Tale of the Tape
What did Ray Mercer say to Jesse Ferguson during their 10-round heavyweight prelim in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 6 that resulted in Mercer's being charged with sports bribery? According to the Manhattan district attorney's office, which last week announced Mercer's indictment by a grand jury, Mercer offered Ferguson $100,000 to take a dive. The most damning evidence was a videotape of the fight that HBO recorded as a run-through before its live telecast of the Riddick Bowe-Michael Dokes heavyweight championship main event. The DA's office would not discuss the specifics of the hiring verbal exchanges between Mercer and Ferguson, but SI reporter Steve Hymon obtained a copy of the tape, which reveals that much of what Mercer had to say to his opponent was not exactly fighting words.
The audio on the tape was not always clear, and no mention of a $100,000 figure could be heard. But Mercer sounded like a desperate man, and no wonder: A heavy favorite, he was getting battered by Ferguson and could see the $1.5 million-plus payday he had lined up for a fight against Bowe slipping away from him. Of course, both he and Bowe had to win that night for their fight to come off. In the third round, after Mercer was tagged by a left jab, he asked Ferguson, a former sparring partner, "Want to go down?"
"I ain't going down," Ferguson growled.
Early in the fourth round Mercer asked Ferguson, "What do you want?" Later in that round, Mercer said, "Talk to me, man, talk to me." Still later, he gasped to Ferguson, "Everyone wins."
In the seventh round, Mercer said, "I swear to God on my mother...you have to trust me."
In the eighth, he promised, "You got my word, Jess."
In the ninth: "I can get it for you tomorrow, man. I ain't ever lied to you before."
Ferguson, who won a unanimous decision, testified before the grand jury. It is not known how seriously he took Mercer's verbal entreaties, but some boxing writers and officials surmised after hearing of the indictment that Mercer was only engaging in trash talk, hoping to rattle Ferguson. It is difficult to reach that conclusion after listening to the tape.
News item: According to a Department of the Interior audit, the National Park Service is losing $105 million a year because of uncollected admission fees.
Question: Why aren't the fees being collected? Answer: There are too many gates and too few park employees.
Question: Why not have some of the volunteers employed in park information centers collect the money? Answer: Under federal law only government employees can collect public funds.
Question: But, then, with nobody manning the entrance booths, there are no public funds for anybody to collect—right? Answer: You've got us there.
He was one of the most-feared pitchers in baseball history, an imperious 6'5" figure whose smoking sidearm fastball seemed to be aimed directly at a right-handed batter's rib cage. And sometimes it was, for Don Drysdale held a belief common to pitchers of his day that the inside part of the plate was his domain and that trespassers must be summarily punished. It was no picnic batting against Big D.
The righthanded Drysdale and the southpaw Sandy Koufax gave the Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960s a one-two pitching punch un-equaled in modern times. In 1965 the two combined for 49 wins and 592 strikeouts. Koufax's earned run average that year was 2.04, Drysdale's 2.78. But while Koufax's numbers were generally more spectacular, Drysdale had the longer and more consistent career. He broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a 19-year-old in '56 and was the staff ace the next year with 17 wins, at a time when Koufax was still trying to harness his enormous talent. And it was Drysdale who pitched six straight shutouts and a then record 58⅖ scoreless innings in '68, two years after Koufax had retired.
As with so many other fierce competitors, Drysdale was as charming and approachable off the field as he was intimidating on it. He retired as a player in 1969 and started a baseball announcing career that took him to Montreal, Texas, Anaheim and Chicago before he came home to work Dodger games in 1988.
Last Saturday, one week after his old batterymate and fellow Hall of Famer, Roy Campanella, died, Drysdale was found dead of a heart attack in his hotel room in Montreal, where he had traveled with the Dodgers. Campanula's death was not unexpected, since, as former Dodger general manager Buzzy Bavasi has said, he had been "living on borrowed time [since his 1958 auto accident] for 35 years." But the 56-year-old Drysdale, despite some heart problems, had seemed to be in the prime of life. He leaves his wife, former basketball star Ann Meyers, and four children.
Baseball and, particularly, the Dodgers do not deserve any more such shocks.
