On-deck wait doesn't befit F. Robinson

September 30, 1995|By Ken Rosenthal

He was a candidate for this job when it went to Roland Hemond in November 1987. That's how long Frank Robinson has been waiting. And yet, he might as well not even exist to the Orioles anymore.

Here is the first black manager, a Hall of Fame player, one of the most pivotal figures in club history. But Orioles owner Peter Angelos doesn't even consider him a candidate to be his next general manager.

Should Robinson be GM? That's not even the issue anymore. Angelos is not going to hire him, and Robinson is not going to subject himself to a token interview. Indeed, he'd sooner resign.

Eight years, that's how long this has gone on. Eight years Robinson has appeared in line for Hemond's position. Eight years he has craved more responsibility, only to be shut out time and time again.

Eight years, three ownerships. Edward Bennett Williams named Robinson to the front office in '87. Larry Lucchino couldn't decide between him and Doug Melvin. And now Angelos doesn't seem to want him at all.

Robinson, 60, spent 3 1/2 years as manager during this period, delaying his goal to be the first black GM. Houston's Bob Watson beat him to that claim. And Melvin beat him to a GM's position, though not with the Orioles.

Now, Robinson would be better off with the San Diego Padres, better off reuniting with Lucchino, better off as the GM of a team on the rise, instead of one that has lost its way.

Angelos would be better off, too. If Robinson left, the owner wouldn't need to explain why the team tarnished one of its legends, and snubbed a qualified minority candidate for Hemond's job.

Amazing how the baseball world turns -- the Orioles' leading GM candidate appears to be Randy Smith, who resigned in San Diego on Tuesday, citing an "unpleasant" working relationship with Lucchino.

Smith still could remain Padres GM if he resolves his differences with Lucchino, but he doesn't like working for such an intrusive CEO.

Which leads to the obvious question:

Why would he want to work for Angelos?

The Orioles have at least four Lucchinos -- Angelos, his son, John, club counsel Russell Smouse and vice chairman of business and finance Joe Foss.

John Angelos' title is "special assistant to the chairman." But no one can deny his influence is growing, both on the baseball and business sides.

Hemond and Robinson are mere figureheads, which is why both must go. Angelos hasn't terrorized Phil Regan the way he did Johnny Oates. Perhaps he'll place greater trust in his new GM.

Still, can anyone seriously imagine Angelos divorcing himself from the baseball operation entirely?

Robinson has a sharp eye for talent and an aggressive streak you'd want in a GM, but he wasn't hired by Angelos, so he was doomed from the start.

"Hell, no, I don't want to lose him -- this guy's a legend," Angelos said shortly after taking over as owner in October 1993.

Such a long time ago.

Angelos inherited the Melvin-Robinson power struggle, but once Melvin left for Texas, it appeared the line of succession was clear.

Now, it appears Robinson is the only executive in baseball not VTC under consideration for this job. Smith is one candidate. Angelos asked permission to interview Cleveland assistant GM Dan O'Dowd. He reportedly even would consider Montreal GM Kevin Malone, who sharply criticized his maverick stand during the strike.

Like any GM, Robinson would need the right people under him -- a savvy farm director, a dynamic assistant GM and a behind-the-scenes type to guide him through a maze of rules and deadlines.

That way, Robinson could sit back, establish a plan and make decisions. His critics believe he'd be too much the Hall of Famer to get his hands dirty. But frankly, who would know?

In five years as an assistant GM, Robinson has never really been in the loop, never truly been given responsibility.

Under Lucchino, Melvin ran the farm system, Hemond the major-league operation. Robinson was, and is, in No-Man's Land.

He was supposed to be the point man for trade talks with National League clubs. But that didn't transpire as planned, and Lucchino needed to remind Hemond to keep him involved.

Things went better under Angelos -- at the start. Robinson was part of the decision-making process. And Angelos backed off making Melvin GM after Robinson told him that he, too, had a claim to the job.

Now?

Hemond might move into a cushy executive position, but Robinson won't stick around. At some point, his pride will kick in. Maybe he'll go to the Padres. Maybe he'll get out of baseball.

Eight years, that's how long this has gone on. Eight years of waiting for an opportunity that never came. Eight years of playing the good soldier.

Maybe Robinson would be a decent GM, maybe he'd be a disaster. It doesn't matter anymore. This is how the Orioles treat their heroes. Whatever the reasons, whatever the excuses, it's so, so wrong.

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