The name Draco probably rings a bell with National League president A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former president of Yale and a man steeped in the classics. Draco was an Athenian lawgiver in the seventh century B.C., and the memory of the severe code of laws he handed down survives to this day in the form of the adjective draconian, meaning harsh or cruel.
On Monday, Giamatti suspended Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose for 30 days, because Rose shoved umpire Dave Pallone late in a Saturday night loss to the New York Mets, thereby, according to Giamatti, inciting a near-riot in Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. "The National League will not tolerate the degeneration of baseball games into dangerous displays of public disorder," said Giamatti. "Nor will it countenance any potentially injurious harassment of any kind of the umpires." The punishment, which also includes a substantial fine, is the strongest disciplinary action against a manager since commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher for the entire 1947 season because of "incidents...detrimental to baseball."
On Monday night Rose and the Reds announced that they would appeal the decision. Said Rose, "No player or manager has greater respect for umpires than I do, and while I expected to be suspended, I am shocked by the length of the suspension. I also feel I should have been given the right to tell the league president my side of the story."
The Cincinnati players were stunned. "Thirty days!" said lefthanded pitcher Tom Browning. "How did they come up with that? The umpire jabbed him in the face. He [Rose] pushed back. It's not like he robbed a store or something."
May 8, 1988
Reds third baseman Buddy Bell said, "It would be one thing if Pete was a constant problem. But this is his 28th year in baseball, and they're treating him like a convict."
Mets pitcher Ron Darling sided with his former college president, saying, "You can't have people shoving umpires. The next thing you know, managers will have fistfights with them."
Was Giamatti's decision draconian? Or was it justified? He strongly believed that the very nature of the game was at stake. "This is not going to become international soccer," Giamatti told SI's Peter Gammons. "There is a symbiosis between what goes on down on the field and in the stands. There is a circuit of energy and, by the nature of his job, a manager must be held responsible. I also hold managers to higher standards of behavior."
But Rose was not the only man responsible for the Saturday Night Near-Massacre. In fact, the scenario was one in which—as the old Buffalo Springfield song goes—nobody's right if everybody's wrong. For starters, there is no love lost between the Reds and the Mets. Browning, an old Mets antagonist, gave up a homer to Darryl Strawberry in the sixth to make the score 4-2 in favor of New York. After the next batter fried out, Browning, who had not hit a batter all season, nailed Gary Carter with a pitch. In the seventh, Browning was victimized by Mookie Wilson's two-out triple and one of those balk calls that are all the rage these days. In frustration, Browning hit the next batter, Tim Teufel, with a pitch. Strawberry charged Browning, and a bench-clearing dance ensued. When order was restored, Browning and Strawberry were thrown out of the game.
In the top of the ninth inning, the score was tied 5-5, with two out and New York's Howard Johnson on second base. Wilson, batting against lefty John Franco, grounded to shortstop Barry Larkin, whose throw to first baseman Nick Esasky apparently pulled Esasky off the bag. But Pallone, the first base ump, didn't make the call right away, and Mets first base coach Bill Robinson ran into fair territory,. pointing to the bag to focus Pallone's attention on the position of Esasky's feet. Pallone signaled Wilson safe, and Esasky turned to argue, while Johnson scored.
Rose bolted out of the dugout to protest. He argued that Pallone's call had been delayed and that Robinson had interfered. Pallone mimicked Rose's gestures in rebuttal—and, perhaps inadvertently, swiped Rose on the cheek near his left eye. Rose reacted first by shoving Pallone and then by giving him a forearm shiver. Pallone ejected Rose.
In the meantime, the crowd of 41,032 became incensed. Fans began throwing all manner of things on the field: baseballs, golf balls, coins and at least one transistor radio. When a roll of toilet paper landed near Pallone, Reds radio announcer Marty Brennaman remarked about the appropriateness of the missile. His partner, Joe Nuxhall, called Pallone a "scab" and a "liar" on the air. Blaming them for "inciting the unacceptable behavior of some of the fans," Giamatti summoned the two broadcasters to a meeting in New York City on Tuesday.
During the 14 minutes of madness that followed Rose's ejection, Cincinnati owner Marge Schott sat in her box near the Reds dugout, cradling her face in her hands in remorse. For his own safety, Pallone left the field, leaving three umpires to finish the game, which the Mets won 6-5 after the Reds went quietly in the ninth. "It was as unruly a crowd as I have ever seen," said second base umpire and crew chief John Kibler, a 23-year veteran and a former New York State policeman. "I was afraid when I went to first base [to replace Pallone]."
After the game Rose pressed two points—that Pallone was much too slow making the call and that Robinson interfered with Esasky. "I don't understand why an umpire needs four seconds to make a call," said Rose. "Molly Putz could have scored from second base. Howard Johnson runs good, but he's not the wind. Plus, if Nick goes to make the throw to the plate, he hits the coach. What's he doing on the field?"
Rose was wrong on both counts. First, Pallone did not take four seconds, though he did take about three, which is still a long time. Second, although Robinson was in fair territory, he didn't interfere with Esasky, who was too intent on arguing to notice Johnson steaming home. Anyway, Johnson said he ran home because catcher Lloyd McClendon had wandered up the first base line and nobody was covering the plate. Still, Pallone might have gotten out of the jam if he had sent Johnson back to third on the grounds that Robinson crossed into fair territory before the play had ended.
However, the run stood, and all hell broke loose. Later Rose said he was sorry he bumped Pallone, but, hey, the umpire started it. Rose also said he could not condemn the crowd for throwing things. Sitting behind the desk in his office, he raised his right index finger to a red mark the size of a quarter just below his left eye. "Get that on camera," he said to a group of TV cameramen. "Get a picture of that. Zoom in on that."
The next day Pallone worked behind home plate and even called two balks on the Reds without incident, although the Mets took the crowd out of the game early en route to an 11-0 win. Rose apologized again. "I pushed him and I was wrong," said Rose. "But if he doesn't touch me, I don't touch him. I'd say it would be fair to suspend both of us."
There was no word on Monday whether Pallone would be disciplined. "That's a private matter," said Giamatti. But if Giamatti is to wield a heavy sword, it should cut both ways. In fact, Pallone has had problems with the Reds, particularly in fielder Dave Concepcion, since 1983 when, Pallone says, Concepcion spit on him. "I don't respect him now, I'll never respect him until the day he retires, and I probably won't respect him even then," Pallone told Edvins Beitiks of the San Francisco Examiner last August. "There are films of me running after him, players pulling me back. If they hadn't, I probably would've hit him, probably would have been thrown out of the league.... I've got him thinking every game that I'm going after him. Mind over matter."
Pallone, who has had a history of controversy since he broke into the majors in 1979 as a replacement during the umpires' strike, threw Concepcion out of a game last September. Giamatti says he is aware of "a history of unhappiness between the two of them." But, he says, "I am satisfied that Mr. Pallone is an objective and professional person."
Giamatti acted with the best intentions on Monday, but he should have been at least as understanding of Rose as he was of Pallone. Rose has brought so much joy and energy to the game, and now it looks as if he'll have to sit out one fifth of the remaining season. Surely his reputation must be good for something.