Robinson won't return to Nationals

Robinson won't return to Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Nationals president Stan Kasten and general manager Jim Bowden met separately with Frank Robinson on Thursday afternoon to discuss the manager's future. Although Kasten and Bowden weren't available for comment, and the club hasn't acknowledged that a decision has been made, baseball sources said that Robinson, 71, will not manage the team after the 2006 season.

Even Robinson strongly hinted in his pregame press briefing that Sunday's game will be his last as Nationals manager. An official announcement will not be made until Sunday afternoon's game against the Mets or on Monday morning.

Robinson, dressed in street clothes on Thursday afternoon, looked dejected. When a reporter pointed that out to him, his eyes welled up and he jokingly said, "Well, it's time to go. Just got a bad call from the umpires, they didn't want to reverse it."

Robinson, whose contract expires on Oct. 31, has waited for weeks to learn his fate from a new ownership group that has pledged rebuilding through the farm system. He was hoping to manage the Nationals for another three years, but a second-half collapse in 2005 -- after being in first place before the All-Star break -- and a subpar season in 2006 made him fall out of favor with the front office.

At one point last year, then-president Tony Tavares accused the team of not working hard before games under Robinson. After the 2005 season, in fact, the team dismissed three of Robinson's aides -- hitting coach Tim McCraw, first-base coach Don Buford and third-base coach Dave Huppert -- and bullpen coach Bobby Natal resigned.

But the addition of new coaches and the acquisition of left fielder Alfonso Soriano didn't make the Nationals any better. The team, which was 70-88 entering Thursday's game, will finish in fifth place in the National League East for the third year in a row.

Through a spokesman, Kasten and Bowden declined to comment about Robinson. The only thing Robinson said about his meeting with his superiors on Thursday was that both sessions lasted 15 to 20 minutes and that they were positive.

"I guess it was as positive as it can be," he said. "I had my say, we sat down, each one, and I had my discussions with them. I am very comfortable with what I had to say -- what I wanted to say about the situation here and my situation. Other than that, I just don't want to go in depth on anything that was said behind closed doors to either one of them, or what was said to me."

Despite a glut of injuries and a fairly low payroll, the club has performed well at times. The first two years, while working with a low budget, Robinson did a remarkable job, as the Expos were in National League Wild Card contention, finishing with an 83-79 record both years.

The Nationals are 14-11 during the month of September (through Wednesday) and 32-36 after the All-Star break, a vast improvement over their 38-52 first half.

Robinson is proud of the fact that his Nationals/Expos played hard for him.

"The teams have shown they continue to play no matter what the situation is, or how bleak it is, until the last inning is over," he said. "As I've said, I think, on a number of occasions, I am very proud of the way this team has competed down the stretch this month against good ballclubs that were competing for a Wild Card. We've done very wel, and that's what I expected."

Robinson is in his 51st season in baseball, 16 of them as a manager, and it has not been determined whether he will remain with the Nationals in some capacity.

As for his replacement, a source said that a person who has managerial experience most likely will be Robinson's successor, and the fate of the coaching staff will be determined during the offseason by the new manager. Tony Pena, Lou Piniella and Joe Girardi have been mentioned as possible candidates.

"[Bowden] is keeping it close to the vest," the source said.

Whoever manages this team, he will work with a core of young players that will include closer Chad Cordero and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Zimmerman wasn't going to believe that Robinson was leaving until the official word came out.

"We'll see after Sunday," said Zimmerman. "I've seen crazier things happen. There's nothing to talk about now until it happens.

"He has taught me a lot. He has been a great guy to play under my first year. There hasn't been much pressure. The only thing he expected from me has been my defense. No pressure offensively. I think that kind of helped me relax and be a little more comfortable."

Although he was hit with the bad news, Robinson went about doing his work. Around 5:30 p.m. ET, he greeted a journalism class from George Washington University and told the students how he deals with the media. He also had a question-and-answer session with the group. The students then presented Robinson with an AM/FM shortwave radio to thank him for being so gracious.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.