By Joel Warner
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By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Jim Rome, a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and star of his own nightly TV program on Fox Sports, takes pride in talking smack. That's his shtick -- to rant about all things sports in the most arrogant, contentious manner possible and to inspire his foamy-mouthed listenership to do likewise. So it's not exactly a shocker that he's targeted the Colorado Rockies a time or two over the years, regularly referring to Coors Field as "Coors Canaveral" and "Williamsport" (the Pennsylvania facility where the Little League World Series takes place) for its tendency to turn what probably would be medium-range fly balls at most stadiums into home runs.
What is unexpected, though, is how the Rockies are reacting to this kind of grade-school-level provocation. Rome and his representatives accuse the club of attempting a de facto boycott of his program -- a charge that's led to open combat between the two organizations. And when Sandy Clough and Mike Evans of AM-950/The Fan, the Denver station that airs Rome, criticized Rockies third baseman Jeff Cirillo for discussing an issue with Rome that he'd dodged with them, Jay Alves, the team's senior director of communications and public relations, went after them as well.
Suddenly, it's a whole new ballgame.
The bad feelings between the Rockies and Rome burst into the open in late May, when all-star first baseman Todd Helton guested on the radio show. At the time, Rome, who was unavailable for comment (guess he's too busy to talk smack with just anyone), told Helton that he'd been making requests to talk with him for two years -- and when Helton said he'd never received any of them, Rome knocked the Rox for their conduct. Alves responded by leaving a testy voice-mail message for Rome in which he said the Rockies would never facilitate an interview for Rome, prompting Jimbo to unleash another anti-Rockies screed. In the midst of this second salvo, he dedicated himself to getting every Rockies player onto his broadcast out of sheer spite. Since then, he's chatted up second baseman/SWAT team ride-along buddy Mike Lansing, outfielder Tom Goodwin, and Cirillo, a frequent Rome guest when he was a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.
According to Travis Rodgers, Rome's producer, his boss wasn't really serious about putting all 25 Rockies on the air. "They don't all deserve to be there," he says. Rather, Rome was just trying to make a point about what he sees as the team's unprofessionalism. "We've put in numerous requests to talk to their players over the years, and they were always denied -- and when we'd talk to guys like Walt Weiss and Don Baylor after they'd gone to different teams, we found out they were never hearing about them. They'd be like, 'I had no idea you were trying to find me.'" He adds that no other team in pro sports has ever dealt with Rome in this manner: "We've had some personality conflicts sometimes, but nothing where everything was just unilaterally denied."
In the beginning, Alves's contempt for Rome -- "No one likes to be called an idiot on national radio," he hisses -- didn't spill over into the Rockies' relationship with the Fan: Even though the station competes with KOA, the Rockies' flagship station, the Fan's sports director, Mitch Hyder, says his access to the team has always been first-rate.
But that was before July 11, when morning hosts Clough and Evans spoke with Cirillo, who was in Atlanta for the All-Star game. The conversation was going along swimmingly until Clough tried to quiz Cirillo about the disparity between his hitting on the road versus home; Cirillo said "No, no, no, no, no" throughout the questioning, then pointedly changed the subject. Shortly thereafter, Cirillo appeared with Rome, and upon being asked the same thing, he replied, "I've got to tell you, I've stopped answering that for the media. But for you, I'll answer it."
Cirillo's bland response was hardly worth the wait, but the debate over whether he'd dissed the locals filled the majority of Fan broadcasts for the next couple of days, with even Rome getting into the act: After noting that he'd received e-mails about the situation, he advised "the local talent" to "get over yourself."
But what most riled Clough was a voice-mail message from Alves that Clough feels "set the Guinness World Book of Records mark for lies and misrepresentations and distortions in a three-minute message." In it, Clough says, Alves claimed that while he would continue to process the morning show's requests for interviews with Rockies players, he would not do so with any particular enthusiasm -- a statement that carries with it an implied threat of an access cutoff -- unless Clough apologized to the Rockies and Cirillo for his behavior.To the legendarily verbose Clough, that's laughable. "What should I apologize for? Asking a question?" he wonders. Then, after accusing Cirillo of being rude to the intern who set up the Fan interview, he describes Alves as "a lightweight" and "a phony" and calls the Rockies "the most arrogant organization in this city. And isn't it interesting how the most arrogant organizations in any time are invariably the least successful organizations? The ones that are the most paranoid and prone to react are the ones that have the most to hide, the most to be embarrassed about. And that sort of fits the Rockies."There's no telling how Alves feels about these characterizations. He returned calls about the Rome matter, referring to Rome's on-air comments as a "tirade," but declined to go into more detail because "I don't listen to his show." However, subsequent messages seeking comment about the Fan incident were ignored. Meanwhile, Rodgers, Rome's producer, promises that he'll get to the Rockies whether Alves helps him or not.