A June 16 article incorrectly said that Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson was less than two months from his 70th birthday. Robinson's birthday is Aug. 31.
A Fire in His Eyes, and His Team
Thursday, June 16, 2005
ANAHEIM, Calif., June 15 -- The man who stood on the first base line Tuesday night at Angel Stadium wore wraparound sunglasses to protect his right eye, on which surgery was performed just a day earlier. He has a surgically replaced hip, slowing his gait to a hobble. He had prostate cancer, overcame it, and went back to work. Yet Frank Robinson, less than two months shy of his 70th birthday, stared and glared, ready for a fight.
Tuesday night, with the Nationals trailing the Anaheim Angels by two runs, came just the latest example that Robinson is no less passionate now than he was in his twenties, when he gained a reputation as one of the game's most intense players.
That intensity is evident nearly a half-century after he began his Hall of Fame career, and it seems to draw unexpected and inspiring performances from the Nationals, who Robinson has guided into first place in the National League East Division by deftly balancing competitiveness with camaraderie.
Robinson came out of the dugout in the top of the seventh inning and accused Angels relief pitcher Brendan Donnelly of having pine tar on his glove. The sticky black goop, which could help a pitcher gain a better grip on the ball and slightly alter its flight, is illegal, as is any "foreign substance" that could be applied to a baseball. Robinson said he and his coaching staff had seen videotape that indicated Donnelly might be cheating.
The umpiring crew checked Donnelly's glove, and there it was: pine tar. Then, the real controversy began. Donnelly was immediately ejected. Robinson's counterpart, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia, called for another pitcher and then walked straight to Robinson, who stood still, staring through those shades. Scioscia's comments were brief, but pointed. He said he would have any Nationals pitcher "undressed" when he came into the game, searched anywhere for a foreign substance, in retaliation.
"Let me tell you this," Robinson said Wednesday afternoon. "If people let me intimidate them, then I'll intimidate them. But I wasn't going to let him intimidate me. I am the intimidator."
So on the field, Robinson stepped forward, lunging toward Scioscia, a former catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers who is 23 years his junior.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing!" said Barbara Robinson, who sat directly behind the Nationals dugout, all of 100 feet from her husband of 44 years. "I'm looking at this, looking at the game, and we're in first place, and all this stuff is going on, and I just had a hard time comprehending it."
She paused, and considered another question. "I know my husband," she said. The surprise didn't hold up to further consideration.
"You know, age is just a number," Barbara Robinson said. "He enjoys this game, and he loves this game, like he did when he was younger. I don't think of him as 69, 70. He is passionate about this. He believes in rules, and he respects the game. He reveres this game."
Scioscia said Wednesday that he wasn't trying to intimidate Robinson, that he was merely letting the Nationals -- and the umpires -- know that when a Nationals pitcher entered the game, Scioscia was going to ask the umpires to check his glove for a foreign substance as well, which he did when the Nationals called upon reliever Gary Majewski.
"Nobody in this game is going to be intimidated -- certainly not Frank Robinson," Scioscia said. "I'm not going to be intimidated. . . . My motive wasn't to intimidate."