Double Agent

Conspicuously absent in the discussion of the contract situation of Mets starter Rick Reed have been two words: replacement player. Or even one word: scab.

Those of you who remember baseball’s bad old days will recall that Reed—along with teammate Benny Agbayani and Yankee reserve Shane Spencer—was among the suspects who crossed the picket line for scab spring training in 1995. (The owners sequestered their legit prospects, like Derek Jeter and Edgardo Alfonzo, in minor-league camp, far from the front lines of the labor strife.) Once Reed proved that he could fool NL batters, he seems to have been granted qualified absolution within the Mets clubhouse. Union rep John Franco, who wears a Department of Sanitation T-shirt to honor his union-man father, positively gushed about his fellow free agent after Reed helped him snag a World Series win. But Catcher Todd Pratt, who earlier in the season denounced Boston Red Sox catcher Brian Daubach as a scab, still hasn’t buried the hatchet. “I love them [Reed and Agbayani]. They’re my friends,” said Pratt. “Maybe I wouldn’t call them a scab, but they definitely don’t belong in the union.” And while Reed applied for membership to the union immediately, he and his fellow scabs have been quietly denied admission every year by a vote of the union reps.

That leaves Reed and friends out of the not insubstantial pension and marketing pies. But the union can’t stop the owners from rewarding their would-be strikebreakers. When Reed signs his new contract—he’s being wooed by the Angels, Rockies, Phillies, and Cubs as well as they Mets—he’ll be the first of the replacements to benefit from the union’s solidarity. Anyone who thinks that the soft-throwing righty could command Al Leiter money—his agent called New York’s three-year $19 million deal “insulting” and “disrespectful” and is holding out for four years and $32 mil—without the the union’s firm stand against the owner’s illegal salary cap, had better crack open an Econ 101 textbook and review the chapter on price fixing. “I lost a lot of money,” said Pratt about the strike. And Reed stands to make even more.

Just Another Game

New York sportswriters dusted off their “prove it” columns in preparation for last Sunday’s Giants matchup against defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis. Even though Big Blue was 7-2 going into the game, according to conventional wisdom they hadn’t yet beaten a quality team. As the Post‘s Steve Serby put it in his column last Friday, “[The Giants] don’t need this game so much to prove anything to New York. [They] need this game to prove everything to [themselves].”

So what can you make of New York’s 38-24 loss? Despite all the hot air, not much, if you look at the numbers. Including the Rams game, the Giants are now 4-7 against Super Bowl winners since 1992, the last win coming against a previously undefeated Denver in 1998. Their record before and after each of those “Super” matchups is remarkably similar. Including the 7-2 this season, Big Blue is 52-50 heading into these games (a .510 winning percentage) and 26-26 after them (.500). Interestingly, New York failed to make the playoffs in each of the four seasons it actually managed to defeat the defending champs—1992, ’94, ’96, and ’98 (Big Blue split the season series versus division rivals and defending champs Washington, Dallas, and Dallas again, respectively, in ’92, ’94, and ’96). Ironically, the Giants’ only recent playoff appearances—1993 and ’97—came in years in which they were swept by the defending champs (Dallas in 1993) or did not play them at all (Green Bay in 1997).

Seems just like more fodder for the players’ “take-it-one-game-at-a-time” mantra. “We may not have harped on [this game] as much as the media, but we definitely thought about it,” said ever philosophical offensive lineman Lomas Brown to Jockbeat after the game. “But win or lose, we can’t let the result of this game affect our focus for the season. We just played our 10th game. We have six games to play that are crucial for determining us making the playoffs and our positioning.” In other words, with a 7-3 record and first place in the NFC East still in their possession, there’s plenty of time left to “prove it.”

Frozen Zone

Most hockey fans know that the Hockey Hall of Fame is in Toronto. But they might not realize that there’s a separate facility devoted to the game’s American stars and heritage: the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, located in the unlikely burg of Eveleth, Minnesota (pop. 4100). Jockbeat recently visited this fine institution while tooling around the North Star State.

Established in 1973, the Hall currently has 103 enshrinees, including well-known NHL names like Rod Langway, Craig Patrick, and Robbie Ftorek, as well as more obscure historical figures such as Winthrop H. “Ding” Palmer (“the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of Yale University hockey”) and oddball choices like the late Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz (a native Minnesotan and a lifelong hockey enthusiast).

In addition to the wall of inductee plaques, the Hall also features displays devoted to America’s rich Olympic hockey tradition, women’s hockey leagues, college hockey, vintage jerseys and skates, and so on. All in all, an impressive reminder that Canada never had a monopoly on the sport. But despite the attractive exhibits and attendant hockey hype (the Hall is located on Hat Trick Avenue, next door to an eatery called Lord Stanley’s Restaurant), there were no other visitors on the afternoon Jockbeat stopped by—the place was empty. Maybe everyone was checking out Eveleth’s other hockey-themed attraction: a massive downtown sculpture billed as the World’s Largest Hockey Stick. All of which proves that while Canada may have a more storied hockey tradition than we do, we totally kick their ass when it comes to roadside kitsch.

Contributors: Allen St. John, Brian P. Dunleavy, Paul Lukas

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman