By Leonard Shapiro
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 10:30 AM
Should Rob Dibble stay or should he go after his thoroughly inappropriate and totally misguided comments about Stephen Strasburg last week?
Readers of this space may recall some critical comments we've offered in the past concerning Dibble's choice of homer-ish language over the nearly two seasons he's been doing color analysis on the Washington Nationals telecasts on the MASN regional cable network.
Mostly we've hammered him for constantly using words like "we" and "our" and "us," as if he actually once played for this team. It's been "we need a hit right now" or "our middle infield play stinks" or "they got the best of us in that trade."
That criticism also has come from other quarters, and Dibble essentially has ignored it, which is certainly his prerogative. But that's not what may get him fired with another season left on his three-year deal with MASN. And, believe it or not, despite our previous quibbles with Dibble, here's hoping that doesn't happen.
Dibble made a huge mistake going on his Sirius satellite radio show last week and saying that Strasburg ought to "suck it up," implying that the kid ought to play hurt the way players of Dibble's generation often did. His comments were made, of course, before he or anyone else knew the full story - that Stasburg had, indeed, suffered a serious injury in his throwing arm and now needs dicey Tommy John surgery to fix it.
"Throw a pitch, it bothers your arm, and you immediately call out the manager and the trainer," Dibble said on the radio. "Suck it up kid. This is your profession. You chose to be a baseball player. You can't have the cavalry come in and save your butt every time you feel a little stiff shoulder, sore elbow. Stop crying. Get out there and pitch. Period."
Dibble is hardly the first sports broadcaster to open up his yap and put his big fat foot in it. But aside from questioning Strasburg's so-called toughness, was this really a firing offense?
The Nationals are pondering that question even as these words are being typed. They also seem more than content to let Dibble twist in the wind for awhile, a tactic the organization has fine tuned before with Frank Robinson, Manny Acta, Adam Dunn and even Dibble's broadcast partner, Bob Carpenter.
Though neither the team nor MASN is commenting on the Dibble debacle, it seems obvious the club is considering what action, if any, to take. There are published reports that Dibble won't be making the club's current six-game road trip, almost certainly at the suggestion of the team, and that will allow plenty of time to let him dangle for a while until a final decision is made on future employment.
Here's our suggestion:
A sharp reprimand, perhaps even a suspension issued from the very top of the Nationals organization - as in owner Ted Lerner or team president Stan Kasten - is clearly in order. Maybe the suspension should run through the next two weeks, with a proviso that Dibble goes on the air in his first game back and issues an on-camera apology to Strasburg for his own moronic remarks. And then, make this a teachable moment and let him come back for another year, knowing full well that there will be no reprieve the next time.
Here's a question the Nats' hierarchy needs to ponder:
Where are they going to find a television analyst who is as passionate about this often woebegone baseball team as Dibble has been, even if he occasionally crosses the line of good sense?
Last year, before Manager Manny Acta finally was dismissed, it was Dibble who went on the air and lambasted the players he felt were dogging it, not giving a professional effort, if any effort at all. That surely made him few friends in the clubhouse, but it certainly spoke to the truth of the sorry situation.
That's been Dibble's redeeming quality. He pulls very few punches, speaks from the heart and has no qualms about criticizing bonehead baseball, no matter where he sees it. He has moaned about Nats pitchers not using their best stuff in critical situations, railed against middle infielders who can't pick up routine ground balls, pointed out sloppy base running, raged over the inability of a hitter to pull off a sacrifice bunt and, of course, howled over egregious errors in umpiring.
But clearly there have been other times when he ventures into dangerous territory. He recently had to publicly apologize for comments made during a telecast mocking women sitting behind home plate having an animated conversation while the game was going on.
"They haven't stopped talking the whole night," he said. "They have some conversation going on here or something. . . . Their husbands must be going 'man, don't bring your wife next time.' "
Yes, it was a dumb, sexist riff and never should have been uttered on air, though it hardly seemed a firing offense at the time. But now, coupled with his dumb and even dumber comments on Strasburg, the Nationals probably do have just cause to push him out of the booth.
Make no mistake, this is a decision the Nationals' brain trust will make, with little or no input from MASN, even if the network technically pays his salary. But I also suspect the television people are hoping Dibble will somehow get a stay of execution. They know he's controversial, but they also know there is something of a Howard Cosell factor in play here, as well.
Whether you loved him or hated him, the late, great Cosell always brought scores more eyeballs to whatever network telecast he happened to be working, perhaps more than any sportscaster in history.
I knew Howard Cosell and Rob Dibble is certainly no Cosell, particularly on the intellect meter. But he has had a similar effect on many Nationals fans. Those who love him praise Dibble for his passion for the game and the team. Those who hate him wonder what sort of outrageous comment he might unload next. But they all tune in.
Dibble made a huge mistake on Strasburg, no question. But maybe he ought to get a second chance, as long as he shows the proper contrition and apologizes to Strasburg, both face to face and on the air. The latter surely would qualify as must see TV, maybe even a ratings bonanza, perhaps the last mega-audience for the Nationals until Stephen Strasburg comes back to pitch again.