Umpire John Hirschbeck charged Roberto Alomar in the SkyDome's visitors clubhouse the morning of Sept. 28, raging at the Oriole, and some standing nearby say he came within 10 to 20 feet of the second baseman.
Hirschbeck said recently, in one of his first published interviews since he invaded the Orioles' clubhouse, that his anger was so acute that he doesn't even remember seeing Alomar.
"It was kind of like a fit of rage," Hirschbeck is quoted as saying in the December issue of Referee magazine. "I don't remember seeing anyone in there, and [fellow umpire] Jim Joyce told me later the locker room was filled with players. [Alomar] was only 10 feet away from me and I only remember seeing one of the clubhouse kids in the back, folding clothes."
Joyce grabbed Hirschbeck from behind and pulled his friend out of the clubhouse. Hirschbeck and crew chief Jim McKean debated whether Hirschbeck should umpire that day, before finally deciding he should sit out. In the dressing room, Hirschbeck said: "I got dressed and undressed four different times. I really wanted to go out, but [not working] was probably best. The wise decision was made for me by the rest of the crew."
The following day, Hirschbeck insisted on umpiring. "I wanted everyone to see that I was there," Hirschbeck said, "that I was under control, that I was going to go out and do my job the last day of the season."
Hirschbeck has maintained a low profile since, even as his union threatened to sit out the playoffs, and as mail poured in from across the country. "You know, I've gotten a lot of mail through this whole thing and not one negative letter," said Hirschbeck. "People I never heard of. Some were just addressed, 'John Hirschbeck, Poland, Ohio,' and they got here."
Alomar and the Orioles maintain that before Alomar spat in the umpire's face, Hirschbeck badly missed a strike call, unnecessarily escalated the growing confrontation and yelled an obscenity at the player, a common curse word making reference Alomar's mother. Hirschbeck denied he cursed at Alomar.
"Over the years. I've probably been guilty of [cursing]," said Hirschbeck, "several times, many times, lots of times. But in this particular instance I can honestly say that I did not."
Hirschbeck said he was "shocked" when Alomar spat at him. "But I remembered where I was. We [umpires] have supposedly been trained to handle all kinds of situations. We're not supposed to lose our control. I guess that training, that mental toughness helped me through it.
"I didn't do anything wrong. It isn't like I missed a play or brought this on or did something to antagonize him. I just was doing my job. But I think, unfortunately, I'm always going to be tagged as the umpire that got spit on."
Bad news for draft
The massive contracts given to amateur free agents Matt White ($10.2 million), Travis Lee ($10 million) and John Patterson ($6 million) not only destroyed the salary structure in the draft, but also probably will lead to the end of the draft as we know it.
Next year, a player drafted early in the first round will be offered typical draft money -- say, around $1 million -- and his family will file a lawsuit, contending the major-league draft prevents him getting fair-market value. The player (call him John Dough) will use the White, Lee and Patterson contracts as compelling examples of what is possible when amateurs can negotiate with all teams.
"What did we see in an open market?" agent Scott Boras asked, rhetorically. "We saw the value of players escalate five- and six-fold."
The draft will have to change, and Boras has some suggestions. Reduce the number of rounds, for one. Give teams one year to sign drafted players, and then after that, allow the players to be free agents (right now, players are thrown back into the draft). Allow teams to trade picks, as they do in football and basketball.
"That way," Boras said, "teams that can't afford a No. 1 pick will get something back, and be compensated for having one of the worst records, rather than just lose the rights to the player."
An AL general manager said he told his brethren at recent meetings that the Lee and White signings would dramatically affect the future of the draft, and many other executives laughed at him. "But it's a big deal," said the GM. "It's going to have a huge impact."
Johnson goes visiting
Orioles manager Davey Johnson intends to fly to the Dominican Republic today to watch Manny Alexander play shortstop in winter ball. Alexander is batting .228 for Estrellas.
A number of other Orioles are competing in the Dominican league, including first baseman Domingo Martinez, recently added to the 40-man roster. "I'm going to check on all those guys, not just Manny," said Johnson.