Frank Robinson signed on to manage the maelstrom that is the Montreal Expos for another year today. Not only that but the man who tried to resign last July 16 says that a) he may stay longer than 2003 and b) the Expos "should be serious contenders for the Eastern Division."
I would agree with him if the 'Spos had stable ownership-not to imply exactly that Bud Selig is unstable-and a stable home base, or at least one common language used in all its home bases next year. Unfortunately, I think these issues may wear on the team in 2003. Think how traveling to San Juan to play a "homestand" will affect a team possibly vying for a playoff spot. I do think that Montrel may be the class of a weak division next year, especially with the potential of the Braves retooling their starting rotation. I just wonder what the cumulative effects of playing baseball in the Expos own peculiar idiom will have on the collective psyche of the team.
However, looking at Robinson's managerial career, I don't see why a Montreal pennant in 2003 would be out of line with his past performance. In 1975 he took over an Indians club that had been improving slowly under Ken Aspromonte. They continue to improve under Robinson and in his second year were over .500 (81-78), the best record that they would have for a decade and the second best until their mid-'90s dynasty.
In 1981 he took over a Giants club that had been under .500 for the past two season and instantly made them a .500 team. In his second year, they finished 12 games over .500 and two games out of first.
In 1988, he took over a shambles of an Orioles team that had already lost its first 6 games and had been declining for five seasons. In 1989, his first full season with the O's, the team was 12 games over .500 and 2 games out of first.
In all of these cases, Robinson caused an improvement in his first year, and no matter how poor the team was, by his second year they were at least a .500 club and two out of three were in a pennant race. Considering the talent that he has in Montreal and the turnaround in his first season-the team had been floundering for 4 seasons-a similar improvement is a good possibility with the Expos.
One other thing about Robinson's managerial record should be pointed out. By his third season, none of his teams were over .500-one even fired him. He never completed his fourth season with any of the three teams that he managed. Also, each team experienced a sub-70 win season as he was leaving or the first full season after he left. And each team bounced back to .500 the next year.
It seems that Robinson's presence improves a team rapidly but that he causes a team to unravel almost as rapidly though that team will quickly show that they were capable of winning just as quickly once he as gone. Final verdict: Expo pennant? Possible. Robinson staying well past 2003? Highly doubtful.