A Vote for Character
With the announcement of the 1994 inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame scheduled for Jan. 12, SI senior writer Ron Fimrite casts a vote for a perennially snubbed star.
In a letter to voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, San Francisco Giant president Peter Magowan apologized for his excessive zeal in championing the Hall of Fame candidacy of Orlando Cepeda. No apology is necessary. Though Cepeda has been overlooked in the 15 years he has been eligible for the Hall, Cha-Cha belongs there. And if he doesn't make it in this, his last chance with the writers, a grave injustice will have been perpetrated.
His record speaks for itself: Rookie of the Year in 1958, Comeback Player of the Year in 1966, National League MVP in 1967. Of the 18 eligible retired players who hit more than 300 homers and had a career batting average of better than .295, Cepeda is the only one not in the Hall.
What may have kept him out is a 1975 conviction for smuggling marijuana into his native Puerto Rico. He served 10 months in federal prison for that offense and suffered the even greater penalty of ostracism in his home island, a place where his father, Pedro, was a baseball icon. Orlando has since repaid his debt to society by leading a life of extraordinary good works. Unlike so many other former stars who accept "community service" sinecures with their old teams, Cepeda has given the Giants more than they could conceivably have bargained for. There is scarcely a charity in northern California that he is not involved with, his work with kids at baseball schools is exemplary, and his antidrug crusade among urban youth in San Francisco is in itself deserving of an award.
His good deeds have restored his good name in Puerto Rico, where last October he was inducted into the island's sports hall of fame. So when the writers announce the newest inductees into Cooperstown this month, we can only hope that Cepeda's name will be among them. One thing is certain: If character is still a consideration, he should make it with ease.
An Honest Man
Whatever one thinks of Eduardo Viana, president of the Rio Soccer Federation, the Brazilian has to be given points for candor. Public demands to look into the alleged fixing of national championship games have not swayed Viana to open an investigation. Said Viana: "I detest public opinion. The people could all be shot by machine guns, for all I care. I'm the son of a factory owner, the elite, and I'm a right-winger."
Do not be surprised if a virtual unknown is the next commissioner of baseball. Northwestern University president Arnold Weber has a rèsumè that appeals to Major League Baseball owners, who have been searching for 16 months for a commissioner. Weber is an economist with expertise in labor relations. And there is no issue more pressing to the owners than working out a new labor agreement with the Players Association that includes a revised salary structure.
A search committee will present a candidate to the 28 owners—affirmative votes from 21 are needed to elect a commissioner—at their meetings on Jan. 19 in Fort Lauderdale, and the best guess is that Weber will be that man. Still in the running, however, is U.S. Olympic Committee executive director Harvey Schiller. Neither candidate would comment. "The search committee has let everyone know that talking is the death of his candidacy." said one source.
Weber, 64, announced in September that he would retire as Northwestern's president next Aug. 31, ending a nine-year association with the school. He is the man Richard Nixon chose in 1971 to lead a historic battle against inflation. As a special assistant to the president, Weber directed the U.S. government's only wage and price freeze in recent years.
Working for baseball owners might present an even higher degree of difficulty, especially for someone like Weber, who once described himself as "a high-energy type" who prefers to "make my own waves." In 1986 he advanced the idea that employers develop a better partnership with unions by sharing operational information and allowing them "clear access to the functioning management of the company." Sounds like a novel idea for baseball.
Weber's background as a sports administrator is less impressive. As president of the University of Colorado from 1980 to '85, he presided over the elimination of seven sports, including baseball. "He never did any favors for sports," says Dan Creedon, sports editor of the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera. "He tolerated them."
Some close to Weber maintain, however, that he is a true sports fan. And there is one accomplishment in his background that stamps him as a true baseball man: As a boy growing up on New York City's East Side, he once sold peanuts at Ebbets Field.
Sex and the single sumo. That is the story line that has captivated Japan over the last few weeks.
