Robinson's dismissal is crying shame

October 01, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

For the second time this season, Frank Robinson was moved to public tears. The first time, in May, after he had to bench an overmatched catcher in mid-inning, showed the depth of his humanity beneath that famously tough exterior.

The second time, on Thursday afternoon after a meeting with his Washington Nationals bosses, showed how much that humanity was worth to his employers.

There's something terribly, terribly wrong here. Nobody in baseball ought to be allowed to do anything to Frank Robinson to make him cry.

Still, be ready, because some hankies are getting soaked this afternoon in D.C. - if not Robinson's, then those belonging to thousands of fans at RFK Stadium and a good number at home. Today is likely Robinson's last day in a baseball uniform, after 21 seasons as a major league player and 16 as a manager.

It definitely is Robinson's last day managing the Nationals, now that management did him the favor yesterday of making his departure official. Mighty big of them. It was the least they could do for a guy with a half-century in the sport. And how considerate to cut off the time he twisted in the wind at three days.

Robinson, who turned 71 about a month ago, also found that he would, indeed, get a farewell ceremony today. Whether it will be one that someone of his stature deserves remains to be seen, with it likely being stitched together on the fly, not unlike yesterday's awkward news conference.

It wouldn't be a shock if the fans came up with a sendoff of their own anyway. There were goodbye banners being waved by the faithful and appreciative in the stands at RFK last night, not long after the final announcement was made. Good for them.

At some point next season, Robinson will be brought back for another celebration. But somebody else will be managing the team, under real ownership and with a new ballpark on the horizon.

How proud the Baltimore-Washington area must be, to now have two franchises that each kicked the Hall of Famer to the curb.

Now, it's not as if Robinson won't be part of the Nationals' organization in some capacity. It's just that he's having the job he appears to do best, managing, taken away as an option. He wants to do it. His players want him to do it. Plus, Robinson will never run out of cracks about how it seems Jack McKeon wasn't too old for the Marlins a few years ago, when he took them to a World Series title.

But Robinson's vote doesn't count, the players' votes don't count, and neither do the fans', no matter how much they embraced him as the familiar face of the franchise from the beginning. Maybe McKeon's vote would count, but probably not.

Robinson wants to stay on the bench; his emotions that he couldn't suppress when he talked to reporters after last week's meeting made that clear. One could make a case that at this point in his career and in his life, he ought to be allowed to call his own shots about when he ends his managerial tenure.

No one needs to be reminded of the immense favor he did when the commissioner called on him to take on what might have been the worst, longest-lasting managerial job ever - for an Expos team abandoned by its owner, taken over by other owners, ticketed for contraction, frozen out by its once-loyal Canadian fans, shipped to a city being held hostage by the owner up the parkway, sentenced to an obsolete stadium and dangled ownerless for another year and a half.

There might have been someone who could have done a better job and gotten his players to rally behind him better - but we'll never know. Robinson also might have worked miracles under the greatly improved circumstances in the next few years - but we'll never know that, either.

Of course, once upon a time, about a decade ago, Robinson wanted to stay in the Orioles' front office, but that didn't mean that much to his employers then, either. As with his current team, he's not holding his breath on rejoining them.

A better man has never been unceremoniously booted from more jobs in such close proximity to each other.

A man who served as baseball's conscience during times when its moral compass frequently went astray deserves a place in the game. Not a ceremonial position with some window-dressing title. He doesn't want to be a community ambassador. He wants to be the guy waving in relievers, double-switching, glaring threateningly at Mike Scioscia, telling people off who need to be told off, calling baseball out when it needs to be.

Frank Robinson is one of the most important figures baseball has ever been blessed to have.

Too bad that once again, he's not being treated that way. It's enough to make a tough man cry.

David Steele -- Points After

The baseball playoff action Wednesday should be intense, and as soon as the season premiere of Lost is over, I'll try to catch some highlights.

Meanwhile, there's still time to place your bets on which new show Fox will beat you over the head with during its games all month.

Dictionary publishers are furious. Just when they had printed the Dallas Mavericks' team photo next to the definition of "choke," here come the St. Louis Cardinals to mess with their deadlines.

Some people truly believe that racism in this country is a thing of the past. Those people apparently didn't read the online message boards after Terrell Owens' painkiller incident.

Any day now, Congress is going to call for hearings on the cough-syrup epidemic in sports.

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