K stands for Strikeout, as anyone who's ever put pencil to scorebook can tell you. Baseball's biggest, hardest swingers will always have plenty of Ks next to their names, but for most other hitters that statistic is declining. Reduced pitching talent is one reason. The other is that the big-league strike zone, once measured from the uniform letters to the knees, is shrinking faster than a pensioner's bank account. Are offense-minded umpiring crews the secret agents of baseball's new power and scoring surges? Conspiracy theorists think so. Of course, they also believe Ty Cobb shot Lincoln.

L is for Lockout, which is what could occur next spring even if there's no players' strike this summer. If the season ends without a new labor agreement, the owners might declare a stalemate and trash the start of the 1995 season. That way, we can spend next April puttering in the garden.

M should now stand for Maris, the slugger whose home-run record could be smashed not only by Griffey but by Chisox first baseman Frank Thomas. Instead, M is for Marge. Cincinnati team owner Marge Schott lets her dog dump on the Astroturf while she dumps on minorities. Players who wear earrings are "fruits," and she's defied the smoking ban in her own ballpark. Are there any more owners at home like Marge? Unfortunately, yes.

N is for No-Hitter, which is what every scheduled game could be come summer.
O is for Owner. It's also for Obstinate, Obdurate, Offensive, Old-fangled, Omnipotent and Oligarch. Obviously, only openness can offset opprobrium.

P is for Pitcher, the endangered species of baseball's renewed bang-bang style. ERAs are up, complete games are down and revenge is sweet every time a junkballer rolls one off the foot of a hothead coiled at the plate. Maybe Dwight Gooden and Armando Reynoso are lucky to be missing the season.

Q is for Quinn, as in Wellington Hunt "Wimpy" Quinn, whose entire major-league career consists of the five innings he pitched for the Chicago Cubs in 1941. His record stands at 0-0, his ERA at 7.20. But because the players aren't entirely blameless in baseball's current sad state, you can bet there would be nothing "Wimpy" about Quinn's demands were he playing today: The big-league salary average is a million bucks a year.

R is for Reinsdorf. Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is apparently the hardest of the hard-liners against labor. Although his club almost got to the World Series last year for the first time since 1959, he's pledged not to budge on players' demands. Meet the Mayor Daley of sport.

S is, well, for Strike.
T is for Talk Shows, which is where frustrated baseball lovers will be venting their spleens and shouting obscenities if the season is once more ripped from their grasp. For some reason, the wrath of a fan scorned is not always what it should be. We are the ones who should threaten a walkout--then make good on it.

UVWXYZ! is the startled curse (slightly sanitized here, of course) that Reinsdorf, Schott and Steinbrenner would be shouting if a fan revolt really did take place at the turnstiles. Baseball fans are the most loyal on the planet, and the brokers of the game have never hesitated to abuse that fact. If the faithful were to strike back, the shameless money-grubbers wouldn't have a choice but to get their act together.

And that's the ball game, folks.

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