MINNEAPOLIS -- The Atlanta Braves might not have been in the World Series this year without outfielder Otis Nixon, but there is a strong possibility that he will not return to the club for the 1992 season.
Nixon, who is serving a 60-day suspension for violating the terms of baseball's drug-abuse after-care program, is eligible for free agency this year, but it seems likely that the Braves will offer no more than salary arbitration. His value on the free-agent market is complicated by the suspension, which will run through the first 15 games of next season.
The situation may become clearer over the next few days. Representatives of the Major League Players Association are expected to meet with Major League Baseball officials to discuss Nixon and the details of his free-agent eligibility.
But baseball officials seem more interested in making sure that there is no further involvement with prohibited substances.
"We're going to talk to him when he comes back and get a sense for what he has done to avoid the situation in the future," assistant commissioner Steve Greenberg said. "He's already part of a continuing testing program and that won't change. We'll just want to make sure that going forward he has the appropriate after-care and support."
Lonnie Smith's bunt single in the fifth inning ended a string of 25 hitless at-bats by National League designated hitters. The last NL DH to hit safely was Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mike Davis, who homered off Storm Davis in the fifth game of the 1988 World Series.
The four games decided on the last pitch are a World Series record. Kirby Puckett's last-pitch home run in Game 6 was the ninth in Series history. The last time it happened was in 1988 when Mark McGwire ended Game 3 with a home run. Earlier in the same series, Kirk Gibson hit his dramatic sudden-death home run against Dennis Eckersley.
Bench feels for Leibrandt
Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, who was behind the plate when left-hander Charlie Leibrandt pitched a shutout in his first major-league start, did not enjoy watching him give up the game-winning home run to Puckett in Game 6.
"I hate to see that happen to a guy like Charlie," Bench said, "because I know that well may stay with him for the rest of his life. You hate to see a game end like that and a guy walk off the mound with his head down."
Mazzone gives pep talk
Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone took Leibrandt aside to assure him that his 1991 season wouldn't be remembered for just one bad pitch.
"What you tell him is this," Mazzone said. "One of the main reasons we're here is because of you. You are one of the best pitchers in the National League and you are a class act and we're glad you're here."
Mazzone defended the decision to bring on Leibrandt in that situation, even though he said that short reliever Alejandro Pena could have come back to pitch to one more batter.
"We didn't mind a matchup of Charlie and Puckett," Mazzone said. "He had struck him out twice [in Game 1]. It wouldn't bother us to have that matchup again."
Commissioner Fay Vincent said yesterday that he hopes to bring together representatives of the players and umpires union for a three-way discussion of a range of on-field issues.
Vincent did not elaborate on the specifics of such a meeting, but he is known to be looking for a way to stem the trend toward longer and longer games.
He already is on record as saying that he'll ask umpires to enforce the upper part of the strike zone. He added that he wants to explore a variety of ways to shave time off the average game span.
Gebhard's big adventure
Vice president of player personnel Bob Gebhard has watched his last game as a member of the Minnesota Twins organization. He leaves this week to start his new job as general manager of the National League's Colorado Rockies.
"It's a very emotional time," Gebhard told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "The game itself can have you nervous enough, but the fact that this is my last weekend with the club makes it an even more emotional time for me. These have been five great years, and I've worked with great people. I just hope we can win and I can leave here in style."
Never out of mind
Just before the start of yesterday's Rams-Falcons NFL game, a weather report appeared on the television monitors inside the press box giving the temperature, wind and humidity. It also gave a forecast -- "Braves in 7."
Vincent on Series
Vincent was asked if baseball needed an exciting seven-game World Series like this one.
"I don't think so," he said. "I don't think there is anything particularly wrong. But any sport would benefit from an outstanding championship and I think this will be remembered as one."
Ted opts out of parade
The Braves announced Saturday that they would have a celebratory parade regardless of the outcome of the Series. They announced yesterday that owner Ted Turner had a previous engagement and would not attend it, also regardless of the outcome of the Series.
The decibel level was expected to rise to 1987 standards at the Metrodome last night, so there were vendors outside selling ear plugs. . . The ceremonial first pitch was thrown out by former AL president Lee MacPhail, whose son Andy is Twins GM. . . . Tom Kelly entered last night's game with a chance to become only the third manager with a perfect World Series record in two or more appearances. Danny Murtaugh, who won with the Pirates in 1960 and 1971, and Bill Carrigan, who won in consecutive years for the Red Sox in 1915-16, are the other two.