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Where Did The Fun Go?

Now that there is a baseball future, writers across the country are peering into their highball glasses in hopes of seeing it. This is something they do every year.

These somber prognostications are often hilarious, more often pathetic, hardly ever correct. Still, the writers scrawl.

Following are my predictions for our local spring training squads. I've taken a careful look at previous performances. I've examined off-season events. I've weighed personnel potential. These predictions are no more or no less sure to come true than anything else you'll read. So what the hell.

As you can see, I've had a lot of free time lately. This is what happens when they mess with spring training.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers this spring enter the second season of their innovative restructuring program, a plan based on the physical, mental and spiritual philosophies of Japanese professional baseball.

MikadoCo, the giant Japanese electronics consortium that bought the team before last season, had pledged a five-year commitment to the radical strategy.

But the company since then has admitted publicly that the acquisition of the Brewers was an error. MikadoCo apparently believed it was purchasing a beer company.

Before spring training last year, a Tokyo-based management team was brought in to run the team. The abrupt philosophical changeover proved devastating to the team's players, coaches, trainers and fans.

The Japanese style of play calls for intense, year-round conditioning work, an emphasis on player discipline, and an overall "team" concept that most Brewers found chafing.

For example, Brewers third baseman Jake McKay, an Oklahoma-born slugger who attended Oral Roberts University for several days before signing a pro contract and who works in the off- season as a bouncer/deejay/master of ceremonies at Hooter Heaven (a popular topless nightclub in Milwaukee), was fined repeatedly for breaking the team's stringent new rules regarding player deportment. McKay's most spectacular infraction occurred after the team's first victory, which came on the road against the Chicago White Sox in late July.

According to police reports, McKay was arrested at 3 a.m. while cavorting--nude--in the famed Buckingham Fountain in Chicago's lakefront Grant Park. McKay claimed the next day that "a bad piece of sushi" served during the team's postgame clubhouse meal had caused him to experience "really far-out" hallucinations. "It was a mind bender," he told reporters. Charges of public intoxication, public lewdness and providing false information to a parks department law-enforcement official (McKay apparently tried to convince arresting officers that he was Chicago Sun-Times movie reviewer Roger Ebert) were later dropped, but team officials treated McKay harshly. He was fined $10,000 and forced to attempt a "confession" of his misdeeds at a team meeting before the next day's game. (In Japan, players regularly participate in emotionally charged self-criticism sessions.) McKay's fine was doubled when a transcript of his confession--"Fellas, I flat-out fucked up, and I promise it won't happen again, at least until we win another game, which doesn't seem likely for a good while"--reached the team's top brass in Tokyo. Another longtime team figure who was negatively affected by the new regime was team manager Mickey "Mouse" Claub, a popular figure with fans who was forced by team executives to undergo a stringent weight-loss program in the early weeks of the season. Shortly after the All-Star break, Claub began to wear a bandage over his right eye, claiming he had injured himself while shaving. Days later, Brewers General Manager Yo Lee Kao fired Claub for cheating on his diet. He revealed that Claub's injury was caused not by careless grooming but by a bratwurst, which had exploded in the manager's face outside the Polka Pavilion during the city's annual MilwaukeeFest.

The Brewers' shaky absentee- ownership status, coupled with the team's humiliating 5-155 record last season--a measure of futility unprecedented in the history of organized baseball--caused for a sour mood among fans. By mid-August, season ticketholders were regularly staging mock suicide attempts around the ballpark. Most of the incidents Oakland A's

The biggest change between this season and last for Oakland will be the absence of manager Morton "Salt" Lick III, who during the winter was nominated to the United States Supreme Court. When it was learned that Lick's confirmation hearings would overlap with most of spring training and the first month of the season, the A's asked for Lick's resignation.

On principle, Lick first attempted to fight the action in court, but was dissuaded from further legal action when several thousand season ticketholders signed a petition asking him to leave:

"We, the undersigned, believe that Morton `Salt' Lick III would do a heck of a lot less damage in Washington making laws for the whole country than he has been doing here. He has no control of his players, he has absolutely no clue as to how to run a pitching staff and he wouldn't know a decent line-up if they walked past one at a time and kneed him in the nuts, though we do hear he's a whiz at making dramatic objections in court during speeding-ticket cases. In other words, you're outta here, Lickster!"

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Cap'n Dave