Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Expos


Unenviable task for Robinson

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        Baseball managers, historically, have been hired to be fired. Frank Robinson is the first one hired to be downsized.

        Meet the new gerant of the Montreal Expos, but meet him soon or it might be too late. Robinson has been charged with filling out lineup cards for a ballclub destined for dissolution. Like Jonas Grumby of the S.S. Minnow, he's a skipper whose shipwreck already has been scripted.

        If the Expos are not contracted in 2003, they surely will exist by another name in another place. Robinson's job is to give the team some direction and some dignity while Bud Selig and cronies plot its demise. “I go into this situation with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of confidence in the players that they will give me 100 percent on the field,” Robinson said Tuesday afternoon. “We're going to have a lot of fun, enjoy the game, and we're going out there to compete day in day out.”

Robby tough as they come

        Robinson is in no position to promise results in Montreal, but his Expos are sure to be competitive. During the Hall of Fame career he started in Cincinnati, Robinson established himself as one of the finest and fiercest players of his generation.

        If Willie Mays was slightly better, no ballplayer was any tougher than Frank Robinson. He crowded the plate so tightly that it was almost an act of provocation to pitchers. They would knock him down, periodically, but he inevitably would brush himself off and then smash a missile back through the mound.

        In the first game of a 1960 doubleheader at Crosley Field, Robinson slid so pugnaciously into third base that he fomented a fistfight with Milwaukee's Eddie Mathews. Robinson left the game with a swollen eye and a sprained thumb but returned in the nightcap to hit a home run and a double and steal a hit from Mathews with a diving catch.

        Such a man does not easily accept defeat, which is what makes Robinson such an interesting choice for the Expos. Tuesday's ownership shifts made the Montreal franchise the property of major-league baseball, a move designed to facilitate its being folded. Hiring Frank Robinson to run the games is a move designed to demonstrate good faith.

Selig: On their own now

        “There are several things that went into my thinking,” Selig said in a telephone conference call. “I wanted people who not only have great baseball experience (but) were very, very independent. ... From this day forward, they are on their own.”

        Their task is daunting. Three days before spring training, the Expos have neither a coaching staff, a scouting director, nor a farm director. Omar Minaya, formerly of the New York Mets, becomes baseball's first Hispanic general manager. Frank Robinson, 66, becomes baseball's best-known lame duck.

        Selig promised Tuesday that the Expos would stage no fire sales, that their young talent will not be sold off in anticipation of contraction. This won't prevent Reds GM Jim Bowden from trying to filch Vladimir Guerrero and Javier Vazquez, only that his phone calls probably will be futile.

        “I'll be able to manage the ballclub just like any other manager managing a ballclub,” Robinson said. “If that wasn't the case, I wouldn't have taken the job.”

        Robinson's advantage is that he need not worry about next year. There is no next year for the Expos.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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