Amazing stories? now, we've heard them all

JOHN EISENBERG

November 03, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

We can still be astonished by an author having the gall to publish a lousy sequel to "Gone With The Wind."

We can still be astonished by a Senate confirmation hearing resembling a 1-900 call.

We can still be astonished by the pile of money a Wall Street wizard can make without ever actually doing anything.

But can we still be astonished by sports?

It is a question worth asking in the wake of the WorstFest that was the recent World Series.

Yes, watching the Braves and Twins go from last place to the Series offered us a healthy dose of tongue-tying, jaw-slackening, never-been-done-before-blah-blah astonishment.

But, now, the next time it happens, we will just shrug and say, "Yeah, but you shudda seen da Twins."

This is what concerns me. Here in the Dept. of Jocks, where we used to major in astonishing stories, we are beginning to run dry. The boundaries of credibility have been expanded to the point that there isn't much left on the outside.

No one is too old or too young to accomplish anything.

fTC No team is too good to lose.

Or too bad to win.

Well, maybe the Cleveland Indians.

But we're talking about astonishing, not supernatural.

Anyway.

Consider what has happened in just the last year.

We have seen 44-year-old Nolan Ryan throw a no-hitter, 42-year-old George Foreman fight for the heavyweight title, 39-year-old Jimmy Connors steal the U.S. Open.

We have seen 17-year-old Monica Seles become No. 1, 15-year-old Jennifer Capriati beat Martina Navratilova on Centre Court, 14-year-old Anita Nall from Towson High School become a contender for an Olympic swimming medal.

We have seen no-name rookie John Daly, the absolute last golfer entered in the PGA Championship -- a major title -- smoke the field while his caddy yelled, "Kill, Bubba!"

We have seen a magnificent UNLV team -- college basketball's best of the last decade -- lose in the Final Four.

We have seen the worst-to-first double play.

And that's just the last 10 months. Start going back from there, and you run into Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson, a filly winning the Kentucky Derby, the Orioles losing 21 straight and almost winning the division the next year . . .

It's the same as Liz Taylor's loves: The possibilities aren't exhausted, but they're getting tired.

Sure, astonishing long shots are still out there waiting to do their wild thing. But they're getting ridiculous. If the Miami Heat wins the NBA title. If Jeff Robinson wins a Cy Young Award. If the Indy Colts score two touchdowns in a game. Wacko stuff like that.

It is true that we can still be astonished by any game or moment. A rookie second baseman winning the World Series with a fake. Bernard King scoring 50 again on those knees. Jerry Rice at his peak. Sports will always be a safe harbor for such wonder.

But let's not miss the basic point. As Curly used to complain to Moe: All the good stuff has already been taken.

Forget the NFL. It's impossible for there to be a big surprise. The 0-8 Bengals almost beat the 8-0 Redskins this year. Every team is just about the same, give or take two or three season-ending injuries.

Forget baseball. If the pocket-sized Braves can will themselves giant enough to come within a run of winning the Series, what's left to amaze?

Forget golf and tennis. The best players have gotten rich and fat on endorsement and appearance fees. Any Jim Courier or John Daly can win a Grand Slam.

Forget hockey. A team called the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year. Enough said.

Forget the NBA. Nothing astonishing is allowed to happen until the shoe companies give their permission.

Forget college sports. The joke is that anyone thinks he or she can predict what 19-year-olds will do. The only thing that would really astonish would be hearing that players had actually started going to class.

The plain fact is that free agency, scholarship limits, mega-hype, legislated parity, big money and television-run scheduling make it possible for just about anything to happen now.

Athletes are starting younger and lasting longer. The Olympics have been all but given over to 15-year-old gymnasts, swimmers and skaters. Pro athletes are staying in shape into their 40s because the money is terrific. Sorry, but nothing about age should be astonishing anymore.

Nor should the unceasing comparisons of years. As the Braves and Twins proved, teams can change their entire look in a couple of months. It's true in just about every sport. Nothing is more irrelevant than what happened last year.

This is all a little sad, of course, because sports is such a traditionally full tank of astonishment. But I'm not saying that can't still be -- not after this World Series. No, I'm just saying my tank is running a little low right now. As near as I can tell, these are the only astonishing things left that I haven't seen:

* A baseball player saying, "You know, I oughta be curing cancer for the money they're paying me to hit .245."

* A play-by-play television announcer in any sport admitting, "This game is duller than a Kevin Costner interview."

* A cow winning the Preakness.

Otherwise, you run anything under my nose, I'm going to tell you I've seen it.

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