Monster talent, Dibble must be tamed

July 25, 1991|By Bob Rubin | Bob Rubin,Knight-Ridder

He has hit batters. He has hit a fan. Tuesday night in Chicago, talented but troubled Cincinnati Reds reliever Rob Dibble branched out. This time, he nailed a baserunner.

Dibble loses control of his emotions when he fails on the mound. Like a 2-year-old who doesn't get his way, he has a tantrum, lashing out blindly, wildly.

Dangerously. Dibble, 27, is 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds, with a fastball that has been clocked at 101 mph. When he throws a baseball at somebody in rage, he's a serious threat to life and limb. It simply cannot continue.

Dibble seems schizophrenic. He is, by all accounts, a devoted husband and father. Teammates like him (though they're running out of patience with his periodic episodes of misbehavior). He's almost always contrite after an incident. He has said he must mature and learn self-control. He sounds sincere.

Then it happens again.

Dibble just served a three-day suspension for throwing behind the back of Houston Astros jack-of-all-trades Eric Yelding in April. A four-game suspension for heaving a ball into the centerfield seats at Riverfront Stadium and bruising the elbow of a fan is under appeal. Tuesday night's incident, in which Dibble hit Doug Dascenzo of the Chicago Cubs in the back of the leg as he ran to first, could well bring still another suspension.

If so, that would be three this season, matching his '89 total. And there are still 70 games to go this season.

"Sooner or later, if you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, 'I'm sorry' doesn't mean anything," Cincinnati second baseman Bill Doran told the Cincinnati Post after the game Tuesday night.

Dibbologists could smell trouble coming as the eighth inning unfolded. Dibble hadn't pitched enough recently to be sharp. After recording saves in all 23 of his opportunities, he had blown his first one against St. Louis July 16. His most recent save was July 5. He was not in the best of moods.

The Reds trailed, 5-4, when Dibble came in to pitch the eighth. Luis Salazar doubled on his first pitch, pinch runner Ced Landrum was sacrificed to third and scored on Rick Wilkins' double. Wilkins took third on a wild pitch. Had someone tried to take Dibble's blood pressure at that point, the armband probably would have snapped.

Dascenzo was up next. On a 2-2 pitch, he surprised everyone in the park with a beautiful squeeze bunt down the first base line. Dibble had no chance to get the runner coming home. So he wound up and, from no farther than 20 feet, fired the ball off the leg of Dascenzo, who, fortunately, was not hurt.

Dibble claimed the ball slipped out of his hand, but it didn't appear that way to neutral observers, including plate umpire Joe West, who immediately ejected Dibble. "He intentionally went out to hurt a player who had outsmarted him," said West, characterizing it as "a blatant display of unsportsmanship."

Dibble was humble instead of defiant in the clubhouse, his posture when he knows he has screwed up, according to Dibbologists.

The guy's a monster talent. In addition to the hottest heat ever clocked, Dibble throws a 90-mph slider that dives like a nuclear sub. He has struck out 12.1 batters for every nine innings pitched, the highest ratio in history. His earned run average for three-plus seasons is under 2.00.

But he's a menace. Twice he has thrown behind the heads of batters. That's the most dangerous beanball of all, because a batter's natural instinct is to pull the head back -- right into the path of the ball.

National League president Bill White should throw the book at Dibble, for his own good. Suspend him for a month, order him to seek psychiatric help. I'm sorry is going to sound obscene if a 100-mph Dibble fastball thrown in rage hits a man in the face.

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