If Wayne Gretzky is indeed retiring after Sunday's game, it's too bad he isn't going out in a King uniform.
He had more positive impact on ice hockey in Southern California than anyone other than the late Jack Kent Cooke.
Cooke brought the sport to Los Angeles, he said, because of the great number of Canadians living here. When the Kings failed to generate much enthusiasm, his now famous line was, "Now I know why all those Canadians left Canada. They hate hockey."
That might have been true. But Gretzky proved that Southern Californians would warm to the sport, so much so that Disney was inspired to create the Mighty Ducks. For that, his number should be retired in Anaheim as well as Los Angeles.
Not that anyone in the NHL would dare wear his number in the future. There will never be another No. 99.
"You always hate to see maybe the greatest player in the history of the game disappear," King President Tim Leiweke said Tuesday. "At the same time, if what we're hearing is true, he's going to leave on top." . . .
It won't be a surprise to Leiweke if Gretzky retires. He said he has been hearing for some time that Gretzky's wife, Janet, wants to return to Los Angeles to resume her acting career. . . .
As part of an arrangement with the Kings when he left three years ago, Gretzky is guaranteed a suite in the Staples Center. . . .
Leiweke said he is open to Gretzky becoming more involved with the franchise, although not in any function that might interfere with Dave Taylor's duties as general manager. . . .
"Any idea that Wayne has or that we have on how to generate interest in the game, I'd love to explore," Leiweke said. . . .
Mayor Richard Riordan and Leiweke are hosts for the six-month countdown celebration tonight at the Staples Center for the anticipated opening of the new King, Laker and Clipper arena in mid-October. . . .
Luc Robitaille and Rob Blake are expected to attend. . . .
Larry Robinson will not be there, but Leiweke said nothing should be read into that. . . .
"Kurt Rambis won't be there, either," he said. . . .
The Ducks are one win and three points shy of team records, and, with a victory tonight at the Arrowhead Pond against St. Louis, can virtually assure themselves of a first-round playoff series against Phoenix. . . .
All of which means that they are almost back to where they were two years ago. . . .
Prospects for the future are better than they were then because Pierre Gauthier is running the operation instead of Tony Tavares and Jack Ferreira. . . .
But Gauthier should learn from a monumental miscalculation by Tavares after the 1997 season and sign Paul Kariya to a new contract as soon as possible. . . .
Contentious negotiations lasted well into the 1998 season, costing Kariya 32 games and contributing to the end of the franchise's honeymoon with fans. Despite the Ducks' improvement over last season, they've had only eight sellouts. . . .
Gauthier should avoid a repeat of that mistake at all costs--literally.
Tim Dwight, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl for Atlanta, will run for Iowa in the Mt. SAC Relays on Sunday in Walnut. . . .
If he doesn't seem as fast as he did on Super Sunday, it might be because he doesn't have Denver Broncos chasing him. . . .
Santa Anita Park's new owner, Frank Stronach, will unveil tentative plans for track renovations Thursday. . . .
Major reconstruction might be postponed so Santa Anita can play host to the 2000 Breeders' Cup. . . .
It appears that Chris McCarron, removed by trainer Bob Baffert on General Challenge in favor of Gary Stevens, will land on another Kentucky Derby contender, Stephen Got Even. . . .
Retiring Julie Krone will not necessarily ride for the final time Sunday in the Lone Star Derby. If her mount, Desert Demon, is impressive, he probably will earn her a trip to a Triple Crown race, most likely the Preakness. . . .
Baffert entered Real Quiet, the 1998 Kentucky Derby winner, in the Texas Mile on the same day at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. . . .
Those two races are the opening weekend highlights at Lone Star Park, unless you count a parachuting dog. . . .
Don't expect a similar show for opening day at Hollywood Park on April 23. . . .
"I can't even get my dog to jump out of the back of my pickup," says the track's publicist, Mike Mooney.
While wondering when the Dodgers are going to give Mel Rojas his pink slip, I was thinking: The Dodgers should return to Exposition Park if they can also bring back Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider and Jim Gilliam, it looks as though Mark McGwire's andro has kicked in, the Clippers are encouraging students to stay in school as long as they are not named Elton Brand or Baron Davis.
Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.