December 30, 1996

The New Year is a salary holdout. Negotiations have broken down,
and there is a serious possibility that 1997 will not make its
debut on Jan. 1. The issue is money.

Spurred by the big contracts that lured Shaquille O'Neal to Los
Angeles, Wayne Gretzky to New York, Albert Belle to Chicago and
Roger Clemens to Toronto, the New Year has declared itself a
free agent. The White House says it is "keeping a close eye on
things" as the clock ticks down.

"All we want is what a bright New Year should be worth," agent
David Falk, who represents 1997, said on Sunday. "Just think of
the promise and possibility that this New Year brings to the
table. We think that this year can be bigger and better than any
year in recent memory."

"Hah," acting baseball commissioner Bud Selig, representing the
world at large, replied. "This is not an Olympic year. This
isn't even a World Cup year. There's no reason to break the
bank. We have an overall salary structure to consider. Think of
all the years past. None of them has ever made the demands of
this New Year."

No New Year has ever failed to begin work on Jan. 1. Not even
during two world wars or the Depression was the sequence
altered. The Old Year simply left. The New Year simply arrived.
No other New Year has ever had an agent. Officials and sports
fans everywhere wonder about the consequences. "If there's no
New Year, does that mean there's no New Year's Day?" asks Rose
Bowl queen Jennifer Halferty of Pasadena. "Is there no parade?
No game? What happens to Arizona State and Ohio State, not to
mention Florida State and Florida the next day in New Orleans?
How will we determine who's Number 1?"

"I've already invested a lot of money in the New Year," Jerry
Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, said. "I gave Belle a
fortune to come here. This was supposed to be our year. Now I'm
supposed to fork over some more bucks? Come on."

This is a problem. Virtually every team in every sport has
already promised its supporters that the New Year is going to be
a much better year. Stuck with the Old Year--1996--most would be
in trouble. The Chicago Bulls, the Colorado Avalanche or the New
York Yankees might be fine, but what about the New Jersey Nets,
the New York Jets or the Ottawa Senators?

"I know I don't want to stay with 1996," said Jets coach Rich
Kotite, who announced his resignation last week. "I would appeal
to the Supreme Court to get out of it if I had to. Something
about cruel and unusual punishment."

When negotiations began during the first week of September, the
gulf between the two sides was obvious. Falk, hired by the New
Year because he also represents Michael Jordan, Alonzo Mourning
and other assorted NBA stars, pointed out the success of 1996,
listing world records and championships and full houses at many
athletic events. He said '96 "should be walking away with a
fortune" but was receiving nothing. This fate would not befall
his client. Selig laughed and made his now famous quote: "Sir, I
knew 1996, and this New Year is no 1996." There has been little
movement since.

Falk's demand on behalf of 1997 is for "all the money in the
world or the same amount Michael Jordan will make, whichever is
larger." Selig's offer is an incentive-laden contract with cash
bonuses for, say, a perfect game or a tight pennant race in
baseball, an American winning the Tour de France, a Triple Crown
winner in horse racing, a Grand Slam winner in golf or tennis.
Nothing would be guaranteed for the New Year.

"You should be paid if you produce," Selig said. "That's the
American way."

"Money up front, that's the American way," Falk countered.
Noted sports sociologists Dan Dierdorf, Tim McCarver and Billy
Packer said the situation is another indication of the moral
decay of our time. Dierdorf linked it to the prevent defense,
McCarver to the designated hitter and Packer to freshman
eligibility. Ferdie Pacheco, the fight doctor, noted that "women
are fighting on undercards, 17 different men are supposed to be
the heavyweight champion, and now the New Year wants big bucks.
Where does it end?"

"There was no great cash payout for those hard, tough years,
like 1941 and 1934," The New York Times said in an editorial.
"Money was the furthest thing from the mind during those
psychedelic years in the '60s. Even during the Me-First '80s,
the New Year didn't arrive with a salary demand. Our advice is
to hang tough. We shall see what we shall see."

No one has seen the New Year during the controversy. It is
rumored to be a good-looking year, but no one can say for sure.
A statement, however, was released by the Old Year: "I just hope
everything can be resolved in time and I can leave my post at
midnight, December 31. I don't want to take sides. I suppose I'm
like everyone else--my wish for 1997 simply is that it will be a
Happy New Year."

More to follow on this story.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: EVANGELOS VIGLIS [Drawing of baby with "1997" sash and rattle bearing "$" sign]