Lack of commissioner, discipline not in best interest of game 7/8

BASEBALL

August 01, 1993|By PETER SCHMUCK

It's nostalgia time. It's time to look back fondly on the Bowie Kuhn era.

You remember Bowie, don't you? He was the guy who was dubbed "the village idiot" by former Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. He was the brunt of one joke after another during his 16-year tenure as baseball commissioner.

He looks pretty good, in retrospect.

Baseball has gone 11 months without a commissioner . . . and it shows. The game is controlled by the Executive Council, which is fine for negotiating a television contract and negotiating a labor agreement, but the sport no longer has a moral or ethical rudder. That much is obvious from the events of the past few weeks.

* Item: The San Diego Padres trade batting champion Gary Sheffield to the expansion Florida Marlins, first baseman Fred McGriff to the Atlanta Braves and two starting pitchers (Greg Harris and Bruce Hurst) to the Colorado Rockies.

Historical perspective: Kuhn stepped in when Finley tried to sell off three of his star players in the 1970s. The commissioner used his power to act in the best interests of baseball to protect the integrity and stability of the game.

Maybe times have changed. Maybe a new commissioner would realize that the economics of the game have gotten so out of whack that desperate measures are necessary to transform a franchise into a viable business venture. But the fans in San Diego -- especially the ones who bought season tickets to see a team that had the defending National League batting champ and one of the top home run hitters in the game -- are getting a raw deal.

* Item: New York Mets outfielder Vince Coleman hurls a high-powered firecracker into a group of fans and causes an eye injury to a 2 1/2 -year-old child.

Historical perspective: The use of explosives, especially in unprovoked attacks on the public, has been frowned on throughout baseball history, but so far, Coleman has not been disciplined by the Mets or the league office. Neither have the players who squirted bleach at reporters in the Mets' clubhouse.

Baseball's inconsistent disciplinary system has become a joke. Players and managers are routinely suspended for tummy-bumping an umpire, but nothing happens when a high-profile player throws an explosive device into the face of a child?

The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office may not treat the firecracker incident so lightly, but that's not the issue here. The greater issue is the breakdown of baseball's relationship with the fans. Many players view the fans with contempt even as they stuff their pockets with the vast sums of money that are created by public interest. Even some teams have lost touch with the lifeblood of the baseball business.

Somewhere along the line, the link was broken, and it will take a strong commissioner to reattach it.

Slip of the tongue

Coleman finally made what amounted to a public apology for the

incident, though the New York papers made much of the fact that he never actually said he was sorry.

In the actual text of his statement, Coleman blamed the media for making him into a villain, though a slip of the tongue may have been more revealing than anything he meant to say.

"They [the fans] only know what the media has portrayed us to be," Coleman said. "I personally have been betrayed as an insensitive, non-caring athlete."

Talk about a Freudian slip. Coleman already has betrayed himself as everything that is wrong with today's professional athlete.

More fighting words

Milwaukee Brewers manager Phil Garner was in a fighting mood last weekend after he heard that Chicago White Sox announcers Ken Harrelson and Tom Paciorek had suggested on the air that a Sox pitcher retaliate for a hit batsman.

"Those guys are trying to get [stuff] instigated between these teams," Garner said. "If Hawk [Harrelson's nickname] and Wimpy [Paciorek's nickname] think we're trying to hit guys on their team, I'm available for a confrontation any time they want it. They're two idiots is what they are. And the challenge is, I'll fight both of them at the same time right here.

"Those two guys have been doing this all year. I thought they knew better, but they must be idiots because they keep doing it."

Tough talk

Detroit Tigers utility man Tony Phillips wasn't in a forgiving mood after Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Pat Hentgen threw near his head during Thursday night's game at SkyDome.

Phillips, who came into the game with two three-run homers against Hentgen this year, was certain that the second-inning near miss was intentional. His angry response precipitated the second bench-clearing confrontation in as many nights in Toronto, where the Orioles and Blue Jays had stared each other down the night before.

But that wasn't the end of it. Phillips escalated the situation after the game when he called Hentgen out.

"He knows where I'll be the next three days," Phillips said. "If he wants me, I'm out there. As a matter of fact, it's a challenge."

Rare cycle

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