James at the London Free Press sent me the column below, which I wrote in 1996 when I was at graduate school. This blog rarely ventures away from golf, but I must admit it was nice to be witness to a column that held up over time (and it turns out I was right, which is nice as well), even if my writing style has evolved over the ensuing 15 years. I wrote this column when I was 24, and my sports interest was primarily baseball. Golf would be my focus by the time I left graduate school and I’d start writing about the game two years later. I’m not sure if Robbie Alomar is a golfer, but in this instance it doesen’t matter…
From the London Free Press, comments page:
If baseball history is any indicator, Roberto Alomar’s career will not suffer too greatly from his now-infamous spitting incident.
Baseball fans, and lots of people who have only a passing interest in the game, have rightly expressed disgust with Alomar’s behavior. Fans say baseball is out of hand and that incidents like this cannot be allowed. These fans are amazed when the ex-Toronto Blue Jay’s endorsement deals remain intact and express outrage that Alomar gets only a five game, fully paid suspension.
Meanwhile Montreal Expos hurler Pedro Martinez gets suspended for eight games for charging the mound after a ball is thrown at him.
Both incidents raise serious concerns about baseball’s ability to work out its discipline problems. But take a closer look at the Alomar episode. It clearly demonstrates something else: baseball fans have little sense of the history of the game.
TRADITION: You’d think fans would know more about the annals of the American pastime. No other sport seems to rely as heavily on tradition as baseball. No other sport has as prestigious a Hall of Fame or statistics so closely scrutinized or overanalyzed.
Fans have simply forgotten some of baseball’s more serious on-field incidents from the past.
Perhaps one of the most obvious occurrences is the Juan Marichal-Johnny Roseboro incident from 1965. Marichal, a star pitcher for the San Francisco Giants felt Roseboro, a catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, had thrown a ball too close to him while returning it to the pitcher.
When Roseboro failed to explain himself, a confrontation ensued and Marichal hit Roseboro over the head with his bat.
For the infraction, Marichal was suspended eight playing days and fined $1,750.
In 1956, Boston Red Sox star Ted Williams was fined $5,000 for spitting on Boston fans. The next year he was fined $250 for spraying fans with water.
Of course, there was the game’s greatest hitter Ty Cobb, known to get into fights with fans in the stands. Legend has it Cobb also sharpened his spikes so he could cut opposing players while sliding.
In the end, Cobb, Williams and Marichal all have one thing in common – they achieved baseball’s highest honor and were voted into the Hall of Fame.
NO DISTRESS: Some would argue that professional sports has social limitations, but if this is the case, baseball has rarely bowed to the
concerns of its fans. If baseball was distressed about its image, it would have suspended Alomar immediately following the incident.
Baseball, it seems, views the spitting incident as something that happens when competitive, professional athletes play a game. They won’t condone the action, but they aren’t about to take extreme measures to assure people it won’t happen again.
But if you are Pete Rose and bet on baseball, there is another set of rules, which the game vigorously enforces. Rose did something away from the turf of the game that is viewed as a more serious incident than anything that occurs on the field.
Only time will tell whether people forget the Alomar incident. Mind you, if you’re like Pete Rose and want to place a bet, wager that Alomar will end up in Cooperstown at the Hall of Fame as well.
Robert Thompson is is a graduate student of journalism at the University of Western Ontario.