Frank Robinson was informed yesterday by Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden that he will not be retained next season, and though an official announcement won't come for another few days, the manager's farewell after 51 years in the major leagues has begun.
During an afternoon press conference at RFK Stadium yesterday, Robinson all but revealed his fate. Without ever formally saying he is being let go after five seasons with the franchise, he strongly suggested that his managing career will end with Sunday's season finale.
"I'm at ease," he said, eyes welling.
Both Kasten and Bowden declined to comment on Robinson's status, but a source familiar with the situation confirmed the 71-year-old was informed his tenure with the club will end when his contract expires Oct. 31.
An announcement is likely to come sometime this weekend, and Robinson likely will be given some sort of farewell tribute at Sunday's game against the New York Mets.
"We agreed to make an announcement later on," the manager said before Washington's game against the Philadelphia Phillies, the start of which was delayed 4 hours, 27 minutes by rain. "Sometime in the very near future."
Rumors of Robinson's pending dismissal had been circulating for more than a month, and few expected the Nationals to bring him back for another season. Until yesterday, though, no front-office officials had spoken to Robinson about his future, and he expressed his frustration over that several times publicly in recent weeks.
The Hall of Famer met with Kasten for about 20 minutes and Bowden for about 15 minutes and said the conversations were "as positive as they could be." He did not meet with any members of the Lerner family, which assumed ownership of the club two months ago.
"I had my say," Robinson said. "We sat down, each one, and I had my discussions with them ... and said what I wanted to say about the situation here, and my situation."
Robinson, who in 1975 became the first black manager in major league history, wouldn't reveal whether he has been offered another position within the organization, but that has been a particularly sticky subject throughout this process. Robinson would like to remain with the franchise if he was given a position of some substantial authority, but few expect the club to make that kind of offer.
"You're assuming that I've been officially fired," Robinson said with a laugh. "If they feel like they want me to be a part of the organization beyond managing the ballclub, it's up to them."
Regardless of his baseball future beyond the weekend, Sunday will represent Robinson's final game in uniform after a career that spanned six decades and included milestone moments as a player in Cincinnati and Baltimore and historic managerial stints in Cleveland, San Francisco, Baltimore, Montreal and Washington as well as a period working at league headquarters.
The Nationals haven't announced plans for any ceremonies or festivities yet, but local fans (who have rooted for Robinson since his playing days with the Orioles) figure to shower him with praise over the season's final weekend.
The manager said he expects these final days to be "different" and "strange" but said he can embrace his farewell, "contrary to what some people think."
For all his success as a player, including induction into the Hall of Fame in 1982, Robinson has a sub-.500 record as a manager. With four games to go, he is 1,064-1,173 over 16 seasons. In five seasons with the Nationals franchise, he is 384-422 and is on the verge of guiding the club to its third-straight last-place finish in the National League East division.
Robinson's supporters point to the fact that he never has been blessed with a high-payroll, high-talent team and that he traditionally has gotten the most out of the players he has been given. His Nationals this season have continued to play with energy and effort, even though they've been out of the race for months, and had won 14 of 25 games going into last night.
"No so-called experts picked us to win this division [in the last five seasons]," he said. "No so-called experts picked us to wind up being the wild card. What I've done is taken the teams that I've been given, and I don't complain about it, and I try to get the best out of them."
Robinson has not addressed his players or staff yet about his future but said he would speak to them by Sunday. Word of his pending departure spread quickly through the Nationals clubhouse yesterday.
"It's very sad for him and for a lot of us," said second baseman Jose Vidro, the franchise's longest-tenured player. "He was here for some very rough times and always kept his head up. ... I'm pretty sure he was looking forward to being here with the new opportunity to be at the same level as every other ballclub. I'm a little bit shocked, because I didn't expect it."
Said closer Chad Cordero: "I love the guy. He gave me my shot. He means everything. To have him not be part of this club next year is going to be a tough thing to handle."
The fate of Robinson's coaching staff remains up in the air, though most new managers are given the opportunity to make their own hires.
Bowden and Kasten will begin their managerial search as soon as the season ends. Several high-profile candidates figure to be in the mix, including soon-to-be-dismissed Marlins manager Joe Girardi; former Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella; former Mets, Reds, Orioles and Dodgers manager Davey Johnson; and soon-to-be-dismissed Cubs manager Dusty Baker.
Other lesser-known possibilities include Braves third-base coach Fredi Gonzalez; Yankees first base coach Tony Pena; Mets third base coach Manny Acta; Nationals' Class AAA manager Tim Foli; Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton; and Mets bench coach Jerry Manuel.
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