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Scott Ostler

Going to the Rack to Get Ready for the Baseball Season

March 18, 1986|SCOTT OSTLER

Never have I felt so well prepared for the start of a baseball season.

Browsing at a magazine rack, I picked up a couple of baseball magazines, the kind that preview the season. Baseball has more magazines than any other sport, unless you count sex as a sport.

I thought about buying one of the baseball magazines, to find out about the '86 season. I couldn't decide which one to buy. I bought them all.

I walked away with nine baseball magazines, a mini-library to be admired by any serious fan, although I doubt if my wife will encourage me to display all of them on our coffee table.

Nobody should go into a baseball season without reading nine season-preview magazines. You learn so doggone much.

For instance, from the advertising in the magazines, you learn what the well-equipped fan is hiding under his team-logo jacket these days. In Baseball Preview and Baseball Forecast there are ads for "Semi-automatic machine gun--$3.95," handcuffs, a course on "The Magic Power of Witchcraft," various official-looking badges, and a "Sportsman's 4 1/2-foot blow gun."

Badges? Hey, if we're packing Sportsman's 4 1/2-foot blow guns, we don't need no stinking badges!

As for the semi-automatic machine gun, I plan to wait until the market is flooded and the price comes down to around a buck.

Street and Smith's, a reputable preview magazine, carries an ad for a thesaurus, whatever that is. A Greek blowgun, maybe.

The magazines, most of them anyway, are excellent reading for brushing up on those cliches we'll all be using so often during the season. In Petersen's Pro Baseball, I learned that the Dodgers were hurting "at the hot corner" last season, until they picked up Bill Madlock, "the piece that finished the puzzle." Bill "proved he had plenty of hits left in the hardwood."

I learned that the Angels are still called, in one magazine at least, the worst nickname in sports--the Halos. And that lanky Halo hurler Mike Witt has a "smoking fastball and crackling curve." If you can't get in the mood for baseball with that kind of talk, don't call yourself a fan.

The meat of the mags, of course, is the 1986 season predictions, or "fearless forecasts." Good news for Dodger fans: Seven of the nine magazines pick the Dodgers to win the National League West. The Reds get the two other first-place votes. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the Reds' pickers are Street and Smith's, and Bill Mazeroski's Baseball, probably the two most respected of the baseball annuals.

If the Dodgers need a little motivation, they may want to clip the analysis from Street and Smith's: "The Dodgers . . . caught the N.L. West in a down cycle (last season) and snuck in for the title. . . . So who was there to beat?"

The Angels get worked over pretty good by every magazine. They got one vote for a second-place finish, three for third place, one for a fourth, a fifth and three sixth places. The startling consensus: The Angels are too old.

Baseball Forecast suggests that Gene Mauch, in an effort to inject youth into the Halo lineup, "might want to move Steve Miller behind the plate." Steve Miller is a rock star. I think they mean Darrell Miller. They also listed Wally Joyner as Joiner and Craig Gerber as Graig. This is a magazine that could use a good baseball thesaurus.

By the way, all nine magazines pick the Royals to win in the American League West. The Tigers will edge the Yankees in the American League East, and the Mets will run away with the title in the National League East.

The magazines don't just give you statistics and analysis, though. There are plenty of really thought-provoking articles:

--"Can Reggie Make it to Cooperstown?" How about to Anaheim?

--"Dwight Gooden May be Headed for Trouble!" In which several experts seem to agree that he's doing nothing of the kind.

--"Wade Boggs: Secrets of a 'Hitting Machine'." Boggs' most revealing key secret: "I don't set goals at the beginning of a season."

I'll reveal the secrets of finding a good baseball preview magazine. Glance at Inside Sports' baseball issue, for the rating system. Buy Mazeroski's magazine, the best of the lot by miles, the only one worth keeping. And show the rest of the pile the business end of your smoking, crackling, $3.95 semi-automatic machine gun.

Then, like me, you will be ready for baseball.

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