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SPORTS WATCH : Poor Sport

August 09, 1991

In the United States--surely the most litigious society ever--people file lawsuits at the drop of a hat. That national trait reached a new depth Wednesday when a $5-million defamation suit was filed by umpire Gary Darling against Cincinnati Manager Lou Piniella. One more lawsuit is being shoved into our overstuffed courts . . . over a foul-ball call.

The fact situation, as lawyers would say, is this: In Cincinnati's 7-3 loss last Saturday to the San Francisco Giants, Darling, the home plate umpire, called a ball hit by Reds second baseman Bill Doran foul, overruling an initial home-run call by another umpire.

At this, the fiery Piniella went ballistic, kicking dirt over home plate and first base--and triggering his heave-ho from the game. Later, a steaming Piniella said Darling was "biased" against the Reds.

That prompted Richie Phillips, counsel for the Major League Umpire's Assn., to file suit against Piniella.

Major league baseball has procedural mechanisms in place to resolve disputes by mediation or discipline. Piniella's actions may technically constitute a tort. But to the fan who seeks to escape from the world's petty conflicts and disputes, a rhubarb is just a rhubarb. Indeed, a good argument, especially between an ump and a manager, is as American as a ballpark frank.

Attempts to frame Piniella's words in a legal context are not only inappropriate, they're frivolous.

The courts don't need something like this. The lawsuit is a foul ball--and is bad for the game.

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