Stupid? Childish? Maybe, but real men don't forgive

February 20, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The other night I spend two hours trapped in something with all the sensitivity and charm of a television beer commercial. Some guy named Rob Becker, in a one-man show called "Defending the Caveman," which has run forever on Broadway and now makes its way across America, brings his insights to the Lyric Theatre here and proceeds to get something so wrong that we should run and tell Roberto Alomar and John Hirschbeck.

This Becker is trying to explain the difference between men and women. A lot he knows. He says two guys playing ball will fight over a close call, and let each other have it with both barrels, and then go home and forget about the whole thing.

Is he kidding? I'm nurturing grudges for 35 years and forget nothing. It's what makes me and those of my ilk the master gender. Someone I know who is a clinical social worker and thus understands psychological nuance says there is actually a textbook term for this. This person says it is called "stupidity."

So give it a name, but understand that I speak for many. You wonder why this business between Alomar and Hirschbeck resurfaces? Better, you should be amazed if it didn't. Five months after the argument known as Great Expectorations, Alomar's marketing agent now says the umpire Hirschbeck should apologize for the nasty thing he said that prompted Alomar to hoist a wet one. Hirschbeck replies, with the language of all great male diplomacy, Get lost. And Orioles owner Peter Angelos, never one to miss a chance to mix in, says he's tired of Alomar taking all the heat over this and wants Hirschbeck to admit he said a bad name.

If everyone is honest about this -- and they won't be, because that's also part of the male pattern -- they'll admit that the Alomar-Hirschbeck feud will never be forgotten. Each guy thinks he's been dissed; each will nurture the slight for the rest of his career, while claiming publicly, no, no, I'm a professional, I'm cool, I'm putting all this anger behind me; and then go into retirement years from today and give speeches in which he feels the anger afresh with each telling of this momentous baseball confrontation and fail to notice he's now boring everyone in the room.

Holding onto the anger, it's what we do. Does anyone forgive Irsay for moving? Do we forgive Nixon for giving us Watergate, or Eisenhower for giving us Nixon? I got a black eye from a classmate on Liberty Heights Avenue outside Howard Park Elementary School on a spring afternoon in 1957, and I'm still bTC trying to find that kid, because I got a lot taller since then and I'm pretty sure I can take him now.

Children's stuff, sure. But men being who we are -- still idiotically embracing the playground ethic forever -- we hold onto boyish things. Including, wishing to punch out anybody who ever slighted us and we imagined it a crime against all humanity.

I used to know a guy who did me real dirty. I went years without speaking to him, and then one day he asked if we could talk. He said he wanted us to be pals again. He said he didn't want the two of us to wind up as old men living in Miami Beach, wondering what all the years of silence were about.

I haven't talked to him since. You know why? Because he said nothing about doing me dirty. This, he brushed aside. It was like Germany saying, Let's be friends, and never mind that business about World War II.

This is what Alomar and Hirschbeck are now thinking. Each believes he is the victim and is bathing in the warm bath of self-righteousness, and will never let it go, no matter what language is used in public.

All perceived injustice provokes a response of precisely equal anger. The deeper the anger, and the longer it continues, the more you become committed to that anger. To let it go is to admit that perhaps the injustice wasn't so bad, or perhaps you overreacted, or perhaps time should be allowed to heal all wounds.

This is the same as saying: Maybe I was wrong. And this, naturally, is unthinkable.

Was Roberto Alomar wrong to spit? Of course. Can we understand his anger that Hirschbeck refuses to admit he provoked the spit? Of course. Is Alomar crazy to let his agent reopen the wounds as the new season approaches? Well, would you want to be Alomar with two strikes against you and Hirschbeck's behind home plate?

As for Hirschbeck, was he victimized by Alomar? Of course. Was he insulted by Alomar's insensitive remarks about Hirschbeck's child's terrible illness? Of course. But, might Hirschbeck have shown a little more grace, since he subsequently threatened to kill Alomar and since Alomar donated huge money to medical research into the disease that afflicted Hirschbeck's child? Of course.

But each man now nurtures his wounds too deeply to give them up. Each is emotionally invested in his anger. It's what men do. Of course, this is why nations go to war.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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