A Big Miss

Michael Jordan skips out on a White House ceremony

If the Chicago Bulls fail to repeat as NBA champions, President Bush may have to share some of the blame. It seems that the President invited them to that ceremony thing in the Rose Garden of the White House on Oct. 1, and one Bull was conspicuous by his absence—Michael Jordan.

Jordan claimed he didn't appear at the White House because he wanted to spend more time with his family, although that excuse lost a little air when it was revealed that he was playing golf the day before. As a consequence of his no-show, Jordan was blasted by the media in Chicago for snubbing the President and criticized by teammates for causing dissension. "Now I think a lot of people are seeing there's a double standard," said the Bulls' Horace Grant. "If we don't do anything about it, I think it'll be the death of this team."

Lighten up, Horace. Jordan said he meant no disrespect toward the President or his teammates, and we believe him. Besides, these presidential honors for sports teams may be getting a little out of hand. When SI asked the White I louse how many teams had been greeted by the President since he took office in 1989, a spokesperson said, "You've got to be kidding. We couldn't possibly count them all." Among the teams Bush has welcomed to the White House are the Ursinus College women's lacrosse team, the Kenyon College swimming team and the Harvard hockey team. Waiting in line behind the Bulls last week were 12 high school basketball teams from the D.C. area.

Honoring so many teams is very nice—cynics might say it's also politically very smart—but all those invitations do indicate that it's not such a big deal for an athlete to shake Bush's hand. So it shouldn't be a big deal that Jordan chose not to.

One more thing: Last Friday morning Bush honored the U.S. Ryder Cup golf team. Nothing was made of the absences of three of the team members. Perhaps they were off playing basketball.

Polls Apart

Florida Stale isn't fit to be ranked No. 1 by one poll

When Florida State beat Michigan 51-31 on Sept. 28, the Seminoles staked a pretty strong claim to being the No. 1 college football team in the land. In fact, SI nearly ran a cover proclaiming NO DEBATE: IT'S FLORIDA STATE. The weekly polls by the Associated Press, United Press International and USA Today seemed to confirm that opinion.

But when The New York Times came out with its first computer ranking of the season last week, it rated the Seminoles not No. 1, not No. 2, not No. 3...but No. 11. The fine's No. 1 team was Washington, which was No. 3 in the AP poll. This is not the first time the Times computer has gone against the grain. In its 12 years of calculating rankings, the computer—a large mainframe in the Times offices on West 43rd Street in Manhattan—has had a different top-ranked team at the end of the season than the AP poll five times; the AP and UPI polls differed only once during the same period. Unorthodoxy can be refreshing, but still, the Times's ranking of Florida State last week came as something of a shock. No. 11?

"The computer is unimpressed with the conventional wisdom," says Michael Kagay, the news surveys editor of the Times. "If it creates controversy or starts a few fights, that's fine. Then it serves its purpose."

The Times doesn't reveal its formula for determining who's No. 1, but the computer program relies only on numbers—a team's margin of victory, the record of its opponent, that sort of thing—and eschews subjective judgments. It doesn't assign any value to what a team did last year or to whether one conference is historically tougher than another. Therefore, Washington was able to claim the No. 1 ranking after its 56-3 thumping of Kansas State, which is hardly the powerhouse that Michigan is. Say this for the Times computer: It caught on to Georgia Tech very early last season, when other polls were taking the Yellow Jackets lightly. As for the Seminoles this year, well, the computer has yet to be impressed by them. "I expect they will move up if they beat Miami and Florida at the end of the season," says Kagay.

Now, there's a prediction.

No Lightweight

The gifted Pernell Whitaker is ready for bigger foes

You knew this was not going to be an ordinary fistfight. Jorge Paez, the contender, entered the ring in Reno attired in a floor-length lavender evening gown, under which he wore not trunks but lavender culottes. Across the way, Pernell Whitaker, the undisputed world lightweight champion, also went with lavender, though his was a more traditional ensemble of thigh-length robe and trunks. Referee Mills Lane, a flinty-eyed former marine, stared at the splendidly clad pair and sighed. "O.K., let's get it on," he growled.

And they did, last Saturday night, as Nevada cowpunchers cheered raucously for the Mexican kid in drag. His getup notwithstanding, Paez, 25, is Reno's kind of rough-and-tumble puncher. He can't fight, but he bores straight in. While Paez was aggressively ineffective, Whitaker coolly drilled him with crisp combinations. Whitaker's detractors say he runs. Not so. Against Paez he remained in range so as to "keep putting hands on him."

