Spitting spat puts play-offs in a spin

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The Independent Online
A threat by umpires to boycott the play-offs after a player spat at an official was yesterday called off at the last minute.

They were angered by the handling of an incident involving the Baltimore Orioles' second baseman, Roberto Alomar, and an umpire, John Hirschbeck, on Friday.

Following an argument over a decision, Alomar spat on and bumped Hirschbeck and later suggested that the umpire's impartiality had been compromised by his bitterness over the death of his eight-year-old son. An enraged Hirschbeck had to be restrained from storming into the Orioles' dressing- room.

The union chief, Richie Phillips, said that umpires would boycott games if a five-game suspension of Alomar did not begin immediately.

However, the union president, Jerry Crawford, said that umpires would honour a court order to return to work if, as expected, the League management obtained a ruling yesterday morning.

Alomar has apologised for his behaviour and, because he had appealed against the suspension, was being allowed to play until the 1997 regular season.

"Our executive board voted unanimously to withhold services until the Alomar suspension goes into effect," Phillips said. "All the umpires in the American League and National League were polled."

The major leagues, who locked out the umpires last year, were determined to stage all the post-season fixtures. "We will have these games," Rich Levin, the public relations director for Major League Baseball, said. "We expect them to honour their contract."

The first play-off was scheduled yesterday in Baltimore, between the Orioles and the Cleveland Indians.

Alomar's apology came in a two-page statement issued by the Orioles. "I deeply regret my disrespectful conduct towards a man that I know always gives his utmost as an umpire. Certainly, he has worked at least as hard as I have to make it to the majors.

Notwithstanding what occurred, I have great respect for him and his profession," Alomar said.

Hirschbeck was relieved of his umpiring duties at the weekend. After appealing against his suspension, Alomar hit a home run in the 10th inning on Saturday, giving the Orioles the win they needed to wrap up the American League wild-card place.