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Robinson leaves words to play by

The Washington Nationals want to pay proper tribute to Frank Robinson? Put these words from Robinson, spoken to reporters before yesterday's season finale at RFK Stadium, in the media guide every year. Put them on a sign inside the home clubhouse. Put them on a plaque in the new ballpark: "I've been very lucky, very fortunate and very appreciative of the opportunities that I've had to do the things that I enjoy doing. This is why I have always respected the game and tried to get others to appreciate and respect this game. This is the reason that I have wanted to stay in this game, because a lot of people helped me to get to where I am today and I've always tried to give back to this game. That's what it is all about. "Have I been hard on players? Yes, and I've been hard on them for a reason, and that was to try to get them to be the best they could possibly be. Set goals that are difficult to achieve, and when you achieve them you'll know you really had an outstanding year. "Don't accept being OK or good in this game. Always strive to be the best that you possibly could be and take no less. If I didn't feel like they were doing that, I was a little tough on them, yes, but for only that reason. Only that reason. I don't think that is out of line. That's just the way I am. Call me old school if you want to or whatever. I don't think that is old school. I think that is the way it should be. "The game is a great game, and if we respect it and do the right things for the game, that is what should be done. That is the way I have approached the game, and that is the way I always will. Old school. I have to laugh every time I hear that." Old school? Baby, that's Old Testament in this day and age. But those words should be on the minds and in the hearts of players who wear the Nationals uniform for years to come. It should be the franchise manifesto on the field. Jeff Torborg once told me a story about Robinson that illustrates how much he respects the game. Torborg replaced Robinson after he was fired in mid-June 1977 as manager of the Cleveland Indians. Robinson called Torborg every day for more than a week after that, offering advice and help. Whoever takes over managing this team would do well to seek out that same advice. After six years of managing this franchise, the last two in Washington, Robinson bid farewell yesterday after a 6-2 loss to the New York Mets before a crowd of more than 29,000 - hardly a proper sendoff for one of the game's greats. "It doesn't take away from the moment," Robinson said. "Ten, 15 or 20 years from now, I'll remember it as a no-hitter, with a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth." But Robinson made it clear he wasn't retiring, if anyone in baseball is interested. "I still have something to offer and give to baseball," he said. "I want to be involved. It gets in your blood. I've never not wanted to be involved in the game." Robinson always was more than involved in the game. He is, in fact, a big part of its evolution. He was one of that elite class of black ballplayers that followed Jackie Robinson after the color line was broken, breaking in as National League Rookie of the Year with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956. He was the only player ever to win MVP honors in both leagues, the undisputed leader of a Baltimore Orioles team that won two World Series and four American League pennants from 1966 to 1971. Robinson, using determination and talent as his performance-enhancing substances, hit 586 home runs and became the first black manager in the history of the game. Involved? His name is carved forever in baseball history. Robinson spoke to the fans in a brief tribute before yesterday's game and concluded by saying, "I've never done anything harder than I have to right now, and that's to say goodbye." Just two hours earlier, he had choked back the tears just thinking of that goodbye. "I've been very fortunate to spend 51 years ..," Robinson said as the tears began to fall, "doing something that I love and enjoy doing. There's not too many people that can say that. Looking back at this kid playing on the sandlots of Oakland, California, telling everybody that he hadn't seen a big league ballgame that he was going to be a big leaguer and then grew up and achieved that goal. Fifty-one years, that is mind-boggling. It's hard to believe, because this is a tough business." How tough a business is it? The last words the Nationals players saw on the writing board as they left the clubhouse for the final time in 2006 were, "Make sure you pay your dry cleaning bill today!" Frank Robinson won't likely be getting his baseball uniform dry cleaned any more. But when he wore it, even the dirt was great.

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