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A Last-Second Save

NHL owners and players shake hands just in time to rescue the Stanley Cup playoffs

Last week the National Hockey League's diamond-anniversary season almost became as worthless as paste. The league's management and its striking players found themselves peering over the brink. And what they saw was...nothing. No Stanley Cup playoffs. No hockey. No future. With time running out on the season, the players and owners decided to can the rhetoric and deal. They ended the first players' strike in NHL history, a 10-day walkout that resulted in a postponement of 30 games and a delay in the start of the playoffs, which begin on April 18.

The players made a flurry of concessions that left some asking why they struck in the first place. The answer, of course, was to prove that they could. After years of impotence, the NHL Players' Association finally unified behind its new executive director, Bob Goodenow. "We got our message through loud and clear," Goodenow said. "We're here, and we're going to be ready to rock 'n' roll. We are not going to be lapdogs."

That may be true, but their bark still seemed worse than their bite. Ultimately the players gave in on most of their demands. Their biggest victory was fending off the owners' attempt to take part of the $11 million the union receives from the sale of players' images for use on trading cards. Every other gain was minuscule. The minimum salary was raised from $25,000 to $100,000, but then most players were making well over the new minimum anyway. Free agency was liberalized, but only slightly. Playoff bonuses and financial awards to trophy winners were increased.

The owners clearly scored on the length of the deal, which will expire in September 1993. Management will then be in a position to lock out the players at the start of the season and gain the upper hand. The owners also won the right to extend the already interminable regular season from 80 to 84 games; the extra games will help pay for the concessions the owners made.

Despite the short-term deal, there is reason to hope the NHL's labor relations will improve. A new coalition of progressives on the management side, men like Bruce McNall of the Los Angeles Kings and Stanley Jaffe of the New York Rangers, prevailed over the cadre of old-time hard-liners. Prodded by the more liberal owners, the league may yet accept the players as partners and work toward an NBA-style system of revenue participation. But they'll likely face a battle from William Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks, the crusty chairman of the NHL board of governors, who was perfectly prepared to pull the plug on the season.

At least now both owners and players realize the future of their sport is at stake. Goodenow spent much of April 8 on the phone with player representatives for each of the 22 teams, paving the way for peace with honor. The next day he had four phone conversations with the NHL's president. John Ziegler, who received authorization from the owners to disregard a deadline, set for that afternoon, for scrubbing the season. There wasn't much time left, though: the owners had decided that if the season was to resume, it had to be on Sunday at the latest. Goodenow flew to New York City from his office in Toronto. Face-to-face talks resumed at the NHL offices early last Friday, culminating in a deal just before midnight. The Zambonis were rolling on Sunday for the resumption of the season, and by June 12 someone will be drinking from Lord Stanley's cup.

The NHL's flirtation with disaster may provide a cautionary tale for Major League Baseball and the NFL, both of which seem headed for new rounds of labor-management strife. It's never too early to start talking about solutions. For hockey, it was almost too kilo.

Hot Tips

Teams must exercise caution in the heat

We've come a long way since football coaches rationed water to their players on hot days, but we haven't come far enough.

Last month in Phoenix, a jury awarded $850,000 to Bernice Reed-Davis. Her son, Abduul Reed, was 14 when he collapsed and died in September 1988 after football practice at Shallow Mountain High. It was Abduul's first day of practice, the temperature was 104°, and he was wearing full pads and a helmet.

During the trial, Dr. James Knochel, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and an expert on heat illness, testified that Abduul had probably died of rhabdomyolysis—a condition brought on by elevated body temperature, dehydration and exertion. In rhabdomyolysis, skeletal muscle decomposes and potassium spills into the bloodstream, and the excess potassium can lead to heart failure.

The Reed trial is a reminder that many heat-related deaths and illnesses could be prevented. Here are some dos and don'ts.

•Measure the temperature and humidity on the field.

•Acclimatize athletes to heat gradually.

•Provide a plentiful supply of cool water.

•Ten-minute water breaks should be planned for every 30 minutes of exertion. Encourage athletes to drink, because people generally do not voluntarily consume enough water to make up for what they have lost in sweat.

•If practice must be held on hot days, athletes should wear T-shirts, shorts and caps.

•Don't hold practice in 104° weather. Reschedule practice for early morning or evening, or cancel it.


