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There Were No Victors, and Hockey Was the Loser

IN the mad, mad, mad world of National Hockey League labor negotiations, a resolution to end the league's 103-day shutdown was reached about 24 hours after the so-called final, final, final contract deadline had passed Tuesday noon. Getting the players to ratify the new collective-bargaining deal by today is seen as a formality. A season shortened from 84 to 48 games per team could begin a week from Friday, but probably not without a lot of confusion at NHL box offices.

Neither side declared victory after labor and management reached a compromise, but a number of players said they felt the union had to bend more than the owners. The players, however, held firm in not allowing a salary cap.

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This may have been the worst of all years to shut down: The league was on a roll after a successful Sunbelt expansion, enhanced television coverage, and the long-awaited ascendancy of the New York Rangers, a Stanley Cup champion assured of major-media exposure. The league has even received a boost from the popularity of in-line roller skating.

The NHL was making its move to attain the same widespread popularity in North America as baseball, football, and basketball. Now it must regroup quickly, but will playing a 48-game regular season satisfy fans or only alienate those who believe a fuller slate is needed to legitimize things? That is the $64,000 question, with several zeros thrown on the end.

The fact is, some view the regular season as little more than a glorified exhibition, since most teams make the playoffs anyway. A shorter run-up to the playoffs may please these people. The shorter schedule may breathe more life into the regular season. ``I think the games will be more intense,'' says Bob Corkum of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. ``Every game will take on such importance.''

In the meantime, the baseball strike that wiped out last October's playoffs and World Series remains unresolved. Spring training is scheduled to start Feb. 16, but there is little sign of progress in contract negotiations. The Toronto Blue Jays will hold tryouts for strikebreakers this weekend in California, and other clubs are formulating contingency plans.

Touching other bases

* When Mike Schmidt is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame July 30, some of the sport's establishment figures may squirm. That's because Schmidt, a third baseman who received more Hall of Fame votes than any player in history, plans to invite former Philadelphia teammate Pete Rose to attend his Cooperstown, N.Y., enshrinement. The major leagues banned Rose for life in 1989 for allegedly betting on games. ``His exile has gone on long enough,'' Schmidt says of Rose, who plans to be in Cooperstown preceding the induction ceremony to attend a card show.

* If the Los Angeles Lakers were beginning to swagger about being one of the National Basketball Association's hottest teams, Monday's 129-83 loss to Portland, the team's most lopsided loss ever, brought them down to earth.

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* For various reasons, Olympic competitions incorporate age restrictions. Boxers, for example, must be between 17 and 32, meaning reigning heavyweight champion George Foreman would be ineligible. The 1968 Olympic champion, now 46, regained the heavyweight title in November that he first won in 1973, a feat that earned him selection this week as the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.

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