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The balance of power shifted in '92

Old players moved on _ to new teams, to new careers and beyond _ and new ones came to take their place. Records fell, barriers were broken and so were a lot of hearts.

They were broken in Tampa Bay when the Seattle Mariners stayed put. They pounded wildly when we heard that a deal had been reached to buy the San Francisco Giants and move them here. And as Major League Baseball ponders the fate of that team and this area, our hearts skip an occasional beat.

Twenty-six teams in 24 cities revel in victories, agonize over defeats. Grand slams and triple plays; wild pitches and no-hitters; heroes and goats, just as it has been in small towns and big cities for more than a century. As always, baseball goes on.

Without a commissioner for the moment. Yes, 1992 was typically turbulent for the national pastime as its owners pushed Fay Vincent out the door, clearing the way for a restructuring of the commissioner's office and for a contract dispute with the players' union and, perhaps, a lockout to disrupt the start of the 1993 season.

But that is the future. The season past was, like those before it, filled with the best of the game and the worst of the people in it.

Vincent, saying he would rather not drag the sport into a legal battle, resigned as commissioner on Sept. 7, four days after a no-confidence vote from the owners. "I've concluded that resignation _ not litigation _ should be my final act as commissioner in the best interests of baseball," Vincent wrote in a three-page letter to the owners.

His views of the "best interests" _ of the fans as well as the game _ were his undoing. He said he would intervene if the owners locked out the players next year. And when he ordered National League realignment to coincide with the addition of expansion teams in Miami and Denver, the Cubs' parent company sued Vincent to prevent the switch from East to West.

With Vincent gone, the NL un-realigned and the suit was dropped.

Locally, Vincent was not viewed as a friend. He opposed the shift of the Mariners from Seattle to Tampa Bay, and got his wish when the team was sold for $100-million to a Japanese-backed group. Tampa Bay fans could at least take pleasure in knowing they hadn't wound up with the American League's worst team.

Vincent also reinstated Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, banned for his dealings with a known gambler, suspended Yankees pitcher Pascual Perez for one year following two positive tests for cocaine, and suspended another Yankee pitcher, Steve Howe, for life _ the first player ever permanently banned from baseball because of drugs.

Vincent took some heat when he reportedly threatened to discipline Yankees manager Buck Showalter and general manager Gene Michael for not supporting baseball's drug policy after they testified in Howe's behalf.

The Yankees rose to mediocrity in 1992 and the Mets fell below it. Boston and Los Angeles, contenders a year ago, also crashed, the Dodgers finishing last for the first time since 1905. The world champion Twins couldn't repeat as AL West champs as Oakland won the division for the fourth time in five years.

Toronto, Atlanta and Pittsburgh were repeat champs, with Milwaukee chasing the Blue Jays and Montreal the Pirates down to the wire. The Reds went down fighting _ each other. Manager Lou Piniella wrestled reliever Rob Dibble in the clubhouse.

One of the Dodgers' few bright spots: Kevin Gross pitched the year's lone no-hitter, against the Giants. (In the Florida State League, Andy Carter of Clearwater and Scott Bakkum of Winter Haven pitched no-hitters against each other. Clearwater won 1-0).

Texas (Bobby Valentine out, Toby Harrah in), Montreal (Tom Runnells out, Felipe Alou in) and San Diego (Greg Riddoch out, Jim Riggleman in) changed managers in midstream, and California staggered through half the season without Buck Rodgers, injured when the Angels' bus, heading to Baltimore from New York, crashed in New Jersey in May.

Milwaukee's Robin Yount and Kansas City's George Brett became the 17th and 18th players in baseball history to get 3,000 career hits, certifying their credentials as future Hall of Famers.

Pitchers Tom Seaver, Rollie Fingers and Hal Newhouser and the late umpire Bill McGowan were inducted into the Hall of Fame _ and Pete Rose, in what would have been his first year of eligibility, wasn't.

Bo Jackson, the first modern athlete to star in both pro football and baseball, sat out the season after hip-replacement surgery. Deion Sanders, emulating the Bo of old, shuttled back and forth in Atlanta between the Braves and the Falcons.

Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan, despite a subpar year, said he would be back in 1993 for a record 27th big-league season. But Montreal catcher Gary Carter waved goodbye from second base, going out a hero in his final home game with a game-winning double, and 1988 Dodgers World Series hero Kirk Gibson was waived by Pittsburgh.

The Pirates picked up Gibson to fill the void left when Bobby Bonilla signed with the Mets. The Twins got pitcher John Smiley after 1991 World Series hero Jack Morris signed with Toronto. The Blue Jays also picked up Dave Winfield from California, the Mets got Bret Saberhagen from Kansas City and Eric Davis went from the Reds to the Dodgers (and, along with Darryl Strawberry, onto the disabled list for most of the season).

Gary Sheffield fled Milwaukee and found happiness (and nearly a Triple Crown) in San Diego, George Bell went from Wrigley Field (Cubs) to Comiskey Park (White Sox), the Yanks lost Steve Sax to the White Sox and got Danny Tartabull from Kansas City, and the Royals got Wally Joyner from the Angels. Among this year's "comeback" players: Cardinals pitchers Joe Magrane and Todd Worrell and Houston hurler Doug Jones.

As the pennant races heated up, Atlanta acquired career saves leader Jeff Reardon from Boston and the Blue Jays got NL strikeout leader David Cone from the Mets. But in the blockbuster deal of the year, Oakland shipped slugger Jose Canseco to Texas for outfielder Ruben Sierra, two pitchers and $500,000. Canseco also made headlines in Miami when he was arrested for chasing his estranged wife's car, ramming it twice and spitting on her window.

Sierra can become a free agent after the season. So can Barry Bonds, the Pirates star who signed a $4.7-million, one-year contract for '92. So can the Cubs' Greg Maddux, who rejected a five-year contract worth an estimated $28-million.

The Cubs did sign Ryne Sandberg to a $28.4-million, four-year contract and Baltimore signed Cal Ripken Jr. for the next six years for $30.5-million, two reasons the average 1992 baseball salary was $1,084,408. And Boston's Jack Clark, in the middle of an $8.7-million, three-year contract, filed for bankruptcy because of what his lawyer called "expensive hobbies."

Florida prosecutors decided not to file charges against three Mets players accused of raping a New York City woman at the end of 1991 spring training at Port St. Lucie, and Brewers relief pitcher Julio Machado, accused of murder in Venezuela, reached an out-of-court settlement in Caracas with the parents of the slain woman, agreeing to pay her parents about $38,000 in civil damages.

Jean R. Yawkey, majority owner of the Red Sox, died. So did Billy Herman, a Hall of Fame second baseman for the Cubs and Brooklyn Dodgers; and Sandy Amoros, defensive hero of Brooklyn's only world championship in 1955; and Bernice Gera, the first female umpire in professional baseball; and James F. Healey, a St. Petersburg business and civic leader who, as a member of the Pinellas Sports Authority, led financial planning for the Florida Suncoast Dome.

Hurricane Andrew wrecked the Indians' new $18-million spring-training camp in Homestead, and the firestorm following the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles caused the Dodgers and Giants to postpone a few home games.

And Hollywood gave us three more baseball movies _ John Goodman in Babe, Geena Davis, Madonna and Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, and Tom Selleck in Mr. Baseball. Selleck and fellow actor Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams, Bull Durham) also cavorted in a Legends of Baseball game at St. Petersburg's Al Lang Stadium.