Positive and Negative
Revelations of drug use taint the reputations of Diego Maradona and Sugar Ray Leonard
Last week was a bad one for idols. On Friday the Italian soccer federation announced that Diego Maradona, the world's most famous soccer player, had tested positive for cocaine. The next day the Los Angeles Times revealed that Sugar Ray Leonard, once the most famous boxer in the world, acknowledged during divorce proceedings last summer that he had at one time used drugs and physically abused his wife, Juanita.
News of Maradona's positive test shocked the soccer world. "I can't believe it," said Luis Islas, a teammate of Maradona's on Argentina's 1986 World Cup championship team. "I only hope that he can get out of this in the best way possible." Maradona, 30, will be suspended from international play for anywhere from six months to two years.
While Maradona went into seclusion, Leonard chose to face the truth. At a press conference in Washington, D.C., last Saturday, Leonard admitted that from 1983 to '86, when his career was on hold because of a detached retina, he had drunk heavily and used cocaine. "I can never erase the pain and scars I caused so many people through my stupidity and selfishness," he said.
Before his 1989 fight with Thomas Hearns, Leonard and Hearns appeared together in antidrug public service announcements. While those antidrug messages leave Leonard open to charges of hypocrisy, they would take on a different resonance if he was telling the truth last week when he said he has been clean for four years. That would mean that Leonard knew whereof he spoke when he cautioned people to stay away from drugs. In a way, last week's disclosures lent weight to that message. As Leonard put it in his confession, "Here is a young man that had everything in the world from money to fame, glory, a beautiful family. Why would he do that? It's almost inconceivable."
Leonard was talking about himself. He also could have been talking about Maradona.
Out of the Blue
Fernando Valenzuela is cut loose by the Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers asked Fernando Valenzuela for the ball last Thursday. After 10 full seasons, 141 victories and 2,348.2 innings, L.A. released the 30-year-old lefthander who had brought millions of people to Dodger Stadium. At 11 a.m. Valenzuela was told that manager Tommy Lasorda wanted to see him. Said the pitcher, "They called me into the office and said, 'This is very hard for us.' I said, 'What is so hard? Just say it.' So they said it. I said, 'O.K., thanks,' and that is all I said."
And so ended an era that began when Valenzuela, then a portly 20-year-old from Etchohuaquila, Mexico, pitched a five-hit shutout on Opening Day in 1981. He captured the hearts of Dodger fans and the fancy of America, and in that first season of Fernandomania, he won both the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young awards. He won 19 games in '82 and 21 games in '86. But in '88 he was sidelined with shoulder problems, and when he came back, his fastball was diminished. Still, he had enough stuff to pitch a no-hitter last June 29.
Over the objections of many people in the organization, the Dodgers signed Valenzuela to a one-year, $2.55 million contract last winter. However, it was not guaranteed, and by releasing him last week, the Dodgers are obligated to pay him only a fraction of that money. So Valenzuela, who had been shelled in his last two outings, found himself in the same boat as Pete Incaviglia and Oddibe McDowell, two other high-priced veterans cut last week to save some money.
A day after he was released, Valenzuela said, "I have heard people talk about me as if I am dead. I am not dead. In the 1980s I won with the Dodgers. In the '90s I will win with another team." He won't beg for a job, though. "If they call me in June or July, I will say, 'Sorry, I'm on the back nine.' "
Over the years, Valenzuela has come to embrace many new things, including golf. His English vocabulary is now excellent, and he has been very active in a stay-in-school program. He would be a credit to any organization, whether he could pitch or not.
Valenzuela did have one last glorious moment in Dodger blue. It came in a March 17 exhibition game with Milwaukee in Monterrey, Mexico. A sellout crowd of 29,000 came to see him pitch, and cheered wildly as he stymied the Brewers for five innings. He also got a single. After the game, Dodger owner Peter O'Malley said, "We all knew of Fernando's popularity in his country, but to come down here and see it, hear it, feel it...it is one of the most extraordinary moments in my time with the Dodgers."
Ski racing great Phil Mahre calls it quits
When Phil Mahre retired (sort of) last week, he did it with little fanfare and a lot of class. But then he has always been an unspoiled superstar who insisted on shining the light of truth on just about every aspect of his career.