"The Babe" takes a Ruthian swing—and misses

Here, at long last, is a movie to rival The Babe Ruth Story. That is not a compliment. The 1948 flick starring William Bendix is one of the worst sports movies ever. The Babe, which stars John Goodman and opens this week, may one day overtake its predecessor, as Hank Aaron did Ruth, because only with time will we be able to truly appreciate how awful The Babe is.

Thanks to the technological advances in funny noses, Goodman looks a lot more like the Sultan of Swat than Bendix did. Indeed, there are moments in The Babe when Goodman is a dead ringer for Ruth. But it's a grotesque, Madame Tussaud sort of resemblance. We're looking at the Bambino, but all the joy and much of the life has been drained out of him.

Whereas The Babe Ruth Story was a preposterous, overwhelmingly sentimental view of Ruth's life, The Babe is a preposterous, overwhelmingly dark biopic. It's one thing to distort truths in the name of a better story, but Ruth led a more interesting life in fact than he did in this fiction. The poetic license taken by director Arthur Hiller (Love Story) and screenwriter John Fusco (Thunderheart) should be revoked. Ruth, for instance, was not abandoned at St. Mary's Industrial School. He wasn't fat as a young player. He was never jealous of Lou Gehrig. Etcetera.

Don't blame Goodman. Just as Ruth deserved better from the Yankees, Goodman deserves better from this movie. He tries mightily to overcome both his righthandedness and a script that portrays him as King Kong in pinstripes. With better material, he might have been the quintessential cinema Babe. (That honor belongs to Joe Don Baker, the Ruthian "Whammer" in The Natural.)

What else is wrong with The Babe'? This is the least populated baseball movie of all time; apparently. Ruth played with just Jumpin' Joe Dugan, Ping Bodie and Gehrig. And the baseball action, what little there is of it, is terribly stiff.

But there are two reasons to see The Babe. One is the scene in which Ruth, at age 19, walks out of St. Mary's; the appearance of the 39-year-old Goodman as the youthful Babe is sidesplitting. The other is so that in the years to come you won't feel left out of conversations about bad sports movies.


The indoor lacrosse season comes to an exciting finish

The night before the NHL season resumed, 13,017 fans filled Philadelphia's Spectrum to watch Buffalo and the home team wield sticks and try to score on the other team's goalie. They weren't playing hockey, though. The Buffalo Bandits and Philadelphia Wings—shouldn't the nicknames be the other way around?—were playing on Saturday night for the Major Indoor Lacrosse League championship.

Six years after its birth, the MILL is thriving because the sport appeals to blue-collar fans in seven Eastern cities and because the players average a mere $250 a game in pay. Consequently most of them have day jobs. Vying for the MILL's championship trophy, which looks like the Stanley Cup on Slim-Fast, were policemen and schoolteachers and salesmen.

The presence of Buffalo in the championship game was something of a surprise since it is an expansion team comprised almost entirely of rookies. The Bandits are also something of a first in professional sports, a joint-venture franchise operated in conjunction with the NHL Sabres. The Sabres handle the Bandits' marketing, ticketing and public relations.

The Bandits lived up to their nickname by stealing the show Saturday night with a come-from-behind 11-10 victory in overtime. The hero was John Tavares, a 23-year-old baker from Mississauga, Ont., who scored four goals, including an over-the-shoulder backhand toss for the game-winner. While most of the league's players hail from such collegiate lacrosse hotbeds as Johns Hopkins, Tavares played free safety for the football team at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. "I grew up in Ontario playing box lacrosse in summer leagues on hockey rinks," he says. Then politely slamming the genteel image of the outdoor game, Tavares adds, "To me, this is real lacrosse."

Tavares makes doughnuts and buns for Lob-laws, a grocery chain, and almost no dough ($125 a game) for the Bandits. But, as he says, "we play for the love of the game." Of course, the championship (for which each Bandit earned an extra $300) was just icing on the cake.



A face-off on the ice: Mike Ridley (left) of the Capitals versus Peter Stastny of the Devils Sunday night.





Goodman may look the part, but "The Babe" fails to make contact.



The Wings and the Bandits ended this season's run of the MILL.




Judgment Calls

[Thumb Up]To golfer Larry Nelson, who disqualified himself after the first round of the Masters last week when he discovered that his Merit clubs did not conform to the USGA rules because of decorative designs on their faces.

[Thumb Down]To Notre Dame, for dropping wrestling. The Fighting Irish won the National Catholic Championships this year and finished 36th in the NCAA tournament, but athletic director Dick Rosenthal cited lack of fan support for the decision to eliminate the program, which began in 1955.

