It was needed, for good of both parties

Phil Jackman

May 24, 1991|By Phil Jackman

Let's hack away all the posturing, all the talk about difficult decisions and a replay of Frank Robinson's brilliant playing career. The 1989 baseball season doesn't live here anymore.

Purely, simply, the move had to be made. And it was unnecessary for general manager Roland Hemond to keep saying, "Poor Frank, poor Frank," yesterday when Robinson was ordered to vacate the home manager's office at Memorial Stadium.

This was not a hard decision. The situation fairly screamed for something to be done. Anything. It's happened maybe a million times in baseball and a couple of times before to Frank: Team is listless, supposedly underachieving and the prospects of immediate improvement look grim.

It's the manager's job to get the guys to play at somewhere near their capabilities. They don't, he goes. Next.

Blame?

There's no need to sit down and begin pointing fingers, because it's all speculation and, in most cases, not worth the breath required to express it.

For some reason, the Orioles thought it necessary to debunk the assessment that Robinson was, in effect, fired. The club's a long fly ball from falling off the edge of the earth and it's still polishing its perceived image.

What good does it do for the team to be noted for its stability when there's little to show for it? All in favor of a little instability and some wins, raise your right hand.

"Frustration, frustration," Hemond kept saying about the way things have gone this year, suggesting the malfeasance is no more than fate. Bunk. Things like injuries, bad games and inconsistent play happen every day, week and month throughout seasons. They're not even worth a mention until the final tally is in. A good portion of the game is working around the hazards. Any team can win when things are going its way.

Frank Robinson used to seethe when he'd see a teammate fraternizing with the enemy. Make no mistake about it, that's what the opposition was to him, the enemy, and in every sense of the word. In fact, he used to stay in the clubhouse until the other team had cleared the field just so he wouldn't have to see Paul Blair cutting up with "them."

Frank was one of those highly competitive types from the '50s who made it on talent and will under the dictates of baseball's old order. He was able to make the adjustments as the decades and players changed. Come the '80s, though, and sometimes you got the impression he didn't feel coping was worth the effort.

Outwardly, over the last few seasons, Robinson seemed to lose the competitiveness that marked his actions as a player. It had to frost him every time he had to sit down and explain to a guy why, with his 1-6 record and 5.95 earned run average, he might be better off going to the bullpen for a while.

That's the game today. The new guy making out the lineup card, Johnny Oates, touched upon it when he said, "When I played, 30 years ago, you showed up at the park and checked the lineup. You played or you sat down. These days, the players want you to communicate with them."

Frank no doubt had some problems there. Reason is, he probably didn't trust himself to spout "we find that you have not been performing up to the standards which we would have hoped" doggerel when what he meant to say is, "Hey, pal, you've been rotten. Get out of my sight."

It didn't take a latter-day Branch Rickey to figure out that, coming out of spring training, the expectations surrounding the Orioles were a tad lofty. Players always have an excuse for a .175 batting average or the inability to get hitters out, and their flimsy fare is always accepted by the fan, basically an optimistic sort.

When a team doesn't play up to expectations, the manager isn't allowed any excuses. Expectations are his worst enemy and no one has yet figured out who creates those expectations. Perhaps everyone -- fan, media, the club -- contributes a chapter.

Chances are the team will put on a little spurt, not only because it is due for one but because it always seems to happen when a new manager or coach is named. Besides, a player or two, particularly the guys who have complained of not having "clearly defined roles" on the team, might actually perform better.

Contrary to what those experts calling the talk shows think, Frank knows his backside from second base, just like 90 percent of the guys who have managed teams. But when the moves aren't working, political skills take over and, after all these years and at age 55, Robinson has to be happy leaving that aspect of the game.

Sure, the manager's a fall guy. But in this case it looks like a trade that will benefit both parties.

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