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Hall of Famer, former Nationals and Orioles manager Frank Robinson dead at 83

Hall of Famer, former Nationals and Orioles manager Frank Robinson dead at 83

Few knew what would happen when baseball returned to the District in 2005. The Montreal Expos were lifted out of Quebec and brought down to the nation’s capital, providing celebration and wonder. Frank Robinson was in charge.

Robinson already had extensive managerial experience. He became the first black manager in Major League Baseball as the player-manager for Cleveland in the 1975 season. Montreal was his fourth managerial home. Nothing prior was the same as Opening Day in Washington. Everything before prepared him for it.

Robinson died this week. He was 83. 

“We are deeply saddened by this loss of our friend, colleague and legend, who worked in our game for more than 60 years.  On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to Frank’s wife Barbara, daughter Nichelle, their entire family and the countless fans who admired this great figure of our National Pastime," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Robinson leaves as one of the game’s legends. Robinson was a two-time MVP, All-Star MVP, World Series MVP, Triple Crown winner while playing for the Baltimore Orioles, where he would later also manage, and member of the Hall of Fame. He even threw-in a Manager of the Year recognition in 1989 and added the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Robinson went on to work for Major League Baseball as the honorary president of the American League after his days on the field concluded. Few can match his legacy.

His roots suggested fame was ahead. Robinson played high school basketball in Oakland with one of history’s all-time winners, Bill Russell, after being born in Beaumont, Texas. But baseball was his calling.

Robinson remains the lone player to be named MVP in both leagues. He hit 586 home runs during a 21-year career with five teams. The journey began in 1956 when Robinson was a 20-year-old rookie. His 38 homers and league-leading 122 runs scored were enough to earn him the National League Rookie of the Year Award and an All-Star Game appearance.

He slugged with remarkable consistency from there. Robinson walked as often as he struck out on his way to almost 600 home runs, the kind of elite hitting that translates from his playing career, which closed in 1976 at age 40, to the modern era with an emphasis of reaching base in multiple ways.

Working for the Orioles in 1966 following a lopsided trade from Cincinnati -- a historical fleecing despite Baltimore sending out three players to acquire Robinson -- delivered his nadar at the plate. Only nine players in MLB history have won the Triple Crown. Robinson became the eighth after a dominant summer in Memorial Stadium delivered a .316 average, 49 home runs and 122 RBIs. Robinson also led the league OPS, OPS-plus, runs and total bases. He was named MVP. The Orioles swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

In 1970, Robinson hit back-to-back grand slams in the Orioles’ 12-2 win over the Washington Senators at RFK Stadium. Baltimore again won the World Series that year, and reached the final postseason series four times in his six seasons with the Orioles. The era is an unrivaled span in the organization’s history.

Robinson’s hitting approach mirrored the one he took off the field. He crowded the plate, often being brushed back in the era which demanded such an approach. He would get up, reset, then attempt to pulverize the next pitch. 

He dealt with racial unrest throughout his playing career with the same direct and unimpeached approach. Bethel Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham, Ala., in 1956, the year Robinson debuted as a player a six-hour drive north. His appointment of player-manager for Cleveland caused President Gerald Ford to reach out in a letter and Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to express regret. From the New York Times, Oct. 3, 1974 following an almost two-hour news conference to announce Robinson’s position: 

President Ford described Robinson's selection as “welcome news for baseball fans across the nation” and a “tribute to you personally, to your athletic skills and to your unsurpassed leadership.” Attending the news conference were Bowie Kuhn, the Commissioner of Baseball, and Lee MacPhail, the president of the American League.

“We got something done,” Kuhn commented, “that we should have done before.”

Wearing a black and white plaid suit with a vest, Robinson attempted to reduce his sociological burden.

“The only reason I'm the first black manager is that I was born black,” he said calmly. “That's the color I am. I'm not a superman, I'm not a miracle worker. Your ballplayers determine how good a team you have. I might influence the ballplayers to some extent, but if we have a good team, they deserve the credit. If a ball club fails, I think the manager should be held responsible. I want to be judged by the play on the field.”

Asked if he foresaw any additional pressure on him to succeed as a black manager, he replied:

“I don't see any pressure. I don't see any goals I have to achieve as the first black manager. The pressure from within is not there.”

