In zany sports world of today, Rhinos almost makes sense

Phil Jackman

August 12, 1993|By Phil Jackman

Most years, this is referred to as the "silly season," the infamous dog days of August when all manner of imbecility afflicts our doubled-knitted heroes of the diamond.

Now it's not as if baseball isn't up to its Adam's apple in foolishness with problems aplenty. A quick glance to the north toward the Mets confirms all is not joy in Mudville. And, wouldn't you know it, there's a very real threat of a strike affecting postseason play again, a situation caused directly by action of the owners.

Still, the game plows on and, despite the usual labor-management bickering and the fact the ship of state is rudderless, a new commissioner being promised by the millennium, interest is picking up.

A 1967-type race is on in the American League East, no less than four teams apparently ready to duel to the end. In New York, the focus is on what the Yankees are doing on the field for a change, not with the owner's machinations to get his club transferred out of the militarized zone in the South Bronx.

There's the John Olerud/.400 saga, a question of the Phillies being able to hold off the Cardinals in the National League West, interesting batting, home run and RBI races and Colorado's ongoing ability to put 60,000 people in the seats to watch it lose. Positive points of interest all.

All the while, it's not as though other sports haven't contributed toward "silly season" continuing as usual.

For instance, how about the NFL, in its infinite wisdom, assigning the name Rhinos to a Baltimore expansion franchise that may or may not exist in the future? What, a $170 million franchise set-up fee isn't enough to allow a prospective owner (or the fans) to pick out a name?

By the way, folks in favor of the name point out that the rhinoceros is fully as high profile around here as a Baltimore Oriole since there are two horned creatures at the zoo in Druid Hill Park.

Meanwhile, also from pro football, comes word that in lieu of a signing bonus, the Seattle Seahawks are willing to hand over $3 million to rookie quarterback Rick Mirer if the team wins as many as three of its 16 games this season. Even if the team is not up to this lofty challenge, the kid can get his money if its attack rates better than dead last in total offense.

As if hockey doesn't have it tough enough, what with teams trying to make ends meet pretty much on gate receipts alone, the Detroit Red Wings rush out and make Steve Yzerman a $3 million-plus centerman. By this latest "standard" of remuneration, Mario Lemieux will be worth a minimum of $10 million six years after he turns 85 and has been in the Hall of Fame for a half-century.

Thousands of former athletes are lighting votive candles and praying that the $10 million lawsuit Rutgers quarterback Bryan Fortay is pressing against the University of Miami turns out in his favor, thus opening up their chances to cash in.

See, Fortay, a hotshot out of New Jersey, says he had a "promise" from then-Miami coach Jimmy Johnson that he would be the Hurricane quarterback after Steve Walsh was done setting records back in 1991. The fact that subsequent coach Dennis Erickson named Gino Torretta the starter after allegedly indicating Fortay would be the heir caused the kid to seek a transfer, "thereby impairing his football skills, ability, experience and confidence," and hurting his chances for a pro career.

Who among us doesn't feel that given the chance to run the ball, pitch, play point guard or otherwise be handed something as a schoolboy sportsman, he couldn't have gone on to be a Gale Sayers, a Sandy Koufax, a Bob Cousy or Steve Yzerman?

Next up, if successful: suits against parents by kids complaining that they weren't enrolled in tennis clinics when they were 3, thus killing their chances to pick up $1 million a year on the tour.

Want more absurdities? Even though he was indicted some time back and soon has to answer charges of offering a bribe to fellow heavyweight boxer Jesse Ferguson during a fight, Ray Mercer is plying his trade this very evening as he takes on Tony Willis. Not surprisingly, the bout will take place in Bay St. Louis, Miss., in a gambling casino, no less.

Dealt an embarrassing blow a couple of years ago when a strike threatened to end the regular season early and wipe out the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL obviously learned nothing from the experience. The league is under siege again, its collective bargaining agreement expiring next month, and both sides in the conflict are mum.

A spokesman for management said, "It's inappropriate to even discuss a strike at this time because our objective is and has been to avoid any problems," even though the deadline is a month away and the sides are barely speaking.

Can you extend the definition of silly to include words like stupid and dumb?

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