Penguins Go Cheap
The NHL is taking its expansion clubs to the cleaners
Inasmuch as the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are about to be sold for $31 million, what does that make an NHL expansion team worth? Obviously not the $50 million that the league is charging the Ottawa Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning, two franchises scheduled to begin play next season.
While those clubs struggle to raise the money—last week Tampa finally made a $22.5 million payment that was due in June—the NHL owners should be wrestling with their consciences. They have been exposed as charlatans who have failed in an attempt to artificially inflate the value of their clubs.
October 28, 1991
Even at a price of $31 million, Pittsburgh's prospective owners, retired rental-car executive Morris Belzberg and former Hartford Whaler executive Howard Baldwin, are going to have trouble meeting their payroll. Penguin defenseman Paul Coffey, who last Thursday scored his 1,053rd point to break former New York Islander Denis Potvin's NHL record for career scoring by a defenseman, is in the second year of his five-year, $6 million contract. Add to that the new contracts of right wing Mark Recchi ($3.6 million for four years) and left wing Kevin Stevens ($5.4 million for five years), and center Mario Lemieux's five-year, $12 million deal, and it's clear that current Pittsburgh owner Edward DeBartolo Sr. has overextended the Penguins' resources. This season DeBartolo raised ticket prices, but the extra revenue is only a drop in the bucket. For the Penguins to remain above water, Belzberg and Baldwin are going to have to trade or, more likely, sell one of Pittsburgh's high-priced stars. At age 30, Coffey is the one likely to be auctioned off.
The $31 million that Belzberg and Baldwin are paying DeBartolo is what the market will bear for an NHL club. (DeBartolo is selling his management rights to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena separately to Spectacor Management Group for $24 million.) The last two clubs to be sold, the Hartford Whalers and the Minnesota North Stars, also went for $31 million apiece.
The owners have an obligation to lessen the burden on Ottawa and Tampa. Since both clubs are being initiated into a league in which salaries are increasing faster than sources of revenue, cutting their franchise fees would be both honorable and smart.
The Son Also Rises
Michael Andretti clinches the CART championship
Michael Andretti, whose genes have never allowed him to drive a conservative race, was advised to cool it Sunday in the final Indy Car race of the season, the Champion Spark Plug 300-kilometer at Laguna Seca (Calif.) Raceway. If he finished fifth or better, he would win his first CART season-points championship, no matter how Bobby Rahal, the only driver with a chance of overtaking him for the title, fared. The rule of thumb in such situations is to "stroke"—that is, play auto-racing's version of the prevent defense.
So Mario Andretti's 29-year-old son compromised as best he could. He charged to the front and led Emerson Fittipaldi by only a few car lengths—until Lap 24. That's when Rahal parked his Lola-Chevrolet with an overheated engine. That locked up the title for Andretti. Rahal, watching from the pits, said, "Michael's driving hard. He always drives hard. Now, he can really drive hard."
Andretti took off in his Lola-Chevy and won at a race-record average speed of 103.604 mph, finishing 9.217 seconds ahead Of 1990 CART champion Al Unser Jr. Fittipaldi had dropped back when he became distracted by a water bottle flopping loose in his cockpit.
Before the race, Andretti said he wanted the championship more than he has ever wanted anything, including a victory in the Indy 500. "For my career, winning Indy probably would be better," he said. "For me, personally, the championship is it." In 1986, '87 and '90, Andretti came close, only to finish second each time. Going into Sunday's race, he had more points, 212, than anyone in the history of CART's current scoring system. Still, he led Rahal by only 12 points. After the race, he had a 234-200 landslide.
The win was Andretti's eighth of the season, a record for CART but not for Indy Car racing. Under the old USAC sanction, A.J. Foyt won 10 races in 1964 and Al Unser Sr. won 10 in 70.
Michael wasn't the only Andretti to succeed in Sunday's race—his younger brother Jeff, 27, iced the CART Rookie of the Year title. Said Mario, who won the CART title in '84, "I'm just glad the kids have a job, and they're doing well at it."
Baseball has lost the true meaning of pennant
If Russ Hodges were alive and still broadcasting for the Giants, this might be his call in next year's playoff game with the Dodgers after Robby Thompson hits a ninth-inning, game-winning homer off righthander Raphael Blanca:
"The Giants win the National League West! The Giants win the National League West!"
What that forgettable declaration lacks is the word pennant. Indeed, baseball as a whole has lost the meaning of the word. People still insist on calling the final weeks of the season "the pennant race," even though it's really only the divisional race. There's only one pennant for each league, and it goes to the team that wins the League Championship Series.