At the moment of his most celebrated triumph—winning the gold medal in the slalom at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo—Mahre said, "This, to me, is just another victory. It's wrong to say this is the best day of my life. If it were, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?"
At the end of that season, he retired from World Cup competition. He was 27, indisputably the finest male ski racer the U.S. had ever produced and the winner of three consecutive overall World Cups. He went home to Yakima, Wash., and started a ski instruction and apparel business with his twin brother, Steve, the second finest American male skier ever. In 1988 the twins took up the very expensive hobby of car racing. So Phil and Steve went back to ski racing, this time joining the struggling U.S. Pro Tour.
The Mahre names did wonders for the gate, and Phil won a fair number of races. But he has never been impressed with the competition on the tour. "I'm definitely a has-been," he said after winning a race earlier this year, "and they're all never-weres."
Last week, Phil won the overall Plymouth Super Series slalom for the year at Steamboat Springs, Colo., and declared that, at 33, he was through—again—with ski racing. "It's old hat," he said. "Oh, I might ski-race a few times, but only to make money for our cars."
Phil astonished car racers last season by winning the eight-race American City series in the Sports 2000 class. This year the twins are moving up to the GT-1 circuit for Trans-Am cars. Phil is every bit as blunt about his new career as he was about his old: "I expect to make only enough to pay the bills. But I've never lost sleep over winning or losing before, and I'm not going to start now."
—WILLIAM OSCAR JOHNSON
A Kick Start
The new U.S. soccer coach faces a big challenge
Last week the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) formally announced the appointment of Bora Milutinovic of Yugoslavia as its new national coach. This is a positive first step for the USSF and its new president, Alan Rothenberg, but U.S. soccer still has a long way to go before it catches up to the rest of the world. And it doesn't have much time to do it, what with the World Cup scheduled to be played in this country in 1994.
Milutinovic's nickname is the Miracle Worker because of his success with the national teams of Mexico and Costa Rica in the World Cups of 1986 and '90, respectively. Milutinovic is replacing Bob Gansler, who was roundly criticized for America's winless performance in World Cup '90 in Italy. But the biggest problem with the U.S. team wasn't coaching.
For too long, the USSF has been a closed-door organization, relying too heavily on its so-called development programs. There hasn't been enough open competition for positions on the national team. Many of the American players in the indoor Major Soccer League and the outdoor American Professional Soccer League have been ignored. There are also a number of players in city ethnic leagues who could play for the U.S.
Manfred Schellscheidt, a former national team coach now at Seton Hall University, believes that the best way to select the team is through competition. Says Schellscheidt, "The federation wanted everyone to believe that the team that went to Italy was the best team this country had to offer, but they didn't beat any teams over here to prove that. If they can't beat everyone, then they're not done with the selection process. If they do beat everyone, well then maybe they can find a player or two along the way."
This is the type of screening process Milutinovic needs to implement even as he works to get a feel for U.S. soccer. "The first stage will be observation," he says. "But by 1993, there will be important changes." There will have to be if Milutinovic is to work another miracle.
Lynn Jennings falls for the man who brings her shoes
That Cupid is certainly a versatile guy. Not only is he handy with a bow and arrow, but he can also fire a starter's pistol. By her own account, the little fellow helped Lynn Jennings win her second consecutive World Cross-country Championship, in Antwerp, Belgium, two weeks ago. "I just feel tremendous," the 30-year-old Jennings said after her impressive triumph in the March 24 race. "But more importantly than that, I've fallen in love, and I'm engaged to be married to the greatest guy on earth."
That would be Dave Hill, a United Parcel Service driver who has been delivering running shoes to Jennings in Newmarket, N.H., for the past five years. They started dating in February, and just four weeks later they decided to get hitched. "It happened very quickly, but we both knew it right away," says Hill, 32. "That was the coolest. This is wicked fun."
The announcement of the impending nuptials startled some of Jennings's friends. "I couldn't believe it," said Peter Farrell, who coached Jennings at Princeton. "She always sort of pooh-poohed the idea of marriage, until her career was over." Said her current coach, John Babington, "I'm not at all surprised that the way Lynn is getting married is surprising, if you know what I mean. She never has taken the well-beaten path."
