One Hat Too Many
How can Carl Barger be president of two teams?
Last Thursday at a press conference in Miami, the Florida Marlins of the National League introduced their new logo, new uniform design and new president, Carl Barger. By Monday, Barger was back in Pittsburgh overseeing the business of the Pirates, for whom he is also president.
It doesn't seem possible that one man can run two major league teams, but it has been that way since July 8, when Barger was named president of Florida's expansion team. Neither the Pirates nor the Marlins nor the baseball commissioner, Fay Vincent, saw any conflict of interest.
July 28, 1991
But other people do. Says one baseball executive, "At the All-Star Game in Toronto, I heard some complaining—I mean loud complaining—from general managers saying how absurd this is, how bad it's making baseball look. How can you serve two masters? What unmitigated gall. It's like the president of Ford going over to be president of General Motors and wanting to stay in both jobs."
Barger, who plans to step down as soon as the Pirates find his successor, deflects such criticism, saying, "A conflict of interest is only a conflict if it's not known by everybody. Here, it's known by everyone. But if this conflict issue gets to where there's a real belief that it's hurting the Pirates or the Marlins or baseball, I will take the initiative and take one hat off."
Potential conflicts abound. This may be farfetched, but what's to prevent Barger from negotiating a short-term Pirate contract with potential free-agent Bobby Bonilla with an eye toward signing him in the future for the Marlins? How can Barger be devoting his full energy to the Pirates at the same time that he has to start building a rival franchise? Both the Pirates and the Marlins are looking for spring training sites in Florida. If Barger deems, say, Naples more desirable than Homestead, which of his clubs gets Naples? And what does he say to a Pirate underling who asks about a job with the Marlins?
By all accounts, Barger is an honorable man who would try to do the right thing. But as he himself points out, "Perception sometimes is every bit as important as reality." The perception in this case is that Barger is trying to have his cake and eat it too.
An Old Kick
A reunion of Cosmos recalls the heyday of U.S. soccer
It was ever so brief, but from the late 1970s through 1980 there actually was a golden age of U.S. professional soccer. North American Soccer League stadiums all over the country were jammed, especially when people came to see the Cosmos.
A bit of that era returned to Giants Stadium on Sunday night at a reunion to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the birth of the Cosmos. There, Cosmos alumni played two games, one against the 1982 Italian World Cup team and the other against the Brazilian Masters.
The heyday of the Cosmos began in 1975, when the greatest soccer player in history, Brazil's Pelè, emerged from retirement at the age of 34 to sign a $4.5 million, three-year contract with the team. Attendance figures for Cosmos games—home and away—soared as fans came out of the woodwork to watch Pelè. The next year, the organization signed Italian star Giorgio Chinaglia, and in 1977, after enticing West Germany's Franz Beckenbauer to join them, the Cosmos won the NASL championship. That allowed Pelè to retire content in having sparked a soccer craze in the U.S.
The Cosmos, far and away the richest team in the league, continued to shop liberally, and they won three more NASL titles, in 1978, '80 and '82. But the rest of the NASL foundered trying to keep up with the Cosmos, and by the time the Cosmos won their last Soccer Bowl, even their crowds were dwindling. In '85 the Cosmos called it quits, and the NASL quickly folded.
None of the superstars played on Sunday night. Beckenbauer was bedridden in Austria with a stomach infection, and Chinaglia stayed in Rome for "personal reasons." But Pelè, now 50, did make an appearance at halftime of the second game to accept an award for the contributions he has made to U.S. soccer. A standing ovation from some 32,000 rain-soaked fans helped drown out the strains of Barbra Streisand's The Way We Were. As loudly as possible, they chanted, "Pelè! Pelè!"
For a moment, it felt like 1977 again.
Lebanese swimmers were hung out to dry
Organizers of the 16th World University Games were a little surprised when the Lebanese team showed up for the opening ceremonies in Shef-field, England, on July 13. They weren't expecting a Lebanese team after the official entry form they had sent to the team's Beirut office was returned to England in a singed envelope with "Headquarters blown up—return to sender" handwritten on it.
Amal Jaklys, a Lebanese swimmer, says that the failure to complete the entry form was the result not of an explosion but of a mix-up at the team office. "It is the fault of one person I shall not name who didn't do what he was supposed to," she says. "I'd like to kill him, actually."
The Lebanese team members—two tennis players, six track and field athletes and seven swimmers—pleaded with officials to let them participate in the games. After 11 hours of negotiation, the officials relented, but for the swimmers it was too late—the heats in their sport had already begun. So the swimmers asked the organizers to allow them to participate in some track and field events.
