The hard truth: This Robinson was easy to work for


May 26, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Now that the heat of the moment has passed, we can look back on the firing of Frank Robinson dispassionately. And you know what? It still stinks.

You know what else stinks: the post-mortems. This is when the experts, after the fact, courageously trot out their theories about how the move was obvious. If so, why didn't anyone mention it beforehand?

The most interesting theory is that Robinson lost the team. That's true. He lost just about the entire team to injury. Maybe they should have fired whoever is in charge of groin pulls -- not a job you'd want, by the way. But I guess what it means is that Robinson couldn't communicate with the modern player and that many of his players didn't like him.

This is where, as Ken Levine knows from his TV experience, you cue the laugh track.

Didn't like him?

The truth is that no manager, given a few years on the job, comes out of it without players grumbling about him. Do you grumble about your boss? Did you ever have a boss you didn't complain about? Did you ever have a boss that you weren't convinced you could do a better job than he/she could? And, gosh, I wonder if all of Larry Lucchino's employees like him.

Whom are we kidding here? Let's look at some successful managers. Dick Williams was hated by his players. Gene Mauch: ditto. Ask Whitey Herzog if he thinks it's important for players to like him, and, if you caught him in a good mood, he'd only laugh in your face.

Did players like Earl Weaver? My memory is of players hoping he'd get run over by a truck. Remember Jim Palmer's famous line -- that all Weaver knows about pitching is that he couldn't hit it? Did Palmer win any games for Weaver? Did Weaver win any pennants?

In another life, I used to cover the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the late '70s, and the Dodgers were a powerhouse. Just as today, Tom Lasorda was the affable manager, whom the players not only privately ridiculed, but many also actively disliked. They would do Lasorda imitations behind his back and laugh about the Great Dodger in the Sky. So much for motivation.

If there are any players on the Orioles who would have reason to dislike Robinson, it would be the Ripkens. It would be only natural, given that he replaced their father. A year ago, Bill Ripken hit .291, and this year he's hitting .202. Did he just suddenly start to dislike Robinson? And how about Cal, who's hitting .340 this season, 90 points higher than last year? Did he just start liking the manager?

Do you really think a manager's communications skills have anything to do with pitchers' repeatedly getting knocked out in the second inning? Then maybe Tom Brokaw ought to get the job.

If you look through the Orioles lineup, it's hard to see which players should, by any reasonable measure, have it in for Robinson.

At catcher, they traded Mickey Tettleton to give the job to Chris Hoiles. Should he be unhappy?

At first base, Randy Milligan could be upset because Robinson moved him to left field to make room for Glenn Davis. He did it while praising Milligan every step of the way. I don't think Milligan holds a grudge.

At second base, Robinson has kept Ripken in the lineup despite many loud voices over the years calling for his removal.

At shortstop, Robinson wisely kept Cal there instead of moving him to third.

At third base, Robinson stuck with Craig Worthington despit the presence of Leo Gomez, who tore it up in spring training.

In the outfield, Joe Orsulak could have a gripe about a lack of playing time, but who's going to fault Orsulak's work ethic? Robinson stuck by Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux. Dwight Evans is new.

The pitching staff? I don't know. But I think the team ERA speaks louder than any grumbling. When you get knocked out in the second inning, you don't have any right to say anything about anyone to anybody.

Were the Orioles already disgruntled by Opening Day when they got knocked around? When did the disgruntlement begin? Seems to me they've been lousy for a while. Seems to me, that except for '89, when Robinson was Manager of the Year, the Orioles have been lousy since 1985. That's a United Nations full of disgruntlement.

The funny thing about Robinson is that, in earlier managerial incarnations, he was a hard man to work for. He expected too much. He ridiculed players. He couldn't understand failure. But, when he came to this last job, he changed so dramatically that it shocked even those who knew him best.

Still, maybe he could have communicated better. Maybe John Oates, whom I'm sure everyone wishes well, will do it better. But I don't think communicating will help a player hit the curveball, and I don't think it's going to sneak a mediocre fastball past Cecil Fielder.

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