Baseball in spotlight with drug suspensions, Yankee managerial switch

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If you are wondering why Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended admitted cocaine users Steve Howe, Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens, and Jerry Martin for one year, it had to do with the lengthy period that is usually needed to cure drug abuse. While detoxification can be accomplished in only a few weeks, overcoming the problem completely often takes months.

Howe, a fastballing left-hander who won National League Rookie of the Year honors with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1980, has been one of the premier relief pitchers in the game over the past few seasons. Wilson, a lifetime .300 hitter, was a key man on Kansas City's 1980 pennant winner and won the American League batting championship in 1982. Aikens was a 1980 World Series hero, hitting .400 with four home runs in Kansas City's loss to Philadelphia, while Martin was also a member of that pennant-winning Royals club.

Wilson and Martin, who were recently convicted of drug charges, have already begun serving three-month terms in a minimum-security federal prison in Ft. Worth, Texas. They will be joined there on Jan. 3 by Aikens, who was granted a delay in his reporting time. Another former member of the Royals, pitcher Vida Blue, is also waiting to be sentenced on drug charges.

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Howe, who was suspended three times last year by the Dodgers after missing both games and planes and refusing to take drug tests, may be permitted to work out with the team both in spring training and during the regular season but appears unlikely to be allowed to play in 1984. The cases of the other three players, however, will come up for review on May 15, at which time their suspensions could be terminated. Berra thinks Yankees can win pennant

Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra, the man who really isn't that funny with words and whose reputation as a comedian was largely manufactured by the press, has been named to replace Billy Martin as manager of the New York Yankees. Martin, whose move to the Yankee front office may have been due more to health reasons than strategy ones, will continue to be paid at the rate of $450,000 a year.

Although this won't be Berra's first term as field boss at Yankee Stadium (he got fired after his only Yankee team won the 1964 American League pennant but lost the World Series to St. Louis, and he also later managed the New York Mets to a National League championship in 1973), it will be his first time under owner George Steinbrenner. George, of course, has been less than patient with his managers, Yogi representing his 11th change in the last 10 years. And if the Yankees, who finished third in the AL West in 1983 with a 91-71 record, shouldn't get away winging next season, former pilot Gene Michael, who managed the club in parts of both the 1981 and 1982 seasons, will be no farther away than the third base coaching box.

Asked about Steinbrenner's past impatience with his managers (this marking the 11th change of field pilots he has made since heading a group of partners who purchased the team in 1973), Berra told reporters: ''So what? It don't bother me. I don't get mad too quick. I listen a lot, but that don't mean I have to do it. This isn't the first time George has asked me to manage, only before I didn't feel I was ready. I think I understand our players. I've been playing baseball since I was 17 years old, and what other job is there for me? I think we've got a ball club that can win the pennant.'' Lomax on college vs. pro football

* Quarterback Neil Lomax of the St. Louis Cardinals says pro football is a lot more structured than the college game. ''At Portland State, they let me do my thing,'' Lomax said. ''It was like I owned the football. But here, in St. Louis, you do this on second and 10 and that on third and 4. Management likes it when I'm able to stay in the pocket and throw the ball, but they are never completely happy when I have to scramble, even if we get the first down.''

* From Baltimore Colts' Coach Frank Kush on Dan Marino, Miami's rookie quarterback: ''Marino is fortunate that he was drafted by an experienced team whose receivers are among the best in the league. Marino also has a great offensive line to protect him. That's a terrific situation for a young quarterback. Usually they wind up with struggling teams, and the psychological pressure they face is incredible. I don't mean that Marino isn't talented, but how many quarterbacks are fortunate enough to join a team that last year played in the Super Bowl?'' Sun, sand, surf, and soccer

Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lazers, an indoor soccer team that is lacking in customers, has invented an unusual gimmick to sell tickets. Buss is giving anyone who attends 17 of the team's final 21 home games this season (at either $8 or $12 a ticket) a round-trip plane fare to Hawaii. This is about $100 under the lowest Hawaiian fare currently available. Is there a catch? Well, sort of. People taking advantage of Buss's offer will have to check in for every game and show a driver's license or some other form of personal identification. However, there is nothing in the promotion that says they can't leave a game early. Buss reportedly has purchased a block of 750 tickets through a special deal with World Airlines. Presumably there is a parachute clause that provides Jerry with a financial bailout if enough fans don't take him up on his offer.

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