- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2006

Rarely does a manager have the clout to decide when and how to announce his own firing. Typically, he is at the mercy of his general manager and other top team officials, who usually elect to wait until the day after the season to make such a decision public.

Frank Robinson, though, has spent 51 years in the major leagues. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He’s the most recognizable face in the Washington Nationals organization.

So when Robinson went to general manager Jim Bowden and team president Stan Kasten and informed the men who fired him Thursday that he wanted to announce it to the world yesterday, he was granted the courtesy.

“This is not customary, where you let someone go and he’s still here managing your team [for three more days],” Kasten said. “I hope it’s a reflection of the depth of personal feeling that we have for Frank and the respect for Frank. We are doing our best to be sensitive and respectful under really difficult circumstances.”

The latest step in that process came yesterday afternoon, when the Nationals officially announced that Robinson will not return in 2007 and gave the 71-year-old manager the opportunity to share the news on his terms.

It began with an afternoon team meeting inside the Nationals clubhouse at RFK Stadium, a meeting that ended with a standing ovation from players and coaches to manager. It continued with a 25-minute press conference featuring Robinson and Bowden, side-by-side, doing their best to praise each other during what could have been an awkward scene.

“It’s been a great run for me, and I mean that sincerely,” said Robinson, who all but revealed his fate to the media on Thursday. “I have no bitter feelings or anything like that about the situation.”

The farewell will conclude — at least for now — today when Robinson manages the final game of his career and is honored with a brief tribute.

His final bow, though, will be taken sometime next season, when the Nationals hold “Frank Robinson Day” at RFK, with full details still to come.

“We are going to do it first-class,” Bowden said. “We are going to do it the right way. And we are going to show Frank Robinson the respect that he deserves. We don’t want to rush and do something that’s not done the right way, and that is the reason why we made the decision to have this honor for him next year.”

By then, the Nationals will have resolved much else. So far, the team has said only that it will have a new manager in 2007, and the process of hiring that new manager will begin tomorrow. Neither Bowden nor Kasten would divulge how many candidates will be in the mix, when a decision will be made or even what qualities they are looking for, saying the focus should remain on Robinson through the weekend.

There were indications, though, that the process could be drawn-out. Kasten said only that he would like to have someone in place by baseball’s winter meetings in early December.

“That’s a long time,” he said. “It affords you the opportunity to do it right. But there’s nothing that says it can’t be done much more quickly if that’s what Jim finds.”

Several prominent names figure to be in the running, including soon-to-be-fired Marlins manager Joe Girardi, former Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella and soon-to-be-dismissed Cubs manager Dusty Baker, among others.

It remains to be seen whether Washington’s new manager will retain any members of Robinson’s coaching staff. All have contracts that expire on Oct. 31, and none has been told anything about his future.

“I don’t know,” pitching coach Randy St. Claire said. “It’s not the first time. Skip’s been in [the game] 51 years, I’ve been 28. It’s just the game of baseball.”

Said third base coach Tony Beasley: “I guess we just have to wait.”

Also uncertain is Robinson’s relationship with the Nationals organization moving forward. He has had preliminary talks with Bowden and Kasten about assuming a position in the front office, but no decisions have been made yet.

“I have spoken to Frank about that,” Bowden said, “and we have agreed that we are going to discuss this once the season is over.”

Few expect Bowden to offer Robinson any position of actual authority. The two managed to work together for two seasons, but their personalities differ greatly.

That wasn’t the reason for Robinson’s dismissal, though, according to Bowden, who is attempting to rebuild the franchise for the long haul with young, homegrown players. Given his advanced age, Robinson didn’t fit into that plan.

“Basically, we tried to make a decision that we think is in the best long-term interest of the franchise and the direction that we’re going in,” Bowden said.

So Robinson’s farewell tour continued last night as the Nationals faced the Mets in their penultimate game of the season. Just as he did Friday night, the manager split his attention between the actual game and the stands, where fans shouted out thanks and held up signs. Robinson tossed balls into the crowd between innings and joked around with players, and during the bottom of the ninth, fans spontaneously started chanting: “Frank! Frank! Frank!” as the manager doffed his cap.

“It’s nice to know that you’re appreciated,” he said following a 13-0 loss to New York.

It will all come to a close today, when a lifetime of baseball memories culminates during what should be an emotional afternoon.

Robinson will have his wife, Barbara, and daughter, Nichelle, with him for this final chapter. The three then will return home to Los Angeles, where for the first time in 51 years, Frank Robinson will prepare for life without baseball, something he has never had to contemplate before.

“I haven’t had to,” he said. “The longest I’ve gone without this game is probably three or four months. I don’t know. There’s going to come a time I am going to have to do without it anyway, to a certain extent. It will be a gradual thing. I hope it’s an easing process.”

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

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide