Old-School Manager Stays Out Of Order
Tuesday, July 26, 2005
The manager, now late in his seventh decade of life, reclines in his darkened office not long before game time. A television flickers in the corner. There is a box of baseballs to be signed sitting on the desk. But it is the accessory, now commonplace in virtually every manager's arsenal, that Frank Robinson wants you to see is absent from his world.
"Look around," he says, leaning forward and waving his hands in the air. "Do you see a computer in here?"
Then he slumps back in his seat.
"I am computer illiterate," Robinson proclaims and beams with nothing so much as pride.
Heading into one of his team's biggest series of the year in Atlanta, the manager of the Nationals is still one of the last of the old baseball cowboys. A man who never needed a printout to see his second baseman couldn't hit left-handers or a radar gun to know a pitcher is throwing 95 mph. A man who doesn't stuff a stopwatch into the back pockets of his double-knit uniform pants and never manages with piles of statistics spilling across his desk.
When it comes to numbers, Robinson would rather just not know.
Which may, in part, be the reason that halfway through last season he handed one of the most cherished of all managerial duties -- the writing of the lineup -- to his bench coach, a relative baseball unknown who had been fired only months before in Arizona. Because as much as Robinson hates the numbers, Eddie Rodriguez adores them.
The numbers dance for Rodriguez. He sees them when he drives home from the ballpark. He twists them around in his sleep, looking for an elusive, never-discovered combination. Then, after a fitful rest, he rises with the morning sun, pours a cup of coffee, tears open the paper and begins the daylong process of trying to make the Nationals' offense come to life.
There is honesty in the numbers, and Rodriguez plays them well.
"What you try to do is position yourself where you have your best hitters available for what you are trying to do," he says.
And in this tumultuous first baseball season in Washington, where Robinson has had to squeeze every bit of productivity from a flawed roster further weakened by a run of injuries, the arrangement has nonetheless gotten the Nationals in first place -- no matter how precariously. Washington and Atlanta are tied for first in the National League East heading into tonight's game.
"I'm a delegator," Robinson says. "I like to let my coaches have authority."