All things considered, I’d say I’m usually the least political guy in the room, so, as a result, being politically correct has never been a high priority for me.

As a man who once was surprised when a date ended suddenly just moments after I pointed out that the decline of Western civilization could be traced back to the moment when women got the right to vote, I have a hard time understanding some of the things that seem to bring out the craziness in our society.

Call me old school (at my age, it’s hard to call me anything else), but I don’t see the harm in school prayer, I don't believe the government should have access to everything we think and do, and — although Paris Hilton is probably one of the biggest wastes of oxygen on the planet — I don’t think she should be going to jail over a traffic violation. The media coverage? Well, she brought that on herself.

So when I heard that the Lords of Baseball had decided Sunday that Lou Pinella should be suspended “indefinitely” for kicking dirt on an umpire, I found myself wondering once again what the world had come to.

Kicking dirt on an umpire? Until this weekend, I thought that was every manager’s God-given right. It’s something every baseball fan has dreamed of doing more than once, and, in fact, has probably done in his or her mind on a number of occasions.

Piniella, who, despite having a reputation as one of baseball’s great minds, has been stupid enough to think he could make winners of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and, currently, the Chicago Cubs, didn’t spit on the umpire in question. He didn’t even poke him with the brim of his cap during a face-to-face over a play at third base that he later admitted the umpire got right.

He KICKED DIRT ON HIM!

Earl Weaver, who won championships with the Baltimore Orioles, and Billy Martin, who eventually wore out his welcome as a manager and a player at every stop he made during his career despite winning in every uniform he put on, could have filled dump trucks with the dirt they kicked on umpires during their long and illustrious careers. And not once did a baseball commissioner suspend them or even fine them.

Piniella was a player for Martin and played against some of Weaver’s great Oriole teams, and, like those guys, he didn’t care about statistics or looking pretty on the field. He just came to beat you every day.

In a lineup loaded with superstars, “Sweet Lou” was the guy every Yankee fan wanted at the plate when the game was on the line. He wasn’t the most physically gifted on any major league team he ever played for, but he did all the little things to help those clubs win.

So with the Cubbies mired in one of those May losing streaks their fans have come to accept and just one day removed from a fist fight in the dugout between his catcher (Michael Barrett) and his best pitcher (Carlos Zambrano), Lou decided to shake things up. He picked a play right in front of his dugout that was close enough to bring him out to argue, and his perfectly orchestrated Piniella meltdown was shown to virtually every person in America who happened to see a news or sports report Saturday night.

To the casual fan, Piniella’s organic assault on the umpire appeared to be pure insanity.

He covered his shoes with dirt, he probably questioned his heritage a few times, and he even kicked his own hat around the hot corner.

For Piniella, though, the play at third base simply provided an excuse for him to breathe a little life into a team that had already reached rock bottom early in a season when a lot of experts thought the Cubs — coming off an offseason when management had spent $100 million to sign a couple of high-profile free agents, including Alfonso Soriano, and keep a couple of other veterans — would contend for a division title.

But these are, after all, the Cubs. They haven’t won a World Series in almost a century, they’ve won one division title in the last 20 years, and, in what is generally considered baseball’s weakest division (the NL Central), they hadn’t shown a spark all season. Soriano, a 40-40 guy in 2006, had just five home runs as May ended, the bullpen was in shambles, and the starters — especially Zambrano (who had gone 33-13 the past two seasons but was 5-5 with an ERA near six after he was bombed by the Braves Friday) — had underachieved.

So Piniella did the only thing that remained. He tried to stir things up by stirring up a little dust, and the umpire simply got in the way.

Baseball’s powers-that-be saw things differently, however. Guys who had never managed a team or played an inning in a professional uniform decided Piniella should pay for his indiscretion. A move that had been generally accepted in the major leagues since the late 19th century was suddenly seen as an unprovoked assault on an innocent official. Piniella, they decided, had embarrassed himself and the game by going nuts with the whole world watching.

So, one day after the Cubbies responded to their manager’s apparent madness by clubbing the Braves (whose own manager, Bobby Cox, is nearing a major league record for ejections but hasn’t been suspended for any of them) Sunday afternoon, Piniella will be defending himself today and trying to get back in the dugout — the only place he's ever really belonged.

As a lifelong St. Louis Cardinal fan, I have no love for the Cubs. As a baseball fan and a Lou Piniella fan, though, I have to cling to the hope that everything I’ve come to love about the game isn’t being chipped away one piece at a time and that baseball won’t become just another casualty of political correctness.

 



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