World Series umpiring crew chief John Hirschbeck knows the spotlight
For Hirschbeck, who's been an MLB umpire for more than 27 years and became a union leader in 2000, this will be his third career World Series (1995 and 2006 were the others) and his 15th postseason assignment overall.
And he is no stranger to the spotlight. Let's start with Roberto Alomar.
Alomar, whose lifetime .300 batting average and 10 Gold Gloves put him in the elite category, had one moment involving Hirschbeck that tarnished the 12-time All-Star second baseman. The incident came on Sept. 27, 1996. Alomar, then with the Baltimore Orioles, was called out on strikes by Hirschbeck and was so angry he spit in Hirschbeck's face.
It escalated when Alomar defended his action by saying Hirschbeck had precipitated it by uttering a slur at him, and that the umpire was a bitter man after one of his sons had died of ALD, while another one was diagnosed with the rare disease. Hirschbeck denied using any slur.
Alomar, who was suspended five games for the incident, donated $50,000 to ALD research and later publicly apologized to Hirschbeck. The two men shook hands before an Orioles game on April 22, 1997, and Hirschbeck has said he not only forgave Alomar but later became friends with him. The damage had been done, however. Alomar has been on the Hall of Fame ballot but has not won enough votes to be inducted, and some say it was this incident that clouded his case.
Irabu, pitching against the Angels in Anaheim, had kicked at the dirt on the mound after being called for two balks. Hirschbeck charged the mound and screamed at Irabu. After the game, word spread that the Yankees were accusing the umpire of making an ethnic slur, though Hirschbeck again denied it.
Hirschbeck also has been injured by a pitch. He was crouched behind the plate as the Brewers' Chris Narveson threw a warm-up pitch in the first inning when one offering got away from catcher Gregg Zaun and slammed into Hirschbeck's mask. It led to concussion-like symptoms for a few days.
On more positive notes, Hirschbeck was behind the plate for Barry Bonds' record-breaking 756th home run and Roy Halladay's postseason no-hitter three weeks ago.
And a side note, on Hirschbeck's crew for this World Series is veteran Mike Winters, who was suspended toward the end of the 2007 season after an on-field confrontation with the ever-volatile Milton Bradley, then with the San Diego Padres.
The Padres told baseball officials that Winters baited Bradley, a player with a history of losing his temper. It became a harsher story because Bradley tore a knee ligament after Manager Bud Black tried to keep him from going after Winters, who had first-base duty that night. Winters was suspended after the commissioner's office concluded he had used a profanity aimed at Bradley.
Can't wait for this series to start now.
-- Debbie Goffa
Photo: In a September game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Arizona Diamondbacks, Hirschbeck yells at Reds reliever Jordan Smith after throwing him out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. Credit: Mark Lyons / EPA