Sports

OWNEROUS BEHAVIOR

Thank Bud "Let's Play One-Half!" Selig for one thing: During the brief interlude when he lifted his gag rule forbidding owner discussion of labor matters (hurriedly reinstated last Saturday), we got a fascinating glimpse into the intellects that make up the management side of the bargaining table. After six months of silence, owners opened the floodgates last week, unleashing a barrage of kvetching that they no doubt hoped would bring the players' union to its knees.

If so, they might want to pick their targets more carefully. Leading off was Cleveland Indians owner Larry Dolan, who promptly fragged George Steinbrenner as "a large part of our problem," proffering the Berra-esque explanation: "George is not spending George's money. George is spending revenue that most of us don't have." Next to the plate: Astro bigwig Drayton McLane Jr., who declared that he'd decided to stanch his club's flow of red ink ($5 million a year, claims McLane) by cutting loose his team's remaining unsigned draft picks. To top it off, McLane threatened that if he's not happy with the next labor agreement, he'll sell the team—undoubtedly bringing fear to the hearts of those who know how much of baseball's recent success is due to fans rushing the turnstiles to watch Drayton McLane Jr. own.

For those who study tea leaves, the week of calumny provided ample reason to suspect strange goings-on amid MLB's Gang of 30. While the Dolan missive could have been just the latest skirmish in Cablevision's war on YES (Dolan is a major stockholder), it could also have been a sign that mid-market owners were already concocting an exit strategy if shaking down the union proves too problematic: Gang up to take a chunk out of the Boss's ample hide instead. You can even conspiracy-theorize (as Baseball Prospectus's Chris Kahrl has) that the moves by Detroit, Toronto, and Oakland to load up the Yankee payroll with Jeff Weaver and Raul Mondesi were a roundabout way of setting up Steinbrenner as the rich baddie, the spoils of which would fall to—you guessed it—teams like Detroit, Toronto, and Oakland. Throw in the revelations that Selig could have blocked the Mondesi trade if he'd wanted, and friends, we have us an Oliver Stone movie.

If baseball history makes anything clear, though, it's that conspiracy is never needed to explain what mere boneheadedness and infighting will. In either case, the onset of owner disarray can only increase the players' leverage, as we head toward a probable mid-September strike date, timed to hit after the final paychecks are cut but before the owners' post-season revenues roll in. Could a group of loose-cannon owners, fearful of losing a shot at a pennant, force a last-minute deal over the objections of either Selig or Steinbrenner? It's a slim hope, but we'll grasp at it. —Neil deMause


DUCK AND COVET

What walks like a duck, talks like a duck, but isn't a duck? Why, the Jason Giambi "celebriduck," a frightening hybrid of bobblehead doll and beloved bathtime friend, distributed to pre-teen patrons last Wednesday at Yankee Stadium—a rara avis indeed. Like a cloning experiment gone horribly wrong, the five-inch homunculi merge Bomber and beast, replacing the MVP's mouth with a duck's yellow beak (dude, he was ugly enough already!). Just hours after a lawyer in the Selig/Expos racketeering case declared, "They now have all their ducks in a row," 18,000 floating fowl were loosed upon the Bronx. Coincidence?

With the first baseman going 2-for-4 on the night, Joe Torreelected to bench the squeaky doppelgänger. Further differences: Human Giambi hits left; duck Giambi clutches a bat in his right fist. Human Giambi has legs; duck Giambi, only a pointy tail. Despite being anatomically incorrect, the birds are trading on eBay for up to $40 (or $119,999,960 less than the real thing). Back at the All-Star Game, we recall, the slugger admiringly dubbed Sammy Sosa a "manimal." Now Giambi joins such luminaries as Dracula, Shakespeare, and Mr. T in assuming semi-avian form—thanks to the fast-growing Celebriducks company, which made a splash earlier this year with its tattooed-and-cornrowed Allen Iverson ducky (handgun not shown). Its MLB line, including Pudge Rodriguez and Barry Bonds (all the other ducks hate him), waddles into stores in September, just in time for a possible strike. In which case, a World Series played by celebriducks may be the only Fall Classic we get. —J. Yeh


HYPING THE HYPE

The latest annoying thing at the ballpark: great defensive plays by the Mets (yes, they do happen occasionally) being saluted on the Shea Stadium scoreboard with a display that reads, "WEB GEM!"—a reference, of course, to the daily ESPN feature. Given that the sole purpose of Web Gems is to create synergy between ABC/Disney/ESPN's televised content and its Web site, and with virtually every other aspect of the game already sponsored by some corporate entity, do the Mets really need to give free publicity to a self-serving media gimmick? What's wrong with putting "GREAT PLAY!" on the scoreboard? The Mets may think they're being hip or with it, but imagine the next generation of baseball fans routinely referring to a diving catch as "an awesome Web Gem!" and you'll see why this type of newspeak needs to be stopped before it thoroughly infects the vernacular. —Paul Lukas


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