Robinson warms toward front-office job

May 29, 1991|By Mark Hyman

The briefing was held at Memorial Stadium. An orange-and-white Baltimore Orioles banner was draped on the wall. The setting, it seemed, was perfect for Frank Robinson to stroll in and announce happily that, after much thought, he had decided to rejoin the Orioles in a front-office slot of one sort or another.

It still might happen. But it didn't yesterday.

Instead, after meeting for about an hour with team president Larry Lucchino and general manager Roland Hemond, Robinson announced that he wanted to weigh the Orioles' offer further. A final decision, he said, is likely today.

"I like what they said today. I think we're headed in the right direction," Robinson said. "Now, I want to take some time and talk to my family."

That was a significantly warmer response than Robinson could muster Thursday, the day he was dismissed as Orioles manager, a job he had held since April 1988. Then, Robinson, 55, said his future with the team was in limbo and that he had not been offered a meaningful front-office job.

Robinson didn't exactly embrace the Orioles yesterday, but his tone was noticeably softer. He did not sound like a man who was going away mad, or even going away.

"I would like to have left the ballclub in a better position. But that didn't happen," he said of his tenure in the Orioles dugout. "I'm sorry. That's how it goes sometimes."

He had dozens of chances to take verbal swipes at Hemond and Lucchino, but never spoke an angry word about either.

"My relationship with Roland has not changed. Roland and I are good friends. I hope we will always be good friends," he said.

The only Orioles who came in for even mild criticism from Robinson were some players, who anonymously have been critical of him for a laundry list of what they see as his shortcomings -- from failing to communicate effectively with them to an old complaint that he is not able to handle players who don't have his Hall of Fame credentials.

"To say those things I don't think is right or correct," Robinson said.

"The players should understand they are the best in the world, at the major-league level. They're expected to perform like it. When you have to pat them on the back each day, something is wrong. That's not me. Never has been. Never will be."

Robinson's status with the Orioles is much more complicated than most former managers'with their teams. The difference is Robinson's contract and some protections put in when the late owner Edward Bennett Williams asked him to put his front-office ambitions on hold and take over as Orioles manager.

Robinson agreed to leave the desk job, even though many saw it as a springboard for Robinson to become baseball's first black ++ general manager. In his reworked contract, Robinson got a guarantee that he could return to the front office whenever he wanted with the title of assistant general manager.

When Robinson got the news of his dismissal Thursday, he apparently found that returning to the job he left wasn't going to be easy. During his time in the dugout, Williams had died. Faces and ambitions had changed.

After firing Robinson, Lucchino and Hemond first asked him to take off a month or more, then to consider taking over a number of scouting assignments, including one in Australia. That wasn't the way Robinson saw the job.

"Time goes by. Things change. My thinking is different than when I went downstairs," Robinson said. "I tell you what: You go away for 3 1/2 years, and then come back. See if your same job is waiting."

Lucchino declined to discuss his meeting yesterday with Robinson, saying only, "Frank is considering our job offer and description."

For his part, Robinson was not willing to say much more about working in the Orioles front office yesterday. He seemed particularly cautious when talking about the possibility of eventually replacing Hemond, 61, who has helped to build the Orioles team now wallowing in last place.

"If I decide to take a position upstairs, it will be very clear what direction I will go in," Robinson said. "I would not be coming here to take Roland Hemond's job, as long as Roland is in that job."

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