Saturday, September 30, 2006
Mr. & Mrs. Robinson
As critical as I have been of the game decisions by Manager Frank Robinson, today was a sad day for Our Washington Nationals. Frank was dismissed, officially, by Team President, Stan Kasten and Vice-President, General Manager, Jim Bowden. No word given on whether Frank will even be involved with the team, in a meaningful way, in the near future.
Everyone had seen this coming for some time, yet on this day, I feel very sad for the man that, truly is, THE FACE OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS.
Involved in Major League Baseball since 1956, Robinson was first a young star player, with the Cincinnati Reds, where he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1956, then the MVP of the National League in 1961. Unceremoniously traded to the Baltimore Orioles after the 1965 season, he led Baltimore to 2 World Series Championships, becoming the first player in baseball history to win the MVP award in both leagues--1966 and becoming, in that year, one of only 14 players to ever achieve THE TRIPLE CROWN--leading his league in Batting Average, Home Runs and Runs Batted In.
As his playing career wound down, he, eventually, played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and California Angels, and, finished his playing career as the very first, African-American Manager of the Cleveland Indians. A very proud man, Frank would manage 16 years with 4 different franchises. Not only the Indians, but the San Francisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles and finally, the Montreal Expos--transferring with the team to the Nation's Capital, Washington DC in 2005, when the Nationals were born.
Except for his expected trade from Baltimore to Los Angeles after the 1971 season, Robinson has never been given his just due for the professional and classy efforts he has brought to the ballpark, each and everyday. Even the Orioles, the team he is most associated with, and led to its GREATEST GLORY, shoved this man out the door, sadly, from his front office position, by the, universally, hated Peter Angelos in 1998.
Eventually, Frank would land in the Commissioner's Office of Major League Baseball, in charge of discipline when players, managers and coaches were involved with on and off field altercations. That's where he was in 2002, when Bud Selig and the MLB Owners took over the operations of the moribund and dying, Montreal Expos. Thought to only be a caretaker Manager while baseball shutdown the franchise after that season, Frank would continue in Montreal for 3 more years, as Selig, under heavy pressure and many lawsuits, was unable to contract Montreal and the Minnesota Twins. Robinson relishing the job, enjoying the opportunity, to once again, be actively involved in the game he loves. With no money and limited resources, Frank able to keep the Expos in Wild Card Contention in 2002 and 2003, THE DARLINGS OF BASEBALL at the time. Still, no one in Canada seemed to really care about the Expos.
Finally, after so much upheaval, the Expos moved to Washington in 2005, and still under MLB control, Frank remained as manager. The Nationals soaring to first place, unexpectedly, going 50-31 through the All Star break that first season. Playoff hopes rose to unrealistic proportions by their new found fan base in DC, Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland. The Nats tanking badly in the second half, finishing at an even 81-81, injuries and limited quality players finally extinguishing the flame on a FANTASY SEASON!!
Again, after performing an admirable job, Robinson was left on the ropes, all winter long, while baseball dickered and delayed the sale of the Washington Nationals. Frank, eventually being told, yeah, you can come back for 2006, but only under our terms. The Terms of Jim Bowden. Frank reluctantly agreed. Then, Jimbo left Robinson out to dry. MLB wouldn't allow the team to sign any decent free agents. Baseball wanting to make as much money as possible on the Nats. Bowden would give up all the pitching depth, in an effort to build his own fantasy team. And, more importantly, Jimbo taking away the one player, Frank LOVED THE MOST--and the fans too--JAMEY CARROLL.
The 2006 began, and was over by the end of April. Injuries killing what pitching depth was left, the team getting off to an 8-17 start by the end of that first month, and never recovering. When the MLB finally transferred the team to THE LERNER GROUP in July, Jim Bowden, all of a sudden, changed mantra, talking about building with youth, as per Stan Kasten, not his fantasy players. Once again, Frank was the perceived fall guy, for not being able to win with what he was given. It was unfair, and a blatant blow by Jimbo to move blame away from himself.
Frank left on the ropes, again unceremoniously, until being told, two days ago, of managements decision to move in another direction. And, today, The Nationals making it official in a 4:15PM press conference. A press conference that was more like a funeral.
A funeral that our Nationals played in tonight as if they were the mourned. No life, in a 13-0 shellacing at RFK Stadium in Washington. For many in attendance, it was their chance to show appreciation for what Frank has really meant to the infant years of THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS. You can criticize his managing, as I have done on countless occasions, but you can't take away his devotion and well meaning. Frank LOVED THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS. They were his baby, and he truly wanted to see them make it to the PROMISED LAND.
When tonight's game got out of hand early, the only proper thing to do was for the fans attending to honor Frank, in whatever way they could. Throughout the night, there were various "We Love Frank!!" Cheers, "FRANK, FRANK, FRANK".
In the bottom of the 8th, I walked down to talk to my good friend, Hugh, also known as "CHICKEN MAN", constantly waving his beheaded rubber chicken during Nats rallies. Hugh had come with two terrific banners. "DC LOVES FRANK!" and "FEARLESS LEADER".
As Hugh and I chatted about Frank, I noticed that Frank's wife, Barbara, and his daughter, Nichelle, were sitting just to my right, in the front row, behind the 3rd base dugout. As anyone that might have read my earlier blogs would know, I had met them on more than one occasion. Barbara and Nichelle, huge fans of Section 320. Frank knowing all about us. I reached out, chatting to them. They were pleased to see me. I told Mrs. Robinson what a class act her husband really is and how so many will miss him. But, more importantly, I wish someone, anyone, would allow the man to move on with his dignity. No team in baseball he had ever been involved with, had done so.
Barbara responding, "We'll be alright, back in Los Angeles." But, her eyes glossy, NIchelle on the verge of tears. I felt so bad, and I apologized for making the night that much harder. Mrs. R saying: "No, that's really fine, we know how much, not only you, but so many others love him. That's good enough for us." But you could tell, it wasn't.
Hugh and I started to chant: "WE LOVE FRANK" over and over, standing and waving Chicken Man's well made sign. The Lower Bowl of RFK began to follow, eventually, most of the stadium. Frank turning to us, pointing. Thanking us, waving to the crowd, tears in his eyes. As the game continued, no one paid attention to it. Hugh and I then displaying his "FEARLESS LEADER" sign--as the crowd continued to yell "FRANK, FRANK, FRANK". Number 20 again, turning to us, patting his heart, pointing to both of us, truly thankful for the thought, all through watery eyes. MRS. R, crying her eyes out in her seat, consoled by her daughter. It was a poignant moment. The crowd continuing to roar for THE FACE OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS.
As the game thankfully ended, Frank would step out of the dugout, onto the field, wave, smiling, grateful for his unexpected moment of gratitude. He would thank everyone, waving around the stadium from the top of the dugout, then bowed his head, sadly stepping down into the home team dugout, something he will do, only one more time in team history, tomorrow.
Mrs R and NIchelle thanked Hugh and I for everything we had started. Asking us whether we would be there for the finale. "We wouldn't miss it, for the world!!" including a Redskins' game. The Robinson's then escorted out by security. With that, Hugh and I hugged, and I thanked him for letting me be apart of this impromptu celebration of a great man--Frank Robinson.