- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

Lost among the hubbub over John Wetteland’s firing as the Washington Nationals’ bullpen coach last week was the name of the person who wielded the axe.

That would be Frank Robinson. Not Jim Bowden, the man who hired Wetteland (and three other members of the Nationals’ coaching staff last winter).

These moments have been few and far between this season. Because, quite honestly, Robinson doesn’t wield a whole lot of power anymore.

Somewhere between 2005 and 2006, the Washington manager lost much of his say within the organization. He wasn’t allowed to keep four members of his staff, and the coaches who were brought in as replacements were mostly Bowden hires.

Robinson also had little say on some of the club’s offseason roster moves, most notably the decision to sell popular utilityman Jamey Carroll to the Colorado Rockies for $300,000 because Bowden preferred veterans Royce Clayton and Damian Jackson as backup infielders.

And for the most part, Robinson has kept his mouth shut. He’s working under his fifth straight one-year contract, and with new ownership about to take over, it wouldn’t behoove him to start rocking the boat.

When it came to Wetteland, though, Robinson just couldn’t hold back any longer. After a series of transgressions involving fireworks, blowtorches, bullpen vandalism and second-guessing behind the manager’s back, Robinson showed Wetteland the door.

This stuff had been going on for too long, and Robinson had already expressed his displeasure too many times to idly sit by. If it was up to Bowden, Wetteland probably would have stayed. But the GM is publicly supporting his manager, as he should, and so everyone has moved on.

If only it was that simple.

The differences between Bowden and Robinson are becoming more and more evident. The Wetteland move was only the latest.

When Bowden announced earlier this month he was hiring Davey Johnson as a special consultant, eyebrows were immediately raised. Conspiracy theorists didn’t have to use much energy to conclude Johnson would ultimately take over for Robinson.

Behind the scenes, Robinson sees the writing on the wall. He knows Bowden tied himself to the Lerner family long ago and that the GM has a better chance of being back in 2007 than he does.

Robinson wasn’t a fan of Johnson’s hiring, but he was even less a fan of Bowden’s handling of the situation. Robinson was informed about Johnson by a reporter, not by his GM, even though the two spoke by phone a few hours earlier.

Whether the theory holds true remains to be seen. Johnson insists he has no desire to manage again, and Bowden insists Johnson was brought in strictly for scouting purposes.

Besides, as one person close to Bowden said, “As much as Jim loves Davey, there’s someone else he wants to manage this team.”

That’s right, Johnson is only Bowden’s second favorite manager ever. The man at the top of the list? Lou Piniella, who just happens to be unemployed.

Now, before anyone gets worked up, there’s no telling whether Sweet Lou would even want this job. Remember, he bolted from Tampa Bay once it became obvious that franchise was in a long-term rebuilding mode. And again, there’s no assurances Bowden is keeping his job.

But if he does, few believe Robinson will still be in the dugout. It’s become evident over the last eight months or so, the two men in charge of the Nationals’ baseball operations differ on a good number of subjects.

Of course, this is one decision neither the manager nor the GM has the authority to make. Bowden may have hired Johnson. Robinson may have fired Wetteland. But the new owners get to make this call.

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