Laughable penalty ensures stigma will linger for Alomar

April 07, 1997|By John Eisenberg

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Now you know why the umpires are angry.

Roberto Alomar's suspension wasn't exactly a whopper, was it?

Baseball's version of hard time resembled a paid vacation more than a disciplinary measure.

The Orioles played .800 ball while Alomar drew his regular pay and rested his sore ankle in Florida.

You'd need a microscope to find any hardship in those circumstances.

The Orioles were a better team without him, for crying out loud, getting off to one of their best starts in recent years with four straight wins before losing for the first time yesterday, 9-2, to the Texas Rangers.

And Alomar? The guess here is that he wasn't exactly reduced BTC to tears by his punishment, which included an extra five days in sunny Sarasota, Fla.

If anything, he will benefit from the additional rest down the line, particularly since it didn't cost him a nickel.

Now you know why the umpires almost walked off the job during the playoffs last October.

Twenty games with Jeff Reboulet at second might have mattered to the Orioles, but the five games that Alomar had to sit out for spitting in umpire John Hirschbeck's face last September were about as important as the quality of the postgame food spread.

No, it's not Alomar's fault that he plays on a contending club that is strong enough to win without him, reducing the impact of his absence.

But isn't someone supposed to pay when a player makes a mistake as big as Alomar made?

As it turned out, the club didn't suffer and the player didn't suffer.

The only thing that suffered, in the end, was the dignity of the game.

Of course, it isn't breaking news that the punishment didn't come close to matching the crime; everyone knew that American League president Gene Budig had gone as soft as a cup of yogurt when he announced the terms of the suspension last fall while "commissioner" Bud Selig pretended to look the other way.

It was obviously a weak punishment in theory -- and even weaker in practice.

Basically, Alomar got away with spitting in Hirschbeck's face.

That's why Alomar will hear a resounding chorus of boos today at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, and continue to hear boos all season at every ballpark except Camden Yards.

It's also why the umpires are still steaming about the situation, which means it will continue to fester all season even though Hirschbeck himself has said he is tired of it and wants it all to go away.

If Alomar hadn't gotten paid while on suspension, or if the suspension actually had mattered one whit to the Orioles, perhaps the public would have begun to see Alomar's blunder as having been dealt with appropriately.

No one will see it that way now, with the sheer weightlessness of the punishment becoming a reality over the past five days.

Alomar would argue that he has suffered plenty already, that his formerly impeccable name and reputation have been tarnished, possibly forever, and that is a singularly harsh punishment to which few of us can relate. He has a point.

Anyone who knows Alomar, normally among the most dignified of players, knows that it is a shame that he is the one who wound up in the middle of this mess.

But no one is going to feel sorry for him, as much for his light sentence as for what he did.

Did you even notice that he was gone for these five games?

It was easy not to, what with him having sat out almost all of spring training while resting his sprained ankle.

Reboulet was solid as his replacement, reaching base seven times and scoring three runs in five games.

"Jeff did a heck of a job," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said yesterday. "I couldn't be happier with the job he did."

What about going 4-1 without Alomar?

"I expected 5-0," Johnson said, smiling, "but I'll settle for 4-1. And it'll be good to get Robbie back. That's another bat in the lineup."

What, anyone worry?

No one on the Orioles condoned what Alomar did, but they might have cared a little more if they'd had to play without him for a lot longer, like 20 games.

A harsher sentence would have appeased the umps, cooled off the situation and made it all go away faster. We all know that now.

But now, in the greatest of ironies, Alomar is going to have to live with his mistake all season precisely because he wasn't punished harshly.

The umps have blown a lot of the moral high ground with their grandstanding in the wake of the incident, but no one will deny that their anger is justified.

If there's anything more insulting than a player who spits in an umpire's face, it's a player who spits in an umpire's face and gets away with it.

Pub Date: 4/07/97

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