Thursday, September 28, 2006

I'd Like To Stay And Taste My First Champagne

You knew this would get me out of my 'retirement', didn't you? Barry had it first, and now the house organ reports it: Frank Robinson is done at the end of the year. He's had that dead-man-walking look for about 3 months. You knew it. I knew it. He knew it. Now, everyone knows it.

I'm torn.

On one hand, I can't stand the guy. He's a crapbag manager. Poor strategy. Poor motivation. His win-at-all-costs managing hurts the team just as much as it helps.

But I have a helluva lot of respect for the guy. He's had an amazing career, and really is one of the all-time greats. He won the triple crown. He hit 586 homers back when hitting even 500 actually meant something. He led two different franchises to the World Series, and has two shiny rings to show for it. He's a no-doubt, inner-circle Hall-of-Famer who had the misfortune of playing in a racist cowtown and a small east-coast armpit city, while being overshadowed by two players who were better than him (Hank Aaron and Willie Mays) -- which is not a slight in any possible way. If he played today, he'd be the best player in baseball. Hell, if he played in any era, he'd be the best player (even as there were years: 1961, 1966, 1962, etc) when he WAS the best.

Throw in that he was the first African-American manager in the big leagues, when he managed the Cleveland Indians, and there isn't much that he hasn't done. I think I've told this anecdote before, but it's one I love, and it says a lot about Frank. He was asked who the best player he ever managed was. His answer wasn't Vlad Guerrero or Joe Morgan, but himself. And he's right.

But his greatness as a baseball player and as a baseball man is separate from his role as a National. And his role as a manager is what makes me feel conflicted. And it really depends on how you look at it, from the big picture or from the small.

When you look at the big picture, it certainly seems like he's been pretty effective. He's taken a left-for-dead franchise, a nearly impossible job, and had them competitive more often than not. In back-to-back years, he brought the contraction-fated Expos to 83 wins, a remarkable achievement considering some of the stiffs MLB's ownership foisted upon him. And he deserves major kudos for the magical first half of last season. A 100-win pace!? Do you remember how wonderful it felt when they were running off that long winning streak in June, propelling them to a big lead in the division? If only we had played .500 baseball; it seemed that easy.

Yet, I look at the smaller picture, and I see last year's pointless obsession with the bunt. I see the way he chews through relievers. I see the way he rips and criticizes his players over and over to the press. I see the way he sends dysfunctional lineups out, when he's not riding his players hard day after day with little rest.

Sure, he's won more than we expected, but is it possible that his strategy and motivation tactics are preventing the team from winning a few more?

As far as today's news, it's a bit distressing that he had to learn about it by reading it in the newspaper, but in the bigger picture, it's a good thing. This lets him and, more importantly, the public know what's going on. With just a few games left, this weekend can and will turn into a celebration of his amazing career, and we'll have the opportunity to give him the sendoff he truly deserves.

Whatever his fault, Frank Robinson is a great baseball man, and he deserves our respsect and applause. I'll be there Sunday, clapping and cheering for him. And I have a feeling that I won't be the only one.

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