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A Rocket shot fired at Gordie

Whether it takes another 40 years to be friends again with his rival from the 1950s, Maurice Richard stands by his criticism of Gordie Howe's hockey comeback.

"I won't go back on what I said," Richard wrote in his weekly column Sunday in Montreal La Presse.

Richard, 75, insisted that the 69-year-old Howe's plans to play one shift for the Syracuse Crunch in an April 1 American Hockey League game were "ridiculous" and "a publicity stunt."

"Howe had a funny answer to what I said _ that it took him 40 years to get to like me and that I ruined it all in one sentence," Richard wrote.

"I can tell him one thing: If it takes another 40 years, we might as well give it up. Neither of us will live that long."

Bossing the Boss

When Eddie Layton first met Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner, he discovered they shared two things in common.

Layton, who will celebrate 30 years as the Yankee Stadium organist next month, owns a tugboat _ affectionately called E, which he sails on the Hudson River _ while Steinbrenner owns a fleet of tugboats as part of his shipbuilding business.

"And he plays the organ," Layton said.

One still has to wonder how Layton has survived the Steinbrenner years while so many others have not.

To hear Layton tell the story, he once "fired" the man known as The Boss.

It was six years ago. A new sound system had been installed at the stadium, and Layton was testing it to see how well his music sounded in the vast Bronx ball park.

"George came out of his office when he heard me playing," Layton said. "He said, "Eddie, move over.'

"

He started thumbing through the music and began playing the organ. He was playing perfectly, really. "I asked him if he would play for five to 10 minutes so I could walk around the stadium and see what I sounded like.

"I walked around the first-base side, I said, "Not bad.' I walked over to the third base side. "Not bad.' I walked back to my booth and he looked up and said, "What do you think of my playing?'

"I looked at him for a moment," recalled Layton, "and I said, "George, you're fired!' "

Out! I'm not in yet!

Fortuna Sittard midfielder Mark van Bommel made Dutch soccer history last week when he became the first player ever sent off before he even took the field. Van Bommel was warming up to come in as a substitute when he started insulting a linesman over a penalty call that put PSV Eindhoven 1-0 ahead. The linesman reported Van Bommel to the referee, who showed him the red card. PSV held on for the 1-0 win to stay in first place.

A big fish tale

Sporting Classics magazine's story about a world-record largemouth bass caught in a South Carolina lake hooked a lot of people until the disclosure last week that it was actually a 22-pound, 7-ounce premature April Fool's joke.

The Columbia, S.C., magazine's March-April issue featured an article about angler Roy Greer catching a 22-pound, 7-ounce bass Feb. 17 in Walker's Slough along the Savannah River on a lure his nephew carved.

If true, the fish would have been a largemouth world record. The late George Perry holds the real record, a 22-pound, 4-ounce bass landed in Montgomery Lake near Lumber City, Ga., in 1932.

Sporting Classics

editor Chuck Wechsler, recalling Sports Illustrated's 1985 April Fool's hoax about a pitcher who threw a 185-mph fastball, had wanted for years to publish an April 1 spoof about an old-timer's record bass.

"I couldn't do it until we had technology to make a 13- pound, 4-ounce Florida bass look like a 22-pound and 7-ounce bass," Wechsler said.

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