The tenacious Paez made each round a three-minute battle, but he always got the worst of it. In the sixth, Whitaker sliced open Paez's right eyelid with an accidental head butt. In the seventh, two hard jabs reopened the cut over Paez's eye. "Cuts are targets," said Whitaker. "When I cut my opponent, I just smile, because it gives me something extra to work on. I attack the body, and when the hands come down to protect it, I shoot for the cuts."

Whitaker's sniping widened the gashes. The ring doctor checked the wounds three times, and three times he sent Paez back to work. "They never bothered me," said Paez, now 39-4-4. "Only, sometimes, with the blood in my eyes, I couldn't see." He grinned; he had earned $200,000.

The rawhiders in the crowd, who disdain slick fighters like Whitaker, booed the decision. Whitaker ignored them. He had just made $1 million fighting what he felt was the finest bout of his lightweight career. Let them boo. Whitaker, who writes verse with red leather, knows that not everyone appreciates poetry.

Now 27-1, Whitaker is, at 27, the finest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and he's ready to move up in weight. "I've run out of competitive opponents," he said. Whitaker had planned to fight Edwin Rosario, the WBA junior welterweight champion, in January, but Rosario recently fractured a rib. "There are three 140-pounders we want," said promoter Dan Duva. "Julio Chavez, Hector Camacho or Rosario. The other two guys keep ducking us. While Pernell is waiting, he can always make another lightweight defense."

"You know what that means?" said Whitaker. "That means making 135 pounds, and no cold beer. You think this life is easy?"

Dining Vroom

A restaurant that will serve very fast food is revving up

The Red Line Grill won't have a drive-thru window, but the restaurant with an auto racing motif, now under construction in Long Beach, Calif., will have a window that looks as though someone drove through it. In the window will be the chassis of a Formula One car suspended in midcrash, with shards of broken glass strewn between the double panes to give it that special, just-shattered effect.

Says Paul Alanis, one of the owners of the restaurant, "We want people driving down the road to look over and say, 'What the hell is that?' We want tourists to walk across the street after visiting the Queen Mary and take pictures of their children under the car."

Alanis and his partners are hoping that the Red Line, named after the red line on a car's tachometer, will become the Hard Rock Cafe of auto racing, and similar restaurants are planned for Monte Carlo, Indianapolis and Daytona.

The glass bar of the Long Beach grill, which is scheduled to open early next year, will contain a slot-car track patterned after the course for the Long Beach Grand Prix, which in real life runs right by the restaurant. "We plan to hold races a couple of times a day," says Alanis. "If the red car wins, margaritas will be one dollar. And if the blue car wins, piña coladas will be one dollar."

In keeping with the motif, the menu sounds as if it were guaranteed to give you gas. Among the food offerings will be Dipsticks, which are "the longest French fries you ever saw," according to Alanis. They will be served on a platter accompanied by oil cans filled with such sauces as All-Weather Blue Cheese and 10W40 Barbecue.

The food, it is hoped, will not be the pits.

Nice Catch

Sal Durante still relishes his link to Roger Maris's 61st

When 19-year-old Sal Durante stood atop his seat in the right-field grandstand at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 1, 1961, and reached skyward for the ball that Roger Maris had just lofted his way, he knew he was going after a piece of baseball history. When he pulled the ball down cleanly with his right hand, however, he had no idea that he would still be a celebrity when he was a grandfather.

"I was hoping the record would last for five years or so," Durante says. "You know, to make the moment last awhile. Well, now it's been 30 years, and I still get to tell my story." In fact, Durante, a 50-year-old school-bus driver from Brooklyn with one grandchild, is asked nearly every day to recount just how he caught Maris's 61st home run.

When Durante and fiancèe Rosemarie Calabrese arrived at a Yankee Stadium ticket window for the last game of the 1961 season, he asked for something in rightfield. "I was surprised when there were still seats left out there," says Durante. In the fourth, rookie righthander Tracy Stallard of the Red Sox grooved a fastball that Maris blasted to right. "I could tell it was over our heads, so I got up on the seat. I reached as high as I could, and the ball hit my hand and stuck."

Durante was ushered down to the clubhouse to meet Maris. Says Durante, "When I tried to give him the ball, he said, 'No, you keep it. Try to make some money off it.' " Sam Gordon, a Sacramento restaurateur, gave Durante $5,000 for the ball, which Gordon then gave to Maris.

The ball now sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But Durante still clings to his memories. "Rosemarie and I will have our 30th anniversary this month," he says. "Roger sent us a wedding gift. He was a wonderful man. I didn't care about the money. All I wanted to do was meet him, and I got so much more."

