Saturday, June 22, 2002

Rob Dibble's Dubious Code of Honor

Quote of the Week

"They didn't want to play. Instead they worked to prevent us from playing our game. It worked, but it was markedly different from Ecuador, Italy and Croatia, which played and competed."

-- Mexico coach Javier Aguirre, sharing his somewhat curious definition of "compete" after his boys’ elimination from the World Cup at the hands of the US of A last Monday. It would seem that in Aguirre’s bizarro universe, the only teams that "want to play" are those that have the decency to lose to or tie Mexico, as Ecuador, Croatia, and Italy did.

No, it’s not baseball, but then it’s not like last weekend’s matchup between Toronto and Montreal rated very high on the international drama scale.

A Question of Honor

Last Saturday, Mets’ pitcher Shawn Estes zipped one behind Yankees’ ace Roger Clemens, apparently trying to throw one up the Rocket’s wazoo in retaliation for Clemens’s multiple assaults on Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza in 2000. Clemens knew it was coming, danced like a fool when the pitch came, then tipped his hat to Estes as if to say "I deserved that, now let’s get on with our lives." The game resumed without incident, and Clemens’s was further put in his place when both Estes and Piazza homered off him, leading the Mets to an 8-0 victory. I don’t care for baseball’s "If you hit my guy, I’m hitting yours" brand of machismo, but if players are going to insist on taking revenge, a purpose pitch followed by an on-field humiliation like the one Clemens got on Saturday should just about close the deal.

Which it did for just about everyone except ESPN commentator/troglodyte Rob Dibble, who said that Estes’ pitch and subsequent drubbing of Clemens "showed me nothing." He went on to say that the Mets "sent a boy to do a man’s job," and in a subsequent column said that "had [Estes] knocked down Clemens or hit him in the numbers, I wouldn't have had to criticize him on SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight."

That Rob Dibble is an idiot goes without saying. As a player, Dibble was a notorious hothead who once threw a ball into the stands, striking a first-grade teacher (don’t worry, she probably had it coming), and routinely threw at batters who had the audacity to hit off him. As such, he should excuse us if we tune out his babblings about baseball’s alleged code of honor. ESPN executives, on the other hand, should take note because Dibble’s antics are turning the once-essential "Baseball Tonight" broadcast into drive-time talk-radio.

Saturday Night Massacre Redux

Mets general manager Steve Phillips fired hitting coach Dave Engle last week in an attempt to shake up a club that ranks near the bottom of the league in runs and batting average despite the off-season addition of Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Roger Cedeno and Jeromy Burnitz. It’s fitting that Engle’s firing came a week before the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, because Phillips’ sacking of Engle looks like the first steps in a cover-up of Nixonian proportions.

It was Phillips, not Engle, who gambled eight figures on an aging and out of shape Mo Vaughn, a strikeout-prone Burnitz, and a leadoff hitter (Cedeno) who can neither get on base nor field his position at anything approaching an adequate level. It was also Phillips who spent the past few years gutting the Mets farm system in an effort to win it all now rather than build for the future. Phillips may think that canning Engle will take the heat off of him for the bad deals he made last winter, but then again, Nixon thought firing Archibald Cox was a good idea too. On the bright side for Mets fans, it won’t take a constitutional crisis to get rid of Phillips; Mets ownership is likely to take care of that themselves this coming off-season.

Great Moments in Symbolism

Boston pitcher John Burkett has said that he won’t play in the All-Star game if selected. His reason: the game is in Milwaukee this year, and a boycott would be his way of protesting Commissioner (and Milwaukee Brewers owner) Bud Selig's handling of labor negotiations.

Interesting, but if anti-Bud publicity is what Burkett wanted, he’s going about it the wrong way. In order to stage a meaningful boycott, you first have to participate in the thing you're boycotting. Now that Burkett has said that he won’t serve if drafted, he will almost assuredly be passed over for consideration by AL manager Joe Torre, rendering his pronouncement a non-issue ("No Burkett? Good, we didn’t want him anyway"). I hope for the players’ sake that their labor negotiators have a better understanding of leverage than Burkett does.

Of course, it might be fair to consider whether Burkett’s potential wildcat strike is truly meant to be an act of defiance. After all, it’s par for the course for players in all of the major sports to stage phantom injuries around All-Star time in an attempt to get a couple of days off. Perhaps Burkett is just taking the idea in a new direction. If that’s the case, I’ve gotta give him some extra points for style.

Great Moments in Symbolism II

While we’re on the subject of All-Star symbolism, some of you may have heard that there's a movement afoot to stuff the All-Star ballot boxes with the names of Twins and Expos players in order to protest Selig’s attempts to contract those teams out of existence. At this point the results are mixed. The Expos have placed one player in the top five of five out of the six positions for which fans have a vote. This looks less impressive, however, when you consider that three of those players (Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro, and Michael Barrett) deserve to be there on merit anyway (Barrett may actually be getting hosed by only placing third among catchers). On the American League side, Twins have made the top five in all six positions, but it isn’t as if any of them are that far ahead of where they would be had there been no call for a protest vote to begin with.

Go here to level your blow against the empire.