Frank images

 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

As a photographer for several Spanish periodicals in the 1950s, Osvaldo Salas not only highlighted the majors’ Latin ballplayers, he also kept his Caribbean audiences apprised of all the game’s up-and-coming ballplayers. When Cincinnati visited New York in 1956, Salas shot one of the game’s newest stars, 20-year-old rookie Frank Robinson.

Photographs are not always so easy to date as this one is: Cincinnati wore this jersey, with Mr. Red on the left breast, only in 1956.

Salas captured a special moment in his portrait of Frank Robinson. Robinson would go on to smash 38 home runs and score a league-leading 122 runs that year, en route to an All-Star Game berth and the first unanimous Rookie of the Year Award honors in National League history. This started a 21-year playing career that would include 14 All-Star appearances, MVPs of both leagues, the Triple Crown, MVP of the 1966 World Series, MVP of the 1971 All-Star Game, and 586 career home runs. Later Robinson would be named the first African-American manager, win a Manager of the Year Award, and earn election to the Hall of Fame.

But that was all in the future. Here, back in 1956, Robinson casually leans on a pair of bats, his large hands dwarfing the lumber. The veins stand out on powerful arms, accented by a casual piece of athletic tape bandaging a nasty scratch on his right forearm. In Robinson’s eyes, Salas captures the quiet self-confidence that the future Hall of Famer will carry throughout his life. Combined with his half-smile, Robinson’s look recalls a scene from the 1989 film Field of Dreams. Burt Lancaster, as former ballplayer Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, remarks on what he missed in his career:

I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn't.

Robinson got to bat early and often in the majors. And if this image is any indication, when Robinson stared back at the pitcher, he in fact did know something the pitcher didn’t. He was going to crush their next pitch. And the one after that, too.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum features a collection of nearly 250,000 photographs like this one. Reproductions are available for purchase. To purchase a reprint of this photograph or others from the Photo Archive collections, please call (607) 547-0375. Hall of Fame members receive a 10-percent discount.

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