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Hirschbeck: 'I didn't do anything wrong'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Umpire John Hirschbeck charged Roberto Alomar in the SkyDome's visitors clubhouse the morning of Sept. 28, raging at the Oriole, and some standing nearby say he came within 10 to 20 feet of the second baseman.

Hirschbeck said recently, in one of his first published interviews since he invaded the Orioles' clubhouse, that his anger was so acute that he doesn't even remember seeing Alomar.

"It was kind of like a fit of rage," Hirschbeck is quoted as saying in the December issue of Referee magazine. "I don't remember seeing anyone in there, and [fellow umpire] Jim Joyce told me later the locker room was filled with players. [Alomar] was only 10 feet away from me and I only remember seeing one of the clubhouse kids in the back, folding clothes."

Joyce grabbed Hirschbeck from behind and pulled his friend out of the clubhouse. Hirschbeck and crew chief Jim McKean debated whether Hirschbeck should umpire that day, before finally deciding he should sit out. In the dressing room, Hirschbeck said: "I got dressed and undressed four different times. I really wanted to go out, but [not working] was probably best. The wise decision was made for me by the rest of the crew."

The following day, Hirschbeck insisted on umpiring. "I wanted everyone to see that I was there," Hirschbeck said, "that I was under control, that I was going to go out and do my job the last day of the season."

Hirschbeck has maintained a low profile since, even as his union threatened to sit out the playoffs, and as mail poured in from across the country. "You know, I've gotten a lot of mail through this whole thing and not one negative letter," said Hirschbeck. "People I never heard of. Some were just addressed, 'John Hirschbeck, Poland, Ohio,' and they got here."

Alomar and the Orioles maintain that before Alomar spat in the umpire's face, Hirschbeck badly missed a strike call, unnecessarily escalated the growing confrontation and yelled an obscenity at the player, a common curse word making reference Alomar's mother. Hirschbeck denied he cursed at Alomar.

"Over the years. I've probably been guilty of [cursing]," said Hirschbeck, "several times, many times, lots of times. But in this particular instance I can honestly say that I did not."

Hirschbeck said he was "shocked" when Alomar spat at him. "But I remembered where I was. We [umpires] have supposedly been trained to handle all kinds of situations. We're not supposed to lose our control. I guess that training, that mental toughness helped me through it.

"I didn't do anything wrong. It isn't like I missed a play or brought this on or did something to antagonize him. I just was doing my job. But I think, unfortunately, I'm always going to be tagged as the umpire that got spit on."

Bad news for draft

The massive contracts given to amateur free agents Matt White ($10.2 million), Travis Lee ($10 million) and John Patterson ($6 million) not only destroyed the salary structure in the draft, but also probably will lead to the end of the draft as we know it.

Next year, a player drafted early in the first round will be offered typical draft money -- say, around $1 million -- and his family will file a lawsuit, contending the major-league draft prevents him getting fair-market value. The player (call him John Dough) will use the White, Lee and Patterson contracts as compelling examples of what is possible when amateurs can negotiate with all teams.

"What did we see in an open market?" agent Scott Boras asked, rhetorically. "We saw the value of players escalate five- and six-fold."

The draft will have to change, and Boras has some suggestions. Reduce the number of rounds, for one. Give teams one year to sign drafted players, and then after that, allow the players to be free agents (right now, players are thrown back into the draft). Allow teams to trade picks, as they do in football and basketball.

"That way," Boras said, "teams that can't afford a No. 1 pick will get something back, and be compensated for having one of the worst records, rather than just lose the rights to the player."

An AL general manager said he told his brethren at recent meetings that the Lee and White signings would dramatically affect the future of the draft, and many other executives laughed at him. "But it's a big deal," said the GM. "It's going to have a huge impact."

Johnson goes visiting

Orioles manager Davey Johnson intends to fly to the Dominican Republic today to watch Manny Alexander play shortstop in winter ball. Alexander is batting .228 for Estrellas.

A number of other Orioles are competing in the Dominican league, including first baseman Domingo Martinez, recently added to the 40-man roster. "I'm going to check on all those guys, not just Manny," said Johnson.

The Red Sox are probably going to deal Jose Canseco to the Oakland Athletics as soon as Boston is satisfied with the financial settlement -- Oakland wants Boston to pay $2 million of Canseco's salary. Once the Red Sox complete that move, look for them to trade shortstop John Valentin to the San Diego Padres for shortstop Chris Gomez, outfielder Rickey Henderson and a pitcher.

