- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

Frank Robinson’s emotional press conference Thursday afternoon might have taken people by surprise. For so many, Robinson has come to epitomize “old-school” toughness and lack of emotion.

Those who know the Washington Nationals manager better, however, weren’t stunned by the manner in which he choked up discussing his decision to remove struggling catcher Matt LeCroy during the seventh inning.

A misconception seems to have grown over the years regarding Robinson — that he’s just a cranky old man who isn’t afraid to criticize his own players or attempt to intimidate an opposing manager or umpire.

That’s simply not the case. While Frank does still display that side of him on occasion — just ask Mike Scioscia or Tomo Ohka — he’s much more soft-spoken and caring than most would believe.

He cares about his players, especially those who give him everything they’ve got.

Why else has Robinson never wavered in his support of reliever Joey Eischen, who clearly has nothing left in the tank (0-1, 7.36 ERA) and probably has cost the Nationals a handful of games this season? Because Eischen has never once refused to take the ball when Robinson asked him to, or made excuses for his performances.

Why did Robinson fight so hard to try to keep Jamey Carroll, the 25th man on his roster, over the winter when there were far more talented players available? Because Carroll was the hardest worker on the 2005 team and never once complained about a lack of playing time — and Robinson loved him for it.

LeCroy may not fall into the same category as Eischen and Carroll on Frank’s list of favorite players, but he’s not far off. Despite his obvious physical limitations, the husky first baseman/catcher/DH plays the game the right way. He’s a professional (even if his hilarious clubhouse antics would suggest otherwise) and when he was asked to get behind the plate and put himself in a potentially embarrassing situation, he never once asked out.

There are a handful of players on the Nationals’ roster this season like that — guys who know their role, know what’s expected of them and do everything they can to perform to the best of their abilities. And that’s why Robinson got so emotional the other day.

Not just because he didn’t want LeCroy to feel embarrassed for being yanked from the game. Because he felt he let down a player who hasn’t let him down all season.

Frank was upset at himself for putting LeCroy in a no-win situation. Even though he knew deep down he had no choice, he wanted to believe he could have done something to prevent the whole scene from ever playing out.

Robinson demands a lot from his players, but he demands even more from himself. As much as he might get upset over someone failing to execute a bunt or throw a pitch for a strike, nothing gets him more upset than his own mistakes.

There was a game late last season in San Diego, one in which the Nationals blew a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth and all but killed their last-ditch hope for a playoff berth. Afterward, a crestfallen Robinson gathered his players in the clubhouse and apologized for costing them the win with his pitching changes. That loss ate at Robinson for days, maybe even weeks.

Those same feelings probably crept into his mind Thursday afternoon as he talked about removing LeCroy. Eventually, he couldn’t hold it in any longer, and many people saw a side of Frank Robinson they may have never seen before.

At the end of this season, the Nationals’ new owners will name their general manager, either Jim Bowden or a replacement. That man will then decide whether to retain Robinson for another season. Conventional wisdom says he won’t be back, for any number of reasons.

Question Frank Robinson’s in-game strategy. Question his loyalty-to-the-extreme with some players and his lack of confidence in others.

But don’t question his heart, something many people already knew before Thursday and hopefully many more know now.

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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