Pennant Fever
You say you're a baseball fan anticipating an intriguing 1999? Forget about it! There's no need to play the games. The Arizona Diamondbanks have won the National League West. Might as well go ahead and hoist the banner. And fret not, diamond junkies can always speculate about who the local nine will face in the playoffs!

What's that, you say? You suspect the Flash is a shin guard shy of a catcher's uni? You think this Burst of Light has been beaned in the head by a Randy Johnson heater?

Wake up, Bunky! You obviously haven't been reading the dailies or hearing the local TV sportsblather in the wake of the D-Banks' vaunted free-agent signings.

Flush with cash from the most expensive seats in baseball (and no doubt sweating bullets over a dip in season-ticket sales), Jerry "Moneybags" Colangelo has been spending like the Cali Cartel. He's committed $118.9 million to sign not only Johnson but such immortal hurlers as Todd Stottlemyre, Armando Reynoso and Greg Swindell, plus immortal outfielder Steve Finley and immortal first baseman-outfielder Greg Colbrunn.

This Strobe is just tickled pink with the Johnson signing. The D-Banks could use some nasty attitude, and the 6-foot-10 Johnson provides that in spades.

For example, the Big Unit developed a big chip last year after the Seattle Mariners had the temerity to exercise their option on his contract. Johnson, who wanted to play in Phoenix last year, spent most of the season disguised as the Big Eunuch, going 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA--all the while earning $6 mil.

It wasn't until he was traded to pennant-chasing Houston late in the season that Johnson showed some "try." He went 10-1 with a minuscule 1.28 ERA, although he lost both playoff games he started.

Once a D-Bank, Johnson didn't waste any time unleashing what color commentators call "intensity." When news of his signing broke, Channel 3 sportscaster Gil Tyree had the temerity to go to Johnson's house and ask for an interview. Johnson responded with a Tyrade, cursing the Gilmeister and vowing to snub Channel 3's would-be interviewers during his four-year, $54.5 million stay in Phoenix. (Which is made even more interesting by the fact that Channel 3 broadcasts D-Banks games.)

In Seattle, Johnson's impetuosity was legend. When Larry LaRue, a beat writer for the Tacoma News-Tribune, wrote a column critical of Johnson during the 1996 season, Johnson not only declared LaRue persona non grata, the Unit refused to talk to any reporters if LaRue was in the room.

LaRue's column, headlined "This Is No Time for Sulking, Unit," was written as the Mariners were surging toward the American League West crown. Johnson was attempting to come back from back problems, but refused to start despite having pitched 16 innings in relief, striking out 28 and allowing only two earned runs. After he'd pitched four dominating innings at one stretch, people began to wonder why Johnson wouldn't take the mound for, say, five innings, in the heat of a pennant race. Johnson got defensive.

"No one in the game embraces a slight--real or perceived--with the passion of the Unit," LaRue opined. "Wound Johnson, intentionally or imaginarily, and he bleeds for years." The scribe added that Johnson possesses a "petulant, vindictive side filled with pettiness and self-doubt."

LaRue wrote of an incident that occurred shortly after Johnson's father died. Johnson was in the Mariners' office after New Year's when in walked Mariners' president Chuck Armstrong, who had been out of town and out of touch. Not knowing of the death in the family, Armstrong had the temerity to ask Johnson how his holiday had been. Johnson freaked. LaRue claims that from that day forward, anytime Johnson spoke about how badly the Mariners were treating him, he recited that story and Armstrong's insensitivity--without ever mentioning that Armstrong had apologized.

Deportment? Forget about it! The D-Banks can afford a little surliness. They're that good!

Okay, so all the new pitchers do have an average aggregate ERA of 4.00 over the past three years. Stottlemyre ($32 mil, four years) has won as many as 15 games (once). His career ERA is 4.20. Reynoso's career ERA is 4.60.

The new pitchers combined to win 45 games last year, but they did it for teams that hit at a .270 clip and scored an average of 810 runs apiece. The D-Banks hit a paltry .246, scored a pitiful 665 runs and set an NL record for strikeouts, 1,239.

That's why Jerry's pumped up the offense with Finley, who will replace Devon White in center field.

Yes, the D-Banks dumped White--the team's MVP and all-star who hit .279, with 22 homers, 85 RBI and 22 steals--for Finley, who hit a lusty .249 with 14 dingers, 67 RBI and 14 stolen bases. The D-Banks will pay Finley $21.5 million over four years, or $5.275 million a year. The Dodgers got White for $4 million a year.

Go figure.
While you're at it, figure out who will catch all these aces. The greatest arms in baseball aren't much good without seasoned batterymates.

And all this profligacy has the Flash wondering where the D-Banks farm system now resides in the pecking order. That's where dynasties are built. They aren't built on the arms of 33-year-old pitchers on the downslopes of careers. Don't forget, many of these old-timers have huge portions of their contracts deferred--so the D-Banks will be paying them for years after they're through.

But who gives a hang about the long view? Heck, that's a whole different millennium. We're talking 1999. Reserve my playoff tickets!

Who You Callin' Ho?
The opening shot of Gus Van Sant's current remake of Psycho is an impressive view of Central Avenue's Westward Ho! building, with a subtitle asserting that it's taking place on "December 11, 1998" at "two forty-three p.m."

The Flash visited the lobby of the building at that very time on December 11, hoping to catch departing heroine Anne Heche and warn her of her impending danger at the Bates Motel.

Heche failed to appear during the 10 minutes or so that the Flash spent chatting with the friendly receptionist/resident, Nellie Bounds, who confirmed that Westward Ho! is now subsidized housing for elderly and disabled persons, not a no-tell flophouse, as depicted in Psycho. She also reminisced about her visits to the hotel during World War II, when it was an elegant point of downtown pride. Nellie claimed that there was some excitement during the shooting of that scene in Psycho, and that the gentleman who then occupied the room into whose window the camera zooms was put up at the Ramada Inn while the moviemakers did their work.

By the way, a few minutes into Psycho, a character complains the temperature in Phoenix is "Hot as fresh milk!" Afternoon highs on December 11 were pleasantly in the 60s.

Canis Problem
Did you see Robert Gill's letter to the editor of the Arizona Republic on Saturday? The Phoenix man wrote that Mexican gray wolves should not be reintroduced in Arizona because "wolves eat people."

He warned, "They will lay in wait in the bushes for the school bus to drop off some grade-school kids."

Gill's on to something. The Flash has heard of a case where a wolf broke into someone's grandmother's house and put on her nightie!

Written Off
Hat's off to the KPH0 (Channel 5) anchor babe who reported Morris Udall's passing by recalling his "self-depreciating" wit.

The Flash hears it always kept Mo's tax liability manageable.

Feed the Flash: voice, 229-8486; fax, 340-8806; online, [email protected]

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