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Potpourri of `Baseball' Opinions; Air Force's Offense Is Earthbound

HEREIN, several thoughts on Ken Burns's ``Baseball'' series on PBS, which ends Wednesday:

* Is the timing of the series good or bad? Some say bad because the public has soured on major-league baseball and moved on to other sporting preoccupations - football, primarily. Some say good because the series fills a void for fans. There's validity in both viewpoints. One hidden benefit in the timing is that it probably encourages many current striking players to tune in. Several years ago, Sports Illustrated bemoaned how little modern players know of the game's past and its significant players and contributors. Certainly the PBS series is a terrific course in baseball history for today's major-leaguers, many of whom weren't even born when Curt Flood challenged baseball's shackling reserve clause a quarter-century ago.

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* The TV series runs to 18-1/2 hours over nine evenings, which is probably too long. On the other hand, it's no more of a commitment than many viewers make when they tune in the playoffs and World Series.

* One of the great services of this series has been to introduce Americans to some wonderful people. Two who leap to mind are Rachel Robinson, the wife of Jackie Robinson, and John (Buck) O'Neil, who spent many years in the Negro Leagues before becoming a coach and scout in the integrated majors. Mrs. Robinson exudes grace, quiet strength, and dignity. She was the perfect partner to one of the foremost pioneers in American culture, and continues as a shining representative of their joint achievements.

* Still photographs can be hard to watch in great numbers on television, but as the series has shifted into classic action footage of such players as Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams, this writer has found it more riveting.

* After seeing the enthusiasm and history that surrounded baseball at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, I suggest the Queens-based New York Mets consider ways to build a new-old lookalike of the former Dodger ballpark in Brooklyn. Reuniting the borough to the majors (Brooklyn Mets?) would be wonderfully nostalgic and a fitting tribute to the great players and moments that spun out of Brooklyn's days as a major-league city.

Challenges of service-academy football

IF any college football team goes to the air often, it should be the Air Force Academy, but the team has been grounded of late. The squad is among the nation's most reluctant when it comes to ``airing it out.''

The strategy has generally worked for coach Fisher DeBerry, whose Falcons have been among the nation's most prolific rushing squads for more than a decade while compiling a 71-41-1 record. Concerns about the team's run-oriented approach grew last year, when Air Force went 4-8 despite producing the nation's fourth-best rushing offense. This season the Falcons are struggling along at 1-3, breaking into the win column Saturday with a 47-7 thumping of Texas-El Paso.

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Both Air Force and Army, last year's top major-college rushing team, employ option offenses, in which the quarterback decides either to run or pitch or hand off to the other backs.

This strategy is well suited to the personnel available at the military academies, namely disciplined athletes without the raw talent found at the ``football factories.'' ``You don't need massive people in the wishbone [attack],'' says Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry, who installed the option in 1980.

The third major military academy, Navy, has struggled more than its service brethren in recent years. But the Midshipmen's quarterbacks might pick up some pointers from former pro quarterback Doug Williams, now a Navy assistant coach.They'd better hurry up: Navy is 0-3 heading into Saturday's game against Duke.

Williams, who guided the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl victory in 1988, is the running backs' coach. Head man George Chaump became friends with Williams when both were with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chaump as an assistant coach and Williams as a player. Chaump hired Williams away from a high school job in Louisiana.

One opponent both Navy and Air Force share this year is Notre Dame. Many years ago, Navy-Notre Dame might have been worth anticipating. No longer. Navy is 0-30 against the Irish since 1964. Their series dates to 1927, and they meet for the 68th time Oct. 29 in Notre Dame Stadium.

Spain's tennis armada

THE reign of Spain falls mainly on the tennis plain, or so this year's major tournament results indicate. Spaniards have gotten hot, just as the Swedes did after Bjorn Borg passed the torch to Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, and the rest, and as the Germans managed to do when Boris Becker and Steffi Graf were simultaneously at the height of their playing powers.

Let's review the Grand Slam events: At the Australian Open, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario was runner-up to Graf. At the French Open, Sergi Bruguera beat Alberto Berasategui in an all-Spanish men's final, and Sanchez Vicario added the women's title. At Wimbledon, Conchita Martinez captured the women's crown. At the US Open, Sanchez Vicario beat Graf in singles and teamed with Jana Novotna to win the doubles.

Throw in Spain's victory in the Federation Cup, an international team competition for women, and clearly it's Spain's year.

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