- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

JUPITER, Fla. Frank Robinson has said his managing stint with the Montreal Expos will be for one season no matter what happens to the embattled franchise, which is still a target for contraction next year.

That doesn't mean the 66-year-old Hall of Famer wouldn't want to be part of the Expos' future, if the club has one. Yesterday as his squad took the field at Roger Dean Stadium for the first time, Robinson said he still has one goal in baseball to be president of a ballclub.

Robinson said he would welcome being part of an ownership group that purchases the Expos, including either of the two that are trying to bring baseball to the Washington area.

"If someone bought this ballclub, I would certainly hope they would consider me for part of their group," Robinson said. "My focus now is to be a part of an ownership group, as president or partner. My goal is to be in the front office. That's what I would like to do. If I were to be part of this team next year, it would be in the front office."

If Robinson becomes involved with baseball in or around the District, he would be working down the road from the franchise where his No20 was retired as one of the Baltimore Orioles' greatest players. That might be a measure of justice, because Robinson believes he was wronged by the Orioles under both the Eli Jacobs and Peter Angelos regimes when Robinson worked in the O's front office as an assistant general manager from 1991 to 1995.

"I will always be an Oriole," Robinson said. "I am an Expo now. I've changed uniforms. But I am an Oriole, and it doesn't matter what happens in the future or what happened in the past, I consider myself a Baltimore Oriole.

"There were no promises made, but there were certain things that were said. I thought I was in a position to do certain things and that certain things would happen to me and for me after I was finished managing, and it didn't happen. Just the way I was treated, period, by the organization, really hurt."

Robinson said he did not take the Montreal managing job, at the request of commissioner Bud Selig, with the notion that it would lead to a front office job if the Expos survive beyond this year.

The Expos are on the verge of an unique season. They are a franchise without an owner. Yet technically, the Expos are owned by all 29 major league owners because Major League Baseball purchased the team from owner Jeffrey Loria as part of a complicated franchise swap that saw Loria buy the Florida Marlins from John Henry, who in turn became one of the owners of the Boston Red Sox. One way or another either through relocation or contraction the Montreal Expos are finished after this season.

"Nobody really knows where any of us might be next season," said infielder Mike Mordecai. "We are like orphans."

Robinson, baseball's first black manager with the Cleveland Indians in 1974, believes his biggest challenge is to take the attention away from the future and focus on the task at hand fielding a competitive team. Before yesterday's workout, Robinson met with his players to get his point across.

"I told them not to let the situation here interfere with their performance on the field," he said. "We have no control over the other stuff. All we have control of is what goes on between the white lines, and that is playing baseball."

There may not be a team better suited to handle such an uncertain future. For the past seven seasons, being an Expo has always meant keeping your bags packed.

"The Expos tradition since the strike in 1994 has been to build you up and then trade you," said catcher Michael Barrett. "So a lot of guys here have always worked hard and prepared for that opportunity, to be good enough to get traded. Coming in this year, I think that feeling will only be magnified. The uncertainty of being a Montreal Expo at the start of the season will not just be an individual thing. It will be the entire team. It might pull us together."

And what might be the rewards of pulling together?

"I think we can get this team to Washington if we play well," said Barrett, who played for the Delmarva franchise (Salisbury, Md.) in its first year when it was an Expos affiliate and is familiar with the Washington area.

That is the common theme running through the Expos' organization and spring training facility that this team is destined to move to the Washington area for the 2003 season. Several Expos employees asked about real estate prices in and around Washington.

Thinking about 2003 while preparing for 2002 leaves a great story untold. This Expos team is pretty good, perhaps far better than the one that went 68-94 last season.

"I don't think people realize how talented this team is," Robinson said. "It is not a real deep team, but we have some talent on the field and some pretty good pitching."

The Expos can field an impressive lineup, starting with one of the best hitters in baseball, Vladimir Guerrero (.307 average, 34 home runs, 106 RBI), and including first baseman Lee Stevens (.266 average, 22 home runs, 75 RBI), shortstop Orlando Cabrera (.276 average, 14 home runs, 96 RBI), second baseman Jose Vidro (.310 average, 15 home runs, 59 RBI) plus, if he is healthy, slugger Fernando Tatis at third base.

They have also invited Jose Canseco (16 home runs, 49 RBI in 76 games for the Chicago White Sox last year) to camp, and if he can manage to stay healthy, it is a formidable group of hitters.

The Expos have one of the best young pitchers in the game in Javier Vasquez (16-11, 3.42 ERA) and another promising young hurler in Tony Armas Jr. (9-14, 4.03 ERA), plus a host of other potentially good but untested arms. They are not the Atlanta Braves, but they could be far from the doormats they were last year.

Robinson said he believes they can contend with the Braves and the New York Mets for the National League East title, which raises interesting scenarios. What happens if the Expos do well maybe very well and even in their lame duck status, get Montreal fans to fall in love with the team one last time and draw well. Is that what the major league owners some of whom will be faced with the prospect of having their own teams lose to a team that they own a small piece of really want? For the Expos to be a success this year?

"I haven't asked anyone that question intentionally," Robinson said. "I don't want to hear the answer from anyone, because my approach has been that we are going to win as many games as we possibly can win. I think we can win a lot of games and be a contender in the National League East. I'm sure if I asked the commissioner or someone in baseball, they would say they would be happy if we would win the division. But I'm not going to ask that."

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