Anywhere but here

1998 was a great year for sports...just not in Dallas

In late spring, the Dallas Stars posted the best record in the National Hockey League, bringing to Reunion Arena the vaunted Presidents' Trophy. By June, they filled the trophy with frustration, losing to the Detroit Red Wings in a series that found the boys from Hockeytown shutting out the Stars to begin and end the six-game series that really wasn't much of one.

In September, the Texas Rangers barely won the American League West for the second time in three years, and the baseball world shrugged. Juan Gonzalez would eventually win yet another AL Most Valuable Player award, but it wouldn't mean much after the Rangers were absolutely humiliated by the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. Shut out, blanked, destroyed--as in, Texas scored a single run in three games against the Yanks.

And the Dallas Mavericks...well, they are best left to amnesia, save, perhaps, for that magical March night at Reunion Arena when Michael Jordan came to town and found out his cologne smelled like embarrassment. But the Mavericks' win against the eventual (ho-hum) world champs is such a distant memory, it's like a dream barely remembered months after the fact. It belongs to another time--one that hinted that perhaps the worst was behind us, that eight seasons of shame might lead to a better tomorrow. Wins over the Seattle Supersonics and the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks revealed that beneath the facade of disgrace were some men more talented than their pitiful record revealed.

Michael Finley and Cedric Ceballos (who likely will not even be back in a Mavericks uniform) performed on March 12 against Chicago as though it were Game Seven of the NBA Finals. They dropped shots that children dream about making when they lace up on the blacktop. Imagine taking on the best who ever played and proving that on that night, you were even better. But that moment has long since been lost to one more pitiful record--20 what-the-hell wins, 62 demoralizing losses--and a 1998-'99 season that appears as though it will never materialize. Oh, well.

At least there will be no shame on the Reunion Arena floor till next year...if then. If anything, those who have suffered are the concession stand workers and ushers and ticket-sellers and other little people who find themselves locked out by billionaires to stand with the millionaires out in the cold of winter. For their sakes, and only their sakes, pray the lockout ends sooner rather than later.

Leave Reunion to the Dallas Stars, who close the year as the best team in the NHL: unbeaten in 11 games after Saturday night's win over the Colorado Avalanche. Coach Ken Hitchcock has, once more, proven to be the master of the Team Concept. Not even Brett Hull, a man whose talent is bested only by his mouth, could destroy what Hitchcock so gloriously, so deliberately built the moment he convinced Mike Modano to play defense as well as offense.

If the Stars don't win the Stanley Cup this season, especially after having beaten the Red Wings three times already this season (and twice at Joe Louis Arena, where Stars wins have been as rare as real strands of hair on Jerry Jones' head), then Tom Hicks will be the proud owner of a car that makes it out of the driveway but never to the highway. Modano insisted last year that the Stars' early exit from the playoffs did not signify "a wasted season." He will not be able to make such a claim should the same thing happen in 1999.

Speaking of which: When Hicks announced on January 7 he was buying the Rangers for $250 million, he spoke often of his desire to go out and sign a premier pitcher who would help get Texas not just to the first round of the playoffs, but beyond. Sitting in his plush office last February, Hicks often mentioned the name Randy Johnson, repeated it as though he could will the ace onto the mound at the Ballpark in Arlington. But Johnson and Roger Clemens and ex-Ranger Kevin Brown and so many other starting pitchers have since come and gone in free agency and draft rumors. So too has Todd Stottlemyre, who joins Johnson on the Arizona Diamondbacks squad. So much for buying the future.

Instead, a ghost of Christmas past returns five years after his agent decided Tom Schieffer wasn't offering his boy enough scratch to stay at home. There is no doubt that Rafael Palmeiro's a good ballplayer, but, uh, how many World Series rings did he win in Baltimore? Same as you did, sport. Perhaps Doug Melvin and Tom Schieffer know something you and I do not, something about fielding--and not pitching--winning baseball games. Tell that to Kevin Elster, who returned to the Rangers last spring an embraced hero and left in the middle of the summer a forgotten, discarded sacrifice. Or newly acquired starter Mark Clark, who comes from the Chicago Cubs bearing a 4.84 ERA. Funny thing: The Rangers' biggest acquisition so far this winter is a Heisman Trophy winner named Ricky Williams, who Hicks purchased for $100,000 from Montreal.

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