Robinson spoke those words to start his first managerial job. His final one ended in the District at the end of the 2006 season. An inspirational first half of the 2005 season engaged a longing baseball crowd. The team receded following the All-Star break, leaving Robinson to wish he was more adamant in his push for reinforcements before the trade deadline that season. The potent first half allowed the team to finish an unexpected 81-81. But, the following year brought a dip to 71-91, closing Robinson’s time in Washington as well as his managerial career. 

By then, Robinson was 70 years old, having entered Major League Baseball 50 years prior on April 17, 1956, as a 20-year-old hitting seventh and playing left field at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field. Vinegar Bend Mizell won the game, Joe Nuxhall lost, and Frank Robinson began one of baseball’s great journeys with a telling double in his first at-bat.

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The ageless Fernando Rodney to reportedly play in Dominican Winter League

The ageless Fernando Rodney to reportedly play in Dominican Winter League

Only one player in the major leagues threw a pitch while over the age of 40 last season. Fernando Rodney, who in fact is 42 and coming off his first ever World Series title, has appeared in at least 50 games each of the last eight years and 10 of the last 11.

For a player who’s three years older than the second-oldest active pitcher, taking the offseason off wouldn’t just be expected—it’d probably be recommended. But Rodney is taking no such break, reportedly signing up for the Dominican Winter League this offseason.

Leones del Escogido plays in his hometown of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. This will actually be the fifth time Rodney will suit up for the team, most recently doing so last winter.

Rodney is a free agent after being picked up by the Nationals midseason. He’s played 17 years in the majors and ranks 17th all-time in saves with 327.

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How big of a priority is filling the hole at second base for the Nationals?

How big of a priority is filling the hole at second base for the Nationals?

When the Nationals entered the offseason, they had significant needs at seven different areas of the roster: catcher, first base, second base, third base, rotation, bullpen and bench.

Washington made strides toward solidifying the first two by inking catcher Yan Gomes and first baseman Howie Kendrick to separate deals over the first five weeks of the offseason. But with former stars Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon both still on the board, there are still many different directions the Nationals could go this winter.

On this week’s episode of the Nationals Talk podcast, NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas sat down with Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post and MLB.com’s Jamal Collier to talk about the team’s offseason plans. With the needs the Nationals have in so many areas, the writers agreed Washington didn’t need to prioritize second base.

“Second base, to me, feels like it would probably be the last thing on my checklist if I’m the Nats,” Collier said. “You’re going to operate on some kind of budget and you have to spend money on re-signing [Stephen] Strasburg, figuring out whatever you’re going to do at third base…and you have to do something with this bullpen as well.”

Right now, the Nationals have top prospect Carter Kieboom as a potential option to take the starting job out of Spring Training. They also have veteran utility players Wilmer Difo and Adrian Sanchez on the roster, but neither has been able to produce consistently on the offensive end.

“I would probably band-aid it with probably a cheaper option than Brian Dozier,” Dougherty said. “Maybe even give Carter the shot but have a veteran behind him…César Hernández makes a ton of sense to me. He’s a switch hitter, he can play multiple positions, you have a hole at utility player.”

Dybas also mentioned Starlin Castro as a potential option. Castro played all 162 games for the Miami Marlins last season, hitting .270 with a career-high 22 home runs. He’ll be 30 years old on Opening Day and was lauded by his former club for his clubhouse presence.

One potential option that came off the board in recent weeks was Mike Moustakas, who inked a four-year, $64 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds. A natural third baseman, Moustakas played 47 games at second for the Milwaukee Brewers last season and is now entrenched there for the Reds moving forward with Eugenio Suarez playing third.

“I hate that Moustakas deal,” Collier said. The Reds are “putting him out of position. He’s not a second baseman. So you’re getting worse defensively for a guy who’s pretty much all power. We don’t know what the shape of the ball is going to be [and] he’s only getting older.”

It was certainly a high price tag, which likely took the Nationals out of the running if second base is an area the team is hoping to save money on. But they also could’ve signed Moustakas to play third, a position that is remarkably light on talent in free agency.

For the full episode, which also includes discussions about Rendon and Strasburg’s prospects of returning to Washington, you can find the Nationals Talk podcast at Art19, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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