It's very difficult to have sports love affair now

July 26, 1994|By BILL TANTON

They make it harder and harder for us to love sports these days.

Time was when sports were the embodiment of all things admirable: courage, dedication, unselfishness, loyalty, team play.

Parents used to say they hoped their kids would grow up to be like some big-time athlete.

Not only is that time long gone; things keep getting worse.

The world's greatest fighter, Mike Tyson, is in prison for rape. O. J. Simpson sits in a windowless 7x9 jail cell awaiting trial on a charge of double murder.

Almost any day you can read in "sports briefly" about a pro or college athlete charged with some crime -- or about an athletic director (Florida State's) who is suspended for improper use of funds and resources.

Major league baseball players are getting ready to go out on strike. The question no longer seems to be "if" but "when."

Speculation ranges from Aug. 1, just days away now, to late September (to strike the playoffs).

Free agency has so changed the NFL that nobody knows who's on which team anymore. Even the annual football mags have it wrong, so many changes have been made since their early deadlines.

The Chicago Bears, for instance, have one starter back from the offense that opened last season.

You can't recognize the Washington Redskins anymore.

All that player movement hurts the game. The public likes players who stay. Cal Ripken may be the last of that breed.

Then there's hockey's Mike Keenan, who has taken the art of free agency to a new height (or depth).

Keenan coached the Rangers this year to the promised land -- to the Stanley Cup, the first time in 54 years that New York had won the NHL championship.

Two weeks ago, Keenan, with four years left on his contract, declared himself a free agent. He said the Rangers were a day late with a payment to him.

So Keenan jumped to the St. Louis Blues. He'll be their coach and general manager.

The Rangers call Keenan "an ungrateful employee." New Yorkers are calling him a lot worse. Baltimoreans can relate to what USA Today's Rachel Shuster called Keenan yesterday:

". . . destroyer of a city spirit in a way no one since bad guy Bob Irsay fleeced Baltimore of its Colts in an overnight departure a decade ago."

The Keenan episode is just one more thing that could turn off a fan today.

We have problems around here. By the end of this week the University of Maryland is expected to announce the appointment of a new athletic director. Ho hum.

The new AD will be an administrator and no doubt a good one, but one with no particular ties to Maryland. That's all that's left in the pool of candidates.

For a decade, the AD's office has had a revolving door. Another administrator hired from a faraway school is likely to be at Michigan five years from now, as Andy Geiger is at Ohio State now, and Lew Perkins is at Connecticut.

Take the Orioles. They have a good ballclub. Their first-year owner, local lawyer Pete Angelos, spent a ton of money to improve it.

And the team is not doing that badly. As it took the field here today for a doubleheader with Cleveland, the Orioles were in second place in the AL East, 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

Granted, the Orioles are farther out of first than any other second-place team in the majors' six divisions. But they're still second.

Some people are acting as if the Orioles are 15 1/2 games out. They're that down on the club, especially after blowing that 6-0 lead Sunday in Oakland and losing, 7-6.

I know guys who jumped out of bed yesterday morning and grabbed the sports section to see if Angelos had fired manager Johnny Oates.

The sad thing is, I think Angelos will fire Oates. Not now. Later. After the season.

I think Angelos, who has three general managers and overrules all of them, has it in his head that Oates is not the leader this club needs.

Pity, that.

Remember, Angelos didn't hire Oates; he inherited him. Look for a fiery type to manage here next year.

The Orioles in 11 days fell from a half-game out of first to 5 1/2 behind the Yankees. It's not that the Orioles were so bad. They were 4-5 on the Coast trip that ended Sunday.

The problem is that the Yankees went 10-1 over the same span.

New York's Don Mattingly, who pondered the end of his career after getting his 2,000th hit Saturday, pinch hit Sunday and delivered a ninth-inning, three-run homer that put the Yanks ahead of the Angels.

Hey, the Yankees are not going to stay this hot, and Mattingly is not going to hit many home runs. The one Sunday was his first since June 7.

Some Orioles fans remain stout-hearted, but even they are reluctant to give their hearts to this team. The looming strike makes that difficult.

If the players are going to strike, strike. Do it and deal with it. Just don't trifle with our affection.

You see? It's hard to love anything in sports now, and it's getting harder all the time.

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