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Garner Furious Over Legal Threat

June 21, 1996

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Milwaukee manager Phil Garner is angry that Albert Belle will miss fewer games than Brewers catcher Mike Matheny.

Matheny began serving a three-game suspension on Thursday for charging Cleveland reliever Julian Tavarez on May 31, the night Belle decked second baseman Fernando Vina.

Belle, Matheny and Tavarez, who flipped umpire Joe Brinkman during the ensuing melee, were all handed five-game suspensions, but all were reduced to three games this week.

Then, American League president Gene Budig, facing a possible lawsuit by Belle if he didn’t settle the case, agreed late Thursday to a deal proposed by the players association: reducing Belle’s penalty to two games and a $25,000 fine.

Garner was furious.

``I’m sure they’re going to do that for Mike, aren’t they,″ he asked sarcastically.

Garner said Matheny _ and Vina, for that matter _ deserved the same consideration by the union that a superstar such as Belle was getting.

Last week, Vina said he was miffed that Gene Orza, the union’s No. 2 official, ``called me up and tried to get me to change my story and say that Albert didn’t hit me in the face.″

Vina, who went to the hospital that night because he thought his nose was broken, was flabbergasted by what he described as Orza’s trying to pit him against Belle.

``He’s supposed to be on my side, too isn’t he?″ Vina said.

Garner said it wasn’t fair for Matheny to sit out three games while Belle misses just two.

``Belle told Tavarez to throw at the next batter. Mike didn’t have anything to do with it at that point,″ Garner said.

``I don’t think Mike would have gone out there if it wasn’t for Belle’s action. Mike’s being penalized for protecting himself. What’s he supposed to do when a pitch comes behind his head? Get back in there and give the guy another chance to take his head off?″

Garner noted that last year, Pat Listach didn’t get a suspension for charging the mound after Rob Dibble whistled a fastball behind his head.

Garner, active in the union during his playing days, also said he was deeply troubled that the union threatened legal action on behalf of Belle, who leads the major leagues with 25 homers.

``To me, it’s the seeds of destruction in our game,″ Garner said. ``If you’re going to start threatening lawsuits, it’s fair game for everybody, that’s what. Sooner or later, the devil will show it’s ugly face.

``You just create fighting amongst yourselves. Why shouldn’t Mike sue the association now? I just think they’re opening a can of worms.″

Garner said such a litigious game would make a mockery of baseball.

``Now, why can’t a player come back and say, `You threw at my head, that’s intent to harm, I ought to have damages from you,′ ″ Garner asked.

``All right, so we say our rights are trampled on a little here and there. Isn’t it a lot better than going through the courts? I just hope it never gets to that point.″

Garner also said he’ll find it laughable the next time somebody suggests that the Brewers get favored treatment because owner Bud Selig is the acting commissioner.

``I hope they never, ever bring up the word preferential treatment for the commissioner,″ Garner said. ``That sure doesn’t sound like we’re getting preferential treatment, does it?″

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