BALTIMORE -- The Orioles traded Frank Robinson following the 1971 season after he'd helped lead the team to two World Series titles and four appearances in the Fall Classic in six years. He came back and managed the team from 1988 to 1991, so it's been more than 20 years since Robinson's worn an Orioles uniform.
But Robinson hasn't lost his popularity in Charm City. That much was apparent before Saturday's game with the A's, when the Orioles Legends Celebration Series started with the unveiling of a bronze sculpture of the former right fielder at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The unveiling took place in an area above the bullpens in left-center. That 25-minute ceremony started about two hours before the ballgame, and although rain came down during the final part, the small area was packed with fans watching from every conceivable angle, hoping to get a glance of Robinson and the statue, yelling and cheering for one of the most beloved Orioles of all time.
The statue, created by the sculptor Toby Mendez, shows Robinson looking as though he's just hit another long one, watching the ball sailing away -- and he loves it.
"Since this is going to be a lifetime thing, as far as the statue is concerned, it ranks right up there with the Hall of Fame," Robinson said. "It's a tremendous honor. I was very surprised how well it came out. I was really taken aback."
The Orioles are going to do the same thing with five more people this season as part of the Legends Celebration Series, with statues of Brooks Robinson (May 12), Earl Weaver (June 30), Jim Palmer (July 14), Eddie Murray (Aug. 11) and Cal Ripken Jr. (Sept. 6) unveiled in the same area on those days.
But this was Robinson's night. And the cheers kept on coming. When the Orioles held a short pregame ceremony on the field, Robinson drew a standing ovation from the crowd. He received another big cheer when throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
"I'm just very happy and very proud to have that honor bestowed upon me by the Orioles," he said.
Robinson's been popular here almost since the moment Baltimore acquired him from Cincinnati in the winter before the 1966 season. The Orioles had been a good team, but one that hadn't been able to reach postseason play.
When Baltimore brought Robinson onboard, a Cincinnati team official famously referred to him as "an old 30." But Robinson looked young that first season, winning the Triple Crown while leading the Orioles to the American League title and then the World Series championship. That cemented his popularity with Baltimore fans, and it's never wavered.
"His arrival put us over the hump and turned us into a championship team," said Brooks Robinson in a news release.
Part of Robinson's popularity had to do with the way he played the game. He knew just one way -- hard, very hard. It's why his teammates loved and respected him so much, just like the fans do.
"The Orioles are honoring a man who played the game of baseball the way it should be played; with intensity and intelligence," said Weaver in a statement. "Each at-bat was a war against the fellow who stood on the mound to oppose him."
Hank Aaron knows Robinson well. They played together in the National League for several years and both became Hall of Famers.
Aaron was one of a number of big names at the unveiling, as the A's and Orioles both had people in attendance. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, also attended the ceremony.
But in the end, it was the fans who were cheering Robinson as though he was still on the field who seemed to have the most fun. It's been more than 40 years since Robinson took the field for the Orioles, but the fans won't ever forget his impact when he came to the team.
And now the statue will make sure they'll always remember.
"This is a wonderful occasion," Aaron said when the statue was unveiled. "When Frank got to this ballcub, the next year he kind of glued all of the pieces together. He did a tremendous job."
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.