Akebono, who has ascended to the highest level—he is a yokozuna, a grand champion—in the near-sacred sport of sumo wrestling, rocked the country a few weeks ago when he announced that he was considering marriage to Noriko Usui, a 23-year-old former model. However, the union was given a thumbs-down by Azumazeki, Akebono's coach-trainer (known as a stable master in sumo circles), who feared that the marriage would disrupt his charge's career. Not long after that the voracious tabloid press in Japan reported that Usui had appeared in a pornographic video called Love Blossom.
It is nearly impossible to overstate the interest in the story in Japan. Yokozuna are virtual gods there; only 64 sumotori have attained that title in the 2,000-year history of the sport. Akebono, a Hawaiian who was born Chad Rowan, has been remarkably successful since reaching the top early last year. He won three straight tournaments this season, and in 1993 he earned $714,000 in salary and prize money, to break the previous record by $128,000. Yet the sport is governed by an almost feudal conservatism, so the scandalous god-and-the-por-no-queen slant to the story is irresistible.
Akebono's story roughly parallels that of a chief rival, Takanohana, 21, one of the youngest ozeki ("champions") in history. Last year Takanohana was engaged to a young Japanese starlet named Rie Miyazawa in what was invariably referred to as a Joe DiMaggio-Marilyn Monroe relationship. But Miyazawa, considered by many to be a publicity hound, jilted Takanohana last year on the same day that the press conference announcing his elevation to ozeki was held.
The 474-pound Akebono and the 313-pound Takanohana are such large talents on the sumo landscape that the sport is said to be entering the Ake-Taka era. They may now also be remembered together for something other than their prowess in the dohyo.
Not So Fresh Air
One can only imagine how writer Max Apple pitched his Him The Air Up There to Hollywood's movie moguls: "It's Hoosiers meets Ota of Africa."
The Air Up There, which hits the theaters this week, is the tale of assistant college basketball coach Jimmy (Shake 'n' Bake) Dolan, portrayed by the impeccably coiffed Kevin Bacon, and his recruiting trip to Kenya after spotting the next (select one: Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Manute Bol) in the background of a missionary's video.
The prize prospect, Winabi tribesman Saleh Wintamouk, is played by 6'8" Charles Mainah of Kenya, who was himself "discovered" by a casting director shortly after winning the 1991 Nairobi Slam Dunk championship.
The film swishes during Dolan's repeated attempts to win the approval of Saleh's tight-lipped chieftain father. After Dolan cashes in his camcorder and return plane ticket to purchase cows for the villagers, he exclaims, "I hope cattle isn't an NCAA recruiting violation!" But the film misses when it lapses into a sappy, predictable plot line that includes Dolan lacing up his sneakers to help the Winabis defeat a neighboring tribe in a hokey game of hoops. In that regard. Air is anything but rare.
A 900 Number
"It was like the four-minute mile being broken for the first time." That's how Eric Cornell, director of the monthly king-of-the-hill tournament at Riverbend Bowl in Corunna, Mich., put it after watching "Troy Ockerman (above) roll three straight 300 games in the finals of the December event for, pending certification, the first sanctioned 900 series in bowling history. The 26-year-old Ockerman, a video-game serviceman from Owosso, Mich., and now the Roger Bannister of the alleys, was, by all accounts, remarkably relaxed. "People were talking, and he was joking back," says Cornell.
But in the end Ockerman, who has a 216 average, showed that he felt pressure. After letting his 36th ball go, he turned away and dropped to one knee, afraid to look. "But then I lifted my head and saw the pins go down," says Ockerman. "I screamed, 'Yes!' " He was then carried triumphantly around the lanes on the shoulders of spectators. "It was incredible," he says. "It's not just once in a lifetime. It's once in history."
Ockerman, who must now wait for the American Bowling Congress to ratify the score (the highest series on record is the 899 by Tom Jordan of Paterson, N.J., in 1989), probably hopes history will repeat itself. His new goal is to join the PBA tour.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The Boston indoor sports scene, once personified by the wonderfully unpredictable and eccentric Boston Garden, may soon be dominated by a new $700 million convention center and indoor stadium known as—get ready—the Megaplex.
They Said It
•Frank Kerns, Georgia Southern basketball coach, analyzing himself and his Eagles after an 80-76 loss to Cornell: "I am the worst coach of the worst Division I basketball team in the country."