Frank Robinson Deserved Better Than He Got From the Nationals

By Mike Wise
Sunday, July 12, 2009

This is all you need to know about Frank Robinson. Sometimes he telephones Manny Acta, the guy who took his job and who faces a similar fate, "just to try to cheer him up, speak a positive word to him."

"I appreciate the call, Skip," Acta will say to Robinson.

Before baseball returned to the District, Robinson was tired of seeing an intuitive young manager, who happened to be of Latin descent, stuck in the minors forever. So he brought Manny to Montreal. This was long before things became mucked up -- before Jim Bowden, Stan Kasten or any of the titans of commerce who own the woebegone Washington Nationals came along.

As the losses pile up like hotcakes at a Rotary Club breakfast, as one of the worst major league teams in a half-century plods along, Acta's head is squarely on the chopping block, ready to be sacrificed for the larger, systemic issues plaguing the Nationals.

"It's never the manager's fault," Robinson said during a recent 30-minute interview in Los Angeles. "It's his responsibility to get players to play better than they're probably capable of playing. But that's not always going to happen."

Like Robinson before him, Acta started quickly and could do no wrong that first season. And like Robinson, Acta will eventually pay for all the spendthrift and impetuous ways from above.

"They keep making the same mistakes really," Robinson said of baseball in general. "I'm not saying it's not the manager at any time, but it's usually the personnel not meshing or doing the job, needing a tweaking here and there. Or most of the time you need patience with a franchise like the Nationals."

It has been almost three years since Bowden, the team's former general manager; Kasten, the team president; and by association the Lerner family uncomfortably strung Robinson along until the very end of his second season in Washington. That's how Frank Robinson said it went down.

As a special assistant to Commissioner Bud Selig, living in Los Angeles but often working out of a satellite office in Arizona, Robinson has obviously moved on. But his version of events in the last months of his tenure -- especially the lack of straightforwardness afforded one of the game's legends -- is enough to make one wince.

Robinson said he first asked Bowden in July 2006 if the organization wanted him to return. Bowden, he said, asked what he was looking for in the way of salary. "I ask for a million a year and I said I could go for two or three more years," Robinson said he told him.

"Well, you better ask for a little bit more," Bowden said, according to Robinson. "Because you know the way they are; they'll cut you down."

Bowden said he would get back to Robinson but kept putting him off, Robinson said. "Finally, I said point blank, 'Jim, if you're back as general manager, am I your manager next year?' He said, 'Absolutely.' That's good enough for me. I hold people to their word."

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