Even Santa can't tell players without a changing scorecard


December 20, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

RANDY JOHNSON to the Yankees; Shawn Green to the Diamondbacks: If the commissioner of baseball OKs this trade, 2004 will wrap up the same way it began: Rendering catalogs of sports gear - and loyalties of sports fans - worthless.

Why, just last week, all those Pedro Martinez/Red Sox jerseys that should have been hot Christmas items landed in the discount bin.

The Yankees were onto something a long time ago. Nameless jerseys are the only way to go - now more than ever.

What a year. It all started with A-Rod.

Imagine the poor kid whose first draft of "Dear Santa" last January included a request for an Alex Rodriguez/Texas Rangers jersey?

Dear Santa, I made a terrible mistake. Please forget the A-Rod Rangers jersey. What I meant to ask for was an A-Rod/Yankees jersey. I think it's No. 13. Lucky, huh? Not! I know I already wrote you once about correcting this request. Sorry. It sure seemed at the moment like A-Rod was going to be a Red Sox.

By the way, that Nomar Garciaparra shirt I wanted? It's still OK for it to be a Cubs uniform. At least for one more year, or the July trade deadline.


On it goes.

This pre-holiday week, our thoughts go out to all the kids in Oakland. Not only are their Tim Hudson shirts toast, now their Mark Mulder shirts are, too. They're probably used to retiring their A's threads early. Trader Billy Beane put Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Miguel Tejada shirts in the discount bin, too.

Speaking of Giambi, Yankees fans ought to be deciding on a replacement. Good thing Yankees fans are sanguine about quick and multiple costume changes. No more No. 25, probably.

But they're not alone anymore. Sports fans all across America need to have this reflex oiled with WD-40. In 2004, no one was immune from the revolving door of marquee players and coaches.

Look at D.C. Steve Spurrier is out, Joe Gibbs is in. Then, after a losing streak, Gibbs was thinking about being out in D.C., too.

At South Carolina, Lou Holtz is out, Spurrier is in, but not until after Spurrier was considered for his old Florida job.

In Gainesville, players were angry because Ron Zook was mercilessly fired in the middle of the season, eventually replaced by Utah's Urban Meyer, who was rumored to be the reason why Notre Dame fired Tyrone Willingham, whose biggest sin was being 21-15 in three seasons in South Bend.

Imagine. A respected, honorable coach good enough to be treated like a carton of sour milk.

Now Willingham has traded Irish gold helmets for gold helmets at Washington, where the Huskies are still reeling from the Rick Neuheisel fiasco. Now that the NCAA has cleared him, Slick Rick's surely preparing to make a comeback.

Scorecard, please.

For almost 12 full months now, I've had a vague feeling that there was something extraordinarily wrong in sports. It felt like a wasteland of emotion and it wasn't about the brawls, the steroids or other lockouts, scandals and meltdowns.

Then, last week, the untoward story of this sporting year was revealed to me in the most auspicious of places: the clearance rack of a department store.

I was out looking for stocking stuffers to brighten the holiday season for a few kids in Baltimore schools and hospitals. What would make a kid happy? I thought about my 7-year-old nephew wearing his way-too-long, totally cool Allen Iverson jersey, the black 76ers replica he likes so much he's been tempted to do his own laundry, just to keep it clean and in daily rotation, especially in the summer.

That's the ticket, I decided. Kids still like their sports heroes. Let's roll up a few nifty jerseys, tie 'em in a red bow and smile with a smug sense of self-satisfaction about making some kids the pride of their neighborhood. Nothing like some authentic sports jerseys to make a statement.

As it turned out, the idea wasn't even going to cost me a ton of cash. The clearance rack was loaded with jerseys bearing the names of some of the NBA's biggest stars.

Tracy McGrady's Orlando jersey was there. So was Steve Francis' retro red shirt from the Houston Rockets. Carlos Boozer's Cleveland gear, too.

Wow. Paydirt. I started stuffing my cart.

A Shaq/Lakers shirt caught me eye. Same with Gary Payton's Lakers shirt.

There was Lamar Odom's shirts from the Clippers and the Timberwolves' Latrell Sprewell's shirts from the Knicks and Warriors.

Steve Nash's Dallas jersey was there, as was Antoine Walker's.

In fact, of all the shirts on the rack, only three were still full price: Shaun Alexander's Seattle Seahawks jersey; Marshall Faulk's St. Louis shirt and Carmelo Anthony's powder blue Nuggets jersey.

That's when I realized the NBA and NFL jerseys bearing all these other names were completely outdated, worthless as a genuine and relevant replica.

Terrell Owens' "old" 49ers jersey; Kurt Warner's Rams jersey.

This collection didn't even include the Vince Carter/Raptors jerseys, no doubt on their way to the clearance rack, too.

Carter's trade to the Nets over the weekend might be the thing to make Jason Kidd rescind his trade request. If not, Kidd's jersey will join Kenyon Martin's Nets jersey on the cheap and obsolete rack, right next to Rasheed Wallace's Portland jersey.

Sports fans used to wryly lament that all we do anymore is root for the laundry. We've long become used to the idea of players and coaches trading places. In 2004, however, the practice turned epidemic to the point of numbing and obscene. Too many star players and quality coaches no longer wear team-issued or school-logo uniforms long enough to get them dirty. Nothing makes for better laundry - or allegiance to teams, players and coaches - than blood, sweat and years.

No more. Just check the clearance racks this Christmas for your favorite player's shirt. It's probably hanging there.

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