By Paul Arnett

Friday, October 30, 1998

In this game, one strike
and you could be out

RECENTLY, I've been trying to track down the head programmer for EA Sports to see what he thinks of my new computer game, "Picket Fences." But so far, no reply.

In this game, you have a choice of being the owner, general manager, coach or player of any professional team, knowing there could be some kind of work stoppage at any point of your computerized season.

Let's say you choose to be the owner of the New York Yankees. Because there's no salary cap and you reside in one of the greatest sports cities on planet Earth, you have a $100 million budget that allows you to sign any and all free agents on the open market.

All of this money lets you make bad-to-the-bone decisions -- like trading Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners for designated hitter Ken Phelps -- and still be able to compete for the World Series.

But be prepared my friend. Even if you win the first 100 games, the threat of a strike is always present. You'll be thinking, I've got this World Series bagged and tagged, and then -- bang -- the game crashes like the stock market in 1929.

The only way you can bring the game back up is to successfully negotiate a strike settlement within a certain amount of time. If you fail, your record season is erased from your Sony Play Station memory card, forcing you to start over.

I'D give you a few hints of what it's like to be The Boss, but I want you to experience these meetings for yourself. Sit across from union head Donald Fehr and let him tell you how Bernie Williams' demands to be the first $100 million man are perfectly acceptable in today's major-league market.

You also get to sit through a long parade of players telling you what a great guy Curt Flood was, and how do you like your antitrust exemption now? You'll know frustration first hand.

I prefer the NBA portion of my new computer game. It has a sense of timing to it that makes you feel like you're right on the cutting edge.

I recommend you choose Latrell Sprewell. Oh, this guy is the best when it comes to understanding how a bunch of pituitary cases can say the average salary of $2 million a year simply isn't enough.

Get this. I programmed Sprewell to be the only player who can attack his coach, then sue the team and the league for suspending him for something that would have landed him in jail in real life.

But even I didn't have the foresight to allow him to sue his agent for failure to negotiate a salary protection clause for pay lost as a result of assaulting his coach. Wow, even the HAL 9000 computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey" would have to open the pod bay doors on that one.

AND of course, you can always be a general manager in the National Football League. I would recommend choosing Bobby Bethard of the San Diego Chargers because his survival is in doubt.

Granted, there will be rumors that at any moment Mike Holmgren will say he's leaving Green Bay to take your job. But you must persevere.

In Ryan Leaf, you have one of the future greats at quarterback, but you also have an offense that doesn't work with Kevin Gilbride at the helm. So you fire him.

You try your best to ease the transition by convincing offensive coordinator June Jones to be your main man. But what can you do if the guy would rather be the head coach at Hawaii rather than at San Diego?

I'll leave you to figure it out once EA Sports calls me to confirm that my computer game will be on the shelves in time for the Christmas season.

It's sure to be a holiday treat for sports fans everywhere. Where else can you pretend to be Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones one minute and Miami Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson the next?

To quote some long lost Madison Avenue writer who probably is sweeping streets these days, "It's in the game."

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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