We got back in the car and headed for Los Angeles. Over lunch in Encino we talked about Robinson's firing by the Orioles and about why there are still so few black managers and general managers in baseball 25 years after Robinson's World Series speech. "Owners can look around and see there are qualified blacks for these jobs; that's not the problem," Robinson said. "The problem is the issue of social comfort. White owners just feel more comfortable with white managers and general managers. It's a social thing, dinner out with the wives, weekends together."
Robinson said he always believed that Peter Angelos, the Orioles" owner, would someday give him a chance to be general manager. But in November 1995, when G.M. Roland Hemond resigned, Angelos did not elevate Robinson, who was Hemond's assistant; Angelos hired Pat Gillick, a former Toronto Blue Jays G.M. Gillick phoned the team's top scouts and front-office executives in a conference call and said, according to Robinson, "I am not a hatchet man. I want to see what you all do over the course of the next year, then I'll evaluate you." Robinson was relieved.
A week later Gillick fired Robinson, with Angelos's consent. Robinson still loves Baltimore and the baseball team that plays there. But he hasn't had a meaningful talk with Gillick, and no talk at all with Angelos, since then.
Last November Robinson knew that the Boston Red Sox were looking for a manager, and he asked for an interview, which they granted him. "They made me put on these earphones and take this test, all sorts of questions on it, math, other stuff, nothing to do with baseball," Robinson said. "I just made circles, checked off boxes. I paid no attention to it. What's a test like that got to do with managing?" He shook his head.
When asked about Robinson's firing, Gillick said that he was addressing only the scouts in the conference call in which he said jobs would be safe for another year. He said he dismissed Robinson because he wanted an assistant G.M. with an extensive scouting background. He hired Kevin Malone, the former general manager of the Montreal Expos.
Angelos also defended the dismissal. "As far as the fans are concerned, he is the greatest player ever to play for the Baltimore Orioles," Angelos said. "I think he's an excellent judge of baseball talent. But he never learned the daily chores, the nitty-gritty, the administrative routines of being a G.M. And he had become very apprehensive about autograph seekers. He thought they were out to exploit him. Letting Frank go was done with extreme reluctance, but it was something that had to be done."
On the day Robinson visited the boyhood home of Jackie Robinson, there was a news release from the office of the baseball commissioner. It said that Frank Robinson had been named director of baseball operations of the Arizona Fall League, an eight-week developmental league for minor leaguers showing particular promise. The release said Robinson would also be a consultant to baseball for special projects. (The particulars of this position were not announced.) Robinson's new assignments came about at the urging of Leonard Coleman, the National League president, who has been responsible for the majors' seasonlong tribute to Jackie Robinson. Along the way, he has come to know Frank Robinson. Coleman realized, he says, that "Frank Robinson should never be out of baseball. Period." And now he's not.
Back at Robinson's home the day of the announcement the message light on his answering machine was going berserk. "Nine messages," Robinson said. "Everybody's calling now to congratulate me. It'll be, 'Hey, welcome back to baseball." " Robinson shook his head. It was an act. Robinson is no good at feigning detachment.
He needs the job. Not for the paycheck. It's working in baseball that he needs.