FRANK ROBINSON turns 70 today, still angry after all these years.
The most important player in Orioles history - the one without whom there might never have been a championship tradition here - was forever angry about opponents who tried to shake his hand; about thick-headed bigots in and around the game; about the fact that he never seemed to get his due as one of the greatest players ever.
He was just what the Orioles needed in 1966, when he joined them at age 30 and turned a perennial runner-up into a World Series winner. He was a Triple Crown winner and a furious life force, so competitive he refused even to recognize friends wearing opposing jerseys.
Now, amazingly, at 70, he is again just what the Orioles need as they fade into the depressing oblivion of an eighth straight losing season. He has fight and fire in his old bones, a prickly determination to win, a sense of humor. He scraps and barks and completely loses it every once in a while, just to keep everyone on his toes.
He has old-school baseball values, a better understanding of modern players than he did, and a nice touch with a pitching staff. He might be the National League Manager of the Year, and his contract is up.
But before you close your eyes and start dreaming of him lighting a fire under the lackluster Orioles, don't worry, he isn't coming back. That's pure fantasy, not even a rumor to circulate, just a vision to entertain.
Robinson might be a Baltimorean in the baseball Hall of Fame, but he is through with the Orioles.
Understand, they weren't wrong to fire him as manager in 1991; he wasn't connecting with a losing team, which Johnny Oates took over and turned around. Robinson then accepted an assignment as an assistant to then-general manager Roland Hemond because he still wanted to blaze trails and become an African-American GM.
But he was never given substantial duties, and then he was fired shortly after Pat Gillick replaced Hemond after the 1995 season. He was still seething when I interviewed him about it five years later.
His firing ended his chance of becoming a GM and sent him on an odyssey through baseball's coat-and-tie world. He ran the Arizona Fall League. He meted out startlingly harsh punishments for on-field incidents. Still angry, always old school.
But the odyssey eventually took him back where he belonged - in uniform, where anyone that competitive should be. He has managed the Expos/Nationals since 2002, and while his team might not make the playoffs this year after a surprising run, he is still looking at a third winning season in four years. That's pretty good for a low-budget team without ownership, and this year, almost no hitting.
The Nationals are playing a doubleheader in Atlanta today, and here's hoping Robinson gets the only present he would want on such a day - a pair of wins, which is just about all he ever wants. He deserves it after the season he has had. In 2005, approaching 70, he has been at his angry best.
For those scoring at home, he has accused an opposing manger (the Angels' Mike Scioscia) of cheating, traded a winning pitcher (Tomo Ohka) who he believed had disrespected him on the mound; and called for Rafael Palmeiro's career records to be wiped out because of the positive test for steroids.
It's been a beautiful thing to watch from this distance, in the shadow of the bland Orioles, who never seem to take a stand on anything.
There was never any doubt he was going to explode about Palmeiro. Robinson hit 586 homers without performance-enhancing drugs and is still not regarded by many observers as the equal of all-time greats such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. He barely kept his mouth shut when the news of Palmeiro's failed test broke, sputtering a no-comment that made it clear he was indignant about all the heroes of the juiced era.
Just wait. He'll sound off even more vehemently one of these days.
He has standards, heart and passion, a triple play that would benefit any team. especially one drifting as aimlessly as the Orioles. It's old news that he has to celebrate his big day in another uniform, but it's still a shame.
Happy birthday, Frank. Wish you were here.
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