That can be a problem in cross-country. In Antwerp, however, the erstwhile loner stayed on track. She seemed to draw on a hidden reservoir of energy, coming from behind to win the race by three seconds. "It definitely lent speed to my feet today," she confessed to a reporter from Foster's Daily Democrat, the newspaper that blankets the Newmarket (pop. 2,800) metropolitan area. "I'm in love and I'm really happy."
The couple is planning a September wedding, after Jennings competes at the World Track and Field Championships in Tokyo. "There are so many crummy stories out there," said Hill, who is himself an avid runner, as well as a skier, bicyclist and rollerblader. "This is just a good little love story."
[Thumb Up] To John Killeen, a caddie on the LPGA tour, for conceiving the idea of having the caddies at last week's Dinah Shore tournament (page 30) wear caps bearing the message CONQUER THE MOUNTAIN, HEATHER to encourage golfer Heather Farr in her fight against cancer.
[Thumb Down] To NBC Sports, for using Jack Nicklaus in its promos for The Players Championship (page 28), even though Nicklaus was not competing in the tournament.
[Thumb Down] To T.S. Ary, director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines, who recently told a conference of miners, loggers and other advocates of the development of federal land that he does not believe in endangered species and that environmentalists are "a bunch of nuts."
THEY SAID IT
J.C. Snead, Senior PGA golfer, on his putting: "It's so bad I could putt off a tabletop and still leave the ball halfway down the leg."
Jeff Innis, Mets pitcher, complaining about an unflattering newspaper photo of him: "That picture was taken out of context."
Making a List
Opening Day is just around the corner, and many clubs' home openers will be sold out. Check your tickets—these are 10 of the worst seats in baseball.
1. Shea Stadium, loge section 31, box 483 A, seat 1. You have to wrap your legs around the foul pole in right.
2. County Stadium, section 21, row 35, seat 1. You're next to a large brick chimney, so the only player you see is the rightfielder.
3. The Kingdome, general admission, section 332, row 18. Bring high-powered binoculars and don't bring a glove for home run balls. This seat is more than 600 feet from home plate.
4. Veterans Stadium, section 350, row 14, seat 3. Because it's in the back row of the lower level in left, you miss any ball hit in the air.
5. Candlestick Park, section 1, row 10, seat 22. You're right behind home, but a pole for the foul screen blocks out the plate.
6. SkyDome, aisle 504, row 9, seat 102. You're next to the JumboTron scoreboard in right center, which means you can't see two thirds of the outfield. Seat 101 is even worse—so bad the Blue Jays won't even sell it.
7. Arlington Stadium, any seat in Section A. If you sit properly in this leftfield section, you cannot see the field. You have to twist your body around to watch play. Chiropractors should set up shop here.
8. Tiger Stadium, visitors' dugout. Because you're so deep into the ground, you are unable to see the legs of the players on the field.
9. Fenway Park, back row of the press box. You're so high up and so far removed from the sights and sounds of the ballpark that the players on the field resemble ants in an ant farm.
10. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, section 105, row A, seat 1. Ordinarily, this would be a great seat. But it's right behind Ted Turner's private box, and now that he takes Jane Fonda to games, you have to put up with autograph seekers who will often ask you to help them. You may also have to contend with Fonda's golden retriever, which she brought to spring training games.
Just Call Her Sara
When Ellen Shea, a freelance writer, and her husband, John Schaefer, a National Public Radio host, had a baby girl recently, they named her Saratoga August after their favorite racetrack and the month in which it's open. She's a very lucky baby. She could have been Ak-Sar-Ben July.
Elma and Roby Cornelius, retirees who live in Rock Hall, Md., do a brisk business in old-fashioned biscuits. Every Wednesday they bake 14 to 15 dozen of the flaky delights, which are sold to people as far away as California. Washington Senators fans will be interested to know that the Corneliuses beat the dough with a 33-inch, 32-ounce Mike Epstein-model bat.
Replay 20 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
The March 29, 1971, issue had two brother acts: a cover story on the Espositos, Bruin center Phil and Black Hawk goalie Tony, and a feature on pitchers Gaylord and Jim Perry of the Giants and Twins, respectively. In the piece on the Espositos, Phil displayed both sibling rivalry and brotherly love when he said, "I'm the only one that knows how to beat Tony consistently. And I ain't saying."