Canseco proves true-blue to pal

April 17, 1995|By Bob Ryan | Bob Ryan,The Boston Globe

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Terry Kraft had just gotten through saying how it seems to be a baseball tradition to commence serious negotiations with major league umpires on or about Opening Day.

Vic Voltaggio had just observed that perhaps it actually would be a good idea to start the season with scab umpires, so the powers-that-be could see for themselves the vast difference in quality between the replacements and the real thing.

Just then a voice rang out:

"Jose's just joined the picket line!"

Kraft and Voltaggio turned, and there he was. Jose Canseco was standing in the middle of a crowd with an umpires' picket sign around his neck.

"We've got to get the real umpires back," he said as he scribbled his name on baseballs, programs, ticket stubs, scraps of paper and even a dollar bill. "You saw how bad baseball was without the real players. That's how bad it would be without the real umpires."

And to think we members of the Fourth Estate had, only moments before, unanimously agreed among ourselves that the players didn't give a (censored) about the umpires.

As expected, eight of the locked-out major league umps arrived approximately two hours before last night's nationally televised Red Sox-Rangers game to set up a picket line at the Broadway entrance to City of Palms Park.

In addition to American Leaguers Kraft and Voltaggio, the other picketers were John Hirschbeck (AL), Mark Hirschbeck (NL), Larry Young (AL), Tim Welke (AL), Charley Relliford (NL) and Steve Rippley (NL).

They came armed with what could be described as a non-confrontational position paper, and they would have considered it a successful trip merely to have the picket line mentioned in the morning newspaper.

There was, for example, no intention of asking players not to play.

"Realistically," said Kraft. "we can't ask them not to play. They're already doing as much as we could ask by criticizing the umpires who are working these games."

"You're seeing guys arguing in spring training who never say a word during the regular season," pointed out Voltaggio. "Mickey Tettleton never says anything to us, but yesterday I saw where he was in somebody's face."

But all the Tettletons in the world grousing about bad calls never would have the impact of a nice nationwide photo of Jose Canseco wearing a picket sign. The only problem was that no one could find a photographer.

"C'mon," bellowed Canseco, who was starting to get the look of a man who wasn't quite sure what he had gotten himself into. "Where's a photographer when you need one?"

Jose probably figured, "Hey, I'll go out, have my picture taken and scoot back inside." He didn't know it would be a good 15 or 20 minutes before USA Today lensman Russell Beeker could be summoned from the batting cage to take a picture of Canseco wearing the sign he had borrowed from John Hirschbeck.

So what exactly was Jose doing out there?

Simple. John Hirschbeck asked him.

"Somebody brought a note into the clubhouse after we came in from batting practice," Canseco explained. "It was John Hirschbeck asking me if I'd come out and put on a sign for a while to help those guys out."

That's all there was to it. No premeditation, no planning at all. John asked for a favor and Jose responded.

Jose Canseco and John Hirschbeck happen to be friends off the field. Hirschbeck had a son who died of a rare blood disease and Canseco stepped up in a charity capacity during Hirschbeck's time of need. This doesn't mean Canseco can count on an automatic 3-1 count every time he comes to bat when Hirschbeck is behind the plate. It doesn't work that way.

"On the field, we each have a job to do," Hirschbeck said. "He's not always happy with me then."

But there didn't seem to be any question about Canseco's legitimate sympathy for the umpires' cause. "The game really isn't the same without them," Canseco said. "A lot of umpires have been around a long time. You don't like to see what's happening to them. You want to see the game complete. You're talking about the serenity of the game.

"I don't even know what all the issues are," Canseco continued. "I know I want the real umpires back. They are definitely a lot better than these guys."

Canseco really never pondered the ramifications of a superstar taking such a public stand. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know how much this could affect the negotiations. Hopefully, it will. I'd like to see this resolved. I just think it's important to let the umpires know the players are behind them."

Only one person involved thought the whole affair went as planned. "I knew he'd come if I asked," said John Hirschbeck. "Absolutely. I knew he'd come. Jose is a good person. I'd have bet my house he'd come out here."

In sports, this is known as being a stand-up guy.

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