Jake Sherman: Farewell to a legend

On Saturday night, for perhaps one of the first times in his career, Frank Robinson completely ignored the score. The Washington Nationals’ 13-0 pummeling by the New York Mets seemed to roll off the skipper’s back. No concerns about hitting. No rant about trying to get on a roll to pick up some games in the standings.

Robinson, a 71-year-old baseball stalwart, was staring the end of his legendary career square in the eyes – or 30,449 pairs of eyes, more accurately. A close-to-capacity crowd came to bid adieu to the manager that ushered baseball back into Washington at Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Stadium Saturday.

“This is it,” Robinson said in a news conference. “As far as managing, this is it.”

So 51 years after a legendary career started, it ended at RFK Stadium after a disappointing and often frustrating two-year campaign.

The move to unload the skipper after two years in Washington may aim to improve the team’s record, but ditching Robinson is like removing an ancient artifact from a museum. Robinson is the last of a dying breed. He is a living legend who, as a player, is the only person to nab Most Valuable Player honors in the National and American leagues. He is sixth on the all-time home run list and 46th for all-time wins as a manager.

The most impressive statistic, though, dates back to 1974. In October of that year, the Cleveland Indians made Robinson the first African American manager in Major League Baseball history, opening the door for African Americans in executive roles.

In predominantly African American Washington and in a day where athletes become more ridiculous and ostentatious by the day, Robinson was a perfect pick and led the Nats with grace and honor.

Robinson is known being “old school” and commanding respect from his players and peers. In a speech to GW graduates after receiving an honorary Doctorate of Public Policy, Robinson, who called the honorary degree an honor for him and his family, suggested that parents should be role models, not athletes.

And for graduates, hard work would yield results.

“The door may not always open the first time you knock, but get back up until … someone listens,” Robinson told graduates in May.

For Willie Randolph, the manager of the National League East-winning Mets, Robinson has meant the world.

“He was one of the first guys I spoke to when I got the job, just to congratulate me,” said Randolph, who took over the Mets after 11 years as a coach for the New York Yankees.

Robinson managed the Montreal Expos for three seasons in Canada and was often lambasted for his unconventional coaching techniques. He relied too much on statistics, people said, but he maintained that he always went with his “gut feeling.”

Many of the players Robinson managed had good relationships with him. GW graduate Mike O’Connor, whom Robinson brought up from the minor leagues earlier this year, said Robinson taught him a lot in his first season.

“It’s a tough situation anyway, he’s been with most of these guys for a really long time,” O’Connor said.

Jose Vidro is one of those players. Vidro has spent five years with Robinson and the two are known to have a close relationship.

“Frank is the kind of guy that sees something wrong and addresses it,” Vidro said. “He tries to get the best out of you.”

After Sunday night’s game, the Nationals leave town to begin their four-month off-season, Robinson said he’ll sit down and talk to some of his players. He wants some words with Alfonso Soriano. He’ll impart his wisdom to Ryan Zimmerman.

And next? The Hall of Famer said it’s over. He will return to his home in California. While National officials have not ruled out a front-office position for the skipper, he isn’t thinking about that.

Robinson will walk off, slight limp in his gait from 51 years in the bigs, and with him will go an important part of social history and a true class act in baseball.

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