Frank Robinson was a baseball legend — he won the MVP in both leagues, was the first black manager in the majors, hit two grand slams in one game at RFK Stadium and was name-checked in the church of baseball preamble in Bull Durham.
He was also the first manager of the 21st century Washington Nationals and that’s how I remember him here.
Coming with the franchise from Montreal, the move seemed to inspire Robinson and his team. The 2005 Nats were an incredible 50-31 halfway through with a team that had no business being that good. We found out later that he knew it and even said as much to Barry Svrluga, all-time great Nats beat writer for The Post.
While the much-celebrated confrontation between Robinson and Mike Scioscia deserves its notoriety, my favorite moment from Robinson was Memorial Day 2005. Playing the Atlanta Braves, Robinson got the umpires to overturn a Brian Jordan home run. What I wrote in 2005:
Tom Boswell describes how Frank Robinson got the umps to change the call (The Post). When he was vice president of on-field operations he worked with the umpires for a few years and learned how they make their decisions. Using that knowledge, he got them to overturn the call.
Peaking in early July, the Nats crashed down to Earth and never recovered in the rest of his tenure. in 2006, he broke down when he had to pull catcher Matt LeCroy (VIDEO) from game after allowing 7 stolen bases.
While managing the Nats, President George W. Bush awarded Robinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well.
The Nats were ten games worse in 2006 and Nats GM Jim Bowden and the newly established Lerner ownership fumbled his departure. The success Robinson achieved in D.C. was impressive given the circumstances. Reconciliation between the team and original skipper came years later with a first pitch before the first NLDS game in DC, as well as his name immortalized in the Ring of Honor. Ian Desmond changed his number to 20 to honor Robinson, who believed in the young shortstop years before he made the majors.
There are many tributes to Robinson, but the must-read is Svrluga’s: Frank Robinson, the Nats’ first manager, was D.C.’s treasure those first two seasons of baseball’s return (The Post)