Mr. Bettman, call me a cynic

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

Phone call for Mr. Bettman:

About that salary cap the NHL owners want? I sympathize.

It'll be a great idea -- on the day it also comes with a ticket-price cap and ... click! Hello? Gary? Anybody?

RIM SHOT

Vince Carter says he wants to be traded to a winner. This is impossible.

A winner is not some place on a map; a winner is something that people make of themselves and their team.

A moving van does not equal a championship. It's not that simple. If it was, Teemu Selanne would be spending quality time with the Stanley Cup and Karl Malone would be wearing an NBA championship ring.

A DEAR JOHN LETTER

As a baseball beat writer, I once made Jimy Williams so upset he stood in the middle of a clubhouse stamping his foot and poking at my chest. We'd asked if George Bell was playing outfield that day for the Blue Jays. Next time we'll play it safe and just ask if his wife still wears those fetching army boots.

A beat writer gets used to being alternately ignored and cussed out -- like when Duane Ward wiped the clubhouse floor with our reputation because a story said his sore shoulder put his career in jeopardy.

It's just a tickle, he argued. He never pitched again.

There was the guy who hit me in the face with a plume of deodorant. He feigned accident -- but some believe he was making a (cough, hack!) statement.

Then, there was John Cerutti -- a round peg in the square conservatism that is baseball. Mention Monet to most baseball guys and they'll tell you they have a right to make as much of it as they can and they don't want no stinkin' salary cap.

Seven of 10 major-leaguers, according to the polling firm of Me, Myself and I, believe Casanova was a catcher with the Brewers who couldn't hit anything -- instead of some guy who hit on everything.

Not Cerutti. He was thoughtful. Educated. And always there to answer what went wrong, which invariably it did. A typical Cerutti outing ended after six innings and involved somehow giving up only three runs while surrendering a dozen hits and surviving bases-loaded jams, innumerable visits from a pitching coach and several walks. His favourite numbers were 3-and-2.

After one such outing he approached me the following day. "Excuse me, Bill," he said, "could I please discuss the story you wrote today."

After such a blatant attack of belligerent politeness I almost had to ask trainer Tommy Craig for the smelling salts. Quick, somebody hit me with an F-bomb. Where's George Bell, when you need him?

That was Cerutti, who died Sunday at age 44.

His locker was an oasis in what could be a sea of animosity. Anyway, it turned out I had described Cerutti as "struggling" through his outing. "I don't think you were fair to say I 'struggled,' " Cerutti said, proceeding to break down every inning. "When you look, I didn't struggle. I battled!"

Duh? Huh. There's no way to argue with such thinking.

Even then, you knew that as a baseball player, he was going to make a fine analyst.

SMART 'N' SASSY

"The Raptors couldn't have picked a more appropriate setting for Vince Carter to hold court than St. Catharines," Toronto comedian Frenchie MacFarlane said, "what with, the Niagara Region being Canada's whine capital."

THE BUMS' RUSH

Almost 25% of players on NHL rosters when the lockout started will holiday (oops!) I mean, play, in Europe.

No pressure. Meet chicks. Play a couple games. Meet chicks. Sign autographs. Meet chicks. Accept six-figure salary, otherwise referred to as pocket change. Meet chicks. Dine at Europe's finest restaurants.

Ahh, did we mention, meet chicks?

An unemployed millionaire couldn't find a better part-time gig. One problem: The exodus hints of hypocrisy.

NHL players would be aghast at replacement players taking their jobs. Yet, few seem to consider they're stealing the livelihood of players in Europe -- not to mention from the lunch-bucket brigade of Canadians who normally play as imports on European club teams.

But, then, you remember. Not through the NHL's entire history could anyone ever accuse either owners or players of being the guardians of ethics or morality.

PAPER TIGER

"Just when I was getting excited about the World Hockey Association," wrote Cam Hutchinson of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, "the rug is pulled out from over Bobby Hull."

HEY FANS! Do you have a quirky sports item? Include your name and city and e-mail it to me at: bill.lankhof@tor.sunpub.com or fax it to: 416-947-2454

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