Diamonds Are a Mogul's Best Friend

The peculiarities of the national pastime are, at the present time, running amok, like drunks loose in the outfield.

Rupert Murdoch, the Aussie media glutton who swallows newspapers, TV networks and movie studios the way fans at the ballpark eat peanuts, now proposes to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers and attached properties from the O'Malley family. The price tag? A mere $350 million.

This is like Alaric the Visigoth handing Rome and all its monuments over to Hitler for a couple of minor-league countries to be named later. If there's anything animal, vegetable or mineral Murdoch can't cheapen with his bottom-feeding mentality, the world doesn't know about it. Those laughing behind their hands because Mickey Mouse now runs the Anaheim Angels haven't seen anything yet. Once this latter-day Barnum gets his hooks into the Dodgers, we can probably expect to see agents Scully and Mulder turning the double play, an extraterrestrial with an antenna sticking out of its head in right field, and Homer Simpson hitting cleanup. How about staging "World's Scariest Police Shootouts" right there in the bleachers at Chavez Ravine? Absolutely. Why bother with trifles like the World Series when fans can step in puddles of real blood on their way to the sushi stand?

It almost makes you yearn for the good old days when Peter O'Malley's dear dad Walter, the Benedict Arnold of Brooklyn, ripped the Dodgers out of Flatbush and set them down under the palm trees of Gomorrah.

The highest hope we can have for the new Dodgers, aside from their scheduling satellite-broadcast games from Tokyo, Mars and Pluto, is that Murdoch and his longtime archenemy in the superstation wars, Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner, will fight a duel one night at second base and that both of them will be killed. The choice of weapons? Big mouths.

Meanwhile, how about Yankee crank George Steinbrenner? Concerto, the Boss's entrant in the Kentucky Derby, didn't run a lick, so he dressed down the trainer, canned the jockey and, for all we know, had to be stopped from shooting the poor horse dead right there in his stall. Concerto didn't fire in the Preakness, either, but by then George had other things to worry about. Last week baseball gave him this year's edition of the Marge Schott Award by kicking him off the game's executive council because he'd filed a lawsuit over his team's $95 million marketing deal with Adidas. Steinbrenner wants to sell Adidas T-shirts and other labeled gewgaws at Yankee Stadium and dress the grounds crew in Adidas unis, but he hasn't gotten baseball's approval. So the game spit back at him. Now George is suing the commissioner's office--as if there were a commissioner.

In other developments, Reds manager Ray Knight proved last week that he can throw third base farther than any of his sluggers can hit the ball, and the pride of the White Sox, Albert Belle, en route to scoring, whacked an opposing catcher, who didn't even have the ball, with a forearm shiver across the mouth. This is the new and improved Albert Belle--the one who now declines to strangle 105-pound female TV reporters.

But some things in baseball never change. Fans hungering for the comforts of familiarity, in fact, need look no further than Coors Field to get satisfaction. Following an April full of hope, the Rockies have returned to their usual form. They can't win on the road. Bill Swift is on the disabled list again. In the late innings, Rockies relievers can't get anyone out.

The club's recent thirteen-game road swing to the East Coast was a little like Napoleon's trip to Moscow. Dante Bichette fouled a pitch off his big toe. Walt Weiss and Eric Young both injured their hamstrings. Ellis Burks is hobbling around with a sore groin, top bomber Larry Walker's decorating his knee with an ice pack and, aside from perennial casualty Swift, two more starters--Mark Thompson and Jamey Wright--have also come down with their own varieties of Saberhagen Syndrome. The Rockies wound up the disastrous road trip 3-10 and since coming home last Friday have managed to go 3-1 in four games against Houston and St. Louis.

If manager Don Baylor, a wise and patient man who reportedly doesn't carry any large-caliber weapons on his person, can't get his troops out of the hospital and into the fight pretty soon, another third-place N.L. West finish could be in the cards. Certainly, those heady days of yestermonth when the Rox were 21-9, kicking serious ass in Cincy and Montreal and getting the road monkey off their backs, now seem mighty remote.

