Nats Prepare to Part Ways With Robinson

Frank Robinson
Frank Robinson's one-year, $650,000 contract is up after this season. The 71 year old has been the team's manager for five seasons. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Washington Nationals are preparing to tell Frank Robinson that he will not be asked back as manager next season, sources said yesterday.

Team President Stan Kasten declined to comment on the decision last night. But partners in the team's ownership group -- headed by Theodore Lerner -- met yesterday with Kasten and General Manager Jim Bowden, and there is no more significant or pressing on-field issue for the franchise than Robinson's future. His one-year, $650,000 contract is up after this season.

A discussion between the team's top officials and Robinson could happen as soon as today, but it almost certainly will take place by Monday, the day after the 71-year-old manager's fifth season at the helm of the franchise concludes. It is unclear whether he will be offered another position within the organization.

"I'm not going to dignify any reports out there," Robinson said after last night's 14-inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, which ended hours after the report of the club's decision appeared on washingtonpost.com.

Robinson, a Hall of Famer who hit 586 home runs as a player and is completing his 16th season as a manager, said before last night's game against the Philadelphia Phillies that he had not met with either Kasten or Bowden about his future, though he has wanted a meeting for several weeks. Bowden has not been in contact with Robinson since the team returned from a weekend series in New York against the Mets.

That increasing lack of communication, in part, has led to a growing feeling among members of the team, coaching staff, front office and, to a degree, even Robinson himself that a decision has been made. But officials are wrestling with how to best tell Robinson, a proud man with a deep history in the game who has, in many ways, served as the face of the Nationals franchise since it arrived here from Montreal before the 2005 season.

Robinson's impending dismissal is a delicate matter. The Nationals' franchise changed ownership this season -- from Major League Baseball, the club's steward since 2002, to the Lerner family -- and Robinson had been hired by Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig himself. Kasten has begun an overhaul of the team's front office and player development department, and is preaching patience to fans of a club that has secured its third straight last-place finish.

"We are not where we need to be," Kasten said last night. "But we do have a plan, and I'm really excited about that plan."

Asked how important the manager and the coaching staff are to the rebuilding process, Kasten said: "Of course it's important. No question about it." He would not elaborate.

In recent weeks, Robinson has been candid about his desire to know about his future before the season ends. "If it's time to go, at least I want to be able to say goodbye," he said in an interview last week.

If club officials are to follow Robinson's wish, it likely will have to happen by tomorrow. The Nationals are preparing for their final series of the year against the New York Mets, which they have dubbed "Fan Appreciation Weekend." In theory, Robinson -- who has a career record of 1,064-1,173-- could be recognized during that series. In addition, the Lerners are devout Jews, and they are unlikely to make a major announcement during the upcoming holiday weekend.

One source cautioned that a decision on the precise timing of telling Robinson hadn't been made. Another source, however, said Robinson had been assured in a brief meeting earlier this summer that he would not be forced to travel back to his offseason home of Los Angeles without knowing his fate.


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