In sports, 1994 better off forgotten

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Yes, boys and girls, it's that time of year again. If you haven't already, prepare to have sports reviews of the fast-fading year thrust in your path electronically or in print, soon to be followed by copious predictions about what lies ahead in 1995.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . . tra-la.

Normally, no matter what scandalous, foolish or inane happenings occur during the preceding 12 months, there's no problem picking out a set of highlights or inspiring moments to dwell on and go all dewy-eyed about.

Good old MCMLXLIV goes a long way toward being an exception to the rule, no matter how you slice it, though. Clearly, 1994 does not qualify as memorable, exhilarating, fun or something to build upon if all facets of sport and business (they're synonymous) are considered.

For instance, there were fine moments emanating from the most-watched Winter Olympics ever last February, but despite Dan Jansen, Tommy Moe, Johann Olav Koss, Bonnie Blair and the rest, Lillehammer will always be remembered as "Tonya's Song."

It made for huge television ratings, yes, the Harding Gang trying to eliminate rival Nancy Kerrigan from the competition with a tire iron. How unseemly, this heretofore pristine endeavor by very proper young ladies taking on the look of boxing in the 1940s. Perhaps it has always been that way for, as silver-medal winning skier Picabo Street said of figure skaters, "I've never met a normal one yet."

All through the early part of the year and going well back into 1993, there had been rumblings of labor unrest in baseball. To be forewarned did not translate into being forearmed, however. An excellent season went awash when scores of reportedly intelligent beings couldn't conciliate after years of supposedly trying.

As indication of how ridiculous the whole thing became, consider: Baseball simply walked away from $850 million in revenues it would have generated had the two sides simply decided to keep on talking while the game carried on on the field.

The folks in hockey, joyous that they finally had a winner in New York, publicity capital of the solar system, went the diamond set one better by not even allowing their season to get under way. As though it wasn't bad enough that the game's premier performer, Mario Lemieux, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, and had announced he was sitting out a year.

While commissioner Paul Tagliabue remains true to his vow to save the free world from an NFL franchise's return to Baltimore, the city continues to be instructed that it's just another adjunct to Washington, thus qualifying for all the benefits that entails.

While people like Bud Selig and Richard Ravitch, Gary Bettman and Bob Goodenow, cheating collegiate coaches, inept administrators and blowhard boosters go on and on and a loveable character like itinerant ingrate Jack Morris signs to pitch for another ballclub at age 39, the Mrs. Marvelous of skating shows, Dorothy Hamill, retires. Where's the justice?

Five men of either excessive age or very questionable ability held or do hold a piece of the heavyweight championship of boxing. After a century of the likes of John L. Sullivan, James J. Corbett, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali, we're now reduced to sparring partners, blown up light-heavies and men who haven't earned their masters' licenses yet qualifying to be referred to as "champ."

Pro basketball can be said to be flourishing, but is this really the case when so much of a team game derives most of its popularity from the marketing of just a few individuals and the sale of T-shirts, sweat shirts, caps and videos?

What's there to glory about in a year when strife infects many of our professional sports, sportsmanship increasingly becomes a thing of the past, the O. J. Simpson story dominates the news and the lives of truly great people like Wilma Rudolph are prematurely ended?

Somebody won the Super Bowl, was crowned mythical national champion, prevailed in all the amateur sports from Little League to the Final Four. Men, women, horses, machines and teams won the big titles in tennis, golf, auto and horse racing and the rest. That's customary and the things we enjoy reflecting on at year's end.

Resolution: Don't bother to think back over 1994; it will only depress.

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