Nationals Can't Win One for the Skipper

Nationals starter Beltran Perez reaches for the rosin bag as the Mets' Julio Franco circles the bases after hitting a three-run homer in the first inning.
Nationals starter Beltran Perez reaches for the rosin bag as the Mets' Julio Franco circles the bases after hitting a three-run homer in the first inning. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 1, 2006

The news to be delivered was hardly stunning, for Frank Robinson's fate as manager of the Washington Nationals had been sealed earlier in the week, news for public consumption. Yet when the 71-year-old Hall of Famer stepped into the home clubhouse at RFK Stadium yesterday afternoon, there was a finality to it all.

The Nationals faced Robinson, as he said, with "blank stares." What to say to a proud man who is on his way out, against his will?

"He had the floor," catcher Brian Schneider said, "and no one's going to take anything away from Frank out there."

The day of the 161st game of Robinson's final season as a manager didn't go exactly as he might have envisioned, first with the official announcement that he wouldn't return as to his current position, then with a 13-0 drubbing at the hands of the New York Mets.

But there was enough adoration from the announced crowd of 30,449 at RFK Stadium that Robinson -- before, during and after the game -- could smile, and it seemed like he meant it. He was, for the second straight night, serenaded with chants, greeted by signs. And when the final out was recorded, he took the liberty of stepping from the top step of the dugout and onto the warning track, turning to the crowd and doffing his cap.

"You do try to take some of it in, and store it, and enjoy it," Robinson said. "It is an enjoyable moment overall, the reaction of the fans -- and people's reaction in general."

Today, Robinson will complete his 16th season as a manager, and his 51st season in the major leagues, when the Nationals conclude their second season in Washington. The game will be preceded by a video tribute to Robinson, the icon who was deemed by General Manager Jim Bowden and team president Stan Kasten as unfit to lead the Nationals into the future. Thus, in the minutes before the first pitch, Robinson will be introduced, be handed the microphone and be asked to address the crowd in his last day in a uniform.

"It's touching," Robinson said. "It's very much appreciated."

The private meeting with his players, though, occurred yesterday, and as much as Robinson relishes his place in the game and how the public responds to him, the moment in the Nationals' clubhouse might have been more important. Though the players were aware that Robinson's tenure was coming to a close, he didn't address them before yesterday. He told them he appreciated their effort, that he wanted them to work hard in the offseason and that they should play hard for their next manager. "When he said 'next manager,' it kind of hits you," said Schneider, who has been with the franchise during Robinson's entire tenure. "It didn't feel real good, because I've been with him the last five years, and when I think of my manager, I think of Frank Robinson as my manager. It kind of hits you the hardest right there."

Though no players spoke individually at the meeting, they said they could sense Robinson's disappointment over how his career ended.

"It's pretty tough being in the game so long and doing what he's done," rookie third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "Getting out is the hardest part."

Robinson had spoken publicly over the second half of the season of his desire to remain in his current position not only next season, but beyond. That emotion, the players said, came through in his talk.

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