by | Oct 2, 1996 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

No way he should be playing. Not after what he did. A baseball player spits in the face of an umpire, and here he is, Tuesday afternoon, taking swings in the playoffs as if nothing happened? What’s it take to get suspended in this game? A gunshot?

Right is right, wrong is wrong. And in your heart, you know the difference. Which is why Roberto Alomar should never have been at Camden Yards, stepping to the plate Tuesday. He is not the lowest guy to ever hit major league baseball, but what he did last Friday was pretty darn close, and he knows it. Over an umpire’s strike, he argued, spat in the ump’s face and later accused the ump of being bitter over the death of his child to a rare brain disease. Hey, Roberto. Did it ever occur to you that the man just thought the pitch was a strike? Good God. Does everything with these guys have to be some kind of personal attack?

What Alomar should have done is sat down. Right then and there. If it cost the Orioles the playoffs, so be it. Some things are bigger than one season, such as the integrity of the game. Or what’s left of it.

Instead, Alomar gave that integrity another shot to the chops, just days before the start of baseball’s shining moment, the playoffs. Because, after watching the league slap Alomar’s wrist — giving him a five-game suspension for regular-season games — then watching Alomar file an appeal, allowing him to postpone the suspension until next season, the umpires said “enough.” They threatened a walkout. “If Alomar’s in uniform, we’re not,” was the message.

Right is right.

It took umpires to give baseball a conscience.

Who’s the victim?

Now, usually, in these disputes, you find someone who will take the player’s side with the misguided “heat of the battle” defense, as if these pitchers and shortstops were fighting for their country.

But in the Alomar case, you can’t find anyone who agrees with what he did to veteran umpire John Hirschbeck. You have his club regretting his behavior and players regretting his behavior and still, nothing happens to him. He apologizes and throws some money at a charity. Big deal.

Let me tell you about baseball player apologies. A few years back, I was the victim of a player’s temper tantrum; Guillermo Hernandez, the Tigers’ relief pitcher, dumped a bucket of ice water over my head.

Although I had never had a confrontation with a player before, and, I believe, I took a pretty fair reputation to work with me each day, this was manager Sparky Anderson’s response: “You must have done something.”

I must have done something?

Only after the whole press corps marched into Sparky’s office did management finally tell Hernandez to apologize. Here is how that went: He came up behind me the next day, mumbled “Sorry about the water” and walked off without making eye contact. No suspension. No fine.

And I’m not an umpire.

I’m not in charge of policing the game.

So don’t tell me about Alomar’s too-late contrition, or the money he gave to medical charities to show his “sincere remorse” to Hirschbeck. Alomar embarrassed him in front of millions of viewers, and a day later he had the audacity to relate the death of Hirschbeck’s child to balls and strikes.

You want to prove you’re sorry? Don’t do the penance that fits you. Do the penance that fits the act. Sit down.

As for the “heat of the battle” defense, I look at it differently. I say you find out what people are all about in the heat of battle.

Alomar was about spitting in a man’s face.

Right is right

When Tuesday’s game was over — the umps returned pending a Thursday hearing on the incident — someone asked Alomar about the controversy, and the smattering of boos he heard even in his home park.

He shrugged it off. “I just went out there and played baseball.”

Yes. And that’s the problem. If Alomar were anywhere near the man his supporters make him out to be, he would have been serving his suspension immediately. Why? Because that’s the right response, forget what your lawyer tells you.

Instead, because Alomar played the day after the spitting and hit a home run to put the Orioles in the playoffs, their entire postseason is now tainted, this round, the next round, the World Series if they get there — all dipped in the dirty water of churlish, pampered behavior and legal mumbo-jumbo.

Of course, baseball has no one to blame but itself. No one is in charge, the sport is a roller coaster with no one at the stick. Instead of a real commissioner who would have been on this the night it happened, calling for an immediate hearing, we had Bud Selig, the puppet, the acting commissioner, a husk in a suit, and Gene Budig, the often-ineffective American League president. Both were content to let Alomar appeal his suspension and pull a favorite trick of players and their agents — defer punishment until it doesn’t matter. It was technically all they could do.

But technically correct is not the same as morally correct. Right is right. Baseball knows it. The Orioles know it. And Alomar knows it.

When someone asked him Tuesday about the incident, Alomar said, “Everyone makes mistakes in life. We’re all men here.”

Oh, yeah? Then act like one.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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