Owners can have fun with fill-ins

January 22, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

Peter Angelos is wise to want no part of the baseball owners' harebrained plan to use replacement players. It is not going to work.

Oh, maybe a few fans would be curious and desperate enough to come watch a collection of has-beens and never-weres play games that mean absolutely nothing. But it would be a grim, relentless exercise, a joyless mediocrity that would succeed only as a nightly reminder of what the fans are missing. A headache would be preferable.

Of course, if the owners had any cunning at all, they wouldn't try to trick the fans with a subpar product posing as the real deal. There's no fun in that. And, of course, a little bit of fun is just what the Great Baseball Strike needs about now. Unless Don Fehr's droll wit still cracks you up.

If the owners are hellbent on offering an entertaining product that would succeed in scratching everyone's baseball itch, they should try something fresh, something different, something novel. Some suggestions:

* A League of Their Own. That's right, women's fast-pitch hardball, just like in the Geena Davis/Tom Hanks movie of a few years ago. The Orielles against the Yankettes at Camden Yards. The tryouts would be a publicity department's dream, the games even better. There are plenty of women out there who can play. It would beat the return of Oil Can Boyd by a mile.

* Tons of Fun Softball. Play the thing strictly for laughs. Establish a weight minimum, say, 250 pounds. Put together teams of jiggling guys who can't see their feet, give them major-league uniforms two sizes too small and let them go wild playing slow-pitch softball under the lights at Camden Yards. Put coolers on the field. Run big-man specials. (Every time someone hits a homer or busts a waist seam, beer and nachos are half-price for the next five minutes.) Televise the post-game clubhouse feed bag on the JumboTron. (Jurassic Park come to life.) The place would sell out.

* Management Ball. In a real strike, companies often try to continue to function with management types filling in for employees. In baseball, this would lead to an Old-Timers meet Max Patkin sort of thing. Fans would enjoy seeing Frank Robinson, Elrod Hendricks, Al Bumbry and Mike Flanagan play. Frank could add to his career home run total. And, of course, Angelos would demand to play third base, replacing his favorite Oriole, Leo Gomez. Pam Shriver and Jim McKay could come off the bench in a pinch. Admit it, you'd pay to watch George Steinbrenner pitch to Angelos. (Chin music? Oh, yeah.)

* Townie Ball. Many major-leaguers don't live in the city in which ++ they play. Few Orioles actually care about representing Baltimore. But a team of local amateurs, culled from a series of tryout camps and trumpeted as a "real" Baltimore team, would strike just the right chord. Anyone who didn't drink National Boh, vacation at Ocean City or call it "Droodlepark" would be ineligible. Now there's a team that would be worth caring about. (And maybe we could slip in a ringer or two, someone like Kevin Hickey, or maybe even Jim Palmer wearing a fake beard. No one would know.)

* Glitter Ball. Every city has celebrities of which it is enormously proud, but which ones can take an outside pitch and hit to right? Now there's a question for inquiring minds. Here in Baltimore we could field a team composed of, among others, John Waters, Anne Tyler, Barry Levinson, Bess Armstrong, Edgar Allan Poe Jr. (close enough), Jim McKay and Pam Shriver (yes, them again) and, of course, Peter Angelos, who is on television more than Oprah these days. (No, Chicago gets her.) We'd get our rears kicked, particularly by the L.A. teams, but I'd pay to watch John Waters throw a knuckleball.

* Jock Ball. As the Michael Jordan phenomenon proves, people are more than willing to pay to watch stars from other sports play baseball, no matter how poorly they play it. So, let each major-league team fill a team with jocks from other sports who were reared in their city. To sell it in this town all you'd have to say is one sentence: "Leading off and playing shortstop, and we do mean short, Muggsy . . . ."

* Pol Ball. No silly, publicity-seeking bets this time, we're talking the real thing, our politicians against theirs. Mayor Schmoke would be a big advantage. Governor Schaefer (very available) would provide the intensity. Senator Mikulski would bat ninth.

OK, that's seven versions of replacement baseball, each infinitely more entertaining than the drudgery the owners are planning. If the owners had any sense, they'd rotate the seven schemes, play each once a week, and lump all the results together in one set of standings. Everyone pitches in to help the Orioles win. It's such a good idea, Bud Selig doesn't deserve to use it. If you happen to see him, don't tell.

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