Nationals won't bring Robinson back as manager

Updated: October 1, 2006, 2:15 AM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Frank Robinson will not return as the Washington Nationals' manager in 2007, the team announced Saturday, possibly ending the Hall of Famer's 51-year career in baseball.

Frank Robinson
Nick Wass/AP PhotoOutgoing Nationals manager Frank Robinson: "I have no bitter feelings or anything like that about the situation."

Robinson was told during the week he wouldn't be back, and made that clear to reporters, but the Nationals didn't make the news official until a few hours before Saturday's game against the New York Mets.

"It's been a good ride for me. It's been 51 years. And the old saying is, 'When you take a manager's job, stay around long enough -- you are going to be fired.' It's been a great run for me, and I mean that sincerely," Robinson said. "I have no bitter feelings or anything like that about the situation."

The regular season ends Sunday, and at 71-89, Washington was assured of finishing last in the NL East for the third consecutive year. Robinson will be in the dugout for the finale, when the Nationals plan a tribute to him, and the team will hold a more elaborate ceremony next season.

"Anytime that you're looking at the end will be emotional," Robinson said.

While teams who are letting managers go usually will say so a day or two after the season, Nationals president Stan Kasten said Robinson requested an earlier announcement so he'd have a chance to say goodbye.

"It's, I hope, a reflection of our great depth of personal feeling we have for Frank and the respect we have for Frank," said Kasten, who didn't appear at the news conference.

Instead, general manager Jim Bowden sat awkwardly next to Robinson, who wore his uniform. Neither Kasten nor Bowden would say why Robinson is leaving; Bowden called it "a decision that we think is in the best long-term interest of the franchise and the direction that we're going in."

Bowden said a search for a new manager would begin Monday.

The 71-year-old Robinson has managed the Expos-Nationals franchise for the past five seasons. As the most-recognizable member of a team that moved from Montreal to Washington before the 2005 season, he became the face of the franchise in the nation's capital.

"We want to thank Frank very much for all he has done for the Nationals, as well as the Montreal Expos under very difficult circumstances," said Bowden, who called Robinson "such a great baseball man. ... He really knows this game like no one I've ever met."

Robinson joined the club when it was still in Montreal and was purchased by Major League Baseball in 2002. The Expos went 83-79 in each of Robinson's first two seasons, finishing second and fourth, before sinking to 67-95 in 2004.

"It was honor to play for him," catcher Brian Schneider said.

Robinson guided the Nationals through its magical first half of 2005, filled with comebacks and one-run wins en route to a 50-31 record and first place in July. But a second-half fade left the Nationals at 81-81.

As a manager over 16 seasons with four teams, Robinson never approached the success he had as a power-hitting outfielder who ranks sixth in major league history with 586 home runs.

He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1956, the NL MVP in 1961 and the AL MVP in 1966, when he won the Triple Crown.

As a player-manager for the Cleveland Indians in 1975, he became the first black manager in major league history, and he won 1989 AL Manager of the Year honors while with the Baltimore Orioles.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya, the Expos GM when Robinson went to Montreal, said Robinson would be on a short list of baseball men respected the most by people currently in the game.

"For the guys in uniform ... you're talking about Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson," Minaya said.

On April 20, Robinson became the 53rd manager with 1,000 victories. But his overall record is 1,065-1,086 with no postseason appearances.

This season, with an already thin roster beset by injuries and a rough early road schedule, the Nationals began 8-18 and never recovered.

In May, baseball picked a group led by local real estate developer Ted Lerner and Kasten to buy the team for $450 million. Kasten has talked about taking a patient approach to rebuilding; the goal is for the team to be strong for a new ballpark's planned opening in 2008.

Robinson was a vice president in the commissioner's office in charge of on-field discipline when Bud Selig gave him the Expos' managing job in February 2002, right before the start of spring training. At the time, Robinson said it would be for just one year.

He finished third in NL Manager of the Year voting after that season, and stuck around. But he was operating under one-year contracts, and the latest was set to expire Oct. 31.

"I feel a little bit sad by it, because I feel he's a solid baseball man and he should be in the game," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "You feel bad for the fact that he's going to have to regroup and look for another job. Hopefully he'll land on is feet. I've got a lot of respect for the man. He's a tremendous baseball man and he's helped me a lot."

Robinson met with his players and coaching staff Saturday to inform them of the news.

"It was kind of weird to hear him say, 'Continue to play hard and do as best you can for your next manager.' When he said, it kind of hit you," Schneider said. "It didn't feel real good."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press