Hatim el-Gheziani, a Libyan who is working with the Lebanese team to help it navigate through red tape (help it could certainly use), said, "They [the swimmers] have not even thought what events they would take part in, but it would have to be something not much outside of their capabilities. Certainly nothing like pole vaulting."
Jaklys, Lebanon's national champion in the women's 100-meter freestyle and 100 backstroke, thought she might run in the women's 400. "My hope coming here was to do well," said Jaklys. "Now it is not to embarrass myself." As of Sunday, the swimmers still hadn't found events, but there were four days of competition left.
The Lebanese swimmers were not the only disappointed people at the University Games. During the opening ceremonies, the torch was extinguished when torchbearer Helen Sharman, a British astronaut, tripped and fell. Then, during the rhythmic gymnastics competition, 28 contestants received point deductions because their outfits were too skimpy.
But the most disappointed figure of all was Gailan Alkaf, the lone athlete from Yemen. When officials asked him what sport he had entered, he said, "Soccer."
Don Wardlow calls a good game, even if he can't see it
From where Don Wardlow sits, hunched in a corner of the radio booth at Pompano Beach Municipal Stadium, you can't see leftfield. Or third base. Or home, for that matter. But that doesn't bother Wardlow, color commentator for the Miami Miracle, an independent team in the Class A Florida State League. That's because Wardlow has been blind since birth.
A handicap? Check out Wardlow and his Seeing Eye dog, a Labrador named Gizmo, as they navigate the treacherous staircase to the rooftop press box. "The staircase is the least of my worries," says Wardlow, who's been aiming for a job like this since he became attached to the voices of Mets broadcasters Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner as a kid growing up in New Jersey.
Wardlow, 28, spends hours before each game in front of a Braille typewriter, pounding out tidbits and stats gleaned from a tape his partner, play-by-play announcer Jim (Tiny) Lucas, has put together for him. Wardlow opens the show, sets the stage for each half-inning and leads into commercial breaks: "Brought to you by Hop Too's Chinese Restaurant. When you want that great Chinese food, hop to it!"
Wardlow and Lucas met in 1983 at Glassboro (N.J.) State, where they both announced basketball and baseball games for the campus radio station. After graduation, they stayed in touch, doing simulated broadcasts of games to sharpen their skills. Last year, they decided they were ready and sent audition tapes to 176 minor league teams. The Miracle was the only club to offer a tryout. Not coincidentally, Miami's president is Mike Veeck, son of the late Bill Veeck, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last week.
Says Veeck, "My mother reads at the Lighthouse for the Blind, and I know that these people can do amazing things. But a blind announcer?" Their debut last July went so well, though, that Veeck hired them full-time.
Wardlow's only flaw is his penchant for bad puns. After one such pun during a recent game, Lucas said, "That's it. I'm on strike. Let the blind guy do the play-by-play."
And Wardlow did: "Swing and a miss again. That pitch was a little on the low side."
Lucas responded: "Oh, you could tell by the sound that it was low? You're something, Wardlow."
A Sobering Policy
Will the new NFL program curb alcohol abuse?
Last week the NFL became the first major pro sports league to institute a disciplinary policy for players guilty of alcohol-related misconduct. Under the policy, the first time a player is convicted of drunken driving or any other serious offense attributable to the misuse of alcohol, commissioner Paul Tagliabue can suspend him for as many as four weeks without pay, though the player does have the right to a hearing. If the player is caught a second time, he could be sidelined for six weeks. A third conviction could mean suspension for a year. "We're not saying players shouldn't have a drink," says NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. "But we recognize that alcohol abuse is as serious as drug abuse. We're saying if they break the law through the misuse of alcohol, we'll treat it as if it were drug abuse."
That the NFL is taking alcohol abuse seriously is praiseworthy. But according to some experts, discipline may not be the answer. One such expert is Sam McDowell, the former Indians pitching ace who is now a substance abuse counselor for the Blue Jays, Rangers and Reds. McDowell, whose own career was diminished because of his addiction to alcohol, considers the punitive aspect of the NFL's policy unenlightened. He says, "I don't condone drunk driving, and I'm not saying that individuals shouldn't be held accountable for their actions. But punishment has never worked as a deterrent for alcoholics. You can't strong-arm them."
