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Reds end dynasty talk, make A's pass the broom

In Sunday's editions, it was reported incorrectly that Harold Baines of the Oakland Athletics is the only active major-league baseball player to have had his number retired. Baines' number was retired by the Chicago White Sox. Eddie Murray of the Los Angeles Dodgers also has had his number retired, by the Baltimore Orioles.

Did this really happen? Did the Oakland Athletics finally prove the myth of National League superiority?

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The 87th World Series was supposed to be another showcase for the best baseball organization on the face of the earth. The third straight appearance by the A's was supposed to secure their standing as one of the most dominating teams in baseball history.

But they ended up turning the fall classic into the classic fall.

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The Cincinnati Reds were decided underdogs coming into the Series. Souvenir broom salesmen were doing a thriving business in anticipation of a four-game Oakland sweep. But it was the Reds who whisked the A's right out of Riverfront Stadium and the Oakland Coliseum with resounding victories in games 1 and 3 and a late-inning comeback in Game 2 before last night's clincher.

It was enough to make you wonder whether the A's might just be a product of American League mediocrity.

Not that they aren't very good. They are, and they have averaged 102 victories since 1988 to prove it. But when faced with solid -- not dominating, just solid -- National League competition, they have come up short as often as they have come out on top.

Freeway series flashback: The A's won 104 games in 1988, swept the playoffs and took on a Los Angeles Dodgers club that was not even considered the best team in the National League in 1988. Oakland went down in five games, dispatched by a hot pitching staff or dismantled from within by an over-eager offensive lineup -- or a little of both.

Bay Bridge Series flashback: The A's swept the San Francisco Giants in four games, but there were some extenuating circumstances. For one, the Giants barely could piece together a pitching staff from the list of arthroscopic surgery candidates on their postseason roster. The A's, meanwhile, were able to use Stewart and Mike Moore for all four games.

Regular season in review: The A's won 103 games this year, but played more than half of their schedule against the division that sent the Boston Red Sox to the American League Championship Series. The only other team in the American League to win 90 or more games was the Chicago White Sox, who won eight of their 13 games against Oakland.

What does all this prove? Nothing except that talk of an Oakland dynasty might have been premature. The A's still appear to have the best team on paper, but it was a different story on the field.

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The winter meetings, scheduled for the first week of December Los Angeles, have been endangered by the rift that has developed between Major League Baseball and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.

MLB has been looking for some financial concessions in the new working agreement between the major and minor leagues. Commissioner Fay Vincent has heeded a call from the Major League Umpires Association to push for better pay for minor-league umpires. The major-league teams also are trying to reduce the amount of money they contribute to minor-league operations.

If no agreement is reached soon, the 26 major-league entourage are expected to pull out of the Los Angeles meetings and move their portion of the annual convention to another site -- probably Dallas. An announcement to that effect could be coming in the next 10 days.

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Oakland outfielder Jose Canseco might have a point this time. became an easy scapegoat after the A's lost the second game of the World Series, but there was at least one other candidate.

Manager Tony La Russa, who criticized Canseco's fielding effort on Billy Hatcher's triple that helped bring the Reds from behind, made enough questionable moves to warrant a second-guess or two.

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* He sent Bob Welch up to hit with a runner on base in the eighth, even though Welch had barely survived a rocky seven innings and figured to be out of the game at the next sign of trouble.

* He had Dennis Eckersley warming up in the eighth, but brought in Rick Honeycutt with runners at first and third and one out. He later said that since there was a good chance of the tying run scoring no matter who was on the mound, he didn't want to end up in a situation where Eckersley was pitching in a tie game on the road.

* He brought Eckersley into the game in the 10th . . . with the score tied on the road.

Canseco did make a poor play on the ball by Hatcher, which got the A's into the mess in the first place, but he also had driven in two of his team's four runs.

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Is it possible that Jose Rijo was right after all? He said after Game 1 that the Pittsburgh Pirates might be tougher than the A's. He later said that he just meant the Pirates were tougher on him because their lineup featured more tough left-handed

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hitters. Perhaps no explanation was necessary.

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The question all the world has been asking was answered last week when a prison official in Marion, Ill., confirmed that Pete Rose has been watching the World Series on television with other inmates at the medium-security prison.

The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted Fred Apple, acting executive assistant at the prison, as saying that a viewing room had been set up and the lights-out time had been extended so that the 240 inmates could watch the game.

"The larger room and the lights-out extension is nothing unique to the World Series," Apple said. "We do it for all the big postseason [sports] events -- football playoffs, Super Bowl, baseball playoffs -- because there is such interest in it. We're not doing anything special just because Pete Rose is here."

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Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal has been getting a lot of attention recently because he is Rijo's father-in-law, but he took time out the other day to reflect on his own playing career.

Some excerpts:

* His 1960s rivalry with Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax was the stuff of legend, but Marichal said that there was no question who was the better pitcher.

"Sandy Koufax was the greatest pitcher I ever saw," he said. "He was a great competitor and a great man both on and off the field. I admire him."

* He started his professional career as a sidearm pitcher, emulating his Dominican League pitching idol, Bombo Ramos. The exaggerated leg kick that became his trademark developed after a minor-league manager finally persuaded him to throw overhand.

"People would look at me and say things about how high I kicked," he said. "I liked that. Sometimes I ripped my pants trying to kick higher."

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* Marichal agrees with some of his contemporaries that they don't make pitchers like they used to.

"I don't think you're going to see any more pitchers like Sandy, Bob Gibson or [Jim] Palmer," he said. "If you want to put me in there, that's up to you.

"You had to be prepared to go nine innings in those days. If yo tried to take the ball away from some of those guys in the fifth inning, you'd have to fight them for it."

The numbers game: Here's a three-part trivia quiz on retired uniform numbers. Who is the only player to have his number retired by two teams? Who is the only active player who has had his number retired? Name the only man who neither played nor managed in the majors to have a number retired.

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Canseco continues to be a walking media event, but he doesn't think that's because he is one of the most exciting players in baseball. He thinks it's because he is one of the most exciting interviews in baseball.

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He might be right.

"You may be the best player in baseball ability-wise," he said "but you might not have anything interesting to say. If I was standing here speaking broken English, you wouldn't be here. I don't think I say outrageous things.

The Toronto Blue Jays sent John Olerud to the Florida Instructional League this month to begin an apprenticeship in left field. Olerud spent his rookie year as a designated hitter, but could move into left if potential free agent George Bell decides to move on.

If Bell decides to stay, he likely will share left field and DH dutie with Olerud next year or be phased into a full-time DH role.

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There is room to wonder whether Jack Clark will be packing his bags again soon. He has been one of the leaders of the anti-Tony Gwynn clique on the San Diego Padres, and new general manager Joe McIlvaine seems intent on removing the toxins from the team's clubhouse.

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Trivia answer: The only player to have his number retired by two teams was Rod Carew, whose number was retired by the Minnesota Twins and the California Angels. The only active player to have his number retired is Harold Baines, whose No. 3 was retired last year by the Chicago White Sox after he was traded to the Texas Rangers. The only non-player, non-manager to have a number retired was Angels owner Gene Autry, whose players and employees had uniform No. 26 retired in his honor in 1982.



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