By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 29, 2006
Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson met separately with team president Stan Kasten and General Manager Jim Bowden yesterday, and he apparently was told he would not be asked to return to his position next season. The events of the day left the Hall of Famer teary-eyed during an afternoon meeting with reporters in which he stopped just short of saying he had been let go.
Though Robinson described himself as "at ease" following the meetings and tried to crack jokes, he was visibly down. Told that he seemed shaken, he said: "Well, it's time to go. Just got a bad call from the umpires. They didn't want to reverse it."
Robinson quickly added that he was joking, but the tone of his regularly scheduled session with the media was decidedly somber. In a separate interview later in the afternoon, he discussed what types of jobs he would accept in the future with the Nationals, the sweep of his 51 seasons in the majors, his accomplishments and his attitudes -- obviously in a reflective and pensive mood -- but declined to reveal the precise result of the meetings.
"We agreed to make an announcement later on," Robinson said. Asked when, he said, "Some time in the very near future."
Sources with knowledge of the situation said Wednesday that the Nationals had decided not to ask Robinson back and were preparing to tell him, with only the timing to be determined. Neither Kasten nor Bowden would comment on their meetings with Robinson yesterday, and Robinson declined to address specifics other than to say he met with Kasten for between 20 and 25 minutes, and with Bowden for perhaps 15 or 20.
Asked directly if he was told he wouldn't be back, Robinson repeated the question. "Did they tell me?" he said. "Something will be announced at a later date."
Robinson, 71, has been known to confront issues head-on throughout his half-century in the game, 16 seasons of which he has spent as a major league manager. He rarely skirts questions even on difficult or sensitive subjects, including evaluating his players' strengths and weaknesses, the performance of umpires or the strategies employed by other teams.
Yesterday, though, he appeared to be wrestling with the end of his on-field career and the wishes of his bosses to announce the move in a particular setting -- perhaps, as one club employee suggested, with a ceremony during one of the final games of the season, which ends Sunday against the New York Mets at RFK Stadium. Robinson said in recent weeks that if he were no longer going to manage, he would like to know before the end of the season so he could be treated to a proper send-off, one that reflects his decorated career.
He said he did not know whether he would be in baseball next season. "That's a question I can't answer at this time," he said. "Who knows? My contract is up October 31."
In the hours leading up to last night's scheduled game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Robinson had not revealed the outcome of his discussions with Kasten and Bowden with members of his coaching staff, his players or even close friends.
His wife, Barbara, was traveling to Washington from the couple's home in Los Angeles, and said shortly after she arrived at 10 p.m. that she had not spoken with her husband since his meetings, but she said she was not surprised that he wouldn't be asked back.
"But even with that, it was an honor for him to be here, to represent Washington," Barbara Robinson said by phone. "It was nothing but a privilege. He has enjoyed every minute of it. It's been a great ride."
Barbara Robinson said her husband might have difficulty adjusting to not going to the ballpark every day. "I'm not going to lie: It's not going to be easy," she said. "All the players he's been with and the teams he's had, it's like your baby, your child."
Though players have been aware that a change could be made for much of the latter part of the season, some were reluctant to discuss their feelings until a formal announcement has been made.
From time to time, Robinson's old-school ways have grated on his players. Yesterday, however, players spoke respectfully of their manager's methods and accomplishments.
"He gives you respect, and obviously, you give him respect right back," said catcher Brian Schneider, whose first full major league season was in 2002, which was also Robinson's first year as the manager of the Montreal Expos, the Nationals' predecessors. "There's so many different ways that he's helped me develop my game, and I know he's helped and touched a lot of guys in this clubhouse."
Privately, the Nationals are hopeful they can maintain a relationship with Robinson, who recently has said that he would consider a meaningful position in the organization.
"It's up to the organization," Robinson said. "If they feel like that they want me to be a part of the organization beyond, say, managing the ballclub or whatever, it's up to them."
Though Bowden hasn't always agreed with his on-field decision making, the general manager has respect for Robinson's wealth of baseball knowledge, honed over a playing career that made him the only player to win the most valuable player award in both the National and American leagues.
Quietly, though, Robinson prepared for a post-playing career by going to Mexico in the offseasons to manage in winter ball. In 1975, he was hired as manager of the Cleveland Indians, becoming the first black manager in the history of the game.
In 2002, 11 years after his previous managing stint with the Baltimore Orioles, Robinson was hired by Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig to manage the Expos, who had just been purchased by Major League Baseball. He expected it to be a one-year assignment because the Expos were preparing to be eliminated from the league.
That plan -- referred to at the time as "contraction" -- never came to fruition, and Robinson surprised himself, drawing energy from the underdog Expos, who finished with winning records in 2002 and '03. Last season, he was the manager when baseball returned to Washington after a 34-year absence, an experience he said yesterday was among the most cherished of his career.
"It was a very unique and special situation here," he said.
So, apparently, he will go out in a rather unique way -- managing the final games of the season without having announced his retirement, but knowing his career is over anyway. He was asked if the discussions with Kasten and Bowden were difficult.
"Not as hard as hitting the slider," he said. "Not as hard as managing a baseball team. Different scenarios."
Before last night, he had managed or played in 4,996 major league games, including the postseason. Yet he knew the final few would be unlike any he had known.
"Different," he said. "Strange."