1995 crystal ball is thrown a curve

April 26, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

Normally, this would be the proper time and place to make predictions for the 1995 baseball season. Picking the division winners and MVPs and such.

Making such calls on Opening Day, and then checking them in late September to see how wrong you were, is a baseball ritual as essential and permanent as the World Series itself.

Oops. Bad analogy there. We didn't quite make it to the World Series last season, did we?

No, these are not normal times in baseball. And, as the baseball nation slowly recovers from Bud and Donald's Excellent Adventure, making typical predictions about division winners and award winners just doesn't feel like the right thing to do.

We've got larger, more global issues at hand this season. For instance, before we can predict who is going to win the World Series this year, we must see if there is going to be a World Series this year. Talk about going back to fundamentals.

The cancellation of last year's Series demonstrated that the one certainty in baseball, in these uncertain times, is that we can no longer take anything for granted. Accordingly, here are predictions on the "real" questions of the '95 season that began last night in Florida:

* Will there be a '95 World Series? Yes. Too many people on both sides missed too many paychecks during the strike. Other than Jerry Reinsdorf and a few other hardballers who wanted Donald Fehr's head on a platter, everyone was just relieved to see the thing end, even without a resolution. No one has the stomach to start another one, not this soon.

* Will there be a '95 All-Star Game? Yes, but only after down-to-the-wire negotiations regarding the owners' nonpayment of a players' pension plan contribution from last year's All-Star Game profits. The union is still steaming about that.

* Will the fans come back to the ballparks? In Baltimore, Toronto, Atlanta and other cities where teams have the money to build contenders, it'll seem as if the strike never happened. But attendance will be down in strike-scarred Kansas City, Montreal and elsewhere in have-not land. Disaffection among fans there is widespread, real and appropriate.

* Will Cal Ripken break Lou Gehrig's streak in early September? Yes. His closest call will come in mid-July when, due to a clerical error, his name mistakenly appears on the union's "hit" list of replacement players, and a poor, misguided rookie pitcher tries to bean him.

* Will Ripken break the streak at Camden Yards? Not necessarily. All it would take to push G-Day to Cleveland on Sept. 8 would be one rainout, home or away, that has to be made up later in September. A possibility, sports fans.

* Will the Orioles suffer on the field in any way this season because of Peter Angelos' stand on replacement players? No. What can the other owners do other than hire Jeff Gillooly to orchestrate a clubhouse hit?

* Will the other owners ever admit that Angelos was right? Are you kidding?

* Will there be a signed collective bargaining agreement promising baseball in '96 and beyond? Not by the end of the World Series. Look for the pace of the negotiations to slow to a crawl. And enjoy '95, because after this . . .

* Will the owners hire a real commissioner? No. They're proud to have their Bud. And aren't we all?

* Will the owners be found guilty of colluding to keep salaries down this year? No. Benito Santiago will have to live with the grim reality that he is worth only a half-million dollars a year.

* Will the game's first wild-card races have all the thrills, chills and excitement the owners envisioned? Absolutely. Positively. The nation will be riveted as the Phillies and Rockies come charging down the stretch running neck and neck and playing .520 ball.

* Will Peter Angelos' fondest wish come true? No. His wish is to stand on a clubhouse podium after the last out of the '95 World Series and have "commissioner" Selig say, "Congratulations, Peter," while handing him the Series trophy with a pained smile. But it's Ted Turner's turn to win this year.

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