A Moral Vacuum
This is an article from the Aug. 9, 1993 issue
Baseball is out of control.
It was bad enough that New York Met leftfielder Vince Coleman Hung a lighted firecracker from a car in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on July 24, injuring three people, including a two-year-old girl (SCORECARD, Aug. 2); that Coleman cursed reporters who questioned him about the incident; that Los Angeles Dodger leftfielder Eric Davis, who was driving the car, said that he, Coleman and Met rightfielder Bobby Bonilla, who was also in the car, had laughed about the firecracker when they drove off. What's worse is that so far all this has been met with toothless rhetoric from baseball.
Last week, as the Los Angeles District Attorney's office contemplated criminal charges against Coleman—a decision was expected this week—Met manager Dallas Green pulled Coleman from the lineup but blamed reporters, telling them, "I made the decision based on your activities. It's difficult for any athlete to go through something like this and perform up to his capabilities." It took 72 hours for the Mets to issue a statement about the incident, in which it characterized such "off-field activities" as "regrettable and reprehensible." Not quite getting the message, an unidentified Met spattered reporters with liquid bleach in the clubhouse that night.
Only after public outrage mounted about the Mets' horrific conduct did the team take any semblance of action. The day after the bleach incident, Met officials met with the team and asked that the player responsible identify himself. No one came forward. General manager Joe McIlvaine later said that the players were warned that "the next guy involved in anything like this is in deep, deep trouble." The next guy? In April, Bonilla menaced a beat reporter, telling him, "I'll hurt you"—and wasn't disciplined. Last week pitcher Bret Saberhagen admitted to The New York Times that he was the mystery Met who had thrown a lighted firecracker near reporters in the Shea Stadium clubhouse on July 7. "What are they going to do? Fine me?" said Saberhagen. Of course not; Saberhagen wasn't disciplined, either.
Nor was Coleman. Trying to portray himself as a caring family man, Coleman put his wife, Lynette, and two young sons on display at a press conference in which he more or less apologized for having thrown the firecracker. He did so after photos were published of the injured two-year-old, Amanda Santos, who sustained second-degree burns under the right eye and lacerations of the cornea. Lawyers hired by Amanda's parents and the family of 11-year-old Marshall Savoy, who suffered a bruised leg in the explosion, said they will sue.
Still leaderless 11 months after Fay Vincent's ouster as commissioner, baseball appears paralyzed. Not until five days after Coleman threw the firecracker did de facto commissioner Bud Selig issue a statement, in which he spoke of "reported incidents involving New York Mets players." The statement lacked even an ounce of the appropriate alarm. To their credit, a few people in baseball did express shame, including Seattle Mariner pitching coach Sammy Ellis, who called the Mets' transgressions "a disgrace to the game" and said, "Whoever threw the firecracker and sprayed the media with Clorox should be punished, and punished severely."
In the moral vacuum in which the national pastime finds itself, such punishment is distressingly slow incoming.
Rain plays havoc with tennis-string gut, and because of uncommonly sunny conditions throughout the fortnight, fewer rackets than usual had to be restrung during Wimbledon this year. Noting that the intestines of 2½ cows are needed to string a single racket, Tennis Week magazine calculated that "the innards of 740 cows" were spared.
Why the fuss over Florida State president Dale Lick's four-year-old remark about blacks in sport? Lick's dredged-up words, which have sunk his chances of being hired for the vacant Michigan State president's job and landed him in hot water at home in Tallahassee, were uttered off the cuff in 1989, when he was president of Maine: "As blacks begin to get into sports, their natural athletic abilities come through. They have actually done research on an average black athlete versus an average white athlete in basketball, where a black athlete can actually outjump a white athlete on the average."
Here's why the fuss: Although blacks are disproportionately successful in basketball and some other sports popular in the U.S., that success is largely attributable to cultural and economic factors. The fact is, in both the U.S. and abroad, whites have fared as well as or better than blacks in sports—soccer and volleyball, for example—in which foot speed or jumping is important. Increasingly, in Lithuania, Russia and the former Yugoslavia, white basketball players have displayed natural abilities of their own. Some of the world's best long jumpers, including Robert Emmiyan of Armenia and Giovanni Evangelisti of Italy, are white. So are such accomplished high jumpers as Dietmar M‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√ágenburg of Germany and Patrik Sjoberg of Sweden. So are the many Eastern European women who excel in the sprints and jumping events.
