Gaston still one the fans love to hate

SIDELIGHT

May 11, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

Years ago, the staple of every good Saturday morning cartoon was the hapless bad guy, who served as the comic relief to the hero's innate goodness.

Dudley Do-Right of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had Snidely Whiplash to tangle with. Of course, Boris and Natasha were always causing big trouble for moose and squirrel, Rocky and Bullwinkle. And what would Bugs Bunny have been without Yosemite Sam?

Baltimore has adopted Cito Gaston as its villain du jour, so it came as no surprise to the Toronto manager when the very foundation of Camden Yards shook with a torrent of boos when he emerged to yank first Al Leiter and then Mike Timlin in the seventh inning Monday.

"Surprised? Not at all, but then they came pretty close to booing Johnny Oates, so I'm in pretty good company. They booed our players before they were even introduced," said Gaston.

The Oriole Park faithful might have given the Blue Jays players some grief, but they saved the full force of their fury for the manager.

And Gaston has taken it all in stride. "That is all right. They can boo as long as they don't throw things or put their hands on you," he said. "They pay their money, they can boo."

Some of this invective is to be expected. After all, the Blue Jays share space in the Orioles' division, the AL East, like the Yankees and the Red Sox, who also inflame passions here.

But the flames are stoked particularly high for the Blue Jays and for Gaston, who joins Indianapolis Colts owner Robert Irsay and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue as perhaps the most hated men on the Baltimore sports scene.

"We don't get that kind of reaction anywhere else. It's unfortunate, because he's a good manager and this is a good team," said Buck Martinez, who broadcasts some Blue Jays games for The Sports Network, the Canadian equivalent of ESPN.

The fact that the Blue Jays have won two straight World Series, fending off the Orioles each time to win the division, plays no small part in the venom. But the chief ingredient in this stew of dislike is Gaston's perceived snub of Mike Mussina in last year's All-Star Game.

Mussina, slated to start tonight, began to throw in the bullpen late in the game, which was shown on the JumboTron scoreboard.

When Mussina didn't get in, a cascade of boos erupted in the ballpark, despite the fact that the American League had won the game.

Immediately afterward, Mussina kept mum about what happened, while Gaston explained that he and Oates had agreed that the right-hander would not get in unless it was necessary. Mussina subsequently admitted he had just gotten up to throw because that was his usual day to throw between starts.

"He failed to get up and tell everyone the truth," Gaston said yesterday.

A mini-furor erupted.

Both Gaston and Mussina yesterday shrugged off any comment about the flap, both maintaining that all was well between them.

Believe it or not, Gaston does have a fan in Baltimore, in an Orioles uniform no less.

Closer Lee Smith, who was in the National League bullpen last July, came to admire Gaston's panache in the midst of "Pitchergate."

"Cito has always been a hero of mine," said Smith. "I like the way that he doesn't allow others to dictate his lineup. He was doing everything in his power not to get him [Mussina] in the game, and he said, 'When you guys win it, then you can pick the team.' That right there stuck out in my mind."

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