Several observers who visited the Arizona Fall League see a lot of Rocky Coppinger in Orioles prospect Sidney Ponson. Similar build, similar mental makeup. "He's a tough competitor, which makes him very much like Coppinger," said Orioles farm director Syd Thrift. Ponson, who went 2-1 with a 3.26 ERA in the AFL, is not part of the Orioles' 40-man roster, but he'll be invited to spring training and some in the organization believe he has a chance to advance to the big leagues next season.

Alvie Shepherd, the Orioles' No. 1 pick in 1995, seems to have righted himself since being converted from a short reliever to a starter in August. He's 4-0 with a 3.63 ERA in Australia.

A Ripken balks

Everybody seen the mall commercial starring Vi Ripken, Cal's mom? Vi Ripken, standing on the first floor, asks the whereabouts of a certain store and is told it's on the third floor. "I'm not going to third," she then says. Maybe Mike Bordick will check with her before he shops at the local malls.

Cecil Fielder couldn't wait to get out of Detroit, to play with a contender. Now that he's with a world champion, he wants to leave. Fielder, fearful of being relegated to part-time duty with the New York Yankees just before he becomes a free agent, has demanded a trade. If the Yankees don't grant his demand by March 15, he'll become a free agent, but frankly, New York would probably be thrilled if Fielder walked, ridding them of their $7.2 million obligation.

Fielder is still angry about being benched in the first game of the playoffs. "I'm not going to forget that," he said. "I like New York, but I don't like the situation all the time. I'm not comfortable with all the lineup changes and controversy."

The postseason controversy came as a result of the Yankees players refusing to give former replacement players Dave Pavlas, Dale Polley and Matt Howard a dime of the playoff shares (a full share was worth $241,000).

"It takes some of the shine off everything," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "It's taken a little bit of the fun away."

The Yankees think they can trade Charlie Hayes to the San Francisco Giants, clearing the way for them to pursue free-agent third baseman Tim Naehring, roundly coveted by opposing executives for his leadership and hard-nosed play.

Butler may not play

Brett Butler signed a contract for 1997, but he's still not sure if he'll actually play again for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Butler weighs 152 pounds, or 8 pounds less than his playing weight before he had a cancerous tonsil and lymph node removed. "I'll know sometime before spring training," Butler said. "But if you ask me now, I'm probably leaning toward [retirement]."

Having tried and failed to sign Terry Steinbach, the Colorado Rockies are pursuing Benito Santiago. They need a regular catcher badly.

San Diego is having difficulty re-signing Fernando Valenzuela, which may have prompted the Padres' trade for Sterling Hitchcock.

The Cincinnati Reds want to trade second baseman Bret Boone to Atlanta for first baseman Fred McGriff, the Braves being somewhat concerned Mark Lemke will sign with the Yankees.

Florida wants to add Alex Fernandez to the tandem of Al Leiter and Kevin Brown, but may settle for Jaime Navarro.

The great irony in the demise of the draft is that the entire problem was created by the spite of Jerry Reinsdorf. The Chicago White Sox owner reportedly ordered his scouting staff to draft high school pitcher Bobby Seay to show Boras, Seay's agent, that he couldn't dictate signing bonuses.

But Boras found a loophole, through which Seay ($3 million), Lee and White passed through to get outright free agency.

O's farm report

Top prospects

Orioles' best prospects, according to the periodical Baseball America:

Sidney Ponson, RH pitcher

Nerio Rodriguez, RH pitcher

Eugene Kingsale, outfielder

Chris Fussell, RH pitcher

Julio Moreno, RH pitcher

Calvin Pickering, 1B/OF

Alvie Shepherd, RH pitcher

Mark Seaver, RH pitcher

Ryan Minor, third baseman

Brian Falkenborg, RH pitcher

Best tools

Best tools among Orioles minor-leaguers, according to Baseball America:

Best hitter for average: Mike Berry

Best power hitter: Calvin Pickering

Fastest runner: Eugene Kingsale

Best fastball: Alvie Shepherd

Best breaking ball: Sidney Ponson

Best control: Sidney Ponson

Best defensive catcher: B. J. Waszgis

Best defensive INF: Eddy Martinez

Best infield arm: Juan Bautista

Best defensive OF: Eugene Kingsale

Best outfield arm: Brian Bogle

Pub Date: 12/08/96

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