Sure it's blackmail, but we must buy it

JOHN EISENBERG

January 25, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

Attention bargain shoppers: today's column is a 3-in-1 value. Three columns in the space of one. A Kellogg's Variety Pack column, sort of.

*

Regarding the buy-or-die NFL exhibition blackmail going down in town: Did anyone really think this expansion business was going to be fun? Any fun at all? Any more fun than clipping toenails?

If so, sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Angling for an expansion team is awful. Demeaning. Insulting. Pointless. (Yes, pointless. All of the potential cities would support a reasonably run team. No one has to prove anything.)

But we knew that going in. At least those paying attention did: Anyone who watched Washington grovel for a baseball team could see what we were in for. Jumping through hoops. Begging.

The problem is, we have no choice. The NFL has the hoops set up. We want a team. Our choice is to jump through the hoops or not play the game.

Sure, it's silly. Buying a ticket to the Saints-Dolphins game won't help us get a team. In the final reckoning, other matters (owners, money, stadium) will weigh a dozen times as much. Paul Tagliabue said as much yesterday.

But if we don't buy, we do get hurt. Badly hurt. So we have to buy.

Now it turns out some people bought early and got bad seats. Not a good situation. But let's credit the Stadium Authority for holding onto some decent seats for the people out there in line this morning.

The truth is there's no way to win in such circumstances. Either you rob the people in line or the early buyers, and neither deserves it. Welcome to expansion. Ugly. Degrading. No Fun.

As a public service, here is a little exercise to help you blow off steam.

Is it blackmail?

(You, shouting) Yessss!

Did some of the early buyers get robbed?

(. . . shouting) Yessss!

Do we need to prove anything to anyone as a football town?

(. . . shouting) Nooooooo!

Do we need to prove to anyone as a sports town?

(. . . shouting) Nooooooo!

Do we hate this whole $! business?

(. . . shouting loudly) Yessssss!

Good. There. You're right. You made your points. Now go buy two tickets. No matter where they are.

*

People with baseball running through their veins have different methods for surviving the winter (particularly Super Bowl Week).

Some load their VCRs with tapes of big games and plop down on the couch. Some load their home computers with 16-color simulations and stay up all night imitating Jon Miller at full throat. ("Back-back-back-back-back . . . ")

Me, I go the cheap route. I don't load. I read. Baseball books. Baseball novels. Two or three every winter.

I have a collection that circulates faithfully on and off my shelf. There are two of Mark Harris' Henry Wiggins books, "Bang the Drum Slowly" and "The Southpaw." There is "Shoeless Joe" by W.P. Kinsella, a piece of magic long before it became "Field of Dreams."

There is John R. Tunis' "The Kid from Tomkinsville," when I want to be 12 again. There is Phillip Roth's "The Great American Novel," when I want to laugh out loud. There is Bernard Malamud's "The Natural."

They're all different, but the similarity of their appeal is that they indulge in mythmaking, the lionization of a day when players named Pop and Lefty talked about hittin' the high hard one with ducks on the pond.

It's sporting escapism, pure and simple. Sure beats reading about arbitration.

The truth, of course, is such a baseball world no longer exists. Which brings us to the question: Can modern baseball be the setting for a great baseball novel? Or have they all been written?

"You're on the skids," Pop said gruffly, through his chaw. "I'm gonna sit ya down a few days."

Lefty smiled beneath his freckles. "Call my agent," he said. "There's a clause in my contract . . . "

Hmmm.

*

The best part about Magic Johnson playing in the NBA All-Star Game is that now he'll get the proper goodbye.

If ever two players deserved special recognition from the NBA, it is Johnson and Larry Bird, who revived the entire league when it was flat on the floor.

It would be terrible if Magic just disappeared from the court without the special moments he deserves.

As for those worried about playing with and against him, they have a better chance of dying on the plane ride home.

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