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A strike only benefits nerds in suits, so here's a plan to avoid one


Forget the salary cap.

Don't attempt to restrict free agency.

Junk salary arbitration.

Don't even think about asking the players to partake in revenue sharing.

If baseball doesn't play in Pittsburgh, then it doesn't play in Pittsburgh. Back up the moving van.

Lower the requirement for free agency from six years to three years.

Increase the major-league minimum salary and allow significantly higher minimums for players with one and two years' service time.

Let's play ball.

Don't let some pompous nerd say it's much more complicated than that. It's the freedom plan. How complicated is that?

With the exception of Donald Fehr, Dick Ravitch and their beaming relatives bragging to people who only fake being impressed, nobody benefits from a strike.

Nobody but their relatives (bragging to people who fake being impressed) wants to see these suits posturing on "SportsCenter."

"SportsCenter," sacred "SportsCenter," the mantel in front of which fathers bond with children, must be reserved for more fascinating matters.

Such as:

* Frank Thomas hitting skyscraper home runs.

* Ken Griffey throwing runners out from his knees.

* Cal Ripken inning-by-inning making anyone who ever suggested he should move back to third base look utterly foolish.

* Greg Maddux delivering pitch after pitch at the knees.

* Tom Lasorda stewing over that Giant, Strawberry.

* Barry Bonds, who embraces the bad-guy role so completely it's tough not to root for him, doing what he does best. Everything.

* Jeff Bagwell driving in runs more frequently than Leon Spinks drives into ditches.

* Rico Brogna becoming a cult hero because the New York Mets need one and he's the best one available. Plus, he's got a cool name.

* David Cone's slider, tougher to hit than the lottery jackpot, biting a hole in another batting average.

* Chris Sabo, a battered bundle of aggression, running with his head down into the middle of traffic.

* Roundish John Kruk proving nothing in life is more overrated than a good body.

* Roberto Alomar improvising in midair, the baseball in his glove one second, in the first baseman's glove the next.

* Rafael Palmeiro, so relaxed at the plate he appears on the verge of a six-month nap, crushing a pitch into the right-field bleachers. How does he do that?

* Jim Abbott transferring the glove in such a manner as to make his so-called handicap a complete non-issue.

* Kenny Lofton playing center field as if fearing he will be sentenced for life to drink nothing but untreated Lake Erie water if he lets a ball fall on the outfield grass.

* Eddie Murray crouched at the plate in mid-concentration. If the world ends when Eddie's at the plate, he won't notice. He'll wait for that pitch forever. Locked in another world, one that blocks out everything else.

* Pedro Martinez, the little rascal, reminding us of the late Don Drysdale.

* Timonium's Lisa Driver, a major-league talent, belting out a national anthem worthy of Game 7 of the World Series.

Free agency after three years. No salary arbitration. Let's play ball right through fall.

Perfectly surprising

A left-handed shortstop, he only played one year of high school baseball in Plant City, Fla.

The Texas Rangers took him in the 38th round of the 1982 draft and would not have taken him at all but for scout Joe Marchese's spotting him while scouting opponent Stan Broderick, chosen in the first round by the Chicago Cubs.

The scout liked the way Kenny Rogers threw during infield practice and recommended him as a pitcher. A dozen years later, Rogers pitched a perfect game in the major leagues.

Rogers, who signed for $500 out of high school, stands to cash in big-time this winter on the free-agent market.

Rogers never has been on the disabled list with an arm injury and he has gone 22-10 with a 3.61 ERA since July 1, 1993.

During that time, he has more victories than Roger Clemens (13), Jack McDowell (18), Mike Mussina (19), Randy Johnson (20) and Cone (21). Only Maddux (26), Tom Glavine (25) and Jimmy Key (23) have won more.

Rogers led the American League with 81 appearances in 1992. Durable, experienced and a winner, he is exactly what the Orioles need to add this coming winter to become a

championship-caliber club.

Kansas City, here they come

The Kansas City Royals pushed their winning streak to seven games Friday night. They have entered the wild-card race and revived fan interest in a big way.

As the Royals' four-game sweep of the Chicago White Sox drew to a close Thursday night, the fans stood and chanted, "Sweep, sweep."

Said Mark Gubicza, the only holdover from the 1985 World Series champions: "I had goose bumps sitting there listening to the crowd. It's been so long."

Added Cone, a veteran of postseason play with the Mets and Toronto Blue Jays: "The way they were chanting was a terrific feeling. I think this was a big day for the organization. I think this was a key step to winning the fans back. I really do."

A shot in the arm

Closer Jeff Montgomery's return to prominence ranks as one of the main reasons the Royals have found the groove.

Since having a cortisone shot to the shoulder in mid-June, Montgomery has had a save in his past nine appearances.

Dodgers or Arsonists?

Pedro Martinez could have closed games for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, but he was dealt to Montreal for .254-hitting second baseman Delino DeShields.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers bullpen had saved a National League-low 17 games and blown 19 saves heading into the weekend.

During a recent 3-10 road trip, the bullpen had an ERA over 7.00. Jim Gott, one of the culprits, cried for help.

"We should be 10 games up right now," Gott told the Los Angeles Daily News. "Instead, we find ourselves in a pennant race we shouldn't be in. Something has to be done. We can't keep walking in the locker room saying, 'What happened the last three innings of that game?' "

Responded GM Fred Claire: "Kind of a strange comment. If I'm in the bullpen, I say give me the ball and I'll get you the outs. If I'm in the bullpen, I believe in myself. That's the first time I've heard anything like that."

Ice those knuckles

Thanks to that horrible relief, Lasorda is treating his dugout ZTC phone as if it's out of order.

Dodgers knuckleball specialist Tom Candiotti threw 463 pitches in 27 2/3 innings in 12 days in four cities.

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