Island of criticism greets O's hands-off Cuba policy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Once again, the Orioles found themselves in the middle of a public relations nightmare this past week when vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift confirmed what some player agents have suspected for quite some time.

The Orioles, he told the Washington Times, would not pursue or sign players who have defected from Cuba.

The reaction was predictable. The club was blasted on conservative talk radio for kowtowing to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. One agent who represents Cuban players wrote a letter to commissioner Bud Selig demanding that he step in and order the policy reversed."Besides being an insult to the principles on which this country was founded - and likely violating the collective bargaining agreement and/or various federal, state and local statutes - the Orioles' policy reeks of discrimination that cannot and should not be tolerated by Major League Baseball," wrote agent Joe Kehoskie, who represents four players who defected from Cuba."Quite simply, the Orioles' position regarding Cuban defectors is no less outrageous than a ban on hiring black people or Jewish people or any other group of people deemed politically inconvenient. Their policy - or 'concept,' as Mr. Thrift, clearly backtracking, called it in the Baltimore Sun, is a disgrace to MLB that clearly warrants a full investigation by your office."

Of course, that won't be necessary, since even owner Peter Angelos knows a loser when he sees it. He later told the Washington Post that the club can pursue good Cuban players, but he does not want to be seen as encouraging players to defect from the island nation.

That is news to Kehoskie, who says he invited the Orioles to several workouts in which his clients were put on display for major-league scouts. The Orioles were one of only three major-league clubs - and the only large-market club - that did not send a scout to at least one of the workouts."I would say that my phone has never rung from the Orioles," Kehoskie said. "I read where Peter Angelos said that Cuban players would be judged on their own merits, but I don't see how you could judge them without even coming to see them. ... I had suspected that there was some sort of policy in place."

Apparently, it was just a big misunderstanding, the kind that crops up occasionally in an organization with little sense for what's really going on outside the Law Offices of Peter Angelos.

The Orioles owner paints in broad strokes. The Cuba initiative was a bold move that only Angelos could have pulled off. He should be congratulated for having the guts to go forward with the goodwill overture, when it would have been safer to steer clear of such a controversial situation.

If only he had more of a sense for how the smaller things he does are perceived both in Baltimore and across the nation.

Ten-second editorial

Frankly, I can't understand why anybody would be surprised about this supposed Cuban embargo. The organization has - for all practical purposes - long pursued the same policy with regard to every other hotbed of Latin American baseball talent.

Bleachergate

No doubt, there will be some hell to pay for the melee that broke out in the bleachers at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. Catcher Chad Kreuter and his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates should never have entered the stands to pursue an unruly fan and they will be disciplined accordingly, but the incident should be a wakeup call for all of baseball.

The crude and rude behavior of fans in the bleacher areas of several parks - most notably Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and Wrigley Field - has been winked at for years. It's time to take real steps to curb alcohol abuse in those areas and to secure the field for the protection of the players and the fans."It's a situation not about the fans, but about alcohol," Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone said. "It's about drunkenness at the ballpark. If they're not drunk, I don't think this would have happened. The Dodgers don't condone what happened. We're not happy about this but it was self-protection."

Dodgers officials complained that there were few uniformed security personnel in the area where the mini-riot broke out. Chicago Cubs officials, including manager Don Baylor, pointed to the Dodgers for making a bad situation into a near-disaster. There probably is enough blame to pass around to everybody involved.

Not the first time

Kreuter certainly wasn't the first major-league player ever to jump into the stands. Volatile outfielder Reggie Smith did it twice during his career with the Dodgers, once at Wrigley Field and once at Candlestick Park.

San Francisco Giants manager Dusty Baker, who was a teammate of Smith's, said that it's sometimes difficult to turn the other cheek when fans get personal."The customer is not always right," Baker said. "And the more intimate the ballparks, the more of a chance of something happening. Reggie's mom was really ill, and somebody in the stands at Wrigley was talking about his momma. Somebody says something personal to you, and you kind of react."When we were playing at Candlestick, someone yelled to Reggie, 'I feel like hitting you with this beer can.' Reggie told him, 'If you do, I'll come up and kick your butt.' The guy threw the can, and Reggie was like Bruce Lee - one move and he was in the stands. The guy had his hands on a rail, and wouldn't let go. The security people clubbed him and broke his hand. He sued the Dodgers, and I think he got $150,000."

Rogue's gallery

The news photos of Kreuter apparently choking the fan that allegedly punched him have suddenly turned the otherwise obscure backup catcher into a well-known figure in sports circles.

Of course, this is far from the first highly publicized choking incident in big-time sports. Kreuter joins a long list of famous chokers, including Bobby Knight, Latrell Sprewell, the Boston Red Sox and - of course - Greg Norman.

Temper, temper

Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella has a legendary temper, so who better to ask about the temperamental Knight, who appears to be one tantrum away from the end of his coaching career at Indiana University."The hardest thing a person has to control is his temper - I fought it all my life," Piniella told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "My temper is not planned; it just comes out. Bobby's had a similar situation. Everybody's wound a little different. It's just a question of how you control yourself."

Can Knight, who has thrown more chairs than the entire cast of the World Wrestling Federation, finally get a grip on himself."I gotta believe he'll do it," said Piniella. "You have to resolve to yourself that you have to change. You're the only one who can do it. I thought he would have resigned. I read it as true contrition, and you're going to see a change."

Kazu doesn't translate

Japanese pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki has more saves than anyone in the history of Japanese baseball, but he lasted just 12 appearances as the Mariners' new closer.

Sasaki, who did not allow more than six home runs in any of his last eight full seasons in Japan, already has allowed five this year - the last two sudden-death shots in back-to-back appearances against Texas and Oakland. "I've never been hit this hard," Sasaki said.

Piniella's patience wore thin in a hurry. He replaced Sasaki in the closer role with veteran reliever Jose Mesa. Sasaki will pitch in middle and setup relief until he gets his act together.

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