By J. Freedom duLac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 2, 2010; 12:19 AM
The Washington Nationals have laid down the smack 'em, yack 'em, sack 'em on Rob Dibble, announcing Wednesday that they've cut the beleaguered television color analyst from their broadcast team.
Dibble - a polarizing presence on Nationals telecasts since his arrival last season - had been absent from the broadcast booth since Aug. 25, after controversy erupted over comments he'd made on his daily Sirius XM radio show about pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg.
"Okay, you throw a pitch, it bothers your arm, and you immediately call out the manager and the trainer?" Dibble said after Strasburg was removed from a game with an apparent arm injury. "Suck it up, kid." The Nationals soon announced that Strasburg would need a new ligament in his pitching elbow.
The Strasburg observations became Dibble's walk-off riff, as Nationals executives - apparently furious about the remarks - eventually decided to dump him with a year and a month left on his three-year contract. (Though Nationals TV broadcasters are employees of MASN, the team makes the hiring and firing decisions, according to sources familiar with the arrangement.)
Calls to Dibble's cellphone were not returned Wednesday. The Nationals offered no comment beyond announcing the move before the team's game in Miami.
During his season and two-thirds in the Nationals' broadcast booth, where he replaced Don Sutton, Dibble was a lightning rod, stirring up the fan base with the style and substance of his analysis. Favored words included "we," "us," "our" and "smack 'em yack 'em," which became his signature home-run call, and the strike zone was a personal obsession of his.
As an especially colorful color guy, Dibble had his fans; but his critics were even more vocal - and voluminous: Even before Strasmess, anti-Dibble fervor was running high after he riffed on some women sitting behind home plate at Nationals Park. (Dibble quickly apologized.)
In an interview with the Baltimore Sun last year, Dibble - an outspoken figure with an outsize personality - suggested that he'd be stepping gently in his new gig.
"In this role, for now until I know how far I can go and how edgy I can be, I'm going to try and be more straightforward and kind of 'Just the facts, ma'am,' " he said.
He added: "It has nothing to do with me. I'm not playing. I'm just sitting watching the game, too. . . . People still try and make me part of the story and that's somewhat embarrassing because it's not about me. Some people can't separate me from the color analyst and me the former player and I'm trying to get some distance."
Dibble the former player was a grunting, snorting, high-leg-kicking relief pitcher who touched 100 mph on the radar gun, racked up 500 career strikeouts in fewer innings than anybody who'd played the game before him, won a National League Championship Series MVP en route to a World Series championship with the Cincinnati Reds - and constantly got himself in trouble with his team and the league office.
He threw a bat halfway up the backstop, dumped a 10-gallon bucket of ice water on a journalist's head, fought with his manager in the clubhouse and started a brawl with the Houston Astros with a single, wayward pitch. He ripped his jersey off while stomping off the field following a blown save and drilled a player in the back of the legs as he ran to first after laying down a bunt.
He was also one of the more popular Reds players, part of a bullpen crew dubbed the Nasty Boys (with Norm Charlton and Randy Myers), who became something like cult heroes in Cincinnati. He was also the son of a longtime broadcast journalist in Connecticut.
"Rob Dibble is a man's man, a really tough guy who always insisted on being as macho as he could be out there," said Tim Kurkjian, an analyst for "Baseball Tonight," the ESPN program whose rotating crew for several years included Dibble. The definitive Dibble moment on the show came when he excoriated New York Mets pitcher Shawn Estes for not nailing Roger Clemens with a retaliatory pitch when Clemens finally batted against the Mets months after beaning Mike Piazza.
"I'll always remember Rob Dibble for being a great reliever," Kurkjian said. "But I'll also always remember the look on Rob Dibble's face when that happened. He was enraged beyond words that Shawn Estes didn't do what he thought a man's man is supposed to do, and that told me everything I needed to know about who Rob Dibble is."
Staff writer Adam Kilgore contributed from Miami Gardens, Fla.