The Streak remembered: Frank Robinson
Game 3, June 4
Nationals 7, Marlins 3
W: Kim (1-0)
L: Leiter (2-6)
The box score would indicate this was as mundane a win as the Nationals could have. Nick Johnson went 2 for 3 and drove in two, including the go-ahead run. Vinny Castilla added three RBI. A reliever named Sun-Woo Kim took over for starter Tomo Ohka -- not a Frank Robinson favorite, someone who would be traded by the end of the streak -- in the fourth, and got the victory. The Nats took the lead in the fifth and added insurance runs in the seventh and eighth. Ho-hum. But anyone who was there remembers Marlon Byrd, an outfielder the organization acquired the previous month, tearing in from left field toward umpire Bill Miller. Byrd was upset about being called out on a check swing to end the previous inning. Another umpire, Joe Brinkman, tried to intervene. Brinkman ended up on the ground. Byrd declined to discuss it afterward. "I think the most important thing is us winning a ballgame," Robinson said.
At end of the day: 30-26, second place in NL East, 1/2 game behind
Frank Robinson didn't know it, but 2005 would be his second-to-last year as a manager, and it's one that stands out now. There was 1989 with the Orioles, he said, and the San Francisco team that contended in 1982, and his 1975 Cleveland team, when he got the opportunity to manage.
"That year in Washington was special," Robinson said. "You always remember the first half very fondly, and the possibilities that are presented. But you know when you have the good first half, and you don't follow it up, it always leaves a bitter pill. It's just the opposite when you have a poor first half and wind up like gangbusters. People have good memories then.
"But that was very hard. I was very, very disappointed for the fans. I was very, very disappointed for the players. They were trying. But things didn't work out right. It was just a very bitter pill to swallow at the end of the year."
Robinson's memories of that season are still fresh, and when I talked to him by phone last week, our conversation touched on almost every aspect of it.
* Jose Guillen: "I said a very few, short things to him in spring training. 'Hey, you're here now. What you did in the past, it doesn't come here. You have a clean slate here.' And that was it. The main thing is, Jose liked to talk, and I was a listener. But if I felt like he was off-base about something, I would tell him. He'd come into the office during the day and talk, maybe half an hour, 45 minutes. And I'd sit there, and I'd listen."
* Chad Cordero: "Really, he was automatic. He didn't make it pretty all the time. I think that's a lot to do with his delivery. I don't think the hitters picked up the ball very well against him. I think his ball, at the end of the flight, picked up a little speed. I've hit against pitchers like that. You have a tendency, not intentionally, to relax. It wasn't like, 'Get ready buddy.' He just kind of came out, and threw, and the ball got on you a little quicker than you thought it would."
* The incident with Mike Scioscia: "I still don't understand why Mike reacted the way he reacted after the fact. What I did, I left the dugout when Donnelly came into the ballgame. He was finishing his warmup, and I went to the umpire, without any fanfare, and said, 'I would like to have you check his glove.' He looked at me, kind of surprised, and said, 'For what?' I said, 'For pine tar.'
"He discovered it, and he threw him out of the game. And Mike went to the mound, and then the home plate umpire came back to me, and I was kind of talking to him with my back almost turned to the mound. I was just chatting with him about it, and all of a sudden, Mike appeared.
"He started in on me. 'That's [expletive]. That's [expletive]. When your guys come in, I'm going to have every one of them undressed.' To me, he was out of line. But as he finished his conversation, I didn't try to say anything to him, and he started to walk away. I'm saying to myself, 'Hey, wait a minute buddy. You don't disrespect me, then walk away.'
"I never thought about fighting. I just wanted to tell him what I thought about him, which I did. I told him, 'I'm doing my job, and I would not be doing my job if I didn't come out and fight for my team.'"
Robinson is 74 now, and he is in a stint as a special assistant to Commissioner Bud Selig. He said he focuses on whatever Selig wants at the time, but his tasks have included looking into time of game and the quality of umpiring. (Keep in mind our conversation took place before the Jim Joyce-Armando Galarraga incident.)
"The umpires are struggling a little bit in the postseason, and it carries over into the regular season," Robinson said. "He was very, very upset about that. Just like players, they go through ruts. We've talked a lot about that."
Robinson's main focus, though, is diversity in baseball -- "not just on the field, but in the front office, on the baseball side of it. That was the project I wanted to do. I go around to the ballclubs, talk to the executives about their hiring practices, about the lack of minorities. It's a very complex problem. I can't, or the commissioner can't, force them to hire people. But I can give them my thoughts on it, and I can tell them that I'll be watching them and checking on progress they've made in a year."
Robinson knows, now, that he'll never appear in an on-field role in baseball again. He broke into the majors in 1956, retired as a player 20 years later, managed three franchises, and he puts that 2005 season right next to his most precious memories.
"It became a real exciting time for me," he said. "We just did everything we had to do to win. It was exciting for me and for the fans, too. It was just a great, great time."
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