Farewell to (Both) Arms
American League president Bobby Brown recently issued a confidential memo to the league's general managers, managers and umpires outlining a seven-pronged plan to thwart one of the gravest threats to the integrity of the game today, namely the possibility of Boston Red Sox righthanded reliever Greg Harris—or anyone else, for that matter—trying to pitch with both arms. So what if Harris, who is ambidextrous, has never thrown a single lefthanded pitch in his 11-year major league career? And so what if no pitcher has attempted a dual delivery in a major league game since Elton (Icebox) Chamberlain did so in '88? (That's 1888, by the way.) In the memo, Regulations for an Ambidextrous Pitcher, Brown says the new rules will "protect against unusual liberties being taken thus creating an intolerable situation on the mound and at the plate." His arms-control agreement includes the following stipulations:
•The pitcher must indicate to the hitter-runner the arm he intends to use.
•The pitcher may change arms on the next hitter but must indicate the arm to be used.
•There will be no warmup pitches between the change of arms.
•If an arm is injured, the pitcher may change arms and the umpire is notified of the injury. The injured arm could not be used again in that game.
Says one team exec of the memo: "I threw it directly in the garbage."
But what about Harris? Isn't it enough that he pitches in the shadow of the Green Monster, that home runs in the majors are up 100% from last year and that the strike zone is shrinking as if it were 100% cotton? Isn't it enough that at week's end his ERA was 4.50 and that some observers say he isn't even the best pitcher named Greg Harris, that Colorado's Greg Harris (no relation) leads in the Harris poll? Now Brown won't even let the guy try switch-pitching without taking all the fun out of it. "I'm a little baffled about the timing," says Harris, who has been more successful against lefties than righties in his career. "The Red Sox aren't going to let me pitch lefthanded anyway."
Says Red Sox G.M. Dan Duquette, "We pay Greg to pitch righthanded."
On the other hand....
Upset over a 117-88 loss to the Phoenix Suns on April 13, Magic Johnson, who had taken over as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers on March 27, ordered his troops to report at 7:30 the following morning. At one point during the pre-practice meeting, as Johnson was complaining about "all your beepers and car phones and outside business interests," a beeper went off. Johnson stalked around the room until he found the offending device, which belonged to center Vlade Divac. Johnson grabbed the beeper from Divac, fired it against a wall and watched it smash into little pieces.
"That's the——I'm talking about," someone at the meeting quoted Johnson as saying, "and I'm sick of it." The next day Johnson announced he would not return as coach.
There is no news on whether Divac has replaced his beeper.
When Isiah Thomas limped off the court on April 19 with a torn right Achilles tendon, it was probably his last appearance in an NBA uniform. At the time Thomas was averaging 14.8 points and 6.9 assists and was shooting .417 from the floor, all three among the worst numbers of his 13-year career with the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were one of the worst teams in the NBA and would finish the season on Sunday with a 20-62 record. Thomas had already had a falling-out with Detroit owner William Davidson, and that probably cost him a shot at a management position with the team. In all, the 6'1" Thomas, whom many NBA observers consider the best little man ever, deserved a far nobler farewell.
Thomas may gain solace from the fact that other superstars in other sports were denied fitting final seasons and/or graceful exits. Here are a few of them:
•Shortly after he became a worldwide hero in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens was suspended by the AAU for refusing to attend a meet and subsequently took to running against racehorses to make a living. "I wasn't sure whether what I was doing was participating in an athletic exhibition or just making a spectacle of myself," Owens wrote in The Jesse Owens Story. Sadly, it was more of the latter.
•Willie Mays finished his immortal career in highly mortal fashion with the New York Mets in 1973. He lost fly balls in the sun, fell down on the base paths and, despite his memorable 12th-inning RBI single off the Oakland Athletics' Rollie Fingers in Game 2 of the World Series, hit only .211 for the season.
•O.J. Simpson will be forever remembered for his glory years with the Buffalo Bills, but he ended his playing days with two lackluster seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He gained only 1,053 yards for the Niners while sharing the rushing duties with one Paul Hofer on a team that won only four of 32 games.
•Muhammad Ali, like so many boxers, couldn't bow out gracefully. He was badly beaten by Larry Holmes in October 1980, after which he retired, but he returned 14 months later to fight Trevor Berbick. Ali, one month shy of his 40th birthday, lost a lackluster 10-round decision in the Podunkian setting of a run-down ballpark in the Bahamas.
•Nolan Ryan was 11 days shy of finishing his record 27th and final major league season in 1993 when he tore a ligament in his right elbow. "I was just trying to squeeze a few more innings out," he said then. "I did not want it to end this way." Fans desperately wanted America's Flamethrower, who was 47, to turn in one more masterly performance for the Texas Rangers, but he couldn't do it.
Most college presidents like to position themselves above the athletic fray, to present themselves as semidetached observers who politely applaud each touchdown but are uncomfortable in the sweaty, dollar-driven world of big-time college sports. That hardly describes Charles Young, chancellor of UCLA.
