- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

VIERA, Fla. — Livan Hernandez arrived at the Washington Nationals’ spring training complex yesterday, and whenever one of the presumed stars of a team shows up for the first day, it’s always a media event.

When most players report, writers merely stop by their lockers and ask a few questions about their offseason and hopes for the new season. But when a star shows up, it requires planning and coordination. Everyone wants to hear what the star has to say because his words have weight, both inside and outside the clubhouse. And if you are a presumed star/diva like Livan, you can change those plans as you desire.

The plan yesterday was for Livan to hold court in the home dugout at Space Coast Stadium to accommodate the reporters who wanted to see his official arrival. But Livan was tired, so they changed it to a scrum in front of his locker — which worked fine because, while Livan may be a star for the Washington Nationals, he is not exactly Barry Bonds.

He is, though, as close as the Nationals get, which is a problem that goes beyond the obvious marketing concerns. He is also as close as there is to a clubhouse leader, but Livan is limited by his position as a pitcher.

“A pitcher can be the leader among the pitchers and be there for anyone who wants to approach him,” manager Frank Robinson said. “But he is not that one guy who will go to a hitter and get in his face. Sometimes you need a leader and arms of that leader on the pitching staff, bullpen and the reserves. A position player can cross the line and doesn’t mind going over to talk to the pitchers. But pitchers are kind of hesitant to go over to the offensive side of it.”

Robinson knows a thing or two about leadership. He was the definitive leader of those great Baltimore Orioles teams that went to four World Series from 1966 to 1971 and won two of them. Not coincidentally, Robinson came to Baltimore in 1966 and left after the 1971 season. After he left, it took the Orioles eight years to get back to the World Series.

It’s hard to find a better example of a player who led a team, both in the clubhouse and on the field. He commanded and demanded respect for the game and the team and would deal with any teammates who didn’t go along with the program.

Those kind of players are few and far between. As manager of his first three teams — the Indians, Giants and Orioles — Robinson had only two players who fit his mold as the clubhouse leader, and they were both on the same team.

“Reggie Smith was a guy like that and Joe Morgan in San Francisco,” he said. “We used to call them oil and water. Reggie was the four-letter guy, and Joe was the psychologist. I didn’t have those type of guys in Cleveland. In Baltimore, everyone looked to [Cal] Ripken as the leader of the ballclub there, but he wasn’t a stand-up-in-your-face type of guy.”

Those type of players may be nearly extinct.

Since he took the job managing this club in Montreal in 2002, Robinson said he has been searching for that clubhouse leader — someone with both the ability and credibility to deal with teammates who didn’t go along with the program. He stopped last year but not because he found one. He simply gave up.

“There’s been a void ever since I’ve been here,” Robinson said. “There’s been no one person who has been that get-in-your-face type of guy. It doesn’t concern me anymore. It used to drive me buggy for about three years. Last year I just said, ‘Leave it alone.’

“But guys can lead in their own ways, and sometimes it works better that way, when the pressure is not put on them as the stand-up guy. It takes a special type of guy to do that, and usually you don’t have to ask for a guy like that. He does it naturally. So far we haven’t had that guy, but we have been all right with the veteran players we have had here that I can lean on and talk to, but it is more as a group than one individual.”

Hernandez is part of that group. So was Brad Wilkerson, but he wasn’t a vocal leader, and he’s gone anyway. It may be nearly impossible for any player to be a stand-up clubhouse leader on a team that has had such an uncertain future for so many years, with still no owner going into the fifth season.

Jose Guillen has tried to be that guy and likely will try again.

“He can be that guy,” Robinson said. “He is in his own way. He puts the effort into it. He wants to win. For all that he is and what people say he isn’t, he cares about things being done right. Sometimes he steps on people’s toes and rubs them the wrong way, the way he expresses himself and turns some people off. But he sincerely cares about things if they are not done the way they are supposed to be done in the clubhouse and on the field.”

That sounds like a clubhouse leader, and Guillen’s play gives him a platform to step up. He led the Nationals in home runs (24), RBI (76) and runs (81) while playing hurt most of last season. But we are talking about a guy who has played with seven teams going into his eighth major league season. That’s the resume of a traveling salesman, not a clubhouse leader.

Then again, it may make Jose Guillen perfectly suited to lead the Washington Misfits.


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