Lick's simplistic remark feeds the stereotype of blacks as physical brutes and whites as thinking beings. As an educator, he should have known better.
NBC may have some tricks up its sleeve to justify the record $456 million it bid last week to win the U.S. television rights to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. True, NBC paid $401 million for the 1992 Barcelona Games and still lost $100 million, but an Olympics staged in the U.S. should hold greater appeal for American viewers and advertisers, especially because, unlike the case in Barcelona, which was six hours ahead of New York, much of the coverage from Atlanta will be live in prime time. Further, some possible program changes that have been kicked around by NBC honchos could make the Games more TV-friendly:
•Advance the opening ceremonies from Saturday afternoon to Friday night and make Saturday the first full day of competition, extending the Games from 16 to 17 days. In the past most competition didn't start until Sunday. Being able to sell commercials for a prime-time opening ceremonies and an extra day of action would generate more ad revenue.
•Hold off diving and more of the gymnastics until the second week. In '92 NBC suffered a ratings dropoff when women tuned out after the first week. That's because diving, gymnastics and swimming, which attract large female audiences, had pretty much wrapped up.
•Schedule some finals earlier in the Games. The windups of basketball, boxing, soccer, track and field, volleyball, water polo and other sports have been bunched on the final weekend, forcing TV to jump madly between venues.
•Add new sports—no, it isn't too late—likely to appeal to U.S. viewers. Beach volleyball, which NBC has been televising with surprising success, and women's soccer are two possibilities that might please the network.
Moving the opening ceremonies to Friday and adding a 17th day are all but certain. As for other changes, Olympic officials will no doubt listen carefully to anything that NBC, which is paying them all those beautiful dollars, has to say.
Quite a Switch
For this year's Ohio Games, only one team, the Middleburg Diamond Football Club, signed up in the under-10 girls' soccer competition. Given a choice between having its entry fee returned or competing in the boys' division, the Middleburg team, composed of all-stars from the Cleveland area, chose the latter. Though some of the boys complained about facing them ("I'd rather be shot than play against girls," said one lad) and resorted to pushing and tripping, the girls romped to the title, winning their four games 6-0, 8-0, 3-0 and 6-4. "They're very skilled and very enthusiastic, and unlike the boys, they played as a team." says Middleburg coach Debi Smolik. "Maybe their performance will show other girls what's possible. Maybe next year there will be a real girls' division."
Some boys in Ohio might like that.
Aches and Pains
Why is Kansas City Royal star George Brett (above) looking so blissful? Because his wife, Leslie, is applying Ben-Gay to his 40-year-old shoulders in a TV commercial. In a deal making Brett the latest creaky old-timer—move over, if you can, Jimmy Connors (Nuprin) and Nolan Ryan (Advil)—to tout a pain-relief product, Ben-Gay is donating money to the Arthritis Foundation for each hit, home run and grand slam he gets this season. Brett's stats through Sunday: .266, 13 homers and a soothing $15,800 for the foundation.
They Wrote It
•Woody Woodburn, in the Star-Free Press of Ventura, Calif.: "How come we never read about pro golfers betting hundreds of thousands of dollars playing H-O-R-S-E?"
They Said It
•Dave Valle, Seattle Mariner catcher, a career .230 hitter, to teammate Ken Griffey Jr.: "It's easy to hit .300 with your swing. Try doing it with mine."
•Dave Winfield, after he singled for the Minnesota Twins last week to tie Wee Willie Keeler for 21st on the alltime list, with 2,962 hits: "Who would you rather be? Wee Willie or Big Dave?"
•Helen Strus, p.r. woman for Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., explaining the facility's message (right) on the 18th anniversary of the disappearance of Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, who is rumored to be in permanent residence there: "We just thought we'd have a little fun."