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We’re less than two weeks away from opening day, so it’s prediction time. Who’s going to win each division? Who will win the World Series? Who will take the MVP and Cy Young awards? How the hell should I know? Does anybody get these predictions right? With injuries, fluctuations in performance, Ron Washington making out lineups while snorting a few lines of his “manager’s little helper” and other unforeseen circumstances, it’s anybody’s guess. So I’ll take the safer route and make my prognostications for the 1972 season instead. It’s way more of a sure thing that way.

The young, upstart A’s are looking like a lock to take the AL West, after winning the division last season. I foresee that they will all grow mustaches and wear green-and-gold uniforms this year. Vida Blue’s holdout will lead to a poor season for him, but I’ll go out on a limb and predict I’ll write him a nice letter a few years later and he’ll graciously send me his autograph. In the East, Detroit will just beat out Boston by a half game, but will lose to Oakland in the playoffs, when a hungover Billy Martin will mysteriously put backup catcher Duke Sims in left field in the deciding game five. Reggie Jackson will tear his hamstring stealing home, though, and miss the World Series, while Martin will order his pitchers to throw at Bert Campaneris’ legs, which will lead to the Oakland shortstop throwing his bat at Lerrin LaGrow’s head. In the National League, the defending champion Pirates will once again win the East. I predict I’ll become so mesmerized by their cool uniforms and exciting players that I’ll trade my giant stack of Yankees baseball cards to my little brother for his tiny pile of Pirates cards. I’ll regret it the next day and, nice guy that he is, he’ll agree to undo the swap. Cincinnati will take the NL West crown and beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs, and I also have a feeling that decades later Joe Morgan will go on to declare that he’s the greatest second baseman in the history of baseball every Sunday night for 20 years.

As I look into my crystal ball, I see the Swingin’ A’s upsetting the Reds in seven games in the World Series, with Gene Tenace belting four home runs and winning the MVP. I also foresee him being mentioned in the book Moneyball 31 years later as an example of someone who nobody thought was a good hitter at the time because of his low batting average even though he consistently had a high on-base percentage. We’ll assume then that he won the World Series MVP, started in the 1975 All-Star game and was one of the first big-money free agents because of his fielding. My predictions for the season MVP and Cy Young awards: Dick Allen (AL), Johnny Bench (NL), Gaylord Perry (AL, and I have a hunch that six years later he’ll win the award in the NL, becoming the first pitcher to win the Cy Young in both leagues) and Steve Carlton (NL). So there you have it. Sure, some of these predictions seem curiously specific, but I just have a strange feeling in my gut (though that could just be the chicken fried chicken speaking).

Here are the top stories in the world of New York sports this past week:

Thyroid Schmyroid: In a rare bit of good news for the Mets, Jose Reyes is back in camp and has resumed baseball activities. The original recuperation time was two to eight weeks, and it turned out to be about three weeks. The best-case scenario is not something that usually happens in Met Land. Reyes may even be ready for opening day, but it’s always a possibility he could be diagnosed with osteoporosis or leprosy next, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

An Armload of Trouble: The questionable starting rotation for the Mets has remained questionable all spring, as they’re all getting rocked this preseason, and even Johan Santana has had a few struggles (but it’s still March, not April, so I’ll try not to panic). Mike Pelfrey was kind of enough to take the mound for the Nationals’ annual home run derby on Monday, and John Maine and Oliver Perez have been up and down all spring long. On the bright side, they’re all healthy. On the negative side, they might all stink. If the starting five were Santana, Hisanori Takahashi, Jon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Fernando Nieve, would that be any worse than the team’s projected rotation? Probably, but I just thought I’d throw it out there. But once the season starts no one will remember anything that happened in spring training anyway. At least I won’t. And it looks like Jenrry Mejia has made the team as a reliever, even though he should probably head back down to the minors to be a starting pitcher.

