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Baseball's problems beginning catch up

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2002

The people at Major League Baseball have finally conceded that contraction is dead for 2002. Any day, now they're going to get around to acknowledging the Earth is round, football really is the national pastime, and baseball teams from below the top reaches of the payroll structure have absolutely no hope of winning a World Series.

Slow to react - virtually moribund the critics would say - the Lords of Baseball move at their own pace, which is a problem with their sport's on-field product, come to think of it.

There is no baseball-itis here. We contemplate, evaluate and commentate in rapid-fire fashion.

A sampling:

  • If there was any doubt that history is written by the winners, read on. St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner is a bum because he threw a couple of Super Bowl interceptions and his team lost. Kordell Stewart is a bum because, once again, he threw three interceptions in an AFC championship game and the Steelers lost. Now, flash back to the 1981 NFC title game, when Joe Montana launched the pass, Dwight Clark made "The Catch" and the San Francisco 49ers stunned the Dallas Cowboys, 28-27. That was the springboard to a Super Bowl win, the Montana legend and a 49ers dynasty. By the way, Montana threw three interceptions in that game, half of the six turnovers the 49ers had to overcome to win.

  • Good news, Jason Kendall, you now are merely the third highest paid catcher in baseball, having been shoved down a notch by the Yankees' Jorge Posada, who signed a five-year deal worth $51 million. This should take some pressure off after a 2000 season in which a thumb injury caused your batting average to slip to .266, your RBI total to fall to 53 and your runs scored to slip to 84. For the first time in your pro baseball career, you were caught stealing more often than you succeeded. That was some thumb injury. By the way, Posada had a sore shoulder last season, but still batted .277 with 22 homers and 95 runs batted in.

  • Excitement reigns in the realm of the Pirates, largely because the recently well-traveled second baseman Pokey Reese has landed on the roster. Acquiring a Gold Glove winner where formerly there had been a cast-iron crew is a bonus. Just one question: Can Reese pitch• The Pirates had exactly one pitcher last season who managed to reach double figures in victories. That would be Todd Ritchie, who was 11-15, and, of course, was traded because he had some value.

  • People love the contradictions of sports if only because no one would believe this stuff from a writer of fiction. On Saturday afternoon, the New Jersey Devils come to town to play the Penguins with former Penguins coach Kevin Constantine at the helm. When the Devils were eliminating the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, Mario Lemieux was highly complimentary of the Devils' system and coach Larry Robinson. But the system struggled this season and Robinson was shown the door. When Constantine coached here, many players, most notably the since-departed Jaromir Jagr, were highly critical because he played a tightly structured system. The coach lost that battle. Now, the irony. Constantine and his system might be enough to keep the Devils ahead of the Penguins and out of the playoffs this year. The coach and his system might have been good enough to get the Penguins into the field were he still here.

  • The debate on the relative merits of Bill Cowher's coaching rages on into the off-season. Interestingly, the New England Patriots raided the New York Jets and paid a first-round draft pick to get coach Bill Belichick, who paid off handsomely with a Super Bowl win. And the Tampa Bay Bucs were negotiating with the Oakland Raiders hoping to acquire coach Jon Gruden. Just wondering, has any team approached Dan Rooney about prying Cowher loose?

    Sam Ross Jr. is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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