You could’ve knocked us over with LeBron James‘s Humvee when news of the three-way Orlando Hernández trade broke last week. Basically, the Expos got El Duque, the White Sox got Bartolo Colón, and the Yankees . . . well, it looks like they got screwed, but at least the deal kept the Red Sox from getting Colón.

In sending everyone’s favorite moody Cuban, plus $2 million, to Chicago for 29-year-old reliever Antonio Osuna and a prospect, the Bombers saved a measly $700,000. (Osuna will earn $2.3 mil in 2003, El Duque around $5 mil.) The upside is Osuna’s solid record: 66 Ks in 67 2/3 innings last year, with just one homer allowed. Meanwhile, Montreal general manager-magician Omar Minaya not only performed a fiscally mandated Colónic evacuation, he landed Hernandez for a bargain-basement $300,000, since the Yanks and White Sox are paying the rest of his salary. John Schuerholz, eat your heart out.

Even if El Duque (supposed age: 33) is past his prime, the starter Minaya calls “a warrior” shouldn’t be underestimated. A guy who, while defecting, survived on sugar, Spam, and freshly picked conch when his boat ran aground in the Bahamas (“If the sharks didn’t distract me, nothing that can happen [in baseball] will”) isn’t about to give up, especially with free agency looming come October. And he’ll probably gain a leg up (a high-kicked leg, that is) on the NL’s batters, who haven’t suffered from his deceptive arm angles and sneaky pitch selection before. On the other hand, Minaya also said of his prolonged efforts to trade Colón, “There wasn’t much pickings out there,” which suggests he doesn’t expect fireworks from his unpredictable new playmate. Sounding a wistful note, the Yanks’ Brian Cashman promised, “I’ll still root [for him] whenever I can.” So will we, amigo viejo, so will we. —J.Y. Yeh


“Psst. C’mere, kid. If you want, you can take this noisy, crowded, inconvenient charter flight home. But if that doesn’t fit into your schedule, you can just take this full-fare coach ticket. But if these flight times don’t work for you, you can exchange the ticket, and if you should happen to get a refund, well, you can donate it to your favorite charity, if you get my drift.”

Is this a sleazy booster trick? An agent trying to sidle up to a prospective pro? No, it’s a loophole in NCAA travel regulations that you could drive a Lexus through. While the NCAA has rules that prohibit a coach from giving a player a ride across town, or inviting him home for dinner, it does allow players to make hundreds, even thousands of dollars, on travel.

For example, returning to the Midwest from the Fiesta Bowl, only two scholarship players from Ohio State’s national champion football team took the team charter. You don’t have to be a math major to understand that an advance-purchase airfare (with the standard Saturday night stay) from Cleveland to Phoenix on American runs $249. On the other hand, a full-fare coach ticket costs as much as $1083. Since Ohio State awards 85 full scholarships, that’s over $69,000 in slush money floating back to the team. —Allen St. John


Bud Selig says the MLB owners’ decision to base home-field advantage in the World Series on which league wins the All-Star Game will “energize” the annual game. “This gives them something to really play for,” the commissioner said after his fellow owners unanimously endorsed his idea last week.

But Boston’s Johnny Damon, proving his worth in the off-season, got it right when he told reporters, “I think Bud’s just trying to create something that will make him look good in the fans’ eyes.”

Veteran Sandy Alomar Jr. labeled the plan “totally ludicrous,” but more to the point, Damon noted that players will be begging out of such games in droves. “You’re going to see guys reject it even more,” Damon opined to the press. “Imagine if Nomar goes there and he gets hurt?”

You see, Bud, playing for the league in a mid-season celebrity game with this kind of artificially induced importance might hurt a team’s chances of getting into the post-season.

But Selig, who inherited a car dealership from his daddy, wouldn’t understand that, because what does he know from competitive? And who cares if his players get hurt? It’s not like the Milwaukee Brewers, the team Bud himself owns, will be getting into the playoffs anytime soon—unless Arnold Rothstein returns from the dead. —Ward Harkavy