[Thumb Down]To Major League Baseball, for the blatant commercialism of naming its new fall league the Safeway Arizona Fall League, after the sponsoring grocery chain.

NORMAN CHAD: Too Much Seasoning

Baseball just began another regular season. The NHL playoff season is about to begin. The NBA is grinding toward its postseason. And the World League of American Football is approaching mid-season. Spring is in the air, which means, of course, that for many of us it's allergy season.

I happen to be allergic to season overlap.

If you press your ear to the television set—even when it's not on—you'll hear a game going on somewhere. (This phenomenon operates on the same premise that you can hear the ocean if you hold a seashell to your ear. And even if you can't hear a game, just the sensation of feeling your ear against a TV screen is, well, sort of neat and tingly.

Quick quiz: Which are the only three days of the year when no major league baseball or professional basketball, football or hockey games are played?

Answer: The day before and the day after baseball's All-Star Game and Christmas Eve.

The games never cease. Leagues grow larger, seasons grow longer. You used to be able to name a lot of the star players on every team; now, you can't even remember the nicknames of some of these teams. The standings look like stock listings. Season overlap for professional team sports doesn't even take into account the endless swirl of college basketball and college football, of golf and tennis and auto racing. There's too much of just about everything—except bowling, that is—and there's not enough of other things, such as life itself.

Baseball is the summer game, yet it starts a bit too early in the spring and ends a bit too late in the fall. Football is autumnal, yet it's midsummer when NFL teams go to training camp. Basketball and hockey are indoor games best played in the wintertime, yet they stretch over two thirds of the calendar.

As spectacular as sports can be, the sensations would be sharper if sports were fewer. Yes, less is more. (Granted, I have to believe that; after all, I don't own anything.)

I am president of the Society To Ostensibly Prevent The Heinous Evil Growth in America of More Endless Sports, better known as STOPTHEGAMES. We are a small group—I am the only member at the moment—but expansion is expected as soon as I can afford business cards. STOPTHEGAMES is dedicated to the cause of shorter seasons in each sport, as well as shorter lines in supermarket express lanes.

Here is our simple four-point program to eradicate season overlap.

1) Start baseball's regular season in mid-April and end it by mid-September, getting rid of off days. What, they can't play 162 days in a row? Heck, players have six months of off-season to rest. This generation, all it wants is more three-day weekends. When I used to work for a living, I was down at the docks before dawn and pulled the overnight shift at the local dairy as a second job.

2) Dump the preseason in the NFL. What, it takes four weeks of blocking-sled drills to learn how to run off tackle? Half of the players in exhibitions are just trying to avoid injury, the other half are just trying out for the World League.

3) Schedule doubleheaders in the NBA. What, basketball players can't play two like Ernie Banks? They get TV timeouts and coaches' timeouts and a long timeout at halftime, not to mention they just stand around half the time watching foul shots. Pat and Vanna tape five shows in one day; certainly Patrick and Michael can play four halves a night.

4) Eliminate the NHL altogether. What, hockey fans won't have anything left to do? They can always spend even more time spray-painting graffiti on subway cars and public landmarks. When they decided to strike, the NHL players got my early vote for Sportsmen of the Year for trying to perform euthanasia on their game.

As for our supermarket slowdown, STOPTHEGAMES believes it's a case of getting customers checked out quicker. The express lane should have a shot clock. What, the person in front of you always has to pay by check for $8.47 of groceries? Hey, pay cash so I can get home to watch a few too many more games.

Replay: 20 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated

Jack Nicklaus was on the April 17, 1972, cover after winning his fourth (of six) Masters in the groovy clothing style of that era. Back then a major sport was on strike, namely baseball. The Atlanta Braves had to cancel their informal workouts because, said pitcher Cecil Upshaw, "Henry Aaron hit all our balls into the trees and we lost them." And one of our FACES IN THE CROWD was a high school basketball player from Dolton, Ill., named Quinn Buckner.


Mike Flanagan, Baltimore Oriole pitcher: "You know you're having a had day-when the fifth inning rolls around, and they drag the-warning track."

Steve Kerr, Cleveland Cavalier guard, after Michael Jordan said he could score 70 or 80 points against the Cavs with guard Craig Ehlo out of the lineup: "I lake that as a personal insult. I can hold him to 65 on any given night."