SO MUCH FOR the myth of the mellow Frank Robinson. So much for the kinder, gentler Washington Nationals manager who used to have every kind of sharp 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 player who went from firebrand to father figure (and maybe even grandfather figure) during his three-decade managerial career, the old Frank has resurfaced and served notice that if there's any truth to the notion that nice guys finish last, he's not taking any chances.
He got into a brief verbal altercation with a Los Angeles Times columnist before the opener of a three-game road series against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday and nearly touched off a bench-clearing brawl Tuesday night when a nasty little bit of gamesmanship led to the ejection of Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly.
Robinson asked the umpires to check Donnelly's glove for sandpaper in the seventh inning of a tight game. No abrasive was found, but Donnelly had a gob of pine tar instead -- which also is grounds for ejection, maybe even a suspension -- and the Angels were suddenly minus one of their top relief pitchers.
Of course, that didn't sit well with Angels manager Mike Scioscia, another warm and fuzzy guy with a surprisingly hard shell. He went out and told Bad Frank what he thought of his little stunt, and Bad Frank followed him toward the Angels' dugout to continue the conversation, which Scioscia later would describe thusly:
"We weren't making a lunch date."
That's a relief, because the last thing baseball needs is a food fight between a 69-year-old former MLB director of discipline and a much younger guy who was one of the toughest catchers ever to play the game. The verbal altercation was enough to bring both teams out on the field for a little pushing and shoving, but -- like the Tyson-McBride fight at MCI Center on Saturday night -- there was little real violence.
The only Nationals player who really wanted to fight was volatile outfielder Jose Guillen, who had held an impromptu news conference Monday to tell everyone in Southern California that he no longer has a problem with the Angels or Scioscia or the fact that he was bounced off the Angels' roster late last year for disciplinary reasons.
Guillen had to be restrained by several players and order was restored, but that wasn't the end of it. He would come back to hit a big home run and jog slowly around the bases to rub Scioscia's nose in it.
After the game, Guillen said he lost his temper because Scioscia did not show Robinson proper respect, which is semi-ironic because the whole Guillen/Scioscia flap came to a head last year because of Guillen's disrespectful on-field histrionics.
Baseball players, by the way, do not have to be logical or consistent. It's one of the unwritten rules.
Scioscia obviously felt that Robinson went over the line, because it is fairly common practice for pitchers to sneak a little pine tar out to the mound to make it easier to grip the ball. There also was speculation that Guillen tipped off Robinson to the fact that one of his former teammates used pine 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 of anything that makes the game more interesting. Robinson showed, if nothing else, that he isn't some caretaker manager who leaves the details to the coaching staff and snoozes through games.
Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli may even have engaged in a little gamesmanship himself Tuesday night at Camden Yards when he went out to argue that Houston Astros manager Phil Garner should be charged with a trip to the mound after coming out to talk to the injured Lance Berkman.
Mazzilli was technically correct, because Berkman left Garner and stopped at the mound to talk to starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, but there was little likelihood that Garner would be making two more trips to the mound in the sixth inning. The argument, however, seemed to ice Pettitte, whose strong performance came unraveled soon after the delay.
That should mollify all the fans who think Mazzilli is too passive in the dugout ... at least for a day or two. And no one can doubt that Robinson still has some fire in his belly with the Nationals on a roll and his latest mood swing plastered all over ESPN.
The guy didn't hit 586 home runs and make history as the first black manager in both the American and National leagues by being a shrinking violet, but he had us fooled for a while.
Contact Peter Schmuck at email@example.com