then did not even call or write him upon his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, let alone send an emissary to Cooperstown - the wound was opened wide.

Reds chief operating officer John Allen began the healing process with the retirement of Robinson's number (20) in 1998, and the Reds completed it with the unveiling Friday of his statue in Crosley Terrace. Robinson lifted the cover and smiled widely, pleased to see the powerful swing - and the sleek legs, hips and butt he had asked sculptor Tom Tsuchiya to thin out after seeing a one-quarter scale model last April.

"You come into this game with a lot of thoughts on what you might accomplish before you are finished," said Robinson, 68. "You don't allow yourself to think about being voted into the Hall of Fame. You do come in, maybe with visions of being an MVP, being on a pennant winner, being on a World Series winner. But it never, never enters your mind that someday, somehow, somewhere, someone is going to unveil a statue in your honor. And this is why it's kind of overwhelming here today."

He apologized for not visiting Cincinnati enough after his trade in 1965. He had lived here through every offseason of his 10-year career here: "People thought I was a little crazy. They said, 'Why don't you come back to California?' I said: 'Because I love Cincinnati. That's where I worked. I'm treated well there. I appreciate the people of Cincinnati and the surrounding areas and how they come out and support me during the summer, and how they treat me in the winter. I want to be there.' That was 10 wonderful years, and I will never, never, never forget that."

Robinson was feted by Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman, the master of ceremonies; Chuck Harmon, the first African-American to play for the Reds; former Negro Leaguer Sonny Webb, his Cincinnati friend of 50 years; Expos catcher Michael Barrett; Expos general manager Omar Minaya; the Reds' Allen; and sculptor Tsuchiya.

"Everything you heard about Frank - his toughness, determination, aggressiveness, his will to win - is true, and sometimes, as Nichelle and Barbara will know, we are victims of it," said Minaya, laughing. Barbara is Robinson's wife of 42 years; Nichelle, their daughter, was born here.

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