Picks and Pans
Last week's NBA draft proved that it's never too early to make a rookie mistake. After being picked by the Boston Celtics in the first round, Iowa center Acie Earl said he was looking forward to playing with Kevin McHale, who, alas, retired at the end of last season. Like Earl, University of Hartford center Vin Baker may have tried too hard to please when he said he was happy to be drafted by Milwaukee because the city was "just like a bigger Hartford." Here are some other draft observations.
•The Golden State Warriors. No one thought the Warriors could land the big man they needed without breaking up their nucleus, but they did just that, getting 6'9" Michigan star Chris Webber from the Orlando Magic for the rights to Memphis State guard Anfernee Hard-away and three first-round picks, in 1996, '98 and 2000.
•The Chicago Bulls. As if the impending arrival of European standout Toni Kukoc weren't enough, the Bulls may have pulled off a steal in getting Corie Blount of Cincinnati, an athletic 6'10" forward-center. Blount could fill the role of forward Horace Grant, who will be an unrestricted free agent after next season.
•Lindsey Hunter. A little-known 6'2" guard from Jackson State, Hunter was taken in the No. 10 spot by the Detroit Pistons, who wanted him so badly they didn't ask him to work out before the draft, feigning indifference so that some other team wouldn't grab him first.
•Jamal Mashburn. The Kentucky star thought he was going to Golden State as No. 3 but wound up with the Dallas Mavericks as No. 4, which could cost him a few million dollars and 20 or 30 losses next season.
•Nick Van Exel. Missing a pair of flights to Charlotte for predraft workouts was not a good idea for a player whose attitude was already suspect. A projected middle first-rounder, Van Exel, a point guard from Cincinnati, went in the second round, No. 37 overall, to the Los Angeles Lakers.
•The Utah Jazz. After trading for 7-foot, 265-pound Felton Spencer on draft day, the Jazz picked 7'2", 270-pound Luther Wright of Seton Hall. Add that ponderous pair to cement-footed 7'4", 290-pound Mark Eaton, and the Jazz might as well be called the Dirge.
On a Toot
The mob violence that greeted the recent championships in Montreal and Chicago (SI, June 21, et seq.) has prompted the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal-Gazette to look back with mock dismay to the night of May 21, when the hometown team, the Fort Wayne Komets, completed a sweep of the San Diego Gulls in the International Hockey League Turner Cup finals. In an editorial the newspaper said, "We in Fort Wayne should be ashamed of ourselves. We get a perfectly good opportunity to attract some attention and blow it."
After the Komets' final game against the Gulls in Fort Wayne's Memorial Coliseum, the local media sent reporters out into the streets to cover any spontaneous celebrations. The only signs of revelry were a few honking car horns.
They Wrote It
•Thomas Boswell in The Washington Post, praising last-of-a-breed catcher Carlton Fisk, who after playing that position in a major league-record 2,226 games was released on June 28 by the Chicago White Sox at the age of 45: "For 24 years, you could watch him at Fenway Park or Comiskey Park. Now he might as well be in Jurassic Park [above]."
It's hard to decide which is funnier. Miller Lite's new great taste-less filling TV advertising campaign or the U.S. Luge Association's gripe that one of the commercials in the campaign "ridicules" its sport. The commercial depicts a terrified luger racing down a course ahead of three bowling balls, and Bob Hughes, U.S. Luge's p.r. man, who fired off a letter of protest to the brewer, says, "I've been accused of being humor-impaired, but that's O.K. Our athletes work hard, and we simply want people to know that there's more to luge than what's in that ad."
Our advice to you, Bob: Let it slide.
Question of the Week
If, as is being discussed in Gotham, George Steinbrenner's New York Yankees switch boroughs and take up residence on a site a few blocks from Madison Square Garden, would the Bronx Bombers then be known as the Manhattan Transfers?
They Said It
•Pete Sampras, Wimbledon champion, when asked why he walks around the court with his head down: "I'm looking for money."
•Hank Greenwald, San Francisco Giant radio commentator, who is Jewish, discussing a ballplayer's hamstring pull: "My people aren't allowed to have hamstrings."