Month later, Robinson isn't grouch at all

Ken Rosenthal

July 11, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

Remember Mikey, the kid in the cereal commercial who hated everything? Frank Robinson figured to be the same way in the Orioles' front office -- a grouch with a bad taste in his mouth.

But mom, look!

Frankie pulled a Mikey.

He likes it!

The Orioles tried to sugar-coat his new position, but Frankie demanded fiber. Now he's drinking in knowledge by the spoonful, learning how to become a general manager.

Not bad for a guy who was replaced as manager just six weeks ago. Robinson is working for the people who fired him, and making it look easy. Not bad at all.

"If there were any reservations, they were wiped away when I accepted the job," Robinson said from Toronto during the All-Star break.

"Sure I thought about it. Don't get me wrong -- I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind. But when I accepted this job, I started with a clean slate. And it's been fine."

His contract ensured his return to the front office, and Robinson decided not to blow the chance. He made peace with himself, peace with the club. It would have been foolish to hold a grudge.

Even as manager, his goal was to become a GM. His firing changed the timetable, nothing more. He could have responded to the Orioles' knockdown pitch by trying to hit a home run. Instead he turned the other cheek and moved on with his career.

Yesterday marked his one-month anniversary as assistant general manager. Few imagined his transition would be this smooth. Robinson balked at the Orioles' initial job offer, saying his duties were too vague. He has no such complaints now.

Indeed, he attends every meeting, suggests roster moves, even conducts trade talks. "He hit the ground running," club president Larry Lucchino said. "I think he's happy. I know he's productive."

"I like what has happened so far," Robinson said. "If it continues in the direction it's going, it's going to be fine. I like what they've allowed me to do, the way they've involved me in every aspect of the baseball operation."

Robinson, 55, played an important role in the Orioles' decision-making process as manager, but now he's a front-line observer, reviewing minor-league prospects, waiver rules, even the budget.

As he said, "It's the whole she-bang" -- in theory and in practice. "You delegate something to him, it doesn't take long," general manager Roland Hemond said. "It's done -- and done as well as you could have done it."

Robinson recommended that Ben McDonald be activated from the disabled list after seeing him pitch at Rochester. He also has visited Hagerstown and Frederick, explaining, "I want to put faces with names."

Yesterday he accompanied the Orioles to the West Coast for the start of the second half. He'll assume Hemond's usual road duties -- observing the club, talking with other GMs, making sure manager John Oates has 25 healthy players.

Oates, of course, is the man who replaced him, but Hemond said, "Frank has a great attitude about it. You can see him pulling for John and everyone on the field as if he was still on the field himself."

Not that other tensions don't exist: The Orioles still have more assistant general managers (Robinson and Doug Melvin) than quality starting pitchers. But Melvin said, "There hasn't been anybody stepping on anyone's toes."

Hemond, Melvin and Robinson now share responsibility for trade talks -- Hemond keeps in touch with certain teams, Melvin and Robinson others. Robinson's focus is the National League. He talks to executives with whom he's familiar, like the Chicago Cubs' Jim Frey, a former Orioles employee.

Publicly at least, everyone seems satisfied with the arrangement. Yes, ESPN's Peter Gammons recently cited Melvin as a potential general manager for the two NL expansion clubs. But Melvin said he has not been contacted by either team.

rTC The fact is, he might be stuck here for a while. Former GMs Bill Lajoie, Dallas Green, Whitey Herzog, Larry Himes, Jack McKeon and Syd Thrift are all available. Hemond, of course, signed a two-year extension with the Orioles last month.

The likelihood that the front office will remain intact only underscores the importance of Robinson fitting in comfortably. It would be a disaster if he alienated other club officials, but by all accounts that hasn't been the case.

If anything, Robinson seems more relaxed now than he was during his final days as manager. He again is buying doughnuts for the Orioles' public relations staff, just as he did in the glory days of '89.

"I wanted areas of responsibility, and to be educated in the role of general manager," he said. "I didn't want a title. I didn't want to be somebody they had to put up with. And I don't want anything given to me. I want to work for it."

He's working for it.

Can you believe that Frankie?

He likes it!

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