Richie Phillips, general counsel of the Major League Umpires Association, is amazing. Last week New York Yankee manager Billy Martin, acting like a hysterical child, tried to kick dirt on umpire Dale Scott during a game. When the packed dirt wouldn't give, Martin scraped up some in his hands and threw it on the umpire. He was out of the game, of course, and subject to punishment by American League president Bobby Brown. Martin had been fined $300 earlier in the season for kicking dirt on another umpire and had avoided punishment for his involvement in a row in a topless bar in Texas, in which he was injured. Billy seemed on his way, once again, to self-destruction.
Criticism of Martin grew after Brown, a former teammate, let him off this time with a slap on the wrist—a $ 1,000 fine and a three-game suspension. Most baseball people had assumed that Martin would get at least seven to 10 days. After all, the generally better behaved Pete Rose got 30 days for his run-in with an umpire on April 30. Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda said, "I like Billy, but what he did was really worse than what Pete Rose did, because it was premeditated. The umpire could have lost his eyesight."
But then the amazing Phillips opened his mouth. He issued a resolution, approved by the chiefs of the seven American League umpiring crews, that not only strongly criticized Martin but also declared that Brown had "abrogated his responsibilities as American League president." The statement concluded by declaring that the umpires would "take strong measures" to control Martin's behavior.
June 12, 1988
Phillips elaborated by saying, "For Martin to stay in the game from now on, he's going to have to behave like an altar boy, sitting there with his hands folded and lips shut. Every time for the next couple of weeks that he comes out of the dugout, he'll be ejected. Then we'll review the situation." He said that the umpires would act as vigilantes and would "impose our own suspension" on Martin.
The arrogance of the umpires' statement and Phillips's imprudent remarks suggested that the umps want to be a power unto themselves and not subject to the league's direction or authority. That stance had the unfortunate effect of taking the heat off Martin. Forget that Martin's abusiveness has a long history—this was the sixth time in his managerial career that he has been suspended—or that in the latest incident he kicked dirt on an umpire not initially involved in the play. Martin has complained of being victimized by umpires, and in this incident, at least, the TV replay clearly showed that the umpire had erred. Some people might think that if umpires could be that wrong in calling a play and as pompous as they were in their reaction to Brown's disciplinary measure, then perhaps there might be something to Billy's complaints about them. In short, Phillips did the impossible. He almost made it seem that Martin was right in playing the martyr. He also gave the unsettling impression that the umpires will be prejudiced against the Yankees for as long as Martin manages.
In the hours before his return Monday night, Martin remained behind a guarded clubhouse door in Yankee Stadium, while on national TV Phillips called him "the quintessential recidivist in baseball" and reasserted the umpires' intention to chase him at the slightest provocation. They never got the chance. Coach Chris Chambliss presented the umps with the Yankees' lineup card, and Martin never left the dugout during a 3-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox that was devoid of controversial calls. But after the game Martin said that he would sue Phillips on unspecified grounds and that he would not be restrained from expressing himself. "You can't gag an American." Martin said.
It didn't happen Monday, but sooner or later Martin and the umpires will test one another on the field. No one will come out of it looking good. Not Martin. Not Brown. And not the umps.
AT THEIR SERVICE
It all started with the Rolaids relief awards in baseball, which led to, among other cute commercial tie-ins, the NBA's Master Lock Defensive Player of the Year award. Now even Major League Volleyball has one: the DHL Uninterrupted Service Trophy, awarded by the DHL Worldwide Express company to Wendy Stammer of the Arizona Blaze for having the best serving average in the league for the 1988 season.
DON'T BANK ON IT
In the future the initials PGA may be more important to aspiring bankers than MBA. Why bother with a master's in business administration when you can snare investors and depositors with a sleeve of golf balls and a putter? In Chelmsford, Mass., the First Bank installed a putting area in its lobby and offered discounts to customers who holed long putts. "Competition has forced banks to keep coming up with new ways to better their customers' dollar power," says marketing officer Ken Masson.
