The World Series was over, the stock market was reeling and my man Schmuck was on the phone.
Some people have stockbrokers. I have Schmuck.
A sportswriter by trade, Schmuck was offering his 2 cents about the market's plunge. Hong Kong is thought to be where the trouble started. Schmuck, ever the maverick, also points to Miami and the irrational exuberance there over the Florida Marlins.
Certainly the timing is intriguing.
The Miami scenario has possibilities; certainly the Marlins could be a metaphor for the market. The Marlins are a hot little start-up whose success has a surreal quality. This year owner Wayne Huizenga juiced the club with extra capital, artificially building a championship team--or rather, a phony-baloney champion. The Marlins had mediocre attendance, didn't even take their division and won the World Series by beating the Cleveland Indians, the team with the ninth-worst record in baseball this year. And now Huizenga wants to sell.
Irrational exuberance indeed.
So how could the World Series affect the economy? First, psychology is a potent market force. Second, America is the engine of the global economy. Third, baseball is our hallowed national pastime; more people read box scores than the Dow. Ipso facto, an event that shakes our faith in baseball--world champion fish?--will rattle our faith in the stock market.
That's the Schmuck school of thought, anyway.
We were talking, of course, before the market jumped back up. Obviously, these are volatile times. The more I thought about it, it seemed to me that the Schmuckian analysis is incomplete.
If it isn't the Marlins, maybe it's Ted Turner's fault.
Think about it. When Turner announced that he was donating $1 billion to the United Nations, there was bound to be a delayed reaction in the market.
Why? Simple. Turner's action undermines the bedrock principle that greed is good. He goaded other billionaires to give it away. George Soros pledged $500 million to help Russia only days before the market tumbled.
If you don't think Turner's gift did some harm, just look at what happened to his Braves.
The Atlanta Braves were cruising along nicely before Turner decided to give away the gigabucks. They won their division, easily beating Huizenga's Marlins. But rattled by their owner's altruism, Turner's players--a greedy lot themselves--fell to the Marlins in the playoffs.
And you could see that Turner didn't really care. The man who once won the America's Cup was acting like a wimpy win-some, lose-some kind of guy. A camera caught him sleeping during a game. Time was when he and his bride, Jane Fonda, would stand up and do the tomahawk chop.
Then they discovered that the tomahawk chop was politically incorrect, so they quit chopping.
After that, it was just a matter of time before Turner would start handing out his loot.
I know what you're thinking. But of course. Good ol' Hanoi Jane--she's the one who made Ted Turner the softhearted One Worlder that he is today.
Forgive me. Sometimes I'm a little slow. Connect the dots and the picture becomes clear.
Could it be that what we're seeing is a worldwide communist conspiracy to manipulate the global market to siphon out the value of our mutual funds? Could it be that, 50 years after the Hollywood blacklist, 50 years after Truman lost China, subversive forces are still at work?
Here's the scenario I ran by Schmuck, building on his economic theories. An Academy Award-winning actress, a commie symp from way back, makes like Mata Hari, infiltrating the bed, heart and conscience of the plutocrat who built CNN. Jane brainwashes Ted, creating a crisis of conscience among billionaires and his Braves. They ask themselves: Is greed really good? Is winning really everything?
So with America softened up, Hong Kong, now under Beijing's thumb, sends a giant panda lumbering across the global economy the very week that Chinese President Jiang Zemin travels to Washington to be feted by titans of capitalism.
And the Marlins win the series--thanks to the Havana connection.
Perhaps you forget that the World Series MVP, the player who led the Marlins to victory, just so happened to be a young Cuban named Livan Hernandez, a so-called "refugee." Fidel, once a fine baseball prospect himself, was so upset about Hernandez's supposed "defection" that he allowed the young man's mother to travel to Miami for a game. (You don't suppose he sent victory cigars, too?)
Farfetched, you say? Some dare call it conspiracy.
There are some other pieces of the puzzle floating around. El Nino, of course, figures in. And Oliver Stone.
At the risk of stating the obvious, it's no coincidence that all of this coincided with the 50th birthday of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The first lady is one of those long-suffering Cubs fans. Schmuck's conclusion: Next year, if the Cubs make it to the World Series, sell.
Scott Harris' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to him at The Times' Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include a phone number.