He made them pay price without charging mound

Nl Notebook

April 16, 2006|By COMPILED FROM INTERVIEWS AND OTHER NEWSPAPERS' REPORTS.

Tomorrow marks the 50-year anniversary of when a 20-year-old kid named Frank Robinson first dug into a major league batter's box.

Here's betting that a patch of old dirt in Cincinnati still feels young Robinson's spike marks.

Almost to the day of his golden anniversary, Robinson, now the Washington Nationals manager, held court with reporters about the difference in mindset between today's hitters and those of his era - especially when it comes to being hit by pitches.

Considered one of the most intimidating sluggers in baseball history, Robinson said he never felt he had to charge the mound once plunked. He got even his own way.

"You get up, you go to first base, you come back up and hit against the guy the next time and you do some damage with the bat," Robinson said. "Those days are over."

The other alternative was to make the opposing infielders pay with a clean hard slide on the base paths that taught a lesson through bruises.

"If I went to first base," Robinson said, "there was a bull's eye on the shortstop and a bull's eye on the second baseman."

He said he doesn't understand why hitters today feel that pitchers don't have the right to throw inside. He added that he would never wear padded "body armor" at the plate.

When told by a TV reporter that players today rush the mound and start a brawl because they feel they have to defend their "manhood," especially on national television, Robinson flashed a trademark scowl and quipped: "Are you telling me I wasn't concerned about my manhood back then?"

With a laugh, the reporter respectfully rephrased the question.

So, yes, 50 years later Robinson can still intimidate.

Impressive company

Robinson, who singled and doubled in three at-bats against St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, wasn't the only future Hall of Famer to debut on April 17, 1956, which was Opening Day for all major league teams.

Also starting their careers that day were Chicago White Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio and Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame, only 10 times in history have multiple Hall of Famers debuted on the same day. Robinson's is the only time in modern baseball history that three have debuted at once (it occurred three other times, from 1871 to 1882).

Robinson was the ninth-youngest player in the game in 1956. Three that were younger, Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and Bill Mazeroski, also are in the Hall of Fame.

A Mazzone hangover

Some Atlanta Braves pitchers felt too much was made this spring about Leo Mazzone's departure for Baltimore. Several championed new pitching coach Roger McDowell's approach and demeanor. But through their first 10 games in 2006, Braves starters were 0-5 and had allowed 42 runs in 44 innings (8.59 ERA).

John Smoltz said it's unfair to compare this year's early rotation with 2005's.

"It's not apples and oranges, but it's close," he said.

Quick hit

So much for spring statistics. The Arizona Diamondbacks led the majors with a .325 batting average in March. Entering Friday, they had a NL-worst .231 mark.

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