ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar walked to the plate at Tropicana Field last night and received a loud and sustained reminder that some sins are never forgiven.
Third baseman Cal Ripken stepped up to bat moments later and got a standing ovation, proving that some accomplishments are never forgotten.
Manager Ray Miller stood in the dugout and rebuked himself for putting both players in a very uncomfortable situation.
"I'll never do that again," Miller said. "I'll never bat him [Ripken] behind him again."
It was an honest mistake. Alomar has grown accustomed to getting booed on the road, but the large Saturday night crowd of 42,486 provided a striking study in contrasting impressions when Alomar and Ripken batted back-to-back in the second inning of the Orioles' 7-0 victory over Tampa Bay last night.
The reaction to both players has been more pronounced because most of the fans that packed Tropicana Field were seeing both players in person for the first time in this, the inaugural major-league season in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Fans in established major-league cities have had 18 months to vent on Alomar for his notorious 1996 spitting incident and longer than that to congratulate Ripken for breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record.
Ripken, who does not like getting caught in the middle of controversy, found himself in the strange position of publicly thanking the fans of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area for the affectionate reception he received, then trying to explain away Alomar's reception.
"It makes you feel especially good to realize that you're treated like a hometown person," said Ripken, who had a three-run homer. "It's a little strange, but it feels nice. Because of the streak I've gotten the opportunity to be sort of an ambassador for baseball and I've been well received everywhere."
"He knows how we feel," Ripken said. "Sometimes, the lingering effect of his mistake is an unnecessary reminder. The reality of the situation is, he's going to pay for that mistake the rest of his career."
Miller thinks that's unfortunate. He was disappointed in the crowd reaction when Alomar was booed by a smaller crowd no Friday night and wondered aloud before yesterday's game if racial prejudice is playing a role.
"When is it going to end? Maybe there is a certain amount of prejudice involved. That's the only thing I can think of," Miller said. "He's certainly not a bad guy. He doesn't like it when I talk about this, but someone has to defend him."
Alomar has done his best to keep his head down and wait out the storm, but it has shown no signs of abating. He said the same things last night that he has said after similar incidents throughout the past 18 months.
"I love to play the game of baseball and all I want to do is go out and play the best I can," he said.
If only it were that easy. Alomar's transgression struck a nerve among sports fans, who clearly viewed it as an example of everything that is wrong with professional athletes. Baltimore fans have been more forgiving, and Alomar's teammates have been largely supportive, but he still has to play 81 games a year on the road.
"We know what kind of individual he is," Ripken said, "but he has the burden of living with that mistake. Hopefully, people will judge him on something else, eventually."
Pub Date: 5/10/98