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The Inside Track | Page Two

Costas Wants to Turn Back the Clock on Baseball

September 18, 1998|RANDY HARVEY

Bob Costas is the most prominent advocate for baseball as it used to be. That doesn't necessarily make him a traditionalist. He merely wants baseball to be the way it was before 1994.

If he were the commissioner--not a bad idea, by the way--he would campaign for the return of two divisions in each league with only the four champions advancing to the playoffs. That would eliminate wild cards. Costas speaks of wild cards the way Carry Nation spoke of demon rum.

Considering wild-card races in both leagues are creating excitement this season, you might think Costas would finally concede. You would be wrong.

Because he's made a nice living talking, I'll let him talk.

"I've come to just shake my head about all these wild-card arguments," he said. "If, in fact, you went back to the original two divisions in each league, there would be three torrid races going on right now, not for the mediocrity and contrivance of the wild card but for the legitimate epic drama of real pennant races.

"The Mets and the Cubs would not be battling it out for the wild card. They'd be battling it out for first place in the National League East.

"The Braves, the Astros and the Padres would have an incredible three-way race going for first place in the National League West. You'd have the Rangers and the Angels in the American League West.

"The only race that wouldn't be close would, understandably, be the one that involves one of the best teams of the century, this year's Yankees. What's wrong with that?

"Then you wouldn't go into the postseason with the inherently unfair situation of playing a best-of-five crapshoot involving mediocre teams against teams that had established themselves over the course of the season.

"The wild card has created not an addition to the pennant race. It has been created at the expense of the pennant race. Nothing that happened this year proves me wrong. If you look at it logically and understand the evidence, like every year, it proves me right."

I couldn't argue with Costas. That's because he made his case on my answering machine and I couldn't reach him when I returned his call.

If I had talked to him, I would have said that, under the system he so eloquently advocates, two of the best three teams in the National League wouldn't qualify for the playoffs, neither the Mets nor the Cubs would be any less mediocre as a division champion, his medium would have one fewer round of potentially dramatic postseason action to televise and we as a nation would have one fewer issue to debate, leaving us only with the designated hitter and the Starr report.

You decide.

*

The 63 home runs for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have inspired considerable discussion of the most incredible achievements in sports. . . .

Three, I contend, are literally unbelievable. . . .

First is Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game. Played in Hershey, Pa., it wasn't covered by a wire service reporter. Philadelphia's PR man phoned it in. Never happened. . . .

Second is Muhammad Ali's phantom punch that knocked out Sonny Liston. The people who say they saw it also say they've seen a goal scored in ice hockey. . . .

Third is Florence Griffith Joyner's world record of 10.49 seconds in the 100 meters. The wind gauge registered 0.0 despite a hurricane at her back. . . .

When I mentioned these to former Timesman George Kiseda, he suggested one that might be the most unbelievable of all--the 51-minute, nine-inning game between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Giants in 1919. . . .

"They must have played five innings, filled in the rest of the box score and gone home," he said. . . .

According to Mike Shropshire's book, "Seasons in Hell," a copy boy at the Dallas Morning News once approached crusty old baseball writer Merle Heryford in the newsroom and informed him that Don Larsen had pitched six innings of a perfect game in the World Series. . . .

"He'll never do it," Heryford said. . . .

The kid returned three innings later, shouting, "Mr. Heryford! Mr. Heryford! He did it! Don Larsen pitched a perfect game!" . . .

"Well," Heryford replied, "he'll never do it again."

*

While wondering whatever happened to the Met fans who were booing Mike Piazza, I was thinking: The Dodgers' trade of Tim Belcher and John Wetteland to the Reds for Eric Davis and Kip Gross seemed like a good idea at the time, I like Oscar De La Hoya in the fourth at Vegas tonight and Free House in the ninth at Belmont on Saturday, I haven't heard any Texans this week talking about sending Cade McNown to that great roundup in the sky.

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