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Baseball: Winter heralds major league madness

Sport can be strange and unpredictable. It can be eccentric and bizarre. Rarely though does it descend to the levels of certifiable insanity being plumbed by Major League Baseball.

Imagine Arsenal giving Arsene Wenger his marching orders, or Manchester United announcing that Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Dennis Irwin, Andy Cole et al had to be sold. That is what happening as America's national pastime goes into the winter break.

Last week Davey Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles was named the American League manager of the year, after a 98-64 regular season in which the Orioles led their division throughout. Within three hours Johnson had been sacked, the third manager to suffer that fate at the hands of the Os owner, Peter Angelos, in four years.

Ostensibly, the reason was a row over a charity donation. In truth it was Angelos' refusal to countenance anyone with a mind of their own. So he jettisoned Johnson, owner of the best career record of any active major league manager.

But the 1997 world champions, the Florida Marlins, are behaving equally weirdly. They have put the whole team up for sale. This time the reason is salary costs, even though Marlins' owner, Wayne Huizenga, of Blockbuster Video fame, is one of the richest men in America. The team's best hitter, Moises Alou, has already been traded. "The fans won't like it," said a spokesman, "but they're all available."

Baseball has not yet gone completely mad. Yesterday Ken Griffey Jnr, the Seattle Mariners outfielder generally reckoned the best all-round player in the game, was unanimously voted AL's Most Valuable Player on the basis of his 56 home runs and 147 RBI's. Which means the Mariners will probably get rid of him.