The pennant has a long history in baseball. According to The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, a pennant was first mentioned in the Sept. 13, 1879, edition of the Spirit of the Times, when Cy Young was 12 years old. No other sport has a pennant; football, basketball and hockey have trophies and cups and White House receptions.
Even though each league still gives its champ $300 to $500 to purchase the large, usually triangular banner that is supposed to flap forevermore from a flagpole in the stadium, most teams do not seem to appreciate the pennant's significance. A call to the New York Yankee offices to find out where the Bronx Bombers keep their 33 pennants elicited this response: "We don't know." And the Minnesota Twins simply paint an image of a pennant onto the vinyl that lines the outfield wall of the Metrodome (above).
There is an easy way to return meaning to the pennant race. If baseball were willing to dip into petty cash for $1,000, then each division winner could buy a pennant. Some people might say that this would devalue the pennant, but to the contrary, four such banners would enhance the value by restoring pennant to its rightful meaning: the reward at the end of the exhausting season.
A College Senior
A coach at Albright is the oldest in the country
For a cross-country coach, Gene Shirk doesn't seem very concerned about time. While his runners scale the gentle slope of Mount Penn in Reading, Pa., Shirk, the Albright College coach, waits at the finish line, ready to record their times. But even as he stands there, stopwatch in hand, it's clear that minutes and seconds don't mean that much to Shirk.
At 90, Shirk is the oldest college coach in the country. He is as much a fixture around the Albright campus as Shirk Stadium, the school's football field. Not only is he a former two-time mayor of Reading, but he is also president of a local public-access television station and host of a weekly show, Bridging the Generation Gap. (The program brings together senior citizens and high school students to discuss current issues; a few weeks ago the topic was the distribution of condoms in schools.) And once in a while, he teaches a class at Albright—but only when his 73-year-old wife, Annadora, a communications professor, feels her students could benefit from the lessons of an older teacher.
Twice a week he plays tennis, and he bowls in a league, but running is the sport Shirk loves. He was a distance runner at Franklin & Marshall College in the early 1920s. In '46, already doing triple duty at Albright as athletic director, track coach and math professor, he founded the Lions' cross-country program. At that time Shirk was only twice as old as the athletes he coached; he is five times as old as his latest crop. Says captain Craig Plue, a senior, "When I first met him, I thought he was 65. He's got so much energy that we have problems keeping up with him."
Though his cross-country teams have been the most successful men's teams at Albright over the past eight years, Shirk says gently, "I'm not concerned about winning. The goal is to have the runners improve throughout the season. While you want to win, if you win too much, nobody likes you. But if you win some and lose some, you have more friends."
The Lions' top harrier, senior Aaron Collins, calls Shirk "one of my best friends on campus." Collins adds, "He's more concerned with us as individuals, not just as athletes. And, besides, he doesn't act his age."
Although he's a quarter century past retirement age, Shirk doesn't give much thought to hanging up his whistle. (After all, two of his siblings lived to be 100.) "Once I feel I can't do it anymore, I'll stop," Shirk says. "Every year, I ask my athletic director, 'Don't you think I'm getting too old?' And he replies, 'Well, the kids don't think so.' And I guess that's all that really matters."
Punt, Pass and Chick
The chickens 'cross the road offer a coach unwanted advice
On Sept. 19, Hoover Hopkins, the football coach at Seattle's Cleveland High, was pacing the sideline of West Seattle Stadium. His team was trailing Seattle Prep, and he was asking for advice from his assistant coaches up in the press box. Hopkins spoke into his headset, "Should we run off-tackle? How about a screen pass? Maybe trick them with a draw?" Then, through his earphones, Hopkins heard an unfamiliar voice reply, "We'll take a 24-piece bucket with all the fixin's."
What was this? Some arcane football formation? No, it was a takeout order. It seems that the radio connecting the coach and his assistants was on the same frequency as the voice box at the drive-through window of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise across the street. "I was getting all kinds of orders for chicken every time I turned on the headset," says Hopkins.
The interference went both ways. Just as the coaches were interrupted by talk of slaw and extra crispy, the Colonel's patrons were interrupted by calls for slants and end arounds. At times, the coaches' dialogue became a little too spicy for the restaurateurs. "Some of the language that came across our loudspeaker was, well, colorful," says Ken Ng, assistant manager at the KFC. "So we started taking orders at the window only."
