Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? The young viewers of Kid's Choice, a show on the Nickelodeon cable-TV network, selected a male athlete of the year. Their choice was Hulk Hogan.
PETER THE GOOD
Peter Ueberroth announced last week that he will not accept another term as baseball commissioner after his current contract expires on Dec. 31,1989, although he will remain in the post long enough to ensure a smooth transition for his probable successor, National League president Bart Giamatti. "I'm a mountain climber by nature," Ueberroth said, "and I've already climbed this mountain."
Ueberroth joked that his legacy will be: "He, too, failed to settle the designated hitter problem." But, in truth, he will have left the game in much better shape than when he arrived, in October 1984. At that time, 21 of the 26 major league clubs were losing money; today, 22 are at least breaking even. Four years ago, baseball suffered from a staggering drug problem; today, while drugs have not been eliminated from the game, they no longer threaten its integrity.
June 19, 1988
The Pittsburgh franchise is a microcosm of what has happened in baseball in the last four years. Torn apart by drugs, the Pirates played last-place ball before 735,900 people in 1985; in 1988 the young, hustling Pirates are challenging the first-place New York Mets and are expected to draw close to 1.5 million to Three Rivers Stadium. "The turnaround in Pittsburgh is what pleases me the most about my term," said Ueberroth, who contributed to the change of direction by encouraging local interests to back the Pirates. During his tenure, he has also established strong guidelines for future expansion franchises and has helped to increase minority hirings. While Ueberroth has done some things that we do not like—he has overcommercialized the game to a certain extent—he provided baseball with strong leadership when it was most needed.
ON THE BUTTON
Dick Button, former two-time Olympic gold medalist in figure skating and ABC's resident expert on the sport, recently delivered the commencement address at Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa. Button touched on a variety of subjects: the Olympic ideal, the virtues of preparation and hard work, the adversary within oneself. At the conclusion of his speech, six faculty members seated in the front row rose and held aloft cards with numbers ranging from 3.5 to 5.9. The audience—and Button—broke up with laughter.
Button said, "The judge who gave me a 5.9 was the most intelligent, sharp, knowledgeable and unbiased in the group. The 3.5 came from someone who was clearly biased and unintelligent, and who was probably the brother-in-law of the speaker who followed me in the program."
Button also had some interesting things to say about the decision last week by the International Skating Union to drop compulsory figures from men's and women's singles in international figure skating starting in July 1990. The move was applauded by most skaters and judges, as well as by officials, who foresee a great reduction in training expenses and in the demand for ice time.
But Button, for one, will mourn the passing of the compulsories. "I think it was inevitable, but sad," he said. "The skating of figures is an art form in itself—it has nothing to do with free skating. It is, in a sense, a folk art, like the old penmanship. The quality of figures has deteriorated rapidly. The quality at the Olympics was third rate, not even second rate. There was no enthusiasm, no joie de vivre. But then nobody writes handwritten letters anymore, either."
There's also something bemusing about the elimination of compulsories. After all, the sport will still be called "figure" skating, not free skating.
WELCOME TO THE MAJORS
A few hours after he was called up from Triple A Tacoma a couple of weeks ago, Todd Burns found himself toeing the rubber at Oakland Coliseum, about to make his first major league pitch with the A's. Burns watched nervously as catcher Ron Hassey walked toward the mound to talk to him, perhaps to lend him some encouragement.
"Who," said Hassey, "are you?"
Burns pitched 1⅖ innings in relief, allowing a run and two hits while striking out four. He was sent back to Tacoma the next day.
On June 28 Jonathan Smucker turns four years old. That will be a big day not only for Jonathan but for Mary Bea Porter as well. Porter is the LPGA pro who, during a tournament round last March, jumped a fence to give Jonathan CPR after he had been pulled from a swimming pool. Last week Porter, the mother of a five-year-old boy, was given the first Mary Bea Porter Award for heroism or humanitarianism at a dinner sponsored by the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. She took the occasion to urge everyone in the banquet audience to learn how to use CPR.
The second recipient of the Mary Bea Porter Award was also honored: Greg Norman, who was cited for hosting Jamie Hutton, a 17-year-old boy seriously ill with leukemia, during the last two rounds of the Heritage Classic in April. Hutton had written Norman a fan letter and then let it be known that his dream was to meet Greg and see him play. After walking the third round with Norman, Jamie said on national TV that he would really love it if "Mr. Norman" were to win the tournament. Obligingly, the White Shark did exactly that. It was his first victory in this country in nearly two years.
Since then, the two have become close friends. They keep in touch by phone, and Norman has invited Jamie to go back home with him to Australia at the end of the year. At one point, talking about a painful bone-marrow transplant Jamie had just undergone, Norman lost his composure and struggled, through tears, to describe his young friend's bravery.
NO TORTOISES, THOUGH
Mary Decker Slaney is a renowned front-runner, so she will hardly need a rabbit when she attempts to better Maricica Puica's 2,000-meter world record at the Michelob Meet in San Diego on June 25. Yet a quick glance at the prospective field yields not one but two rabbits. They are a sophomore from UC Irvine named Buffy Rabbitt and New Zealand's champion at 3,000 meters, Anne Hare.
A TROPHY FOR THE MEN UP FRONT
Since 1946, the football writers association of America has honored those forgotten behemoths of the collegiate gridiron, interior linemen, with the annual Outland Trophy. But, wouldn't you know it, though the winner has been dutifully announced each year, there has never actually been a trophy; in recent years the winning lineman has received only a modest plaque.
All that will change next season when, for the first time, the Outland winner will be given a 10½-by-14-inch bronze sculpture of a generic lineman—in a crouching stance so he can go either way, offense or defense. No-necks or not, the nation's grunts can finally hold their heads high. The trophy, underwritten by Mercedes-Benz, is the handiwork of a man who knows whereof he sculpts. Professor James Ridlon, a department head in the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, is a former NFL defensive back, with San Francisco and Dallas. "It was really an interesting challenge," says Ridlon, who played at Syracuse. "I wanted to get the look of a player of the '40s, when the award was originally given. I also wanted to make the face ambiguous—it could be white or black—so the person who wins the trophy can see himself in it."
The original Outland plaque, which was a gigantic three by five feet, was stolen in 1967, the year it was awarded to Ron Yary, an offensive tackle at USC who later was an All-Pro with Minnesota. "I didn't know the purpose of the banquet," says Yary, attesting to the award's low profile. "They just told me to show up at the Biltmore Hotel [in Los Angeles] at 8 p.m. When I got there they gave me the award, took some pictures, and we had dinner. When we all left the room, I left the plaque there. I assumed that somebody was responsible for keeping an eye on it. It just disappeared."
Future Outland winners should be able to get a firmer grip on their awards.
THEY SAID IT
•Ben Hogan, legendary golfer, on his own competitive nature: "I dreamed one time—and this sounds crazy—that I made 17 holes in one, and on the 18th hole I lipped the cup. And I was just madder than hell."
•Stan Musial, Hall of Famer, on his position as senior vice-president of the St. Louis Cardinals: "I have a darn good job, but please don't ask me what I do."