MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Beacon Award winner Frank Robinson had neck surgery earlier this month to relieve severe nerve damage, the legendary Hall of Fame player told MLB.com on Saturday night.
The surgery has begun to relieve numbness in Robinson's hands, although they are not yet completely functional.
"The doctor said it was the worst case of nerve damage he'd ever seen," said Robinson, in town for Saturday's Civil Rights Game and an award recipient at Friday night's dinner. "He was surprised I was even able to use my hands at all."
Robinson politely declined to give autographs to seekers at the dinner in which he was honored with the Beacon of Life Award for his career of achievement and activism as both a player and manager.
Robinson said he's still having problems gripping items like a pen.
"It's getting there," he said, squeezing his hands in and out for emphasis. "But it's not there yet. I don't want to push it."
The event was his first since the surgery on March 18.
Robinson, along with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, is one of Major League Baseball's most significant treasures.
Robinson, 72, was the perfect choice for the Beacon of Life Award, considering he was one of baseball's most outspoken African-American players during the 1960s and its first black manager when he signed to both play for and manage the Cleveland Indians, beginning in 1975.
Because of that assignment, Robinson's playing career concluded after 21 seasons. He finished 14 homers short of 600 and 57 hits shy of 3,000.
Robinson told the audience after accepting the award that breaking the color barrier as a manager was significant, but it shouldn't be compared to what his namesake, Jackie Robinson, went through by breaking that barrier as a player with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
"It wasn't even close," he said.
Robinson last managed the Expos/Nationals, a job he left after the 2006 season. He's currently a consultant for MLB.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.