TORONTO -- Second baseman Roberto Alomar was only minutes away from reading a statement in which he would apologize for his actions Friday night, when umpire John Hirschbeck angrily charged into the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday.
Hirschbeck, who was infuriated over Alomar's comments that mentioned his late son, was restrained by fellow umpire Jim Joyce and pushed back to the umpires' dressing room. Orioles public relations director John Maroon then emerged from the clubhouse and told reporters Alomar would not speak. Alomar had met with Orioles manager Davey Johnson, Maroon and general manager Pat Gillick about 2 1/2 hours before yesterday's game. Alomar, Johnson said, was "going to make a statement saying he overreacted to profanities directed toward him."
When speaking to reporters after his 10th-inning homer clinched a playoff berth for the Orioles yesterday, Alomar did not retreat from the statements he made Friday night, after his ejection. Asked if he regretted spitting at Hirschbeck, Alomar asked rhetorically, "What would you do if someone called you an -------?"
To the umpires, Alomar's spitting was unprecedented and unacceptable. Before Hirschbeck charged into the Orioles' clubhouse, he said, "To me, he's more of a man to take a swing. If you spit in someone's face, that's something you hear about first-grade kids doing."
Richie Phillips, the head of the umpires' union, called Alomar's actions of a "despicable and cowardly nature."
Crew chief Jim McKean said: "This is a personal thing, and I don't know of anything worse you can do to somebody than spit in their face. The other thing I read was Roberto Alomar didn't regret anything he did, and I think that's wrong.
"We're all pretty disappointed at the situation," said McKean, who decided Hirschbeck should sit out games yesterday and today. "This is probably the worst thing I've ever been involved in in Major League Baseball, and I've been in baseball for 23 years. We've had bumpings, we've had fights, we've had sprays when you argue back and forth. But I've never seen a ballplayer come out and spit in somebody's face."
Phyllis Merhige, the vice president of the American League, could not remember an incident in which a player spat on an umpire.
Gillick and Johnson each said they would not condone Alomar's spitting, but they suggested he was provoked. Johnson mentioned Friday night he thought Alomar was "baited."
Gillick said: "We apologize on behalf of the organization to John Hirschbeck and the umpiring crew and the rest of the people who saw [the spitting]. But at the same time, we do not think this was entirely unprovoked.
"There was some language used by the umpire which we feel was inappropriate. Robbie feels there should be some respect back from the umpire. He didn't have that respect. Regardless of everything else that happened, it was a bad call. I think Robbie wanted him to say, 'Look, I made a mistake.' One thing led to another."
Orioles owner Peter Angelos called Alomar's spitting "absolutely inexcusable. I think Robbie's wrong, and I think the umpire's wrong, too [for his handling of Friday night's ejection].
"[Hirschbeck] has a responsibility as a person in a position of authority to treat the people they're dealing with with firmness and respect. They have to watch what they say. I know Robbie to be a first-rate player and first-rate gentleman."
Gillick said Hirschbeck should have used greater discretion before ejecting Alomar in a game of such magnitude. Fans, Gillick said, "don't come here to see [the umpires]. A lot of people, regardless of whether they like [Alomar] or don't like him, they came here to see Roberto Alomar."
Hirschbeck denied calling Alomar a name -- until after Alomar spat at him. "After this happened, I did [swear at Alomar]. Johnson said, 'This is a big game,' and I said, 'I don't [care], you should tell that guy it's a big game.' I never said anything.
"No matter if the pitch bounced up to home plate, no matter. Let's say I did call him a name. To me, there's no excuse for [spitting]. None. Nothing. If I missed the pitch, fine, but there's still no excuse to handle the situation the way he did."
McKean said: "Only animals spit in people's faces, and you guys can take that for what it's worth."
McKean was furious, too, that Alomar suggested there was a connection between Hirschbeck's on-field demeanor and the 1993 death of his 8-year-old son, John, who passed away because of a rare genetic disease. It was when Hirschbeck heard this that he tried to get at Alomar in the Orioles' clubhouse.
"It's just not fair that family matters have been brought up," McKean said. "The family matters have nothing to do with this, nothing to do with this whatsoever. [Hirschbeck's] reaction, to me, is normal. It's a normal reaction."
Before the game and after Hirschbeck went after Alomar, Johnson visited Hirschbeck in the umpires' dressing room. Johnson wouldn't comment on their exchange, but Gillick said, "I don't want to speak for [Hirschbeck], but I think probably right now he feels he possibly made a mistake in trying to come into the clubhouse, just a mistake in judgment."
Gillick and Angelos both said they didn't believe Alomar meant anything harmful in saying Hirschbeck's demeanor has changed since the death of his son.
"I'm not trying to shill for the guy," Gillick said, "but I think he was empathizing [with Hirschbeck], from the standpoint that John's attitude [used to be] of one direction, and probably or possibly, his attitude has changed toward his work. I don't think [Alomar] was taking shots at John -- although I don't agree with bringing personal matters into the workplace."
Angelos said: "What Robbie had to say was not meant as an insult. I think Robbie was trying to explain the situation."
Gillick was asked if the club will have some concern over Hirschbeck umpiring games involving the Orioles and Alomar in the future. "Well, I don't think [the umpires] will forget about it," said Gillick. "You've always got concerns."
The American League will investigate Hirschbeck's invasion of the Orioles' clubhouse, Merhige said, and will evaluate the relationship between the umpire and Alomar.
"To say there's no concern would be silly," Merhige said. "There is concern. Would it preclude [Hirschbeck] from working Orioles games? Probably not. We have had umpires who don't get along with specific people in the past before, and I think if there's some way to facilitate some better understanding between them, we might try to do that in the off-season."
That'll give everybody ample time to cool off.
Long time coming
Four of this year's eight playoff teams ended postseason droughts of eight or more seasons:
Team ......... Seasons ..... Last
Texas ........ 24 .......... --
Orioles ...... 12 .......... 1983
San Diego .... 11 .......... 1984
St. Louis .... 8 ........... 1987
Montreal ..... 15 .......... 1981
Milwaukee .... 14 .......... 1982
Kansas City .. 11 .......... 1985
California ... 10 .......... 1986
Houston ...... 10 .......... 1986
Pub Date: 9/29/96