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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO / RANDY HARVEY

Dodgers Hope You Never Read About This Big Story

December 18, 1996|RANDY HARVEY

The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they're only made of clay, as George and Ira Gershwin pointed out in song, but Mike Piazza is here to stay.

Isn't he?

You might think the Dodgers are having a quiet off-season. They signed a third baseman, re-signed their shortstop, possibly picked up a second baseman from the Rule V draft and kept their bullpen intact. They didn't chase any major free agents.

Think again. The Dodgers are about to begin negotiations that are as important as any they've had in a long time, maybe since Koufax and Drysdale.

Contracts will be offered soon to Piazza, Eric Karros and Pedro Astacio. There's no reason now to sound alarms. None of their representatives, attorneys or real estate agents are panicking. If the numbers are right, or at least close enough to start reasonable negotiations, you might read little of this subject in the future.

If the numbers are not right, however, this could be the beginning of the end for the Dodgers as we've known them in recent years. You may not think that's a bad thing, considering their abrupt dismissal from the playoffs the last two seasons. But, believe me, Piazza, Karros and Astacio are not the problems.

Because of their length of service, Karros and Astacio cannot become free agents until after next season and Piazza until the year after that. But if these coming negotiations fail, leading to ugly arbitration hearings before spring training, expect the players to have long memories.

I'm not suggesting that Fred Claire give them $11 million a year, Albert Belle-like numbers, although he no doubt will have to consider high seven figures for Piazza. My only advice for Claire? Handle with care.

*

Called up by the New York Islanders before Tuesday night's game against the Kings was Nick Vachon, the 24-year-old son of King exec Rogie Vachon. "We're hoping for a 4-3 Kings win so Nick can have his hat trick," said Nick's mother, Nicole. . . .

Still going. Twenty-five years after she won her first Sunkist Invitational at the Sports Arena, Mary Slaney, 38, out-sprinted 25-year-old Amy Rudolph in the final 200 meters Sunday to win the Palm Desert 5K. . . .

USC Coach Henry Bibby made a wise decision in turning forward Jaha Wilson into his sixth man. Unsure of his role as a starter, Wilson gives the Trojans life off the bench. . . .

In the packed house Monday night for the high school point guard showdown between Kenny Brunner of Compton Dominguez and Baron Davis of Santa Monica Crossroads was Dustin Hoffman. Scouting for the Knicks? No, his son, Jake, is a guard on Crossroads' junior varsity. . . .

Tonya Harding's agent called the Ducks to ask if she could skate in an exhibition at the Pond during one of the intermissions at a game. Thanks but no thanks, the Ducks said. She's not exactly Snow White. . . .

The entire major league roster of the Pittsburgh Pirates earns less than Belle. . . .

Look for the Dodgers to announce soon that they've signed former Colorado Rocky and San Diego Padre Jim Tatum to a minor league contract. He's potentially a backup at first and third base but would help the team most as a pinch-hitter. . . .

Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy, who plays Kevin Costner when not on the golf course, is among celebrities entered today through Sunday in Raymond Floyd's Lexus Challenge at La Quinta. He has an 11 handicap. . . .

I liked Michael Johnson, but I'd be the last to fault Sports Illustrated's choice of Tiger Woods for sportsman of the year. . . .

When his football career ends, Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer might consider becoming a television critic. Of ESPN's Lee Corso, the Snake says: "I'd be mad as hell at him if he picks us to beat Ohio State because he hasn't been right yet, and he looks like a fool every week."

*

Some of us in the media become cynical and start thinking of hospital visits by athletes as cliched. You change your mind when you see the smiles on the children's faces.

Karina Fokeeva, 12, a recent emigre from Moscow, was not having a festive holiday season after her fifth operation for a congenital bowel defect. But then three Kings--Vladimir Tsyplakov and Vitali Yachmenev from Russia and Dimitri Khristich from Ukraine--showed up in her room Friday during the team's visit to Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

They spoke her language. Ice hockey. She's a huge fan. She also likes dolls. They gave her Barbie.

*

While wondering how the NBA chose its top 10 coaches of all time and left off Doug Moe, I was thinking: Donald Sterling should reconsider that Pond deal today or sooner, Jim Leyland must wonder if he has died and gone to heaven, Plummer is right.

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