I WAS AFRAID it might come to this.
The broadcasters are starting to fight back.
The other night I was watching the Orioles' television broadcast and Jim Hunter - right between a wistful paean to Jay Gibbons and an attempt to convince Buck Martinez that Miguel Tejada should be immediately eligible for sainthood - leveled an unexpected broadside in the direction of The Sun's highly respected Page 2 columnist.
OK, I figured what goes around comes around. Hunter has been sacked a few times on this page, so he's entitled to defend himself. I was just surprised that he found the time, what with having to contact the Vatican about Miggie and babysitting Melvin's quintuplets a couple times a week.
Truth be told, I was also a little puffed up to be mentioned on television and have long been a believer that any publicity is good publicity - unless you see yourself on America's Most Wanted and your neighbors start looking at you funny.
Can't say I felt the same way when Fred Manfra weighed in Monday night in Pittsburgh.
(That might be a poor choice of words. Manfra didn't actually weigh in, which might have damaged his self-esteem. He simply delivered an opinion that was relayed to me by several e-mailers. I would have heard it myself, but I also was in Pittsburgh, and the WBAL signal was a little weak.)
Joe Angel was pointing out that there appeared to be a large number of Orioles fans at PNC Park for the opener of the three-game series with the Pittsburgh Pirates ... and he mentioned that I had driven in from Baltimore.
"Well, you're not going to find a bigger Orioles fan than Peter Schmuck," Manfra replied.
The comment was followed by guffaws all around and a clear indication by Manfra that he was not talking about the high level of enthusiasm that I have been showing for the team since I moved to Jimmyville. I know a fat joke when I hear one, even when I hear it second-hand.
I don't think it's right for someone to make wry or demeaning comments about the physical shortcomings of another human being ... unless, of course, that human being is Napoleonic Redskins owner Dan Snyder. So I confronted Manfra in the PNC Park press box Tuesday night and asked him just what he meant by the comment.
To his credit, he didn't deny anything, explaining that if there ever is another misunderstanding, I should always just assume that he is talking about my weight or lack of athletic ability or inability to get a date in high school. In short, nothing I'm particularly sensitive about hearing discussed on the biggest radio station in the region.
You have to be impressed with that kind of forthrightness and honesty, even when it comes from someone who slightly resembles Fred Flintstone - and not just because television "adds a few pounds."
I've actually become used to this type of thing. Since I arrived in Baltimore, Hall of Famer and longtime Orioles analyst Jim Palmer and I have had something of a routine when we meet in the press dining room. I tell him how young he looks and he pats me on the stomach and shakes his head. This didn't bother me when I weighed 210 pounds in 1991, but now that I'm a little more full-figured, I think maybe we should just shake hands.
Palmer still looks great and I admire the way he tells it like it is as a color commentator. He's also a big fan of the Jimmyville concept, though I think it's because he thinks it's named after him.
Clearly, Angel is something of an instigator. He basically caused the whole flap between me and Manfra and came away smelling like a rose ... or at least what a rose would smell like after it's been on the golf course for six hours on a hot day.
The only innocent party here is color commentator Martinez, who obviously is above this sort of thing. I covered Buck when he was a young catcher for - I think - 11 or 12 teams, and he is a class guy who knows the game and puts up with Hunter's continuing attempt to put a "y" on the end of every Orioles player's first name.
So, at least for now, I'm going to leave him out of the escalating war of words that is being fought out on this page and in the broadcast booth.
I'm also going to lay off WBFF sports anchor Bruce Cunningham and WBAL microphone jockey Jerry Coleman. Not because they don't deserve whatever they get, but because coming up with funny material on those two guys is like hunting with a Jeep. It's just not fair.