Alomar-Hirschbeck: No one to say, 'Enough!'


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Why can't Orioles owner Peter Angelos let go?

Why can't the media stop reporting about an incident that took place last September?

Why can't it be over?

It all comes back to the same answer.

Because the Roberto Alomar-John Hirschbeck dispute was never adequately resolved.

Not to the umpires' satisfaction -- their threat to walk out on the postseason resulted in a meaningless study group that will examine baseball's disciplinary system.

And not to the Orioles' satisfaction -- they're still angry that Alomar was portrayed as the sole villain, saying that Hirschbeck escalated the argument by swearing at the second baseman.

Alomar declined to comment yesterday on Angelos' suggestion that Hirschbeck apologize for his alleged swearing, a recommendation that also was made by the second baseman's marketing agent, John Boggs.

"I don't even want to talk about it. I don't want to bring the issue up," Alomar said. "It's over already. I said what I have to say about the whole situation. You have to move on."

Not surprisingly, "Commissioner" Bud Selig echoed those sentiments. The last thing baseball needs in this spring of its rebirth is more Alomar vs. Hirschbeck, coupled with the disclosure of Albert Belle's gambling.

Angelos is picking the wrong fight -- he and other Orioles officials might be the only people in the country who think Alomar's actions were somehow justified.

The problem is, baseball left him this opening, and he's not about to let it close. This was a "league matter," remember? And AL president Gene Budig made a bad situation worse.

Where was Selig?

Paralyzed by his conflict of interest as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.

A true commissioner would have pushed Budig aside and conducted an investigation the day after Alomar spit on Hirschbeck.

A true commissioner would have suspended Alomar for the playoffs, or at least for more than five games the following season.

A true commissioner would have disciplined Hirschbeck for extending the argument with Alomar and then storming into the Orioles' clubhouse and threatening to kill him the next day.

Of course, none of that happened.

And so, other issues keep arising, further underscoring the game's lack of central authority.

A true commissioner would demand that players under suspension not get paid.

A true commissioner would bring the squabbling parties together, insist that they make peace and close one of the ugliest chapters in baseball history.

Of course, none of that will happen, either.

"The only thing I'll say on the subject is that everybody will be better off by moving on," Selig told The Sun's Peter Schmuck yesterday.

"Further conversations only exacerbate an already difficult situation. This is not going to be solved by public outbursts."

Selig acknowledged that such disputes might be better resolved by the commissioner rather than league presidents, saying, "We need to be more global in what we do."

And he indicated that he might contact all the parties in an attempt to quell the public bickering, saying, "I'm going to reserve all of my options."

Such suspense.

Can you stand it?

In fairness, the problem isn't just Selig -- baseball also is burdened with an intractable umpires union, and an even more intractable players union.

Still, David Stern would have put an end to this. Even Paul Tagliabue would have figured out a better solution.

Baseball's solution is essentially no solution. Alomar gets his paid vacation. And Hirschbeck gets away with his questionable conduct on and off the field.

Alomar deserved his public flogging. His spitting was unforgivable. And saying that Hirschbeck changed after the death of his young son was beyond inappropriate.

Yet, this was Alomar's first offense, the only blemish in a stellar nine-year career. So, how is it that the media grouped him with Dennis Rodman, Albert Belle and every other despicable figure in sports?

Because his suspension was too lenient.

Because Hirschbeck largely avoided scrutiny.

And because Angelos alerted the world to another of baseball's dirty little secrets, that players get paid during suspensions.

Let's see, what penalty would a player receive if he stormed into the umpires' room and threatened to kill one of the men in blue?

Oh, never mind.

The more pertinent question is, what will happen next?

Hirschbeck is scheduled to umpire the Orioles' March 17 game against Boston in Fort Myers, Fla. Alomar probably won't make the trip, delaying their first meeting until the regular season.

You can't separate the two, even for a brief period -- the precedent is too dangerous. Hirschbeck repeated yesterday that his reputation is too important to carry a grudge. Presumably, the same holds true for Alomar.

Asked if he was comfortable knowing he would work Orioles games, Hirschbeck said, "I am. I really am."

The Alomar fallout?

"It doesn't make it the easiest thing in the world. The job is hard, anyway," Hirschbeck said. "You put added pressure on yourself, let's say, for a big game, a playoff game, a World Series game.

"I always say you umpire the same way in the World Series you do in spring training. But the pressure's different.

"You know that the situation happened. If nobody said anything, nothing would be added to the situation. But that's not the way things are."

Just wait until Hirschbeck gets his first close play in an Orioles game. If he rules one way, the Baltimore side will scream. If he rules the other, the opponent might claim that he's trying to avoid more trouble.

Which brings us to the larger issue: Will other umpires show bias against the Orioles?

They blather on about their integrity but bait players unnecessarily. And the head of their union, Richie Phillips, never wastes an opportunity to grandstand against Alomar.

So, will they stick it to the Orioles?

The question was put to manager Davey Johnson.

"No," he said firmly. "It's over with. I'm sick of it. I'm absolutely sick of it. It's done."

Johnson, too, remains in a difficult spot -- he was in the best position to hear what Hirschbeck said to Alomar, but has tried to stay out of the dispute, probably out of fear of retribution from the umpires.

So, on and on it goes.

There's no commissioner, no resolution, no end in sight.

Pub Date: 2/19/97

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