JUPITER, Fla. - Hall of Famer Frank Robinson looks so trim in his new Montreal Expos uniform that it's difficult to believe he is 66 years old or that he has spent nearly a half-century in professional baseball.
Indeed, he looks so good - so energized to be back on the field as a
major-league manager- that you wouldn't know unless you asked him whether he
feels a little uncomfortable in Expos attire.
"I'm wearing an Expos uniform," Robinson said yesterday, "but I consider
myself a Baltimore Oriole. I'm going to do everything I can to help the Expos
win this year, but I'll always be an Oriole."
No one should be particularly surprised by this. Robinson reached the
pinnacle of his major-league playing career in Baltimore, where he won the
1966 American League MVP award and a world title immediately after he was
acquired from the Cincinnati Reds. He also spent his most enjoyable season as
a manager with the Orioles, whose amazing "Why Not?" performance in 1989
remains one of the most remarkable examples of over- achievement in baseball
But Robinson's emotional attachment to the franchise was sorely tested by
the disappointments that followed his dismissal as manager. He moved into the
front office - hoping eventually to become general manager - only to get lost
in a drawn-out management shuffle when former owner Eli Jacobs was forced into
bankruptcy and the team was bought at auction by Peter Angelos.
"There were no promises made, but certain things were said," Robinson said.
"I was put in position for things to happen to me and for me, but they didn't
happen. Just the way I was treated by the organization, it hurt. It really
"I gave them a lot of good years. I gave them everything I had. I just
didn't think I was treated fairly at the end."
He spent nearly five years as an assistant to former club president Larry
Lucchino and general manager Roland Hemond, but was fired in December 1995,
soon after Pat Gillick replaced Hemond as GM.
Robinson already occupies an important place in baseball history. He was
the game's first African-American manager in each league - breaking the
managerial color barrier with the Cleveland Indians in 1975 and becoming the
National League's first black manager when he took over the San Francisco
Giants in 1981.
Now, he's focused on something even bigger - perhaps the chance to parlay
his new role in Montreal into a high-ranking management position with the team
if it moves to the Washington area - but he badly wanted to make his
management mark in Baltimore.
"I spent five years as assistant general manager," he said. "I was
self-taught. I just didn't get the help. I didn't get the cooperation I felt I
would get to further myself and put myself into position to have the knowledge
and experience to take the next step - to become a general manager."
Some of the residual bitterness is directed at Angelos, though he did not
own the team when Robinson returned to the front office after his three-plus
years as Orioles manager. "He promised some things at the end," Robinson said,
"but never had the courtesy to talk to me and just say, `Hey, it just didn't
work out.' "
Angelos could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Robinson moved into an executive role in the commissioner's office,
coordinating the effort to reduce the time of games and later becoming the
sport's czar of discipline. Perhaps that would have been the final plateau of
his great baseball career if not for the fallout from commissioner Bud Selig's
announcement in November that Major League Baseball intended to disband two
The strange chain of events that followed left the Expos without an owner
or a front office staff. Selig asked Robinson to manage the club for the 2002
season. And that's how he came to be wearing an Expos uniform and overseeing
the team's first full-squad workout yesterday at the Roger Dean Stadium
complex that the Expos share with the St. Louis Cardinals.
There had been some speculation he would be the general manager - a job
that went to former New York Mets assistant GM Omar Minaya - but Robinson said
he was more interested in returning to the dugout.
"I didn't want anybody else managing this ballclub," he said.
For one year, history can wait, but Robinson hasn't given up hope of
knocking down a few more barriers before he retires from baseball. The
"burning desire" to be a general manager has passed, but it has been replaced
by the motivation to open another door for minority executives.
"My focus now is to be part of an ownership group and maybe be the
president of a club," he said.
It isn't difficult to put two and two together and come up with the
Washington/Northern Virginia situation. The Expos don't figure to spend more
than one more season in Montreal, and there is plenty of room to wonder if
baseball really will go through with its plan to disband the franchise. If
not, the team will need someplace to go, and the Washington area has been
designated by Selig as the prime candidate for relocation.
Robinson's ties to the region would be an asset to whatever ownership group
succeeds in acquiring the club, though he said it wasn't his original
intention to put his foot in the door. "That's not the reason I'm here, but
that's a possibility," Robinson said.
Becoming the first African-American team president in baseball wouldn't be
a bad way to top off a great major-league career, something Robinson is
willing to concede but insists on putting in proper perspective.
"It doesn't matter if I'm the first, second or third," he said. "It would
be nice if I was the first. It's important for minorities to move into those
positions, but my No. 1 desire is not to be a pioneer. My No. 1 priority is to
be a baseball man. I want to contribute to this game.
"I'm a baseball man. It's in the blood."
Robinson is Expo only in uniform
Heart still with O's, manager for '02 eyes owner, president role
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