Citing the need for "extremely durable" players, the Blast has ended its 10-year love-hate relationship with All-Star defender Tim Wittman.
"Last season, Timmy was the second highest paid player on the team and he missed about 20 games," Blast general manager John Borozzi said yesterday, referring to Wittman's early-season back trouble and a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery. "With next year's schedule, there are 40 games, and people look at that and say it's less grueling, but the truth is that each game is that much more intense and important."
He added, "After numerous meetings with Timmy, we've decided it is just time that we part company. I think it would be better for all of us."
The Blast veteran responded heatedly when reached in Cancun, where he is vacationing with his family.
"I could sense something was coming," said Wittman, who finished the 1990-91 season with 30 goals and 24 assists, the fourth-highest production on the team, despite missing 19 games. "But the reasons they're giving are all excuses. They have been looking for a way to get me out in a way that won't make them look bad.
"I think the reason is a personality conflict. If it had anything to do with my play, I could prove myself. They could ask the doctors about my durability. Yeah, I've had four surgeries, but they've all been arthroscopic. Never a ligament or cartilage. That's not it.
"I've played more games for this franchise than anyone else in its history," said Wittman, 27. "If they say they don't want me because of my durability, well, all I can say is if after 10 years they don't want to give me a chance, then the hell with them, I'll go someplace else."
Blast coach Kenny Cooper expressed regret at management's decision, but words intended to smooth the situation further irritated the Blast All-Star.
"Timmy has been with me since he was 17," Cooper said of Wittman, a Baltimore native who played at Calvert Hall. "But after our meetings, it is as John says, in the best interest of all of us. Last year was tough for Timmy, with the injury setbacks. And he's older, now. I think he's not sure himself in what direction he wants to go."
Wittman disagreed -- angrily.
"I know exactly what I want to do," Wittman said. "I want to play ZTC three more years. I want to play them with the Blast. I want to end my career here. How can Kenny Cooper, who doesn't know if he'll be in Tacoma or Dallas or Baltimore or whether Ed Hale is going to fire him tomorrow, say I don't know exactly what I want? I've told them exactly what I want . . . I've never wanted to play anywhere but here."
Wittman, who will return from vacation today, was adamant his feelings be expressed.
"I don't care how it comes out, as long as it comes out," Wittman said. "They want everything to be hunky-dory. They have power in the league and I may not get another team. I know about the politics. I know it's a business. But management keeps doing what it does and the truth never comes out. No one ever hears about the lying and the politics. I can't say every team is like that, because I've only played for one, but I know how it is with the Blast."
It is no secret Wittman and Blast owner Ed Hale do not have a good relationship. It is something Wittman doesn't deny. In fact, when asked for specific reasons for why he believes he is not being asked back, he frankly points to it.
"No. 1, in prior meetings I've talked back and I blew up at a meeting with Hale and walked out," Wittman said. "No. 2, I know too much. I know how people work, how management works. I've seen it since I was 17 years old.
"I spoke up when I didn't think something was fair. In this organization, if you don't say yes, sooner or later you're gone. It's no secret that in the last two years I've had a lot of trouble with owners and management . . . Everybody in that organization is hand-picked or controlled. You have to learn to say yes. Once they don't have control of you, you have to go -- and I'm not going to suck up to management."
Cooper, asked to respond to Wittman's statements, was stunned into near silence.
"I'm speechless," he said and then added, "Speaking on behalf of ownership and management, those accusations don't even qualify for a response."
Wittman, who was voted a member of the Blast's All-Decade Team last season, has played in a team-record 362 regular-season games, producing a team-high 198 goals and 106 assists while playing a primarily defensive position.
His absence coupled with the apparent loss of All-Star Bruce Savage, who is pursuing a position with the U.S. National Team, and the death of Mike Reynolds, leaves the Blast with a depleted backfield.
"Why can't they just let me be me?" Wittman asked. "I perform on the field. I'm well known in the community. I don't drink, smoke or stay out late. Why can't decisions be based on how I play the game and represent the team off the field? I don't understand why management feels it has to control me."
A year ago, Wittman recalled, he was returning to the team as an All-Star who had earned the team's MVP award and become only the fifth player in franchise history to score 40 goals.
"All that, and they offered me $40,000," Wittman said of the offer, which was $32,000 below the individual player salary cap the team readily paid newcomer Dale Mitchell. "I thought they've got to be kidding."
This summer, Wittman has not had to balk at a contract offer.
"We had three meetings and they accomplished nothing," Wittman said. "They weren't about contracts. They were about getting me to do or say certain things. They wanted to know how I'd feel if I wasn't around here anymore. They didn't know what they wanted to do with me. They wanted to know what I'd say. They wanted to know who was going to look like a bad guy."