F. Robinson batting 3rd in baseball's hierarchy

Ex-Oriole promoted, in charge of discipline

February 28, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Hall of Famer Frank Robinson has, at one time or another, been mentioned as a possible candidate for commissioner of baseball, but his new role as Major League Baseball's vice president in charge of baseball operations probably suits him better.

Robinson, who was promoted by commissioner Bud Selig on Friday, now ranks third in baseball's new management hierarchy. He will take charge of player discipline and many other duties that were handled by the league presidents before the recent management restructuring eliminated the administrative distinction between the American and National leagues.

Could anyone be more qualified?

Robinson is one of the greatest players in the history of the game. He also has vast experience as a manager, coach and front office official. Who better to oversee the on-field presentation of the sport?

"I've seen it from all sides," Robinson said from his Los Angeles-area home. "I've been in the dugout as a player, coach and manager. I think I'm certainly qualified to pass judgment on what happens on the field."

Robinson will retain some of the responsibilities that he undertook when he was appointed special consultant to the commissioner three years ago. He has spent much of that time working to reverse the trend toward longer games, and will continue in that effort in his new role. He also will monitor uniform policy, stadium configuration and just about anything else that involves team personnel.

"I'll be in charge of everything but the umpires," he said.

The responsibility for disciplining players previously fell to the league presidents, but the advent of interleague play made that system impractical, especially for governing disputes or altercations that took place between players from different leagues.

Major League Baseball recently voted to abolish the two league offices and place all authority under the jurisdiction of the commissioner's office. Selig is the last word on everything, but executive vice president Sandy Alderson will continue to oversee the central office and the umpires and Robinson will answer directly to him.

Though Robinson is not the first former player to exercise disciplinary authority, Selig said he was uniquely qualified to oversee one of the most sensitive areas of the game's administration.

"Frank knows and understands the game from every conceivable angle," Selig said when he announced the appointment last week, "and he is the perfect choice to handle player discipline and other on-field matters."

Robinson was not only a great player and groundbreaking manager (the first African-American to manage in each league), but he also was a hard-nosed and sometimes volatile competitor who had his share of experiences with baseball's disciplinary system. That history should give him added credibility with the players who come before him, as well as a special insight into the kind of on-field situations that lead to disciplinary action.

"That's the one thing that athletes respect the most -- that the guy has been on the field and done it," said Orioles first baseman Will Clark. "But he's been a superstar doing it. He, more than anyone, knows what it's like to be under special scrutiny.

"I think there are a lot of things that you should get fined or suspended for, but he will understand that and the regular stuff that goes on in a baseball game."

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove agrees.

"I don't know if that [on-field experience] is a prerequisite," Hargrove said, "but I do think that it's something that can be used to make punishments or decisions coincide with the offense. There is a certain dynamic on the field that it takes someone who's been there to recognize and determine whether a situation requires a slap on the wrist or a punch in the nose."

Robinson doesn't have any illusions. He knows the first long suspension he hands out will be appealed by the Major League Baseball Players Association. The rules haven't changed. But he hopes his track record and extensive on-field resume will help create an atmosphere of mutual respect between himself and the players he has to discipline.

"At least when I talk to them and listen to them," he said, "they'll know I understand what they're talking about."

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