Was Ng ever tempted to send in his own play—maybe something out of a single wing or wishbone? "Nah," he says. "But you could tell that the coaches were pretty frustrated." And with good reason. Cleveland High got battered 47-6.
[Thumb Up]To the state of Minnesota, for abandoning its proposal to allow people to play the state lottery using Nintendo systems (Scorecard, Oct. 7). Many legislators opposed the plan because they felt it would encourage children to gamble.
[Thumb Up]To George Foreman, for donating to charities a $1.5 million settlement he received from Evander Holyfield. Foreman had sued Holy field for pulling out of their agreed-upon heavyweight bout in order to fight Mike Tyson.
[Thumb Down]To Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner. for telling the elevator operator at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, "Don't let so many people on," after the elevator got stuck before Game 5 of the NLCS. The two people who put the elevator over its limit were Turner and his fiancèe, Jane Fonda.
THEY SAID IT
Wayne Gretzky, on 18-year-old hockey phenom Eric Lindros: "At that age, everybody thinks they know what's best. By the time you realize what your father was telling you was true, your own kids are telling you you're wrong."
Richard Williamson, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, discussing the magnetic resonance imaging test given to wide receiver Bruce Hill: "He had the MRI two weeks ago—MRI, did I pronounce that right?"
Making a List
The Breeders' Cup, which will be held on Nov. 8 at Churchill Downs, is an eight-year-old event consisting of seven races that are designed to determine the best thoroughbreds of the season. But what if they held a dream Breeders' Cup for all time? We asked SI's William F. Reed, who has been covering horse racing for 27 years, to give us his picks:
Sprint (six furlongs for 3-year-olds and up)—Ack Ack, Horse of the Year in 1971, had enough speed to carry him into racing's Hall of Fame. Next would come Coaltown, Citation's stablemate in '49, and Mr. Prospector, who set a Gulfstream Park record at this distance in '73.
Juvenile Fillies (1[1/16] miles for 2-year-olds)—Moccasin was named Horse of the Year by Turf and Sport Digest in 1965, a rarity for a 2-year-old filly. Right behind would be Landaluce, unbeaten when she died in '82, and Bewitch, the only horse to beat Citation during his 2-year-old season.
Distaff (1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ miles for 3-year-olds and up)—There's Personal Ensign, who retired in 1988 with a perfect record, and Genuine Risk, who won the 1980 Kentucky Derby, but the nod goes to Ruffian (left), unbeaten against other females before breaking a leg in a '75 match race with Foolish Pleasure.
Mile (for 3-year-olds and up)—This was probably the best distance for Dr. Eager, who blazed lo a world-record 1:32[1/5] in 1968. Others to consider are Seattle Slew, the '77 Triple Crown winner, and Bold Rider, the '57 Horse of the Year and sire of Secretarial.
Juvenile (1[1/16] mile for 2-year-olds)—We're restricting this to 2-year-olds-who were unable to fulfill their promise. In 1966, the unbeaten Graustark was being called the next Man o' War when he suffered a career-ending injury in the Blue Crass Stakes. Following him would be Hoist the Flag ('70) and Devil's Bag ('83).
Turf (1½ miles for 3-year-olds and up)—Fort Marcy, John Henry and Round Table were superb on grass, but the pick is five-time Horse of the Year Kelso.
Classic (1¼ miles for 3-year-olds and up)—How about a triple dead heat between Citation, the '48 Triple Crown winner, Man o' War, who lost only once in 21 career starts in 1919 and '20, and Secretariat, the '73 Triple Crown champ?
Riddle of the Phoenix
In an introduction to The 1991-92 NCAA Basketball Preview, this passage appears: "College basketball, in particular, has grown dramatically since its days of infancy, surviving a devastating point-fixing scandal to rise out of its own ashes like the Sphinx."
A Brave Prediction
In a story for the April issue of Atlanta magazine, astrologer Kathryn L. Silverton wrote that the Braves would be in this year's World Series. Unfortunately, editor Lee Walburn, a former p.r. director of the Braves, took that prophecy out. Said Walburn, "I didn't want to hurt the magazine's credibility."
Replay: 35 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
Handsome Dan IX of Yale slobbered all over our Nov. 5, 1956, cover. (Handsome Dan XIII, is featured in this week's story on mascots, beginning on page 88.) Among the other enduring college football names dropped in that issue were John Brodie of Stanford, Paul Hornung of Notre Dame, Len Dawson of Purdue, Jim Brown of Syracuse, Johnny Majors of Tennessee and John David Crow, Jack Pardee and Charlie Krueger, all of Texas A&M.