Closure For Alomar

Handshake With Umpire: Simple Act Was Needed To Douse Persistent Controversy.

April 24, 1997

OUR HOPE for world peace, or at least peace for Roberto Alomar Jr., is that the photo of him shaking hands with umpire John Hirschbeck was reprinted in every newspaper in the country following Tuesday's Baltimore-Chicago game, and that the videotape of it gets replayed on EPSN and "This Week in Baseball" until every man, woman and child in America sees it.

Finally, finally, there may be healing for the wound Mr. Alomar inflicted on himself last fall when the Orioles' second baseman spat upon Umpire Hirschbeck after a questionable call. His action led to a threat from umpires to boycott the playoffs, made him the target of fan furor and media attention and hovered over those involved through the winter and spring into this season.

Many blame the media for stoking the controversy all these months. But the spit seen 'round the world wasn't simply a media invention. The image became a metaphor for the public's disgruntlement with millionaire athletes and with larger concerns about incivility in sports and the world in general. It even worked its way into the debate between vice presidential candidates last fall.

Perhaps John Maroon, the Orioles' public relations director, said it best: Reality and perception can be vastly different things, and both are significant.

The reality, for beat writers as well as fans who track the Orioles, is that Roberto Alomar is a warm, humble, dedicated team member. But he could not scrub away the ugly perception from the spitting incident, not even after he and the team donated money to a medical cause important to the umpire's family, and certainly not as long as owner Peter Angelos kept emphasizing the umpire's culpability.

If a handshake can lead to peace treaties between great warring nations, it certainly is a powerful enough gesture to bring closure to this episode.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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