What's the Deal? No Deal

The first June night, a glorious night.

The Dodger Stadium left-field pavilion is buzzing, fans leaping, lunging, diving, pleading.

And Mark McGwire isn't even playing.

Everyone trying to catch a rumor.

"Did they get Randy Johnson yet?" asks Louis Navarro, Section 307, Row L. "We got to get a pitcher."

"What about Nomo?" asks Maria Angulo, two seats down. "What are we getting for Nomo?"

"This is great," says Logan Miller, four sections over. "Everyone else does all this stuff, why not the Dodgers?"

"You want to scream 'Raoooul,' " says Eric Margrave, one row down, "but he might be gone tomorrow."

Mark McGwire isn't playing, but it doesn't matter. For the first time in a long time, the Dodgers are lobbing their own sparklers into the stands, hot numbers that have their fans jumping like never before. Another one was defused Tuesday when the Seattle Mariners got cold cleats and fled from a trade that would have sent pitcher Randy Johnson to the Dodgers.

At least, momentarily defused.

Nothing is forever around here, not anymore.

While Dodger General Manager Fred Claire said he was no longer, "in pursuit" of Johnson, the careful former wordsmith never said he would hang up the phone if the Mariners changed their mind.

And while the Mariners released a statement that, "Randy will pitch for the Mariners throughout the season," this is the same organization that last week denied they even talked to the Dodgers--moments after Claire acknowledged that they just had.

Do not for one second believe that just because this latest circus has moved on, another one won't be along soon.

Surely the Dodgers will still make a deal for a starting pitcher. Surely they will figure out an answer to their problem at closer.

Unless Fox wants to send the message that they have given up on the season in June--another Dodger first--they don't have a choice.

And until the July 31 trading deadline has passed, never stop believing that one of the players coming here could still be Randy Johnson.

The Mariners are keeping him now, perhaps, because they also don't want their fans to believe they have quit on the season.

Their lousy bullpen will tell those fans soon enough. Then, as a potential free agent who won't be back next year, anyway, Johnson will be dealt while the Mariners can still get something for him.

And remember, Claire never said he wouldn't call the Mariners back.

"I'm not in a position of telling Rosie [Gutierrez, his secretary] not to take phone calls," Claire said, smiling. "If somebody out there has a good deal for us, I'll listen."

In other words, what happened here Tuesday was nothing that can't change tomorrow.

Claire can attempt to calm the players, lighten the media crush, reduce the distractions.

But as a trip through the left-field pavilion proved Tuesday, a line has been crossed, a barrier leaped.

When you trade Mike Piazza, you will do anything, and the speculation will involve everything, and nothing will surprise anybody.

The Dodgers are no longer a nice neighborhood institution, they are a dad-gummed summertime baseball team, with fans not only watching them, but questioning them, arguing about them, second-guessing them.

At times, it's going to be ugly as Darren Dreifort suddenly losing his control and a 4-0 lead, which happened against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday. While the Dodgers are trying to find a new direction, there will be many stumbles and missed turns.

But it should also be a wild ride. And with it, hope that something new is just around the corner.

For the next couple of weeks--but not a minute more--that will do.

Back in section 303, still 30 minutes before game time, they are debating now, college students Micah Miller of San Dimas and Eric Margrave of Valencia.

They were strangers when the disagreement started. They will not be when it has ended.

Miller: "I like the Dodgers this way, it's more interesting."

Margrave: "I think it stinks."

Miller: "We haven't won a playoff game in, what, 10 years?"

Margrave: "What happened to loyalty?"

Miller "We need a change. What we were doing was not working."

Fans from other rows hear them, begin their own debates, not always so dignified, but neither is baseball. The Dodgers have joined the rest of the world, and for now, it's sort of fun.

When is the last time that, on one day, there were two confirmed reports of Dodger trades? And both were wrong.

The wire service that broke the Piazza trade said Tuesday that the Johnson deal was done, for Ismael Valdes and Wilton Guerrero and a low-run reliever.

Before that, a local radio station reported that they had traded Nomo for Armando Benitez, which would have been a steal for the Dodgers, who are still worried about their closer.

Then, after all that, when is the last time the staid Dodgers held a crowded news conference to announce they weren't making a trade?

Fox might not always like it. But Fox started it. And, before too long, we trust Fox will make it worth it.

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