From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 24, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / March 24, 1999

Baseball, coming off one of the brightest seasons in its history, has already had to deal with some showers in 1999 and the regular season is still weeks away.

A year ago, Kerry Woods was the game’s latest pitching phenom, bursting onto the scene with a 20-strikeout performance against Hou-ston. Now, hewill miss the entire 1999 season and his career is in doubt with an arm injury. Was he, like Mark Fidrych, a shooting star that flamed out all toofast? Another memorable pitching performance in 1998 was the Yankees’ David Wells’ perfect game against Minnesota. Wells is now a member of theToronto Blue Jays, having been dealt for Roger Clemens.

The Yankees were one of the big stories of 1998, winning a record 125 games on their way to the World Championship. This year, the Yankees areagain dominating the headlines but not for the reasons anyone would want.

First, it was Joe DiMaggio, the grandest Yankee, succumbing to liver cancer. Just three days later, manager Joe Torre, one of the true classacts of the game, was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. Luckily, thecancer was diagnosed before it had a chance to spread and Torre will probably return to the dugout sometime during the season.

Cancer. That ugly word has reared its head too often this spring inbaseball camps. Torre, Atlanta’s Andres Galarraga and Florida’s MikeLowell have all been diagnosed with the disease this spring. So has thewife of San Francisco outfielder Armando Rios, a former star at LSU.

A number of the game’s better players will miss significant parts of the season. Besides Galarraga and Woods, St. Louis ace Matt Morris and SanDiego catcher Carlos Hernandez will miss the season. Houston’s MoisesAlou is out until August and Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra’s status is uncertain.

Sammy Sosa, who along with Mark McGwire captivated the country with their home run chase, has been criticized by Todd Stottlemyre for bowing to the crowd after hitting two home runs off him in a recent game.

Salaries, like Kevin Brown’s $105 million contract with Los Angeles, continue to spiral out of control. Something needs to be done to lessen thegap between the small and large market teams or the game could suffer.

And of course, storm clouds in the form of another work stoppage early in the next decade threaten to black out all that players like Cal Ripken, Sosa and McGwire have created over the last couple of years.

Baseball can look back at 1998 proudly. But it also needs to look ahead tothe future to make that season was a star in a constellation of more memorable seasons to come instead of just one burning brightly in the darkness of space.

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