Nats keep Robinson

4 coaches are fired

Sad about staff, ex-Oriole offers stability while club seeks owner, stadium deal

Baseball

December 16, 2005|By JEFF BARKER | JEFF BARKER,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals may not yet have a long-term owner or a lease agreement for a new ballpark, but at least the team now knows who'll be its manager next season.

Frank Robinson, 70, the Hall of Fame former Orioles player whose managing style is distinctly old school, will return for 2006, the team said yesterday. But many of his coaches will not.

First base coach Don Buford, also a longtime Orioles player, won't be back. Neither will hitting coach Tom McCraw, bullpen coach Bob Natal and third base coach Dave Huppert.

Returning with Robinson will be bench coach Eddie Rodriguez and pitching coach Randy St. Claire - the two coaches who seemed the least expendable to Robinson.

Robinson, who boasts that he doesn't use computers, leans on Rodriguez to crunch numbers used in making lineups and substitutions. Meanwhile, St. Claire oversaw a pitching staff that included two All-Stars, Livan Hernandez and Chad Cordero, and posted a 3.87 ERA.

General manager Jim Bowden said Robinson was consulted about the coaches who were dismissed, although he didn't agree with all of the front office's decisions.

"Absolutely it's a point of concern," said Robinson, whose one-year deal was worth $650,000 according to MLB.com. "Any time you have a staff together and you feel like you work well with your staff, and you get results, it's a concern. You'd like to keep your people together and grow with them. This certainly is a big hit, that many coaches from one offseason. What we'll try to do now is try to recoup and put the best staff together."

The Nationals had wanted to get a manager in place soon so that players - and potential acquisitions - knew who was going to be at the helm.

Major League Baseball, which currently owns the club, is still deciding which ownership group to sell to.

Technically, the incoming owners could move to buy out Robinson's one-year deal and hire their own manager. "They are going to do whatever they want," said baseball spokesman Rich Levin.

But a speedy dismissal is considered unlikely.

Even if they wanted to, it would be difficult from a public relations perspective for new owners to dismiss a local icon who had the weak-hitting team in first place as late as July 20. Beset by injuries and an exhausted pitching staff, the Nationals faded and finished at 81-81.

Levin said the decision to retain Robinson was made by the club, not by the commissioner's office in New York.

"I don't think we had any impact on Frank Robinson being retained," he said. "Bowden could have called up and said `We're retaining Frank Robinson.' That wouldn't have surprised me."

Robinson, who became baseball's first African-American manager with Cleveland in 1975, is 994-1,085 in 15 seasons of managing. His 994 wins rank sixth among active managers behind Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Dusty Baker and Mike Hargrove.

Robinson seemed to enjoy managing in the franchise's inaugural season in Washington after three years in Montreal. He made a point of thanking fans - the team drew about 34,000 a game - for their support.

But Robinson can be tough, too. Eager to improve his players' focus, he banned cell phones from the clubhouse late in the season.

The team still faces some notable loose ends.

Its plans for a stadium on the Anacostia River waterfront remain in limbo pending a D.C. Council vote scheduled for Tuesday on a stadium lease agreement.

In the face of rising stadium costs, some council members want the publicly funded stadium built instead near RFK Stadium - a cheaper option, but one that Major League Baseball has rejected.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has been lobbying the council to endorse the lease - an indication that he is not taking its approval for granted.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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