Dark Day for World Cup Is a Good Day for a Baseball Game

The Baseball All-Star game: Scheduled for Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, and it should get a fair share of the U.S. television-viewing audience. Tuesday is a rest day in the World Cup. Semifinals aren't until the next day.

Chili Davis: That one team/one All-Star rep rule--what can you do about it? So it means Ricky Bones goes with a 7-6 record because Milwaukee has to send someone. So it means Kevin Mitchell gets to complain because the Cincinnati Reds landed only two invitations and not a half-dozen. Occasionally, it works the other way, too--and Chili certainly has the numbers (.339, 16 home runs, 61 runs batted in) even if he lacks the support. Let him go, let him take a few cuts, let him enjoy himself, for crying out loud. The man has enough misery awaiting him when he gets back from three-day leave.

Gene Mauch: The Little General always did cut through the garbage and strike at the heart of the matter. And he speaks the naked truth when decrying the four white flags currently flying over the stadiums in Anaheim, Arlington, Tex., Oakland and Seattle. "There isn't one team in that whole division that seems to have a personality," Mauch points out. Amen to that. Although the Angels used to have one. Had one up until May 17. Then they fired him.

Tom Lasorda: His team lost more than 90 games in 1992. So did Buck Rodgers'. During the last two years, Lasorda lost a son. Rodgers almost lost his life. Lasorda's bosses stayed with him through these on-field and off-the-field crises, kept patient, didn't wring their hands over a "loss of fire in the belly"--and now, Lasorda has his team in first place, five games up at the break. In case we needed any reminder why the Dodgers are the Dodgers and the Angels remain the Angels, there it is.

Matt Williams: He's done it with the volume turned way down, leaving the din to Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas, but he, too, is drawing a bead on Roger Maris' home-run record. Remember when hair fell out of Maris' head in clumps as the pressure of chasing Ruth overwhelmed him? That won't be a problem for Williams. He has no more hair to lose.

Roger Maris: With any amount of luck, he could slip from first to fourth on the single-season home run leader board, just like that. Repeat after me: The Ball Is Not Juiced.

Baseball realignment: The old way, one division race would be over by now with another quickly headed in the same direction; the Expos would be blowing out the NL East by 9 1/2 games and the White Sox would be 6 1/2 games up in the AL West--15 1/2 ahead of the last-place Angels. The new way might have thrown the AL West to the dogs, but at the same time, nine teams in the American League and six in the National enter the second half with legitimate claims to the term "playoff contender." So if you're asking if the baseball owners did the smart thing when they voted to realign, the answer is yes. That's one.

Pete Sampras: Excuse him and his forehand from any further "Death of Tennis" essays. When you win Wimbledon back-to-back, you officially are not a part of the problem. Still, what I wouldn't give for one more fortnight of McEnroe postmatch press conferences. Sampras, Ivanisevic, Courier, Chang--there are still some bodies who can play a good game. But who out there can talk one?

Martina Navratilova: Well, she could, but now all she's saying is goodby. When she finally walks away, that's it for the Mac-Chrissie-Connors-Martina Golden Age. Can anything save us from the Ice Age? Maybe Mary Pierce, maybe Lindsay Davenport. Or maybe Sampras hires a joke writer. When Andre Agassi is your leading source for "color," your sport needs a teleprompter.

Sweden 5, Romania 4 in penalty kicks: How many ABC executives were administered smelling salts after that one? Romania wins there, after Bulgaria's ambush of Germany, and the World Cup final would have been two upsets away from being overrun by Kremenlievs, Tzvetanovs and Dumistrescus. Don't get me wrong; a Romania-Bulgaria title match would have had the Black Sea jumping. (Go you Balkans!) Just the same, ABC probably prefers televising its very expensive World Cup final across Neosoccerland without the aid of Eastern bloc topography maps and pronunciation tables. Got to tread lightly here. Americans are just starting to get the hang of Romario, Baggio and Bebeto. Don't go throwing Hristo and Miodrag at them now.

Spain: Soccer team almost reaches the Cup final four. Tennis players named Conchita Martinez, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Sergi Bruguera win titles at the French Open and Wimbledon. Olympics of '92 were among the best ever. What more could a sporting nation ask for? OK, besides the return of the Barcelona Dragons?

Penalty kicks: There has to be a better way. Suppose the NFL decided tie games with a field-goal kicking contest. Suppose the NBA decided tie games at the free throw line. Suppose the NHL decided tie games by having five skaters a side go one-and-one against the goalie, firing pucks at the net as if they were dice on a craps table and calling it a "shootout." What, you think the NHL is stark raving nuts?

Penalty kicks II: A friend of mine does suggest a better way. After 90 minutes, pull a player from both teams and play 15 minutes, 10-on-10. Still tied after that, pull another player and play 15 more minutes. And so on, until you're left with either a winner or the goalkeepers going one-on-one, trading punts from box to box. Something for the MLS to consider.

Italy-Brazil: The soccer final ABC really wants. And it would be a sight--Italians fainting in the street, Brazilians crying uncontrollably in front of the television. Valium, the official snack food of the 1994 World Cup championship.

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