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BY HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON--Frank Robinson is still keeping tabs on the Washington Nationals.
"I watch 'em, sure. They're having problems. They're struggling right now," the team's former manager said last night.
The Hall of Famer was back in town to receive the first Jackie Robinson Society Community Recognition Award at George Washington University, part of the school's celebration marking the 60th anniversary of the integration of Major League Baseball.
Jackie Robinson became the 20th century's first black player in the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1962. Frank Robinson hit 586 homers and became baseball's first black manager with the Cleveland Indians in 1975. He also managed San Francisco, Baltimore and Montreal, coming to Washington when the Expos became the Nationals in 2005.
"When it was announced that Jackie was going to break the barrier, naturally, that got everyone's attention," Frank Robinson said yesterday. "Even me, being 11, 12 years old, I knew what that meant--I could maybe realize my dream of being a major league baseball player if I had the talent."
He said he briefly met Jackie Robinson during spring training in 1956, then got a chance to speak at length with him a year later, mainly discussing life away from the ballpark.
"As I grew and got older and got to meet Jackie I began to understand the significance of his breaking the color barrier and what he had done and what it meant," Frank Robinson said.
He was cited for his contributions to Washington and the country.
"When you honor Frank, you honor America, because his is a wonderful American story," author Roger Kahn said during the keynote speech at the award ceremony.
Frank Robinson spoke about hearing racist taunts in his early playing days--and told of considering quitting because of that.
Before the ceremony, he was asked about Don Imus, the radio and TV broadcaster fired after comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team.
"We always think things are all right in our society and we have a tendency in sports to be immune to what's happening in our society, but it's not perfect. There's still racism out there, and there's still people that talk and say crazy things without worrying about consequences," Frank Robinson said.
Calling Imus' comments "way off base," Robinson added, "It's not the first time, but this time he attacked the wrong people."