A Carload of Trouble: The sad, pathetic tale of Dwight Gooden continues, as he’s in trouble again. He was arrested on a DUI charge in New Jersey on Tuesday. I kind of know what he’s going through, though, as he fights his demons – I’ve been addicted to old-time baseball for years now (see above for exhibit A). I once completely forgot I was behind the wheel of my car while I was thumbing through an old Baseball Digest from 1978 and drove through all the backyards in my neighborhood, right through somebody’s house, into a river and then back home without even noticing. Actually that might have been an old Mr. Magoo cartoon, but you get the point.

And the Winner Is: Phil Hughes is officially the fifth starter in the Yankees rotation. He gave up a smattering of runs in his outing on Monday (including the game-winning homer to old Met Wilson Valdez), but supposedly had some of his best stuff of the spring. It turns out it was pretty much his job to lose from the beginning. That’s most likely the right decision in the short and long term for the Yanks. Curtis Granderson was named the starting center fielder, but in a surprising development, 70-year-old Danny Cater beat out Mark Teixeira for the first base job.

Still Hanging in There: It looked like the end of the line for the Rangers when they lost to the Bruins, 2-1, on Sunday (they could only score one goal even though they had a ton of power play time, including a four-minute two-man advantage, and watching the Rangers play defense is like watching a bunch of five year olds play soccer – they all just run to the puck and forget about everything else that’s going on around them; and we had to watch the whole painful thing on NBC, which is a study in the good and bad of sports broadcasting: the good – listening to the smooth, silky tones of Mike Emrick, who I think at one point even said a player “shelaleighed the puck” as he hit it a few times in the air – how do you come up with that off the top of your head?; the bad – that bonehead Mike Milbury – who in their right mind would give this guy a job? . . . that was one long parenthetical, sorry), but on Wednesday and Thursday against their local rivals, the Rangers were exciting, energetic, tough, relentless and resilient, everything they haven’t been this season. Ok, that may be stretching things a bit since the Islanders just flat-out stunk that night (the Isles also lost to Anaheim and LA this week before beating Calgary last night, despite Eric Nystrom‘s goal in his first-ever game on Long Island), and their main objective seemed to be to take runs at Sean Avery. Opponents hate Avery so much that they take turns taking cheap shots at him while they march off one by one to the penalty box as the Rangers go on a power play. And last night’s win over New Jersey (who were shut out by St. Louis and beat Columbus, 6-3, this week) was mainly due to Henrik Lundqvist, though the team never gave up and showed some real passion for a change. And the Rangers are still miraculously hanging around in the playoff hunt, with eight games to go.

Two Out of Three: The Knicks beat Philly on Friday, with the Toney Douglas show playing once again. He scored 13 straight points down the stretch (with a total of 22), while Danilo Gallinari pumped in 25. On Sunday, Tracy McGrady’s revenge on his old team backfired, as a couple of former Knicks (Jared Jeffries and Jordan Hill) got some payback on their old team. Refuting Hill’s claim that Mike D’Antoni doesn’t like to play rookies, the Knicks coach responded, “I don’t like to play bad rookies.” Zing. But isn’t it part of D’Antoni’s job to develop players? Especially on this bad Knicks team? Sure, they were trying to make the playoffs, but that stretch lasted, oh, about 10 days. The Knicks finished their week with one of their best wins of the year, though, beating powerhouse Denver, 109-104, with Gallinari outdueling Carmelo Anthony. The two looked like they spent the last two quarters trash talking, but they were really just swapping recipes. Gallinari’s osso buco is legendary in the Knick locker room.

The Countdown Continues: The Nets won! They now have 11 more chances to win two games to avoid the dubious distinction of being known as the worst team ever. A fan was reamed out by a Net executive for wearing a bag on his head at Tuesday’s game. The real reason the perturbed CEO was angry? That was the bag he was carrying his snacks in, and the fan stole it. Here are some other ideas for fans of losing teams to try instead of the tried-and-true bag over the head: hide under your seat the whole game, watch the game naked therefore distracting everyone from the disgraceful team on the court, wear a cool Dumb Donald−style hat and, last but not least, cram a meatloaf over your head – at least you won’t go hungry during the game.

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