If Alomar Will Lend A Hand, He Can End Hirschbeck Saga

April 22, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

BOSTON -- It doesn't have to be staged. It doesn't have to be showy. It doesn't have to be much of anything, really.

A handshake. A pat on the back. Maybe even a brief word or two.

Roberto Alomar already has apologized to umpire John Hirschbeck.

Tonight at Camden Yards, he can bring closure to one of the ugliest chapters in baseball history.

It will be the first time that Alomar and Hirschbeck have appeared on the same field since the Orioles' second baseman spit on the umpire last Sept. 27.

The first time they've been in the same ballpark since Hirschbeck stormed into the Orioles' clubhouse and threatened to kill the seven-time All-Star.

The first time they've seen each other since AL president Gene Budig issued his absurdly lenient suspension, since the umpires threatened to boycott the postseason, since Orioles owner Peter Angelos demanded Hirschbeck apologize to Alomar for provoking the argument.

The war of words continued all winter.

Alomar can put an end to it tonight.

Hirschbeck will be the first base umpire. The Orioles' dugout is on the first base side. Alomar can approach the umpire as he runs to his position, extend his hand, even tell Hirschbeck, "I'm sorry" -- face-to-face, for the first time.

It would be a noble gesture, not to mention a "SportsCenter" moment, but image should be the least of Alomar's reasons for acknowledging Hirschbeck.

Plain and simple, it's the right thing to do.

Doesn't matter that Hirschbeck missed a called third strike in Toronto. Doesn't matter that he perpetuated the argument. Doesn't even matter that he cursed Alomar.

Just listen to those boos for Alomar in every city the Orioles visit. The entire nation still views him as the villain, and the spitting incident as the ultimate example of an arrogant ballplayer thinking he could play by his own rules.

Alomar is the heavy, always will be.

Doesn't matter that he donated $50,000 to the Baltimore hospital that treated Hirschbeck's sons for ALD, with the Orioles matching his pledge. Doesn't matter that he plans to donate the pay from his five-game suspension to charity.

He needs to take one more step -- a human, genuine step, one that is more difficult than writing a check or apologizing through the media.

And maybe more meaningful, too.

The players union wanted to arrange a private meeting between Alomar and Hirschbeck, but the umpire apparently grew skittish when the news broke, fearing another torrent of publicity.

Hirschbeck never formally rejected a meeting, because he never formally was approached. It's all rather silly -- what would have been the harm in talking it out? But nothing has changed.

No one will let go.

No one will swallow his pride.

Which is all the more reason for Alomar to make the next move -- if Hirschbeck won't come to him, then he should go to Hirschbeck.

It still burns some Alomar associates and Orioles officials that Hirschbeck never confessed to any wrongdoing.

Likewise, it still burns the umpires that Alomar received only a five-game suspension for his indefensible act.

At this point, who cares?

Alomar says he only wants to play baseball.

Hirschbeck says he only wants to umpire.

Fine, shake hands.

It doesn't have to be planned. It doesn't have to be phony.

But it would require a tacit admission that something went down in Toronto last September.

"It may be an issue for you guys. It's not for me," Alomar told reporters yesterday after the Orioles' 4-2 loss to Boston. "John's going to do his job. I'm going to do mine."

Maybe that would be the end of it, but the issue only will linger if Alomar takes a business-as-usual approach. Hirschbeck is the plate umpire tomorrow night. Why not address this before then? Why not get it out of the way?

It would be best not just for the players and umpires, but also for the fans. Some might be tempted to boo Hirschbeck, if only out of frustration over the treatment of Alomar. But who wouldn't cheer if the two antagonists made amends?

Alomar proved he can be his own man by saying he would donate his suspension pay -- the pay this sport is too stupid to withhold, the pay the Orioles couldn't wait to deliver, almost as a point of pride.

Maybe Hirschbeck wouldn't agree to a meeting because Richie Phillips, head of the umpires union, got in the way. But what's Phillips going to do, jump out of the stands to keep Alomar from making peace?

Everyone needs to move on, that's what Hirschbeck and Alomar keep saying. Well, let's see them move on. Do the right thing, Robbie. Extend your hand to Hirschbeck. Put an end to this tonight.

Pub Date: 4/22/97

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