Robinson takes aim on pitchers, hitters who rumble

Frank Robinson was hit by a pitch nearly 200 times, and only once did he come close to charging the mound.

''Ron Herbel of the Giants hit me in the elbow out in San Francisco. A few days earlier, I'd been hit in the same elbow and also banged it into a wall making a catch,'' the Hall of Famer recalled.

''It hurt, and I was pretty mad. I took a couple of steps out of the batter's box and stopped. That was all. There were other ways to get even.''

Back then, that meant wiping out a second baseman or shortstop trying to turn a double play, or maybe hitting a home run the next time up.

Now, as baseball's head of discipline, he's getting his chance on a bigger scale. Robinson is taking aim on pitchers, hitters, managers and everyone else who wants to rumble.

The Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers found out the hard way. After a late April afternoon filled with brawls and beanballs at Comiskey Park, he handed out 16 suspensions and nine additional fines - believed to be the largest mass penalty in major league history.

About a week later, Robinson suspended Pedro Martinez for five games after the Boston ace hit Cleveland's Roberto Alomar with a pitch.

''I'm not saying you can't throw inside. But there's an art to pitching inside,'' Robinson said. ''And you can't have hitters charging out every time a ball comes near them. We don't need that.

''I've been down there on the field and I have some understanding of what's going on,'' he said. ''A lot of times when I was hit, it was my own fault. I didn't react quickly enough. But I think I can usually tell what's going on.''

That zero-tolerance approach has some calling Robinson, the NL Rookie of the Year in 1956, the majors' rookie of the year for 2000.

Cleveland general manager John Hart phoned Robinson when the Tigers-White Sox penalties were announced, agreeing with the tough stance.

''Well, Frank Robinson is a former player. He has no ties to anyone. He is an independent party in this,'' he said. ''Frank made it very clear there will be no target practice by pitchers. He's not going to tolerate that.''

Of course, not everyone saw it the same way.

''It gets your attention, because it's too harsh. Way too harsh,'' Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace said.

''I charged the mound in 1989 and got a $500 fine and no suspension. I think if I do that now, it's probably going to be about $20,000 and 10 games. So, it makes you think twice.''

Said New York Mets catcher Todd Pratt: ''It was a little drastic. It was the first major fight under a new regime and they wanted to set an example. And they did, but I don't think it changed anything.''

Or did it?

Shortly thereafter, the Mets and Giants, Brewers and Astros and the Padres and Diamondbacks all cleared the benches because of inside pitches. Each time, however, the teams stopped short of throwing punches.

''I'd like to think we're having an effect,'' Robinson said.

Noted Florida manager John Boles: ''He got everyone's attention. It seems like people are clustering faster to make sure everything is under control.''

In previous years, discipline was up to the league presidents, most recently Gene Budig in the AL and Len Coleman in the NL. Commissioner Bud Selig phased out those offices and put Robinson in charge.

Robinson is working out of his home in Southern California, rather than the commissioner's office. He intends to travel to hear appeals, instead of waiting until visiting players come to New York.

''I think we can move the process along a little more quickly,'' he said.

Robinson also hopes to help figure out a way to prevent players from ''manipulating the system.'' As in, filing appeals and then conveniently dropping them - in essence, picking their own time to serve penalties.

Martinez appealed his penalty, struck out 17 in a loss to Tampa Bay, then dropped it.

Robinson was hit 198 times, third most on the career list behind Don Baylor (267) and Ron Hunt (243), and many of them stung. These days, he sees plenty of players being hit in padded-up elbows and biceps.

''I understand why Jeff Bagwell wears protection on his hand - he's had it broken,'' Robinson said. ''But other guys with all that body armor from the wrist to the shoulder, they do not pay the price of being hit.

''That's something we'd like to look at, and talk to the players' association about,'' he said. ''Some of these things, they won't come overnight. But we'd like to get something done by next year.''

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