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Madden: Let baseball's labor talks begin

Saturday, October 20, 2001

Like beautiful bright leaves falling off a tree, here's a collection of refreshing sports notes to rake in and press between the pages of a book. I suggest "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton.

If I were thinking about buying Pirates tickets for next year, I would want to hear what owner Kevin McClatchy has to say about baseball's upcoming labor negotiations. If McClatchy is going to battle hard for a salary cap, he might get my money despite an unwarranted increase in ticket prices. If McClatchy intends to roll over for the big-money teams and settle for some sort of lame, meaningless revenue sharing, he'd be minus one customer. Major League Baseball will impose a $1 million fine on any owner who speaks publicly about the negotiations. If McClatchy said that he intended to fight for what's right by Pittsburgh baseball fans, that might be the smartest $1 million he ever spent, PR-wise.

That said, I'm involved in no such mental debate. I'm not thinking about buying Pirates tickets next year no matter what McClatchy says. When you lose 100 games because of playing bad baseball and lose $10 million dollars (despite a $110 million revenue stream) because of doing bad business, don't expect the fans to shell out more bucks to make up for your stupidity.

Don't believe that revenue sharing can close baseball's competitive gap. Controlling the amount of money each team has means precious little. Barring total communism, the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, etc. always will have a lot more money than the Pirates. Baseball has to control the amount of money each team can spend on players. Baseball needs a salary cap, period.

If you really love baseball, root for the New York Yankees to win this year's World Series and every World Series. It only illustrates that winning in baseball is 95 percent money-driven. The more that's shoved down our throats, the more likely something will be done about it. OK, probably not.

Baseball owners and the players' union may put off this coming off-season's labor negotiations and operate under the current agreement for one more year because of the events of Sept. 11. That's the biggest crock of self-important crap I've ever heard. The terrorist attacks have relevance to many things on this planet, but Major League Baseball is certainly not one of them. If baseball players want to do something nice in light of the world's troubles, they should try acting like decent human beings on a daily basis. Anyway, get on with the negotiations. Let the festival of greed commence. Show your true colors and, if there's a strike, make it a long one. Forever would be nice.

Now that Barry Bonds -- the greatest player to wear a Pirates uniform -- has broken the single-season home-run record, doesn't he deserve a statue outside PNC Park?

They may be 3-1, but some say the Steelers haven't proven anything because they've only beaten three of the NFL's lesser lights. That's true, but so what? You can only play who you're scheduled to play. More important, the key to making the NFL playoffs in this divine age of parity is winning the games you should win. Last year, the Steelers lost at lowly Cleveland. They also blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead at home against Philadelphia en route to losing in overtime. Turn those results around, and the Steelers make the playoffs. You say they've only defeated bad teams. I say they're on course for the postseason.

A bold prediction: Steelers 21, Tampa Bay 13 as Kordell Stewart throws for 250 yards and two touchdowns. The blind squirrel finds the acorn.

Now that he's the NHL's highest-paid player, Jaromir Jagr should finally be happy. Jagr doesn't measure himself by points or Stanley Cups. He measures himself by money. His new $88 million contract with the Washington Capitals undoubtedly makes him feel like he's the best player in hockey.

I don't like to second-guess coaches, so I'll offer this advice to the Penguins' Rick Kehoe before Alexei Kovalev returns from his minor knee surgery: Don't play Kovalev and Mario Lemieux together. Neither plays selfishly, but each needs to have the puck a lot. I can't think of two players who fit together worse, and that was proven last season when they briefly skated on the same line.

I hear Walt Harris already has made a decision regarding Pitt's quarterback position for next year: Rod Rutherford, Pat Hoderny, Tyler Palko, Luke Getsy and a walk-on to be named later will split time, with each rotating into the lineup depending on the game situation. Unless, of course, Harris wakes up before then and realizes the quarterback position is more about rhythm, confidence and leadership than it is about coaching strategy. Harris is supposedly a genius when it comes to quarterbacks, but he has thoroughly and gratuitously butchered his handling of the Pitt quarterback job this season.

Mark Madden's talk show can be heard from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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