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Belle is half of baseball's odd couple

November 23, 1996

Talk about a match made in heaven - the most despised player in baseball (we're talking accumulated hatred here, not the burst of moral outrage that confronted Roberto Alomar) signs to play for what surely is now the most despised franchise owner, at least among his peers.

Jerry Reinsdorf and the Chicago White Sox dropped $55 million in Albert Belle's bank account, which should at least cover the fines and psychiatric fees Belle is likely to incur over the five-year life of the contract.

There's no need here to rehash Belle's credentials. He clearly is an excellent player, probably one of the top three in baseball. But he just as clearly is the south end of a northbound horse, which brings us to Reinsdorf.

Reinsdorf is the puppeteer (sp?) pulling the strings on Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and the so-called acting commissioner of baseball. Reinsdorf's opposition to the recent proposed labor agreement with the players is the primary reason owners killed it. And the primary reason for his opposition, one can now surmise, was the luxury tax the agreement would have imposed on all payroll over a certain threshold, the purpose of which was to help small-market teams remain competitive financially.

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Before Tuesday, Reinsdorf could rightfully be called the most influential chief executive in the game. Today he could rightfully be called its biggest hypocrite. And in a sport such as baseball, that's saying something.

* * *

I don't know about you, but those 77-68 games in the NBA are sure keeping me tuned in.

What in the name of Doug Moe is going on here?

Here's what _ nobody can hit a jump shot anymore. Since the dawning of the Michael Jordan era, all anybody wants to do is stick his tongue out, slash to the basket and look pretty for the highlights package. That's great if you have the athleticism of Jordan or Grant Hill. But if you don't, what happens when defenses sag toward the basket, concentrate on cutting off passing lanes and dare you to hit the open jumper?

Clang.

You might be tempted to attribute the low scoring to a renewed emphasis on defense. And there's no question that defensive intensity has a lot to do with it. But not all of those bricks are being hoisted by players with Gary Payton in their navel.

You can also place part of the blame on expansion. There are 29 teams in the NBA, six more than existed a decade ago. There weren't 276 legitimate players in the league before expansion, so it's a bit much to expect that there are 348 today.

If this keeps up, the league might have to narrow the lanes, to give the inside players an opportunity to set up closer to the basket. Then the perimeter players could fire away from a step or two closer.

I'm not saying the league should shackle defenders, but my guess is that a lot more fans would prefer to see a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute game of speed and quickness than want to see Chris Webber try to drain a 15-footer against a semi-disguised zone defense.

* * *

Worst-kept-secret-of-the-month award goes to Lou Holtz, whose resignation as head football coach at Norte Dame became public knowledge five days before he announced it.

I was amazed to read somewhere after his resignation became official that Holtz deserves credit for running a high-profile program without a whiff of scandal. Hello? Anybody remember the published allegations _ never confronted directly _ that Holtz encouraged his players to take anabolic steroids? Remember that Holtz got out of Minnesota a step ahead of the NCAA posse, which placed the Golden Gophers on probation for violations committed by Holtz?

I know people who can't stand the sight of Holtz. I'm not one of them, though I will admit to a feeling of great satisfaction every time the perpetually overrated, overexposed Fighting Irish get tweaked by a Northwestern or an Air Force. But Holtz is hardly a football genius, and is certainly no angel, and to pretend otherwise is just silly.

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