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No Balls, Maybe a Strike

If you can come up with one good reason why Bud Selig shouldn't be publicly drawn and quartered and his parts scattered from Fond du Lac to Madison, let's hear it. Want to bestow mercy on Chisox owner Jerry Reinsdorf? Fine. Give him a nice schooner of Old Style before signaling the firing squad to shoot. Got an eloquent plea on behalf of the Cubs' Andy MacPhail, Toronto's Paul Beeston or Miami's big fish, Wayne Huizenga? Okay. But save it for the funeral of your choice.

The glories of the 1996 World Series are on the books now, but there's no off-season for the fools who are killing baseball. Like serial murderers, they just can't stop hacking away. So maybe the fans should inflict a little capital punishment of their own. The way to do that, since everything else has failed, is by means of actual guillotines, garrotes and gunfire. Extreme days, extreme measures. Forget about calling or writing the owner of your local baseball club and telling him/her in no uncertain terms that--this time--you will never, ever buy another ticket unless every owner signs the labor agreement they turned down last week in, say, the next nine minutes.

That weak-ass crap didn't work in '94, and it won't work now. In fact, it never has. What works is dispatching these autocrats and megalomaniacs and befouled captains of industry in the streets. What works is violent revolution. Rivers of blood. Dictatorship of the proletariat and all that. Issue a thirty-ought-six with a night scope to every baseball-loving housewife in America. So that if Jerry McMorris or Claude Brochu walks by the house, he gets blasted into kingdom come right there on the sidewalk, under the elm tree. Hand grenades for the kids. Lob a couple into George Steinbrenner's passing limousine, then squirt off into the nearest alley.

Death to the tyrants. Every Mariners fan equipped with a nice length of piano wire, just in case Seattle owner John Ellis wanders into the corner sports bar. Do a Luca Brazzi on him. Up in chill Minneapolis, perhaps, armies of angry baseball fans wielding huge icicles. Skewer Twins owner Carl Pohlad like a big lake trout and slow-roast him, $2,000 suit and all, over a bonfire out in the stadium parking lot.

Apocalypse now. In truth, the average fan has as much chance of getting close enough to assassinate Baltimore Oriole knave Peter Angelos or St. Looie halfwit Mark Lamping--two liar/owners who suddenly turned their coats against labor peace last week--as of getting named baseball commissioner. But that will change. Think of it: A thousand cadres of teenagers who've traded their baseball cards in for crossbows. And one lucky marksman getting to take dead aim at Dodgers chieftain Peter O'Malley as he pokes a fork into his plate of arugula on the terrace at Spago. Bull's-eye! Under the circumstances, the delighted busboys will chip in to pick up Pete's tab.

Meanwhile, is there a punishment cruel and unusual enough for Donald Fehr? You know, the doughnut-faced baseball-union hack who's fiddled the fans' goodwill away for the last five years. A month on the ducking stool's too kind for him, the noose too swift. And no measure of poison, one suspects, could penetrate this mule's thick and coarsened constitution. How about 23 years straight of law-school classes? Probably not: The guy never met a tort or a contract he didn't want to have intercourse with. So, then. The solution: Fly Don Fehr up to Grand Forks and lock him in the smallest room at the Ramada. Lashed to Marge Schott. Both of them naked. Throw away the key.

In case you haven't heard, Don Fehr was in London--London frigging England!--last Wednesday when baseball's obstinate, self-destructive, don't-give-a-shit owners voted 18-12 to shoot down the game's new labor agreement. Six thousand miles away was Don. Barely a peep out of him.

But let's not lay all the blame at his door. In fact, let's complete the triple play by also tossing Bud Selig into that motel room in Grand Forks. The Milwaukee Brewers owner, laughably designated as the game's "acting commissioner," was mostly smiles during the Braves-Yankees World Series, implying that after five years of wrangling, players and owners had finally agreed on a new labor pact. By his own description, Selig merely "filtered in and out" of the ongoing negotiations, and baseball types felt confident at last. Word of a successful accord, it was rumored, wasn't immediately announced only because it might diminish the profound excitement of the Series itself.

