What can you blame on Frank?

Dan Rodricks

May 24, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

"Don't worry," Earl Weaver advised younger big league managers. "The fans don't start booing til July."

Easy for him to say. Weaver worked in Baltimore, where the baseball fans have always been considerably softer than fans in most other cities. They're more patient, too. It takes a while -- mid-summer, by Weaver's reckoning -- for them to get ugly.

But Weaver had it a lot easier than Frank Robinson. He had pitchers named Palmer, Cuellar and McNally, Stone and the young Flanagan. He worked for an owner who chose not to change managers as a way of fixing a baseball team.

And, in time, Weaver proved himself a master whose skills could never be underestimated. If the Orioles slumped in Weaver's day, the world withheld judgment until midseason, perhaps even later.

Frank Robinson, who played for Weaver, got dumped yesterday because the Orioles were slumping a month and a half into the season, and no one trusted him with the rest of it. (Either that, or Eli Jacobs woke up and decided to play team owner for a day. The last time that happened, we got that dreadful rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" as the 7th-inning stretch sing-a-long.)

Frank will never get to see if the Weaverism about July booing was true. They were calling for his head on Opening Day, when he didn't start Orsulak. And what was all that with Bautista early in the season? There was a day in April when Frank left Jose on the mound so painfully long, he almost provoked a riot in the stands.

But, hey, if you really want to talk baseball, what, aside from those minor annoyances, can you blame on Robinson?

The big bat from Houston, Glenn Davis, is out with an injury. The pitching is bad; there isn't enough hitting. I guess Mr. Jacobs and his inner circle think changing managers is going to inspire the players, break them out of a funk or something.

Change is good now and then. It's why people rotate their tires.

But not all change is for the better. Some changes -- as with the Orioles this week -- have no impact at all.

Let's look at what happened here.

In 1989, the Orioles were contenders for the American League East pennant down to the last weekend of the season. There was a wonderful finish in Toronto. Frank was named American League Manager of the Year. Everything looked terrific. The Oriole future was bright, with all those young Birds.

But then came 1990 and stunning mediocrity, and 1991 looked as though it would be even worse. Maybe the young Birds aren't as hot as we thought they were.

So they fire Frank Robinson.

If the man in question were some guy from out of town -- a Fregosi, for instance -- I don't think Baltimore would care that much. But this is Frank, a hero of the old palatinate. There would be lovely poetry in seeing him lead the Orioles to a pennant.

To cut him off prematurely -- and, given what Frank accomplished in 1989 and what Jeff Ballard didn't in 1990, dumping the manager at this stage in 1991 is, relatively speaking, premature -- hurts a little more.

But what the hey? It's not personal. It's business. Frank still gets paid, still has the respect of his peers. He's getting out before the boos start.

Not bad for a guy who never delivered big -- not in Cleveland, not in San Francisco, not so far in Baltimore. There are a lot of old loyalists out there, people who remember Robinson from his Hall of Fame playing days.

But the new crowd out at the stadium -- the modern yuppie interlopers who consider baseball some kind of proletariat chic -- they don't know from Frank, the player. They don't care. They only know that the Orioles are bad.

Concerned about attendance and worried that 1991's profit margin will be merely huge rather than gigantic, the Orioles counted beans and did the easy, economical thing. They changed managers. Yippee.

Frank gets spared the July booing, but he loses the chance he once would have had to prove himself as a manager in Baltimore.

Fifteen years ago, most owners of baseball teams were more patient in their greed -- especially with managers who were popular with the fans. As a result, many of them were allowed to stay up way past their bed times. As Casey Stengel said toward the end of his long career: "There comes a time in every man's life, and I've had plenty of them."

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