SO MUCH FOR the myth of the mellow Frank Robinson. So much for thekinder, gentler Washington Nationals manager who used to have every kind ofsharp edge as a player -- and a few in his early incarnations as a manager --but was widely believed to have gotten in touch with his softer side.
He even took up golf a couple of years ago.
Now, just when we've all gotten comfortable with the Hall of Fame playerwho went from firebrand to father figure (and maybe even grandfather figure)during his three-decade managerial career, the old Frank has resurfaced andserved notice that if there's any truth to the notion that nice guys finishlast, he's not taking any chances.
He got into a brief verbal altercation with a Los Angeles Times columnistbefore the opener of a three-game road series against the Los Angeles Angelson Monday and nearly touched off a bench-clearing brawl Tuesday night when anasty little bit of gamesmanship led to the ejection of Angels relieverBrendan Donnelly.
Robinson asked the umpires to check Donnelly's glove for sandpaper in theseventh inning of a tight game. No abrasive was found, but Donnelly had a gobof pine tar instead -- which also is grounds for ejection, maybe even asuspension -- and the Angels were suddenly minus one of their top reliefpitchers.
Of course, that didn't sit well with Angels manager Mike Scioscia, anotherwarm and fuzzy guy with a surprisingly hard shell. He went out and told BadFrank what he thought of his little stunt, and Bad Frank followed him towardthe Angels' dugout to continue the conversation, which Scioscia later woulddescribe thusly:
"We weren't making a lunch date."
That's a relief, because the last thing baseball needs is a food fightbetween a 69-year-old former MLB director of discipline and a much younger guywho was one of the toughest catchers ever to play the game. The verbalaltercation was enough to bring both teams out on the field for a littlepushing and shoving, but -- like the Tyson-McBride fight at MCI Center onSaturday night -- there was little real violence.
The only Nationals player who really wanted to fight was volatileoutfielder Jose Guillen, who had held an impromptu news conference Monday totell everyone in Southern California that he no longer has a problem with theAngels or Scioscia or the fact that he was bounced off the Angels' roster latelast year for disciplinary reasons.
Guillen had to be restrained by several players and order was restored, butthat wasn't the end of it. He would come back to hit a big home run and jogslowly around the bases to rub Scioscia's nose in it.
After the game, Guillen said he lost his temper because Scioscia did notshow Robinson proper respect, which is semi-ironic because the wholeGuillen/Scioscia flap came to a head last year because of Guillen'sdisrespectful on-field histrionics.
Baseball players, by the way, do not have to be logical or consistent. It'sone of the unwritten rules.
Scioscia obviously felt that Robinson went over the line, because it isfairly common practice for pitchers to sneak a little pine tar out to themound to make it easier to grip the ball. There also was speculation thatGuillen tipped off Robinson to the fact that one of his former teammates usedpine tar, though no one would own up to that. If you're keeping score at home,there wasn't this much intrigue in North by Northwest.
Personally, I've got no problem with gamesmanship, because I'm in favor ofanything that makes the game more interesting. Robinson showed, if nothingelse, that he isn't some caretaker manager who leaves the details to thecoaching staff and snoozes through games.
Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli may even have engaged in a little gamesmanshiphimself Tuesday night at Camden Yards when he went out to argue that HoustonAstros manager Phil Garner should be charged with a trip to the mound aftercoming out to talk to the injured Lance Berkman.
Mazzilli was technically correct, because Berkman left Garner and stoppedat the mound to talk to starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, but there was littlelikelihood that Garner would be making two more trips to the mound in thesixth inning. The argument, however, seemed to ice Pettitte, whose strongperformance came unraveled soon after the delay.
That should mollify all the fans who think Mazzilli is too passive in thedugout ... at least for a day or two. And no one can doubt that Robinson stillhas some fire in his belly with the Nationals on a roll and his latest moodswing plastered all over ESPN.
The guy didn't hit 586 home runs and make history as the first blackmanager in both the American and National leagues by being a shrinking violet,but he had us fooled for a while.