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERThe computer would have debated this SI cover. PHOTOMARCY NIGHSWANDER/APCommish David Stern and the Bulls were greeted by the guy in the high post. PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHWhitaker (left) fended off Paez's blows in a successful defense of his title. PHOTOUPI/BETTMANN THREE ILLUSTRATIONS PHOTOCHARLIE SAMUELSBus driver Durante loves to talk about No. 61. PHOTOJOHN G. ZIMMERMAN ILLUSTRATIONPATRICK MCDONNELL

Judgment Calls

[Thumb Up]To Michelle Manus of St. Petersburg (Fla.) Catholic high, who was the first runner to stop in the middle of a local cross-country race to rescue another competitor who had fallen into a drainage ditch after suffering a seizure.

[Thumb Up]To the Baltimore Orioles, for their splendid weekend ceremonies closing Memorial Stadium. For Fan Appreciation Day on Saturday, spectators were greeted at the turnstiles by such Oriole luminaries as Cal Ripken Jr., Earl Weaver and Boog Powell.

[Thumb Down]To Bill White, National League president, for lifting the seven-game suspension of Reds pitcher Norm Charlton last week simply because Cincinnati was playing three games with pennant-contender Atlanta.


Torrin Polk, University of Houston receiver, on his coach, Joint Jenkins: "He treats us like men. He lets us wear earrings."

Hensley Meulens, Yankee outfielder, when asked what he had gotten out of a rookie season in which he batted .222 with six homers, "Oh, $120,000."

Making a List

The World Series, the 88th edition of which begins on Oct. 19, has a tradition of producing unlikely heroes. Here are 10 such players who shone in the Fall Classic.

Hank Gowdy, 1914 Braves. Gowdy batted only .243 during the season, but in the Miracle Braves' sweep of the vaunted Athletics, the catcher hit .545 with three doubles, one triple and one home run.

Mark Koenig, 1927 Yankees. Koenig, a shortstop who went 9 for 18, was the reed killer for Murderers' Row in their sweep of the Pirates.

Howard Ehmke, 1929 A's. Connie Mack had a feeling that this little-used junkballer (on the bike, below) would give the Cubs trouble, so he bypassed Lefty Grove to give Ehmke the start in Game 1. Ehmke won 3-1, striking out 13.

Jimmie Wilson, 1940 Reds. An injury to catcher Ernie Lombardi and the suicide of Willard Hershberger forced the Reds to go to Coach Wilson, then 40. He responded by hitting .353 against the Tigers.

Billy Martin, 1953 Yankees. "We wuz heat by a .257 hitter," said Dodger manager Charlie Dressen after Martin hit .500 with two HRs and eight RBIs.

Dusty Rhodes, 1954 Giants. An extra outfielder, Rhodes balled .667 with two homers and seven RBIs as New York swept the favored Indians.

Al Weis, 1969 Mets During the season, Weis, a reserve infielder, hit only .215, but against the Orioles, he went 5 for 11 with a game-tying home run in New York's decisive Game 5 victory.

Gene Tenace, 1972 A's. Tenace, a .225-hitting catcher, balled .348 with four homers and nine RBIs as the A's beat the Reds in seven games.

Bucky Dent, 1978 Yankees. The light-hitting shortstop went 10 for 24 against the Dodgers with seven RBIs. Together, Dent and second baseman Brian Doyle had 17 hits in the Series, only six fewer than L.A. had.

Mickey Hatcher, 1988 Dodgers. A spare part with only one home run during 'he season, Hatcher had two homers in the World Series while batting .368 with five RBIs in a five-game defeat 'if the heralded Athletics.

Waiting Game

The Washington Redskins, who have sold out every one of their games since 1966, have a long waiting list for season tickets. How long? Well, Sandra McKee, a sportswriter for the Baltimore Evening Sun, was recently notified that she could finally purchase the seats she had asked for back when she was a student at American University—21 years ago.

Pink Slips

University of Hawaii football coach Bob Wagner is seeing red over pink. Twice this year the Rainbows have had to use visiting locker rooms that had been painted pink by their hosts, and both times they lost big: 53-10 at Iowa and 28-16 at Colorado State. According to Wagner, pink reduces strength and makes people less aggressive. "This is more serious than just growing the grass higher," says Wagner, who adds that he has no plans to paint the visitors' locker room at Aloha Stadium pink.

Replay 30 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated

Who else but Roger Maris could have been on our Oct. 2, 1961, cover? In a story by Roger Kahn, Maris said, "I don't want to be Babe Ruth. He was a great ballplayer. I'm not trying to replace him. The record is there, and damn right I want to break it, but that isn't replacing Babe Ruth." We also reported there was a burlesque dancer by the name of Mickey Maris.