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WayneWatch '96: This Isn't Hockey, It's a Belly Laugh

MIKE DOWNEY

February 27, 1996|Mike Downey

Being part of this Wayne Gretzky trade vigil hasn't been quite as unpleasant as standing outside San Quentin, waiting for the doctor to show up and tell the guy, "OK, roll up your sleeve."

It only feels that way sometimes.

Keeping up with this story is making everybody irritable, particularly with the Canadian press reporting every unfounded, founded or Newfoundland rumor about Gretzky with a hunger and frenzy few celebrities have ever received, except possibly Liz Taylor from Liz Smith.

We wake up on Sunday morning to read a statement from the Kings that there is "no deal imminent," only to turn on our televisions Sunday evening and hear that the Kings have made a deal to send Gretzky to St. Louis for forwards Roman Vopat, Craig Johnson and Patrice Tardif--at least two of whom, I have been able to ascertain, are men.

The Blues say it's a done deal. The Kings say, "What deal?"

Somebody is lying through his false teeth.

A meeting apparently has been arranged for today between Gretzky and a man named Bob Sanderman, the proxy for the Kings' new owners. Either this is to inform Gretzky that nothing is new or that this might be a good time to order those Ram season tickets.

Somebody from the St. Louis side is so convinced that Gretzky is coming, he requested that the Kings hide his skates Monday night in Winnipeg. The reaction from the King camp was pretty much that if the Blues ever get tired of hockey, they have a great future in comedy.

Gretzky? He just stands there, a deer caught in headlights.

He sees nothing, knows nothing, says if St. Louis or anybody wants him there longer than two months, "It would be to their benefit to sign me," or even, you know, speak to him before trading for him.

Meantime, poor, bewitched, bothered and beleaguered General Manager Sam McMaster of the Kings is reduced to making statements into TV cameras along the lines of: "The Los Angeles Kings never discuss personnel matters publicly," which is a really fine policy if the personnel you're discussing is some guy named Philippe or Dmitri, but not such a hot policy if the personnel in question happens to be the Babe Ruth of hockey.

Caught betwixt and between are the other Kings, who as a team are so terrible that nobody wants to walk up to them after a game with Winnipeg and ask, "Wow, where did you learn to forecheck?" Not with all of North America stuck here on WayneWatch.

I feel particularly sorry for good old Marty McSorley, a guy who never made a no-comment in his life, who keeps being asked about Gretzky the way Garfunkel keeps getting asked about Simon.

What a month this has been for unlucky Marty, who so far has knocked a game-winning overtime goal into his own net, made a victory-costing pass in a tie at St. Louis and addressed constant trade rumors involving both Wayne and himself. I believe if I phoned McSorley at home, his machine would answer: "Hi, this is Marty. I'm not home right now, but yes, it would be a shame to lose Wayne."

For everyone's sake, let's get this thing settled.

Nobody can concentrate. Those poor reporters up in Canada, so far they have had Wayne moving to New York, to Vancouver, to Toronto, demanding to be traded, refusing to be traded, living with Janet Jones, living with Janet Jackson, living with Janet Reno, running a tattoo parlor in Ottawa, opening a frozen-yogurt stand in Saskatchewan and inking a 35-year deal with St. Louis that will permit him to play until his 70th birthday.

Enough already.

Wayne, tell the Kings what you need. None of that "I need good teammates" stuff. Name your price. Because if you don't have a number in mind, that means you want out.

Mr. Sanderman, make him a dream. Make him the sweetest offer he's ever seen. Tell him that the Kings can't keep trying to build a team around him, if there won't be any him to build around.

Tell him it's now or never, because otherwise you are going to call those St. Louis people back, swallow hard, then say the magic words:

"OK, what were those names again?"

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