Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Frank Robby: A Class Act Closes

Frank Robinson with former National League president Len Coleman
WASHINGTON - After 51 years in the game, Frank Robinson likely spent his last day in a major-league uniform yesterday.

But before the Hall of Fame player and owner of 1,065 managerial victories oversaw his final Washington Nationals game as skipper, Robinson had some news for the game he loves:

"I am not retiring," the 71-year-old said as the hearty Fan Appreciation Day crowd at antiquated RFK Stadium roared. "There are a lot of things I'd still like to accomplish, for others who come after me."

Robinson - unstoppable offensive force as a player, social pioneer and advocate for equal opportunity at the management level - had done what he promised.

He refused to take his cue from the Montreal Expos-turned-Nationals organization that decided not to bring him back for a sixth season as manager. Instead, he continued to look ahead, even after a 6-2 loss to the visiting New York Mets brought his Nationals tenure to a close.

"I still feel I have something to offer, and to give to baseball," Robinson said. "If that's not the case, then I can very easily fade into the sunset... . But for anyone to understand what I'm saying, you've had to be around the game a long time. It gets in your blood."

Following a game filled with many curtain calls and a postgame victory lap from dugout to dugout, Robinson could only describe himself as "numb." It was a stark contrast to the earlier news conference when one of baseball's most noted competitors dabbed away tears and chastised himself for weeping. ("I said I wasn't going to do this.")

He would choke up again when asked to speak to the crowd after a pregame video salute highlighting his playing and managerial careers.

Once at the mike, though, the silver-haired skipper, clad in Washington Nationals red - his eighth different big-league uniform - enthralled the fans with his humor, poignant reflection, pride and passion.

The crowd of 29,044 showered Robinson, his wife, Barbara, and daughter Nichelle with wave after wave of cheers.

It spoke to the indelible impression made by Robinson in the Delmarva area when he was the heart and soul of the great Baltimore Orioles teams of the late 1960s, following 10 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds.

Baltimore fans were very much in evidence yesterday, cheering every reference to their American League franchise and the man still considered both legend and family.

Only Henry Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Sammy Sosa hit more than Robinson's 586 home runs. Only Robinson can claim an MVP award in each league.

Though Robinson yesterday declined to give his opinion on what his legacy is, all he needed do was look across the field to Mets manager Willie Randolph and Mets general manager Omar Minaya to see.

When he played, Robinson started battering away at barriers that once prevented minorities from advancing to coaching staffs, managers' offices and front offices. He finally became the game's first black manager.

His proteges have been many, including Don Baylor and Dusty Baker, who followed his path to winning manager of the year awares.

Now, Randolph is a viable candidate for that same honor after leading his Mets to the National League East crown and the league's best record. And Minaya, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a strong candidate for executive of the year.

Minaya aptly called Frank Robinson the "Jackie Robinson of managers."

"Sitting in his office the other day, Frank told me, 'Here, I'm handing you the baton.' It blew me away," Randolph said.

Randolph wasn't the only one blown away.

After Robinson addressed the crowd, the visiting Mets, led by veterans Julio Franco and Carlos Delgado, Randolph and his coaches, beat the Nationals to the punch by streaming to home plate to hug the Hall of Famer, one by one.

"I've never seen that, not to that extent," Robinson said. "And I've been in baseball 51 years. That was a very nice gesture on their part. It truly was."

Tomorrow, Robinson will return to his California home. The man who wound up with over 1,000 managerial victories has said "goodbye."

But remember his words, and his worth.

The game can top today's tribute by assuring Robinson is right. Find a place somewhere in the game for a man who very much wants to contribute more. History says he's pretty good at following through and baseball would be foolish to turn away from this valued, honorable man for good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi,Claire: I liked your blog on Frank Robinson's career. How about writing a similar article about Felipe Alou. Too bad the Hall Of Fame doesn't have a category that combines player/ manager, coach minor league manager and all- around organization man.
This was Alou's 51st year in baseball: 1956-58-Minor League player; 1958-74 Major Leagues player; 1975 Minor League instructor; 1976-92 Minor Leagues Manager; 1992-2001 Major Leagues Manager (Montreal); 2002- Major Leagues coach; 2003-06- Major Leagues Manager (San Francisco). It also Looks like he will continue as a consultant to the Giants front office in 2007 and beyond.
His major league records were immaculate: 2101 hits in 2082 games with 206 home runs and a .286 batting average, and he was selected to three All-Star games.
Followed by a 1033-1021 record as a manager for a .503 winning percentage.
A career like that is certainly due a few nice words.

I'd appreciate it if you checked your facts on the Piazza story you did and get back to me. I believe that of his 419 career homers, 396 have come when he was playing catcher, not 398 as you reported. In any event when he reaches the 400 mark for catchers, early next Spring that should make his record secure probably for decades to come. Piazza's record may not even be broken in his lifetime, and I hope its a very long and happy one.

Finally, after seeing the list of candidates (released last Thursday)for the 2007 Veterans Committee Hall Of Fame election, I have ordered the Baseball Autograph Collector's Handbook, that contains the addresses for every living present or former major leagues player. The objective being, to contact every living Hall Of Fame Player/Manager to send them a letter supporting Minnie Minoso's candidacy for that upcoming election. I hope to contact HOF broadcasters through their teams and HOF writers through their newspapers also, leaving just a few retired writers and broadcasters that I may not be able to reach. The Negro Leagues Committee did a horrible job in failing to elect Minoso and Buck O'Neill this past winter. Minoso, was in my opinion not only a great player, whose major league career was delayed until he was 28 by race restrictions, but as the eighth black player to reach the majors, and more importantly the first non-American born and first Hispanic Black to reach the majors and become an all-star, he was a pioneer who paved the way for future generations of Black Latinos. The past election committee took the narrow view however, failing to view his career as a whole and the positive reprocussions it caused.
I also think Buck O'Neill could have been nominated in the 15 candidate non-player category for his role as the first black major leagues coach and all he has done to keep the memory of the Negro Leagues alive.
Both Minoso an dO'Neill deserve to be elected to the HOF in their lifetimes. Who knows if there will ever be another Negro Leagues election? Hall Of Fame officials brushed off criticism of the February elction and seem to be a very intractable lot. At least Minoso has the Veterans Committee route to the Hall Of Fame still open to him.

Dennis Orlandini
Irvington, NJ