Friday, June 23, 2006

Frankly Speaking

Just as I was softening a bit on my contempt for Jim Bowden, the Nationals GM gave me new reasons to detest him. The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga has written an excellent article on the uncertainty surrounding Frank Robinson’s fate. Svrluga details the history of the animosity between Robinson and Davey Johnson, who has just been hired as a special assistant to Jim Bowden. We learn that Bowden did not even have the courtesy/guts to tell Robinson personally of Johnson’s hire. Instead, Frank first learned about the situation from a reporter calling Robinson in Atlanta to get the manager’s reaction to the story.

What was Bowden’s explanation? Why, to blame someone else, of course. Bowden said that “another club official” was supposed to tell Robinson about Johnson’s new position. Said Bowden:

“We all like to be communicated with. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, there was a communication breakdown, and the news didn’t get there. For that, the organization is sorry.”

For whatever reason? The reason was that Bowden didn’t do his job and tell Frank directly. Bowden knew that Frank would be uneasy about the news because, from Frank’s point of view, Johnson could be in line to replace Robinson after this season. The organization is sorry? This is vintage Bowden wordplay. Jim Bowden, not “the organization” is the one who should be sorry. Bowden went on to say:

"The tough part about life is that a lot of times, people are hired by different people in an organization that they have history with. And that's part of life, and the reality is, the hiring of Davey does not affect him."

No, Jim, war, hunger and disease are the “tough part of life.” But the reality is that the hiring of Davey Johnson does affect Frank in the most immediate way possible. It appears very likely that Johnson is being groomed to assume the manager’s position in 2007. Several clues point to this possibility. First, Johnson was Bowden’s first manager with the Cincinnati Reds from 1993-1995. Johnson presided over the Reds’ only playoff berth of Bowden’s tenure with the club, a wild-card berth in 1995. After that season, Johnson was forced out by then-owner Marge Schott’s moral objections to Johnson’s relationship with the woman who is now his wife. Bowden and many in the Reds organization still feel that things would have been very different for that franchise had Davey Johnson stuck around.

Also telling is the fact that Johnson’s contract as special assistant only runs through July 31 of this year. On the surface, it would appear that Johnson is only needed to get Bowden through the trading deadline. But it’s also interesting to note that July 31 figures to be only 2-3 weeks after the Lerner/Kasten regime officially takes over in Washington, just in the nick of time to renew Johnson’s contract and/or give him the manager job. Kasten can get up on the podium and tell us all how the franchise is going to enter a rebuilding period and that a change of the guard is necessary, and that Johnson is just the man for the job. I really would not be surprised to see this happen.

Perhaps a changing of the guard is necessary for the Nationals. But it’s embarrassing to see the team and MLB treating Frank Robinson like a leper after all he has done for the game and the franchise. After all, it was Robinson who stepped out of a cushy New York office and into the manager’s role in Montreal to steward the franchise through contraction and ultimately the move to Washington. Despite all the obstacles and the disgraceful way in which the franchise has been treated by MLB, Robinson has managed to field a decent and at times competitive team. He certainly doesn’t deserve the smug, pithy comments of Jim Bowden. After all Frank Robinson has done for the game, he deserves better than to be tossed off the bus as the Nationals drive into a new future.