McDowell says that before resorting to suspensions, leagues should offer the players help. The programs McDowell has designed treat alcoholism as an illness and eschew discipline in favor of treatment. There is something to be said for his approach. He has counseled some 200 players, and according to McDowell, only four have relapsed.
[Thumb Up]To golfer Bruce Fleisher, for honoring his commitment to play in last week's $100,000 Colorado Open, even though his recent victory in the New England Classic entitled him to play in the competing $700,000 Chattanooga Classic.
[Thumb Down]To golfer Gary Player, for dredging up an old feud by implying in his new book, To Be the Best, that Tom Watson should give up his 1977 Masters and British Open titles to runner-up Jack Nicklaus because Watson's clubs were later ruled illegal.
[Thumb Down]To Kathy Shashaty, director of the Miami Dolphins' cheerleaders, for prohibiting them from dating members of the team and thus standing in the way of love. Two Dolphins, Jim Jensen and Paul Lankford, are married to ex-cheerleaders.
THEY SAID IT
Ralph Kiner, New York Mets broadcaster, reflecting on Mets manager Bud Harrelson's laid-back style: "Some quiet guys are inwardly outgoing."
Phil Mickelson, the amateur golfer who continues to attend Arizona State despite having qualified for the PGA Tour, on the career advice he received from veteran pro Hubert Green: "Hubert told me to go to graduate school."
Making a List
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct four players—running back Earl Campbell, guard John Hannah, defensive lineman Stan Jones and kicker Jan Stenerud—and one club executive, former Dallas Cowboy president Tex Schramm, in ceremonies this weekend in Canton, Ohio. Here is a list of 10 others who SI's Dr. Z, Paul Zimmerman, believes should also be in the Hall:
•Al Davis, 1963-present, Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders. Coach, scout, commissioner, owner...he's done it all. Bad marks in conduct have kept him out, but it's a joke that he hasn't made it.
•Cliff Harris, Defensive back, 1970-79, Dallas Cowboys. Among free safeties there are killer types and rover types, and Harris was the best killer type I ever saw.
•Richie Jackson, Defensive end, 1966-72, Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns. My two favorite defensive ends are Deacon Jones and "Tombstone" Jackson. Unfortunately, the latter's career was cut short by a knee injury.
•Jimmy Johnson, Defensive back, 1961-76, San Francisco 49ers. The two greatest corners ever are Johnson and Night Train Lane (inducted in 1974). Case closed.
•Alex Karras, Defensive tackle, 1958-70, Detroit Lions. He's so identifiable as an actor that people forget how great a player he was, and for how long.
•John Mackey, Tight end, 1963-72, Baltimore Colts and San Diego Chargers. Politics (he fought the NFL's antitrust exemption) was his undoing. His numbers aren't that impressive, but he provided great leadership.
•Dick Plasman, End, 1937-47, Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals. Films of the '30s and '40s reveal him to have been an offensive and defensive terror. Plasman, by the way, was the last man to play without a helmet.
•Mel Renfro, Defensive back, 1964-77, Dallas Cowboys. What, another Dallas safety? You bet, and you could make a case for Charlie Waters, too.
•John Riggins, Fullback, 1971-85, New York Jets and Washington Redskins. The "Big Diesel" was putting thousand-yard seasons together well into his 30's.
•Mac Speedie, End, 1946-52, Cleveland Browns. "McSpeedie" should have made the Hall ahead of his fellow receiver, Dante Lavelli, who was inducted in 1975.
One Less Threat
Last week's 50th anniversary of the end of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak calls to mind an anecdote involving DiMaggio and a little-known outfielder named Darrell Brown. Seven years ago, Brown, who played for Minnesota, spotted DiMaggio in the runway of Yankee Stadium and asked him to autograph a ball. Said Brown to Joe D, "If you sign it, Mr. DiMaggio, I'll stop at 55."
He Makes Nice Cuts
The Dallas Texans of the Arena Football League have a wide receiver, Aatron Kenny, who attended barber college. No, he hasn't been called for clipping. But the Texans are scheduled to play an exhibition game in Spain later this year, and their p.r. man, Mike Fernandez—being a good p.r. man—is hoping against hope that the game will be played in Seville.
Replay 10 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
Before Rocket Ismail, the biggest name to play in the Canadian Football League was erstwhile L.A. Ram quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who made our July 20, 1981, cover—and then disappeared. One of the Faces in the Crowd in that issue was a high school senior from Bessemer, Ala., who won the state decathlon title and batted .432 for his McAdory High baseball team. Back then, we called him Vincent Jackson.