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It all began with Alomar resentment

At least one man profited from the Davey Johnson saga.

Presumably, Roberto Alomar gets to keep his $10,500 now.

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With Johnson gone, Alomar can drop his grievance, forget he ever heard of the Carson Scholars Fund and live happily ever after.

Except he doesn't get off so easy.

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There might be one less overgrown adolescent screaming in the Orioles' playpen, but the silent child in the corner cannot be overlooked.

It isn't Alomar's fault that Johnson resigned -- owner Peter Angelos would have picked another fight with Johnson if the second baseman's fine hadn't become an issue.

The owner, though, had it backward.

Johnson didn't spit in an umpire's face or skip an exhibition game without permission. Those were Alomar's crimes, yet Johnson took Angelos' punishment.

Angelos might be the only man in baseball who found less fault with Alomar's actions than Johnson's reactions, and now the Orioles must face the consequences.

By seizing on the conflict between the player and manager, Angelos not only exposed cracks in the organization, but also created new ones.

Several Orioles privately expressed their disapproval of Alomar in September, wondering why Cal Ripken faced more media scrutiny for playing with back pain than Alomar did for not playing with a groin pull.

Now, some players might take an even harsher view of the eight-time All-Star, figuring he jeopardized his manager's job over a fine he received for missing an exhibition game and team banquet.

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Alomar, too, is in an uncomfortable position, knowing that he became the focus of a dispute that was not about him, and in truth, never had been.

The larger issue is special treatment -- who gets it, and who doesn't.

Alomar seems to believe he is entitled to the same deference the Orioles give Ripken and, to a lesser extent, Brady Anderson.

But others in the organization believe Alomar is immature and requires coddling.

An "irritated" Anderson indicated Tuesday that Alomar created the rift with Johnson, saying, "Davey is a great guy to manage our team."

Both Anderson and Ripken endorsed Johnson's return. Alomar has declined comment since the end of the season.

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Now that Johnson is gone, maybe his spirits will improve.

"I know after he was fined, that's when everything changed for Robbie and Davey," said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, one of Alomar's closest friends on the team.

"Well, [it did] for Robbie. I don't think Davey changed in any way."

What bothered Alomar?

"He didn't agree with the fine," Palmeiro said. "He had a problem with it."

He mentioned the problem to his owner. He mentioned it to his union. But he never acknowledged his own culpability.

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"I said the first year he was here that pound for pound he was as good a player as I've ever played with or seen," said Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, an Orioles broadcaster who is close to Johnson.

"But there's a responsibility that goes with being that kind of player. He let extraneous things get in the way of him being as good as he should be."

Perhaps now it's easier to understand why general manager Pat Gillick preferred Craig Biggio to Alomar when both second basemen were free agents.

The Orioles probably will consider trading Alomar this winter, but they shouldn't bother, with all signs pointing to the return of the Good Robbie for the 1998 season.

Rest assured, the new manager will give Alomar free rein, just like Johnson did with Ripken and Anderson.

And if anything, Alomar figures to be more motivated as he enters his free-agent year, knowing that a big season could result in an enormous contract.

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He didn't always look motivated under Johnson.

"Robbie went through the motions the week after the fine," Palmer said.

"It was rather obvious. He just flipped balls, did whatever he wanted. He was ticked off. Davey wanted to have a meeting. He wouldn't come to Davey's office."

Injuries were another source of tension. Alomar was limited by a sprained left ankle for nearly half the season, spent nearly a month on the disabled list with his groin pull and did not bat right-handed after May 31 due to a left shoulder strain.

Palmer said that Alomar rehabilitated "at his own pace." But Alomar's marketing agent, John Boggs, denied that the second baseman took a less aggressive approach to rehabilitation as a way of getting back at Johnson.

"I don't think that was an element at all in Robbie's thinking," Boggs said.

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"He was injured. He wanted to find out exactly what was wrong. He values his ability to play baseball more than he values his ability to get along with the manager."

Still, injuries were only part of it.

What bothered Alomar?

In all likelihood, the double standard that exists on almost every professional sports team.

Ripken and Anderson stay in hotels separate from the team and set their own work schedules before games. Ripken also enjoys the equivalent of valet service at Camden Yards.

How important are such perks? A club source said the hotel and parking arrangements are written into Ripken's contract. Still, even if such privileges are warranted, they're bound to create resentment and jealousy.

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Perhaps Ripken's 17 years in the organization and special place in the game shouldn't elevate him so far above his teammates. And perhaps Anderson doesn't even deserve superstar treatment.

However, it's indisputable that Ripken and Anderson attended the mandatory team banquet in April and the Rochester exhibition in July, and Alomar did not.

Then again, why should Alomar have feared any penalty?

He had his own backer in the organization and his own privileges.

He might have thought that Angelos would allow him to get away with anything if he allowed him to get away with spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck.

Indeed, Angelos directed most of his anger at Johnson for refusing to go public with what Hirschbeck allegedly said to provoke the spitting incident in Sept. 27, 1996.

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Johnson said after the game that Alomar had been "baited" and the next day said that Hirschbeck had directed profanities at the player. He did not get more specific, apparently fearing a backlash from the umpires.

"I think it should have been made clearer, that while there was no justification for Robbie's actions, there was strong mitigation there," Angelos told The New York Times in September.

"And the argument that one didn't wish to upset the umpires is a collateral and inconsequential argument. It is a matter of principle, I believe, to tell it the way you saw it and the way you heard it."

Johnson never did that to Angelos' satisfaction.

And in July, another wound opened.

Alomar missed the exhibition in Rochester two days after playing in the All-Star Game. His grandmother had died the previous week. He wanted to arrange a day trip to his native Puerto Rico.

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Johnson excused two other players from the game -- pitcher Jimmy Key, who got married during the All-Star break, and Mike Mussina, who was ill.

But Alomar never asked permission.

"I said to Davey, 'You ask him what his father would have done if he hadn't picked up the phone and had the courtesy to call,' " said Palmer, referring to former major-leaguer Sandy Alomar Sr.

"If [Roberto] had said, 'My shoulder's still bothering me, my grandmother just died,' you think Davey's not going to give him a day off? But he never even asked him."

Johnson's fine was the largest in memory assessed by a manager for an off-the-field incident. But considering Alomar's $6.279 million salary, his fine was roughly the equivalent of $100 to a person earning $60,000.

Johnson said Wednesday that the amount of the fine was only an issue briefly. Angelos clearly was most upset that the manager directed Alomar to pay the $10,500 to a charity that employed Johnson's wife.

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The fine never was paid, and never will be.

Davey Johnson is out.

Roberto Alomar lives happily ever after.

Pub Date: 11/07/97


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