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Original Issue

Cracking The Code The sports page reveals its deepest secrets only to those who know how and where to look

Nearly 100 million Americans read a newspaper every day, but few
of them do so properly. What they need are simple, step-by-step
instructions on how, precisely, to read their morning paper--a
daily wonderment that is, at once, the First Amendment made
manifest, a house-training aid for their Shih Tzus, and a source
of endlessly inspirational Cathy comics. All for a couple of
quarters. Here, then, is an owner's manual: How to Read the

Wearing only boxers, remove the paper's protective wrapper
(labeled NEWS), its useless peel (METRO) and extraneous husk
(BUSINESS). Give to spouse. Retain LIFESTYLE section for later
perusal of Wordy-Gurdy, Wizard of Id and TV listings. Place
SPORTS section on kitchen table. Pour cereal, using want ads for
place mat.

Scan all front-page SPORTS headlines, marveling at editorial
shorthand, in which Mavs play Cavs and Avs play Habs and Wiz play
Griz. Rays-Jays may be awful to watch. But in the hands of
headline writers, it is poetry.

Gape in disbelief at top headline, about three-way trade among
A's, O's and M's. Stop gaping when you realize, with
embarrassment, that A's, O's and M's have made no such
blockbuster: You have simply spilled your Alpha-Bits.

Turn to Page 2, opening SPORTS section to its full breadth. (If
reading a tabloid, read back to front, as you would an ancient
Hebrew text.) To forestall conversation with loved ones, spread
section across table with grave sense of purpose, like Patton
unfurling a map of North Africa. (Make mental note to buy a
swagger stick.) Still poring over Page 2, ask self--and not for
the first time--who would win a fight between Gil Thorp and Tank

Set coffee mug on Page 3. Pick up. See disfiguring ring of
brownish beverage on photograph of George Steinbrenner's face.
Note odd frisson of pleasure this gives you. Again, set your mug
on his.

Look at all pictures in SPORTS. Admire composition, color and
clarity. Yet lament passing of old-school sports photography, in
which halfbacks stiff-armed invisible tacklers, point guards
stood poised to chest-pass to the camera, and any pitcher who won
his 20th game would invariably spell out that number, in
baseballs, on the grass behind home plate.

Take special interest in photograph of rotund Red Sox reliever
Rich Garces. Place piece of Silly Putty on photograph and peel
away, leaving Shroud of Turin-like mirror image of Garces on the
Silly Putty. Stretch Silly Putty top to bottom, until Garces
resembles Randy Johnson.

Repair to throne with sports. Read game stories, especially for
games you witnessed the previous night and whose highlights
you've seen several times over on SportsCenter. Strangely, you
will still find the written account riveting--until you get to the
"jump" (or "See Page 7" notation). You never have seen, and never
will see, Page 7.

Peruse box scores and standings, trying to remember what that
fourth figure is in the NHL standings: Anaheim is 26-37-7-3?
Three what? Overtime wins? Overtime losses? Teeth remaining?
Despair of ever remembering.

Allow eyes to wander to Transactions column, which features its
own clubby cryptography: INF recalled from PCL to replace LHP
placed on DL. Read this, and understand it, and feel like a World
War II code breaker.

Attempt to decipher hieroglyphs in horse-racing form. Endeavor to
divine names of horses themselves, all of whom have had
vowel-ectomies to fit the column space. Thus Mrkt Mltdwn is 7-1
in the third race at Aqueduct, and the greatest horse of all time
is enciphered as Scrtrt. From your throne, daydream about the
Sport of Kings. Decide that if you ever buy a thoroughbred, you
will name it Swagger Stick--and follow its progress in the papers
as Swggr Stck.

Idly browse advertisements in the back of SPORTS--for strip clubs,
Viagra wholesalers, alcohol-abuse counselors, betting hot lines,
penile-enlargement surgeons, Las Vegas air charters, adult
bookstores, fireworks merchants, ticket scalpers, cut-rate keg
rentals and the latest in hair-replacement techniques--and ask
yourself: Who, exactly, do these advertisers think I am?

Tear out coupon for cut-rate keg rentals.