Last week Young belly-flopped into the mess that has grown out of last season's Rose Bowl by admitting that he had given approval for a UCLA booster named Angelo Mazzone III to buy 4,000 of the Bruins' allotted 41,586 Rose Bowl tickets, worth $184,000, in exchange for a $100,000 contribution to the university. Young knew that Mazzone, a former associate athletic director at UCLA, intended to put together package tours to the game, presumably to make a profit. That deal was struck on Dec. 2, three days before the Bruins learned that Wisconsin would be their Rose Bowl opponent.
The whole thing has become a public-relations nightmare for Young. Badger fans, who have been complaining for months that legions of them were shut out of the game or had to pay scalpers' prices, contend that UCLA should have made the 4,000 tickets available to them and that selling them to Mazzone contributed to the chaotic ticket situation. James Doyle, Wisconsin's attorney general, has even asked UCLA to make restitution to the Badger fans left in the lurch—thousands made the expensive trip to California only to find that promised tickets didn't materialize—by handing over Mazzone's $100,000 donation to Doyle's office for distribution.
That may have been a blatantly political gesture on Doyle's part. But there is no politics involved in the anger displayed by the Bruin faithful. Many UCLA fans, including season-ticket holders, were outraged to learn that one booster had gotten a block of 4,000 tickets while many of them had been unable to buy even one.
Bruin officials contend that they made the Mazzone deal to avoid being stuck with unsold tickets, as some previous Pac-10 representatives in the Rose Bowl have been. And there is no proof that Mazzone's package deal had an impact on Wisconsin's ticket shortage, despite Doyle's contention that "the sale helped feed into the secondary ticket market." But Young's involving himself in the ticket business in exchange for a contribution is a sleazy practice that demeans the office of a college president.
A Day with the Veep
One of the nation's best-known sports fans died last Friday. Assistant managing editor Joe Marshall offers a reminiscence.
My father met Richard Nixon in the early 1940s, when they worked together in the wartime Office of Price Administration. They quickly became friends, and as a result I met Nixon several times while growing up in Washington, D.C. Last week, as I thought back on my first encounter with him, I was struck by how much the world has changed in the last 40 years.
In 1954, Nixon was in his first term as Dwight Eisenhower's Vice President. I was eight years old, and my father had begun to introduce me to sports by taking me to Redskin games. One day late that season, one of the people who went with us couldn't make it. Dad invited Nixon, who eagerly accepted.
We drove to the Vice President's modest, three-bedroom house in the Spring Valley section of Washington, walked up to the door and knocked. No metal detectors, no Secret Service. Inside we exchanged small talk. The women—Pat Nixon, her two daughters and my mother—were staying home. When we set off for the game, Pat set off for the kitchen to bake a chocolate cake.
Nixon suggested we take his car because he had a driver. He might have been a Secret Service agent, but after he dropped us off outside Griffith Stadium, he didn't stay with us as we made our way through the crowd, seemingly unnoticed. Nixon was clearly excited and cheered as loudly for the Redskins as my father did. The title "Vice President" meant little to me, and I was baffled when two people asked for his autograph at halftime. Do I want his autograph? I wondered. No, I decided. And as the game went on, I figured I had made the right decision because no one else approached him.
After the game we drove back to the Nixons' for a spaghetti supper and then the chocolate cake. Dinner ended, as meals of families with little children often do, when one of the Nixon daughters—was it Tricia or Julie?—threw up the chocolate cake. Then we drove home.
My father is saddened by the death of Nixon, a friend whose life was lived out on the front pages. Looking back, I am saddened, too, but by the passing of a far, far simpler time.
Look Out, NFL: It's Fox Time!
The Fox television network has spared no expense in landing prime talent for its debut NFL season. And it is apparently determined to bring its distinctive youth-friendly, hipper-than-thou style to its broadcasts. Commentator Terry Bradshaw has already been filmed for a promo with a funky 'stache, and last week Fox president David Hill said, "We are Foxifying the NFL look." We're not entirely sure what he means, but here's one man's Foxification of three members of the network's star-studded stable of commentators (from left): Jimmy Johnson, Pat Summerall and John Madden.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
IN AN antidrug public-service television commercial that aired recently in Buffalo, a kid on a playground says, "I don't use drugs because I want to be like Michael Jordan," and his pal adds, "I don't use drugs because I want to be like Darryl Strawberry."
They Said It
The San Francisco Giant pitching coach, on the inconsistency of 22-year-old righthander Salomon Torres: "It's youth. But that youth thing gets old after a while."
NFL Draft: Yesterday and Today
Number of players drafted
Top pick and estimated salary
Jay Berwanger (above left), $5,000
Dan Wilkinson, $2 million
Number of media types making a full-time living as a "draft expert"
Anyone named Mel KiperJr. (above right)
Number of media credentials granted to cover draft
Number of college players keeping a "draft diary"
A whole lot more than ever kept a regular diary
Hours of live television coverage
Medium not yet perfected
About 15 ½
Number of "mock drafts" held by NFL teams
At least 28
Number of references to "the war room"
More than in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm put together
Number of "war rooms" covered by TV
Approximate number of football execs labeled "draft experts"
Enough to fill a hundred war rooms
Number of "helmet phones" used on-site