Good luck.
Three weeks after season's end, there is still no contract, because the Reinsdorfs and Huizengas and Seligs of the world want to wrangle over a minor luxury-tax provision. What does that entail, exactly? Who gives a damn! Fact is, the owners threw their own hand-picked negotiator, Randy Levine, out of the meeting room in Chicago last Wednesday so they could conspire in private, then voted down a deal thought to be done more than three months ago. Shockingly, the owners' 18-12 rejection was an even larger margin than anyone in baseball had imagined: Only last week, Baseball Weekly reported fourteen teams in favor of the new pact, five opposed and nine undecided. But that was before St. Louis's Lamping and Baltimore's Angelos, among unnamed others, defected to the naysayers.

As for the slippery Mr. Selig, whose signature appeared on this year's special World Series baseball: Rather than encourage fellow owners to sign the contract or work to smooth out details, he remained on the sidelines. In the end, the Brewers (in the person of Bud's daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb) actually voted against a contract Selig was ostensibly trying to sell.

Always indignantly self-righteous, the owners then wrote changes into the rejected deal--changes Fehr and the players' union are almost certain to reject. What changes? Who cares! The details are less important than the game-killing prospects of intractability on both sides.

So. What lies on baseball's horizon? Another players' strike. Or a lockout. Another huge crisis of faith in a game already beleaguered by hockey, football and basketball--maybe even a fatal crisis. At best, if a deal isn't reached by November 15, the game will be played for another season under the so-called Basic Agreement that expired way back in December 1993 but has been shakily enforced under a federal court order.

And the mood of the fans? Listen closely, Bud, and you can hear baseball's angry, disenfranchised militias right now, stacking rifles in the basements of the Bronx, stockpiling pitchforks in Keokuk. And this time, they'll use them.

This plot is getting spooky good, don't you think?
Your Denver Broncos had no business holding off those fired-up, ten-point underdog Chicago Bears at Bowlen Park Sunday afternoon. No business at all. In another season and another zeitgeist, Da Berz' Raymont Harris would have simply punched through the exhausted Bronco defense on first down from the one-yard line, and that would have been that: Chi 19, Den 17, and hit the whirlpool, boys.

Instead, the locals, struggling through their most distracted home game of the year, held Chicago off for another 32 seconds and three more agonizing plays (including a third-down TD pass dropped by tackle-eligible Jim Flanigan) to win by a, by a...hamstring. 17-12.

In terms of last-minute drama, Sunday's fourth-quarter goal-line stand may not quite rank with the most famous Bronco hits of the post-season--Things to Do to Cleveland When You're Dead (The Drive) and its popular sequel, Things to Do to Cleveland When You're Dead II (The Fumble).

But...if Shanahan's club still needed some last infusion of belief, some adrenal surge to take them the rest of the way to the big game scheduled for New Orleans in late January, this was probably it. Certainly, this looked like the confirmation of destiny.

Consider the scenario for a Bears upset: John Elway on a gimpy leg. Just six days' rest for Denver since that draining one-point win at Oakland, where no visitor had won a Monday night game since the Visigoths took out the Romans. Tackle Gary Zimmerman injured again. Ace cornerback Lionel Washington still on the pines. Three crucial dropped passes--Shannon Sharpe, Anthony Miller, Rod Smith. Chicago's fiendishly clever on-side kick, which gave the ball back to the Bears after they'd closed to 14-9 in the third period.

But...the Broncos found a way. They declawed the snarling Bears at the goal line. Meanwhile, Kansas City beat powerful Green Bay Sunday, and for the first time since the Reagan administration--probably the first time ever--the Broncos are suddenly the best team in the NFL, with a 9-1 mark. But for that missed field goal against the Chiefs way back in December, they might even be undefeated.

As they say on talk radio, it doesn't get any easier now. Drew Bledsoe, the 7-3 Patriots and the Big Tuna lay in wait up at Foxboro Stadium Sunday afternoon--a road test if there ever was one. Then a trip to Minnesota, where frustrated Vikings are usually dangerous Vikings. Next: old bugaboo Seattle here in Denver. Then a nice early-December visit to Lambeau Field, 1265 Lombardi Avenue, Green Bay, Wisconsin 54304.

By then, will the doubters of yore still be out in force? Sure. Same guys who bet Mike Tyson at 1-18.