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Spitting Image



Roberto Alomar didn't just spit on an umpire. This vile act stopped baseball, shocking its fans and leading to a threatened umpire strike. The second baseman's lack of professionalism shifted focus from the post-season and its drama to a reevaluation of our athletes.

Dousing his previously impeccable reputation, Alomar's act has diminished the enthusiasm with which the pennant race has been met.

In the past Alomar had always been polite with umpires. This season was no different. Known for his incomparable talent on the field, and his quiet manner in the locker room, this act doesn't fit the image of the Alomar we have watched for years.

A perennial .300-hitter, and Gold-Glove second baseman, Alomar's skill has never been an issue. Now, his character is being chastised and his skill ignored.

John Hirschbeck has been an umpire in the American League for more than a decade. Well-respected by his peers and players alike, he has dealt with his share of hardship. His 11-year-old son died several years ago of a congenital neurological disorder, and his only living son is similarly afflicted.

Perhaps even more appalling than the scene on the field were Alomar's unconscionable comments after the game. Speaking to reporters after the incident, Alomar blamed Hirshbeck's short fuse on his tragic family situation.

Hirschbeck called strike three on an outside pitch, and an irate Alomar argued the call, causing him to be kicked out of the Baltimore Orioles-Toronto Blue Jays game on September 27. This so enraged Alomar that he bolted from the dugout after ejection and continued to badger Hirshbeck. The war of words persisted until Alomar actually spit in Hirschbeck's face. Davey Johnson, the Orioles' manager, then removed Alomar from the field, and prevented further confrontation.

Alomar should have been suspended immediately, but due to the red tape of players' and umpires' unions, this episode will linger until next season. Alomar will go unpunished, for now, because of a clause preventing suspension during the post-season. And, so he takes the field against the Yankees, endures the boos and likely forfeits his participation in next season's opening games.

Though he'll vie for the championship this year, he has already sacrificed his sportsmanship.

Throughout America, young children pound their new mitts in the quest to be like their sports heroes. Little League teams attract hordes of aspiring superstars.

Ken Griffey Jr. jerseys line the windows of every sporting goods store. Cal Ripken sets a new record for consistently showing up at work, and Kirby Puckett brings tears to the Land of 10,000 Lakes when he retires.

Baseball is not just a sport. It is part of our history, and for the true fan, it is a way of life.

I remember growing up in Yankee Stadium, and appreciating it more with every season. I always had my left-handed glove, and the hope that I'd catch a foul. I learned how to keep score, and I watched everyone rise and fall as the game neared the ninth. Though I didn't catch a ball, I always took home pieces of every game.

In that one moment of heated confrontation, Alomar struck at the spirit and sportsmanship which define baseball.

Exchanges between umpires and players take place in almost every game, but this one degenerated into something more. It became more than just a dispute over a strike; it was classless, tasteless, and the spit will stick on Alomar for the rest of his career.

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