Robinson's perfect to lead Schott's Reds

June 26, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

It's such a no-brainer that only baseball could blow it.

Frank Robinson should be the next CEO of the Cincinnati Reds.

His qualifications?

Hall of Famer, first black manager, former Orioles executive.

Not to mention, former Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player for the Reds.

His hiring would be nothing short of a public-relations coup for a franchise in need of a new image, a politically correct mea culpa by the most politically incorrect owner in sports.

There's just one problem.

Marge Schott agreed to give up day-to-day control of the Reds through the 1998 season, but she gets to pick her successor along with National League president Len Coleman.

Schott will submit names, Coleman can accept or reject them.

He should just say no to every candidate until Schott grows so exasperated, she blurts out, "All right, Frank Robinson."

Hate to go out on a limb, but Robinson probably isn't her first choice.

For one thing, he's African-American, and Schott isn't exactly a pioneer in the civil rights movement.

Also, Robinson had the audacity to suggest that baseball was right to force Schott into exile, and he isn't backing down from that position.

"I think it might work in my favor," he said Monday. "If anything, they can look at it and say, 'This guy is a man who stands up and says what he thinks and feels.'

"People say she's entitled to free speech. Of course, she is. But she has to understand things can be held against her because she's the owner of the ballclub. In life sometimes, because of who you are, you're held to a higher standard."

Is that so?

Marge thought the only standard that mattered was Schottzie's.

She doesn't get it, and never will.

Which is why Coleman needs to take control.

As an African-American, he should know that a recycled old-boy network candidate -- say, former California Angels president Richard Brown -- won't cut it.

He needs to take a stand.

Robinson, 60, spent 42 years in the game as a player, coach, manager and executive. If baseball is so serious about minority hiring, why is he sitting home in Los Angeles, unemployed?

One rap against him as a potential general manager was that he wouldn't work hard enough. Fine -- if Robinson is guilty of a CEO mentality, then make him a CEO.

The other excuse -- and the sport with one minority GM (Bob Watson) is always ready with more -- would be that Robinson lacks experience.

As if running a baseball team were the equivalent of running the Pentagon.

Reds GM Jim Bowden would continue to head the baseball operation. The acting CEO, team controller John Allen, could go back to running the financial side.

Robinson's principal task would be steering the Reds in the right direction, regaining the trust of the community, setting a tone.

Some regard him as too outspoken, but that perception isn't necessarily accurate. Robinson refused to criticize Orioles officials who mistreated him. And he charmed the national media as manager of the 0-21 Orioles in 1988.

All right, he once had a fistfight with Reds manager Ray Knight in the Orioles' clubhouse (the year was 1987, Robinson was a coach, Knight a player). But the incident is long forgotten.

"I have no ill feelings toward him," Robinson said.

The fact is, anyone who follows Schott will look like Abner Doubleday by comparison. Look at Allen. He's the team controller -- an accounting nerd, for crying out loud -- and already he's a hero in Cincinnati.

Here are some of his remarkable achievements:

Hanging championship banners.

Hiring a Dixieland band to roam the ballpark.

Turning on the clubhouse whirlpool.

"Marge is so mad that he's doing this stuff that she has already stopped talking to him," a member of the Reds' front office told the Columbus Dispatch.

So much for Allen's chances.

"I'd start with the players, say to them, 'Things have changed around here, things are going to be different,' " Robinson said. "You guys do me a favor. Get your focus back to the field, concentrate on playing winning baseball, don't let the distractions get a hold of you.

"The other thing is the fans. I would reach out to the fans, get them feeling part of the organization. You've got to get the community involved, get the business community involved. You've got to get the players out there, the front office out there, make the fans feel special."

Robinson spent nearly five years in the Orioles' front office, working closely with some of the best community-relations people in baseball. He should know what to do, and what not to do -- how could he interfere with Bowden, having worked for meddling CEOs himself?

Simply put, this is a perfect match -- Robinson played his first 10 seasons in Cincinnati, and now he wants to complete the circle.

"That's where it all started for me," Robinson said. "It would be my opportunity, if it happens, to give something back to the city."

It's a no-brainer, all right.

Baseball will blow it.

Pub Date: 6/26/96

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