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When Umpires Attack
July 12, 1999
Ever since Roberto Alomar spit on I umpire John Hirsch-beck in 1996, major league umps have adhered to a zero-tolerance policy on physical contact. If a player or manager lays a finger on an ump, he's gone in less time than it took Dutch Rennert to perform his elaborate strike-call dance. Some might argue that the men in blue actually employ a less-than-zero policy, considering that player-baiting umps start about as many arguments these days as players or managers do.
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July 12, 1999

When Umpires Attack

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Glorious

Inglorius

1912: Ty Cobb steals second, third and home in fifth inning of win over Browns

1976: Tim McCarver hits grand slam but is called out for passing teammate Garry Maddox on base path in win over Pirates

1939: Lou Gehrig intones, "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

1930: Future Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is born

1939: Red Sox and A's bats explode for combined 54 runs in doubleheader at Shibe Park

1909: Honus Wagner's "torpedo" bat-loaded with fireworks-explodes when he swings at first pitch of at bat against the Reds

1985: Braves and Mets play a 19-inning classic, which New York wins 16-13, postponing Atlanta's postgame fireworks display until 4:01 a.m.

1964: Game between A's and Orioles is called at 8:30 p.m. after nine innings with score tied 6-6 so that Baltimore's postgame fireworks display can start on time

1997: U.S. gold medal swimmers Mark Henderson and Summer Sanders are wed in Lake Tahoe

1999: British soccer star David Beckham and Posh Spice are wed outside Dublin

1999: U.S. women's soccer team beats Brazil 2-0 in World Cup semis at Stanford Stadium

1994: U.S. men's soccer team loses to Brazil 1-0 in World Cup match at Stanford Stadium

Ever since Roberto Alomar spit on I umpire John Hirsch-beck in 1996, major league umps have adhered to a zero-tolerance policy on physical contact. If a player or manager lays a finger on an ump, he's gone in less time than it took Dutch Rennert to perform his elaborate strike-call dance. Some might argue that the men in blue actually employ a less-than-zero policy, considering that player-baiting umps start about as many arguments these days as players or managers do.

At the same time that umps have been dishing out punishment to those who touch them, they've gotten more touchy themselves. It finally caught up with umpires last week when Tom Hallion was suspended for three games without pay by National League president Len Coleman for bumping Colorado catcher Jeff Reed during an argument in a June 26 game.

That was hardly the first time an umpire had crossed the line. In last year's American League playoffs Joe Brinkman placed his index finger squarely on Indians manager Mike Hargrove's chest during an argument over balls and strikes, prompting the Cleveland skipper to bellow, "Don't you f—ing touch me!" The night Hallion's suspension was announced, Larry Barnett poked Orioles manager Ray Miller after Barnett's crew blew a fly ball call in the fifth inning of Baltimore's 2-1 loss to the Yankees. Miller would have been tossed immediately had the cleats been on the other feet.

Umpires saw Hallion's suspension as political, coming amid commissioner Bud Selig's efforts to shift authority over the umps from the two league presidents to his executive VP, Sandy Alderson. Union chief Richie Phillips called the penalty "nothing more than an act of expediency designed to pander to the people in baseball calling for the centralization of control of umpires."

Phillips's verbose characterization is ridiculous. First, it offers a shining example of the contrarian attitude umps cling to like their lucky plate brushes. Remember how in spring training they announced they would disregard Alderson's directive on the new strike zone? Not exactly the kind of behavior you want to see in supposedly objective arbiters and enforcers of the rules. More inane still is Phillips's assertion that Selig's plan would centralize control of umps, because that implies that external control on them exists now. Before Hallion, no umpire had ever been suspended, and trying to fire a bad or out-of-shape ump—of which there are plenty—is practically impossible thanks to the power of Phillips's union.

Phillips is fond of saying that baseball can't exist without umpires. True, but he and his charges must realize that the job of a good ump is to make the calls and remain as anonymous as possible, which often means turning the other cheek. So, contentious men in blue, here's what we ask: Lose the prima donna 'tudes, get those chips off your shoulders and drop the Fox Mulder conspiracy hunt. And for god's sake, keep your hands to yourselves.

Women's Soccer

Girl Power: Here To Stay?

This Saturday the U.S. and China will play the Women's World Cup final before a sellout crowd at the Rose Bowl and a TV audience that should exceed that for any game of the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. Which raises the question: Has the World Cup's stunning popularity gotten organizers to think more seriously about a possible U.S. women's pro league?

Yes, says Alan Rothenberg, former U.S. Soccer Federation president and the sport's driving force in this country. He has hastily scheduled a meeting for July 9 in Los Angeles at which two dozen media members, prospective sponsors and soccer officials will brainstorm about the future of first-division women's soccer in the U.S. "We've clearly caught lightning in a bottle," says Rothenberg. "But it's one thing to point toward a single event like the World Cup and another thing to start a league."

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