Frank Robinson is such a crusty SOB that he doesn't even mind being called a crusty SOB. "The people who call me things like that," he once said, "are usually people I've beaten."
Although Robinson's Washington Nationals beat a lot of teams this year, they didn't win anything -- not a World Series ring, not a pennant, not even a division title -- and he has trouble with the concept of giving awards to people who haven't won anything. So if someone were to hand him a trophy for his work this season, Robinson would probably hand it back and testily suggest it be given to a champion, the crusty SOB that he is.
But sometimes awards go not to the biggest winner but to the biggest giver, and Robinson gave Washington, D.C., a baseball team again. He didn't bring the sport back to the nation's capitol -- there were baseball executives, politicians and wealthy businessmen responsible for that -- but he gave the District a scrappy, hard-nosed team that produced a more competitive season than its new fans could possibly have expected.
Hardly anyone thought the Nats would actually do anything in 2005 except exist. It didn't much matter if they lost 90 or 100 games in their first year in D.C., because they were just supposed to be a marketable logo for selling caps and T-shirts. Winning was supposed to come later, but Robinson had other ideas. He made a contender out of a team that didn't have a single superstar, but possessed the same tough, resourceful attitude that he had as a player. Before long, the Nationals were leading the NL East and their fans had been introduced to what a real team in a real pennant race is like.
Although the Nats finally faded to a .500 finish, Robinson and his team gave D.C. a summer of scoreboard watching, of checking the standings every morning. They gave their fans exhilarating wins and gut-wrenching defeats. Under Robinson's leadership, the Nats brought some people back to the game and pulled in new ones.
Along the way, Robinson, 70, showed that he's lost none of his fire. He went nose-to-nose with Angels manager Mike Scioscia when he thought the Angels were throwing at his hitters. He spoke out about steroids, suggesting that anyone caught using should have his statistics erased from the record books. Robinson stood up for the honor of his team and his sport in 2005, and for that he should be given the Sportsman of the Year award, even if he's sure to give it back.