No one wants to be reminded of the five consecutive walks (followed by three singles) Rockies pitchers gave up in the eighth inning at Shea Stadium on Black Sunday, May 18, blowing a 4-2 lead and losing 10-4. That's the kind of collapse that can wreck an entire season. At 3 o'clock in the morning, the ghost in that machine probably jumps up and bites Don Baylor right on the psyche. As for Bruce Ruffin, who walked the park and threw one wild pitch into neighboring Astoria on Black Sunday, how'd you like to unravel the tangle that must be inside his head?

Luckily, baseball's raging peculiarities have a way of falling prey to its meandering sense of clock. A 162-game season is a lifetime, more or less: Almost anything can happen if you're willing to wait long enough. By the time Rupert Murdoch, the old cricketeer, is decked out in Dodger blue and has hired Arnold Schwarzenegger as his starting catcher, the Rockies' Bobby Jones (as opposed to the Mets' Bobby Jones) may have a 10-1 record and developed a curveball as nasty as Dwight Gooden's. By the time George Steinbrenner has got Bud Selig into a nice pair of Adidas sneakers and measured the jockey who rode his losing horse in the Travers Stakes for a little tiny coffin, maybe Larry Walker will have 57 home runs. Maybe Tom Glavine and Ken Griffey Jr. will have announced to Bob Gebhard that the Rockies are the only team for them.

Maybe the Rockies will win the pennant. Maybe the Giants and the Padres will sail off in pursuit of the Hale-Bopp comet. Maybe Murdoch will buy the Miami Dolphins instead. Maybe. Anyway, in baseball you can always hope.

Local puckheads who want to get their picture taken with the Stanley Cup better get a move on. Stan is a goner.

The department-store chain offering to shoot you and the Cup was still running ads to that effect over the dank, chill Memorial Day weekend. But the team that brought the thing to town is finished--for this year, maybe for a couple of years. At least until it makes a trade for Godzilla. Or drafts Frankenstein's monster, who's currently playing junior hockey in Saskatoon.

The Detroit Red Wings pelted Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy with 42 shots Monday night, and the two that got by were enough to put the hot Wings in the Stanley Cup final against Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Sakic, Lemieux and the rest of Colorado's world champions managed just 16 shots on goal, losing game six--and the Western Conference title--to the bigger, brawnier, better club.

So much for finesse versus violence. Coach Marc Crawford's foolish tantrum as his team was going down 6-0 in game four may have exposed the Avs' psychological cracks in this exciting series. The way the Wings tossed the Avs around like rag dolls exposed Colorado's physical inferiority. Say what you want for speed and beauty; if you want to go all the way in the NHL these days, you also need two or three ill-tempered goons who are built like Zambonis. The Avs didn't have 'em. Enforcer Chris Simon was traded away after last year's Stanley Cup season, and big Uwe Krupp missed the playoffs due to injury.

Actually, club officials recognized the problem long ago: Colorado's unsuccessful run at Chicago defenseman Chris Chelios in the off-season was a clear acknowledgement that the Avs needed to muscle up. When Chelios's tough Black Hawks very nearly knocked the reigning champs off in the first round of the playoffs, other teams took note, especially revenge-minded Detroit. Forget the Lemieux-Draper grudge or the bad blood between the teams. Wings coach Scotty Bowman and his players knew the way to beat the Avalanche was through sheer force, constant bombardment and bad attitude.

Eventually, it was the Avs who lost their heads, along with the series. With no bullies of their own to mete out punishment, they got beaten up, bruised and outplayed.

If you want to fall by the department store and get your picture taken with the Stanley Cup in 1998, better tell Avs management to go shopping for a couple of thugs--the meaner the better. There could be no prettier sight on the cover of next season's Avalanche game program than an ice-belching giant equipped with redwood arms, a nose like a sledgehammer and, say, one huge eye in the middle of his forehead. The Abominable Snowman.


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