A MYSTERY HALF-SOLVED
Charges against five of the six thoroughbred trainers whose horses allegedly tested positive for cocaine after races at California tracks last fall and winter (SI, Feb. 27) were dropped by the California Horse Racing Board last week for lack of evidence. CHRB executive secretary Leonard Foote said that after consulting with chemists, pharmacologists and attorneys, the board determined that it could not establish that the horses involved had been given cocaine.
The CHRB's drug-testing firm, Truesdail Laboratories of Tustin, Calif., originally told the CHRB that the six urine samples in question contained traces of ecognine methyl ester (EME), one of the two metabolites produced when cocaine passes through an animal's system. The CHRB took this finding to mean that the horses had been given cocaine, and brought charges against their trainers—D. Wayne Lukas, Laz Barrera, Barrera's son Albert, Bryan Webb, Anthony Hemmerick and Roger Stein. But the CHRB subsequently learned that the quantities of EME present in five of the samples were so minute that they would be dismissed as inconclusive evidence of cocaine use if found in humans. The level of EME in the sixth sample, the one taken from Stein's horse, was five times higher, according to the CHRB. The primary cocaine metabolite, benzoyl ecognine, did not show up in any of the six samples, suggesting that, in any case, cocaine probably did not pass through the horses' systems.
Although the CHRB dismissed the charges against all the trainers except Stein, who was handed a six-month suspension, the cocaine controversy is not fully resolved. For one thing, the traces of EME found in the six samples raise the possibility that the samples were ever-so-slightly contaminated with cocaine—perhaps by handlers who used the drug—after being taken from the horses. Further, Stein, who is appealing his suspension, has filed a lawsuit seeking $25 million in damages from Truesdail for a variety of alleged wrongdoings, including laboratory malpractice.
At its executive board meetings in Des Moines last weekend, the U.S. Olympic Committee selected Salt Lake City as its nominee to host the 1998 Winter Games. Displaying unusual foresight, the USOC said it will require Salt Lake to begin construction of a speed skating oval and a bobsled/luge run in the next 18 months and to provide a permanent training center for American athletes as soon as possible.
Many observers thought that Anchorage, a losing bidder for the USOC nomination along with Denver and Reno-Lake Tahoe, might have had the best chance of getting the '98 Games because of the support it has built within the International Olympic Committee during unsuccessful efforts to land the 1992 and '94 Winter Games. But the USOC board considered Alaska too isolated to be a winter training center and was impressed by Salt Lake City's compact venues and superb organization.
The IOC will choose the '98 host city in two years. Nagano, Japan, which has strong financial backing and a full-time staff of more than 20 already in place, seems to be the early favorite. IOC voters are expected to take into account the fact that the Orient hasn't hosted a Winter Olympics since 1972, when Sapporo won out over three other candidates, including Salt Lake City.
CAUTION: WET PAINT
In the film Field of Dreams, the Shoeless Joe Jackson character looks around him at a lush, impeccably manicured baseball diamond built smack in the middle of a cornfield and asks, "Is this heaven?" Actually, it's Dyersville, Iowa, and making the diamond look so magnificent required some tricks.
The ball field was constructed in four days last July. After an overhead power line was removed, a crew chopped down about 2½ acres of corn and laid strips of sod, which were anchored with huge metal staples. Writer-director Phil Alden Robinson didn't think the Iowa soil looked red enough, so he had the mound, base paths and batters' boxes covered with brick dust. Because filming began before the sod had time to take root, the field got chewed up; Robinson had to call in a touch-up artist to paint it with green vegetable dye and latex turf paint. When the shooting was finished, workers had to go over the field with metal detectors to remove the staples, which could have damaged farm equipment.
The ballpark, much of which has since been replanted with corn, was a true field of dreams for hitters. From home plate to the first row of corn was a mere 290 feet in leftfield, 320 in center and 270 in right.
THE LAST HURRAH
SI's Steve Wulf on the retirement at 39 of the Phillies' Mike Schmidt:
Fighting back tears, Schmidt made his announcement at a press conference in San Diego. "You probably won't believe this, by the way I look right now, but this is a joyous time for me," he said. "I've had a great career."
Indeed, his was the greatest career of any third baseman ever. In 18 seasons Schmidt hit 548 home runs and won 10 Gold Gloves, and he always conducted himself with dignity. He knew it was time to quit after he waved at a ground ball against the Dodgers five days earlier. Yesterday's Mike Schmidt would have had it.
Last Saturday night at Veterans Stadium, Schmidt threw out the first ball, and the fans gave him a two-minute standing ovation. Those standees must have included a fair number of hypocrites, people who probably booed Schmidt throughout his career. It's hard to explain why they would have booed a man who brought their team five division titles, two National League pennants and its only world championship. In 1983, shortly after Philadelphia lost the World Series to the Orioles in five games, Schmidt, who had batted .050 in the Series, was booed by children who spotted him picking up his daughter from school. Even last week, on the heels of his retirement, fans were complaining on call-in shows that Schmidt had hung around just long enough to collect a $500,000 bonus for being with the club until at least May 15.
The intent here is not to open old wounds, but to note that sometimes fans—not just in Philadelphia, either—don't fully appreciate what they have until it's gone. In Schmidt, they—we, all of us—had something special.
THE COBB GAMBLING SCANDAL
Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are linked by more than their 4,000-plus hits and hell-for-leather styles. It is little remembered that 63 years ago Cobb—like Rose today—was embroiled in a gambling scandal that featured an alleged vendetta and complaints about a commissioner who was slow to act.
In 1926 retired pitcher Dutch Leonard told American League president Ban Johnson that near the end of the 1919 season, Leonard and Tiger teammate Cobb, along with Tris Speaker and Smokey Joe Wood of the Indians, had met beneath the stands in Detroit and reached an understanding that the Indians, who had clinched second place behind the White Sox, would lose to the Tigers the next day so that Detroit could finish third and claim a share of World Series money. Leonard said that to profit on the arrangement Cobb planned to bet $2,000 on the game, Leonard $1,500 and Speaker and Wood $1,000 each. In the end, Cleveland did lose, 9-5, but Cobb didn't get his money down in time, and only a small portion of the others' money was wagered.
Leonard was said to harbor grudges against both Cobb and Speaker—Cobb, the Tigers' player-manager, had released him in 1926, and Speaker, the Indians' player-manager, had refused to pick him up—but he did possess two incriminating letters from Cobb and Wood. In his letter Wood had written, "If we ever have another chance like this we will know enough to try to get [our bets] down early." Cobb had written, "Wood and myself are considerably disappointed in our business proposition."
The public didn't get wind of Leonard's accusations until Cobb and Speaker both retired unexpectedly after the '26 season. Johnson had allowed them to resign rather than make the affair public. But he gave Leonard's letters to commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who crossed Johnson by revealing them to the press. While fans clamored for a decision, Landis spent more than two months looking into the case. He deemed the charges rather old, and sensed the overwhelming public support for Cobb and Speaker. Uncharacteristically brushing off a number of questions that remained unanswered, Landis exonerated everyone involved.
To their dying days, Cobb, Speaker and Wood all denied any wrongdoing. But baseball had been rife with gambling early in their careers. As Woods told baseball historian Mark Alvarez in 1975, when he was asked about the scandal, "Things were so different then."
THEY SAID IT
•Ray Miller, Pirate pitching coach, after Astro shortstop Craig Reynolds gave up four runs in one inning in his first pitching appearance since July 17, 1986: "Reynolds just isn't effective on a thousand days' rest."