The putting area was part of a golf clinic the bank set up, complete with a local golf pro, Mike Mullavey, and a computer and video analysis of customers' swings. The possibilities are delightful to contemplate: A Chelmsfordian is quietly sloping out of the house with a brand new set of woods on a day he had faithfully promised to give the power mower a tour of the lawn. "Where are you going?" he is asked. "Why," he says innocently, showing the woods, "I'm just on my way to the bank."
There have been some extraordinary brother combinations in baseball over the years: the Delahantys (Ed. Frank, Jim, Joe and Tom), the DiMaggios (Joe, Dom and Vince), the Alous (Felipe, Matty and Jesus), the Waners (Paul and Lloyd), the Deans (Dizzy and Paul), the Ferrells (Rick and Wes), the Bretts (Ken and George) and the Ripkens (Cal Jr. and Billy), to cite some notable examples. Perhaps that's why the Los Angeles Dodgers have signed the brothers of Darryl Strawberry (Michael), Tony Gwynn (Chris), Don Sutton (Charles), Orel Hershiser (Gordon), Claudell Washington (Don), Bill Buckner (Bob), Marty Barrett (Charlie), Rick Sutcliffe (Terry) and George Bell (Rolando and Juan). So far, however, only Chris Gwynn has seen any time in the majors, and of the others only Juan Bell is considered a topflight major league prospect.
"I was asked recently why the Dodgers seem to get the wrong brothers so often," says Robert Schweppe, a staffer in the ball club's minor league department. Schweppe, you might be interested to note, is the son of Bill Schweppe, who recently retired as the director of Los Angeles's minor league operations.
THE YEN FOR GOLF
Americans are aware that golf is a national passion in Japan, that land in that island country is scarce and that as a consequence golf club memberships are expensive. But the actual outlay is staggering. Demand for golf privileges in Japan is so great that the average lifetime membership in a golf club costs more than $103,000. The record price is $3.4 million.
With 11.3 million golfers in Japan and only 1.7 million memberships available, a lively business has developed in buying and selling memberships. Some 500 firms, functioning rather like stockbrokers, specialize in the practice. It's big business. The value of all golf memberships in Japan is approximately $176 billion. The Sydney Morning Herald, in writing about Japanese golf, reported with some astonishment that Japanese golf memberships have a total value greater than the value of all the stocks traded on Australian stock exchanges.
If you're still not impressed, consider that Hiroshi Kato, the chairman of an association representing 119 membership brokering firms, is so busy tending to the demands of his job that he has time to play golf only five or six times a year.
POPPING FOR PIZZA
Ted Bianucci is a very popular man in Pittsburgh. Bianucci is a Pirates fan who, as part of a promotion sponsored by Pizza Hut, was picked at random from the crowd at Three Rivers Stadium to take the field to try to catch pop-ups. Three balls are shot out of a gun used to help catchers practice defense, and if the fan chosen catches one of them, every spectator in the park gets a free soda at Pizza Hut (just show your ticket stub). If the fan catches two of the three, everyone gets a pitcher of soda; three of three, everybody receives a small pizza.
Before Bianucci entered the fray, nobody had held on to more than two pop-ups. But Bianucci, to great cheers, caught all three before a crowd of 33,789, and Pizza Hut may have to spring for something like $150,000 worth of pizza.
THEY SAID IT
•Whitey Herzog, St. Louis Cardinals manager, on why he ordered a steal of third with two outs in the 14th inning of a 2-2 ball game: "The way we were hitting, I thought our best bet was a throw into leftfield."
•Lester Hayes, former Los Angeles Raiders cornerback, on his current passion for fishing: "I study fish psychology, fish schooling patterns. I like to go into a fish's domain and sever his family ties."
•Ted Green, former tough-guy Boston Bruins defenseman, now Edmonton Oilers assistant coach, on reports that the ancient Boston Garden might be demolished: "If they get rid of it, where do the rats live?"