When the Baltimore Orioles dismissed Frank Robinson as manager yesterday, it marked the second time in four years they have asked him to give up one baseball lifestyle and accept another.
The first time, in 1987, Robinson moved eagerly -- from Orioles coach to special assistant to late owner Edward Bennett Williams. He also moved nearer to history. Williams and others speculated that Robinson's desk job might lead to another -- as the first black to lead a major-league baseball operation. "I think Frank can be a general manager," Williams said at the time.
Yesterday, the Orioles again assigned Robinson to the front office. But, this time, there was little talk about wonderful career opportunities, and not a word about the history angle.
From Orioles president Larry Lucchino, there was talk about finding Robinson a "meaningful" role, although Lucchino said he wasn't sure what that would be.
From Robinson, 55, the former Orioles superstar player, coach and now manager, mostly there were words of doubt.
"My future right now is in limbo," Robinson said. He said he doesn't have a job now. He hinted broadly that he isn't sure he'd want one that might be offered by the Orioles.
"They have talked to me about a possible position in the front office," he said. "At this time, the duties and responsibilities have not been spelled out. Until they are . . . I have no position with this organization at this time."
Robinson did not explain in any depth why he has doubts about joining the Orioles front office, an opportunity that looked awfully good four years ago. He didn't attend yesterday's news conference at Memorial Stadium, saying he feared stealing attention from new manager Johnny Oates. Instead, Robinson talked briefly with a few reporters outside the Orioles clubhouse. He promised to say more soon, perhaps tomorrow.
By then, maybe Lucchino and Orioles general manager Roland Hemond will be at work on a problem for which there appears to be no happy and entirely bloodless solution.
With Robinson ousted from the manager's job, the Orioles now lead the league in general managers and aspiring GMs. Hemond, 61, Williams' choice to succeed Hank Peters, has held the job four years. Assistant GM Doug Melvin, 38, is one heartbeat way from the job he has trained for since he joined the team in 1986. And, now, there is Robinson, whose career ambitions in the front office are well known.
Robinson would not list them yesterday. But Barbara Robinson, Frank's wife, did.
"Of course, Frank would like to be a general manager some day," she said. "What he doesn't want is to have a front-office job where he is a figurehead or somebody's yes person."
It's not clear what the Orioles have in mind. It may not be clear yet to them. A news release distributed yesterday said only that Robinson had been "reassigned" to the front office, without giving a title.
Lucchino said there needed to be more talk before anything was decided, although he said Robinson probably would become more involved in planning of the Orioles' new Florida spring-training complex and the new downtown ballpark at Camden Yards. That job starts soon, according to Hemond, who said Robinson will be at the new ballpark Tuesday "to be sure it's going according to specifications."
That's one afternoon. If he foresees problems filling Robinson's others, Hemond didn't let on yesterday. At the same time, he revealed hardly anything about the future of his new assistant, though he and Lucchino said they have been contemplating removing Robinson as manager for several weeks.
Hemond said of Robinson, "He'll be helping me and the organization's baseball operations in various matters." He added, "In the next week, we will be defining his duties more definitively." Referring to Robinson, Hemond said, "He is such a great baseball man, we're fortunate to have him on our side."
Finding jobs that will satisfy the Orioles' expanded cast would appear difficult enough. But it is further complicated by Robinson's contract, which anticipated his possible return to the front office. The contract, which runs through the 1992 season, spells out a manager's and front-office executive's salary. (Lucchino said the latter is lower, but would not discuss by how much.) Before he agreed to become manager in April 1988, Robinson also insisted his contract specify that he be able to return to the executive suite with the title of assistant general manager. That job currently is held by Melvin.
Melvin has a role. In addition to being Hemond's assistant, he is director of player personnel, overseeing the team's minor-league operation. Robinson could have similar authority over spring training and Camden Yards, but the Orioles already have vice presidents assigned to those issues.
Firing No. 4
Frank Robinson's firing is the fourth in the majors this year. The
Team .. . date .. . Old .. New
Phillies, 4/23 Nick Leyva Jim Fregosi
Royals, 5/21 John Wathan B. Schaefer
Cubs, 5/22 Don Zimmer Jim Essian