The Gay Nineties gave us Carnegie Hall, Cyrano de Bergerac, jazz and The Red Badge of Courage. It was an extraordinary decade that gave America a head start on the 20th century, and sports seemed to benefit from the energy and inspiration of the time. The 1890s brought James Naismith's basketball, the Stanley Cup, Cy Young—the pitcher, not the award—professional football, modern bowling, auto racing, the 60'6" distance between the pitcher's mound and home plate, the first Army-Navy game, the first major heavyweight championship fight (Gentleman Jim Corbett vs. John L. Sullivan) and golf's U.S. Open.
So if history repeats itself, the 1990s should be very interesting. It's hard enough to predict pennant winners from year to year, so I won't hazard any guesses as to who will win what in the next 10 years. But I do have a wish list for these '90s:
•World Series victories for long-suffering fans of the Indians, Cubs, White Sox and Red Sox. A championship for Boston would thankfully put an end to all that purple prose written by literary types who still think Zeus had something to do with Johnny Pesky holding the ball.
•An NBA player named Magic Orlando.
•A national championship playoff system for college football, using the bowl games (the John Hancock, the Federal Express, the Mobil, etc.) as preliminary rounds. Sorry, but coaches, sportswriters and broadcasters should not decide which is the best team in the land. Heck, the media guys can't even get a simple baseball MVP vote right. (American League batting champ Kirby Puckett seventh in the 1989 voting?)
•A way to capture on TV the feeling of watching a basketball game from courtside. It's a totally different, much more impressive game from that vantage point.
•A female major leaguer. (Those who saw the teenage daughter of Oakland A's scout Ron Schueler snapping off curves along the sideline before last fall's World Series games should know that this is possible.)
•A nationwide epiphany as to the joys of soccer, preferably to coincide with the U.S.'s hosting of the 1994 World Cup. What does the rest of the world know that we don't?
•A Triple Crown winner in horse racing with the charisma of Secretariat. (Let us hope that the beast won't have the logo of some oats company branded on its side.)
•A Grand Slam winner in golf with the charisma of...Secretariat.
•Buon anno for Italian-American athletes (John Franco, Tony Granato, Dan Marino, Vinny Del Negro, Mark Calcavecchia, et al.) in the quincentennial of Columbus's discovery of the New World.
•The collapse of the baseball card market. Those cards are meant for topsies, farsies and knocksies, not investies.
•The number 1-900-TOM-KITE. ("Press 1 if you want to hear about Tom's new glasses; press 2 if you want to hear about his short game....")
•More of Bob Costas.
•The discovery in Soviet forests of stands of timber identical to the white ash used for wooden baseball bats. The Leningrad Slugger would give assurance that the crack of wood will not be replaced by the ping of aluminum.
•Mandatory headgear for boxers and a 10-round limit for all fights. Then, I wouldn't have to ask for...
•A fighter with the horse sense of Secretariat.
•The virtual disappearance of the hockey fight. Until then, an equal-time provision that requires any TV sports program that shows a goon punching a player (whose sweater is pulled over his head) to also show a clip of a Gretzky goal or pass.
•Less talk about how much money athletes make. Hey, if the St. Louis Cardinals want to give Bryn Smith almost two million dollars a year, that's their madness.
•The elimination of the adjective "articulate" as it is so often applied to black athletes, coaches and executives. When someone says of a black person, "Gee, he's articulate," he's really saying, "I'm surprised someone that guy's color talks that well."
•Interleague play in baseball. A schedule in which each team plays its most natural rival, as well as three other teams, from the other league is not only an entrancing idea, but also a workable one.
•A tennis player who wears only white.
•Another two-sport star to rival Bo Jackson. Maybe a jockey/driver to compete in both the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500.
•A pro football player who plays offense and defense.
•Less of Brent Musburger.
•A batting title for Pete Rose Jr. And the return of his father, contrite and chastened, to baseball.
•Peace on earth, good will toward men.
•Oh yes, and a baseball team in Washington, D.C.