Fast Train from Clarksville
A Sprinter's world is measured out in 10ths of a second, a mayfly's dance between the starter's gun and the tape. For Wilma Rudolph, the most elegant and revered woman sprinter of all, life was more a distance race, an often hard road, well and courageously run. Rudolph was 54 when she died last Saturday of brain cancer in her native Tennessee, and it is a measure of her enduring vitality that those who knew her spoke not only of her athletic glories at the Olympics in Rome 34 years ago but also of her abiding involvement with the Olympic movement and her work with children everywhere.
The Wilma Rudolph story is the stuff of fairy tales, only in her case the fairy tale came true. Born in Clarksville, the 20th of her railroad-porter father's 22 children from two marriages, Rudolph was a frail and sickly child. Stricken with double pneumonia and scarlet fever when she was four and later diagnosed with polio, she went through childhood with a crippled right leg. She had to wear a brace and orthopedic shoes that, she said, "always reminded me something was wrong with me."
The leg slowly improved, and when she was 12 the brace came off for good. Her first love was basketball, and she became a high school star. Six feet tall and still less than 100 pounds by the time she was a junior, she picked up the nickname Skeeter, short for Mosquito. She set a Tennessee Negro girls' record as a junior by scoring 803 points in 25 games. By then her speed had been discovered, and at 16 she won a bronze medal in the 4 X 100-meter relay at the 1956 Olympics.
Her track career might have come to a sudden end when, in the middle of her senior year of high school, she became pregnant. But her parents and coaches stood by her. She gave birth to a daughter, Yolanda, placing her with a married sister in St. Louis. Then she went on to Tennessee State on a track scholarship with the 1960 Olympics as her goal.
Her performance in Rome was overwhelming. She won the 100 and the 200 and anchored the gold-medal-winning 4 X 100-meter relay team. The image of Rudolph and another hero of those Games, Cassius Clay, majestic and flush with youth and promise, riding together in a pink Cadillac convertible in the afterglow of Rome, is among the most memorable of that era.
For the past three decades she used her life as a touchstone for lessons in perseverance that she imparted to people in the worlds of business and education, but especially to children through the Wilma Rudolph Foundation. "I don't consciously try to be a role model, so I don't know if I am or not," she once said. "That's for other people to decide."
The decision was made long ago. Wilma Rudolph will be laid to rest with her casket draped in the Olympic flag.
The Center Cannot Gold
It should be no surprise that Hakeem Olajuwon's 1993-94 NBA championship ring is a bit shinier than his teammates'. After all, as the league MVP last season and the man who led Houston to its first title ever, the Dream surely deserved a bonus diamond or two. As it turns out, the extra luster is the result of the center's having his circlet made of platinum. Olajuwon's devotion to Islam forbids him to wear gold, the element of choice among his fellow Rockets. We assume that the Dream won't be complaining about a lack of Pt this season.
After a 14-month absence, Jennifer Capriati returned-to the women's tennis tour last week. SI's Sally Jenkins checked in on her at the Virginia Slims of Philadelphia:
Even if Capriati's return wasn't wholly triumphant—she suffered a first-round loss to eventual tournament winner Anke Huber after tiring in the third set—she reappeared with her smile intact and her game in the care of a new coach, Josè Higueras, who's known for developing fit clay-court champions. Capriati may well recapture the form that enabled her to win an Olympic gold in Barcelona. The question is whether her head is together again. Unlike the effervescent girl who turned pro and made her first million before her 15th birthday, Capriati at 18 is a wary young woman, a survivor of burnout and, as a result of a settlement following her arrest for misdemeanor possession of marijuana last spring, a month in a Miami drug-rehab facility. "I experienced a lot, I got wiser, and I found out what makes me happy," says Capriati. "I learned I really love the game, and it doesn't matter if I win or lose. I want to compete again."
If Capriati returns to the top ranks of the game, the pressures that once tripped her up will still be there, so for her sake it's fortunate that the WTA Tour Players Association will adopt the ATP Tour's more stringent drug-testing program in January. One veteran Top 10 player recently told SI that she has never been tested under the WTA's current program. Both Capriati and women's tennis will be well served by this more vigilant policy.
Here's a sports story with fizz: Scott Brown, who worked in player development for the New York Mets until leaving last July to take a job in Florida as a salesman for Coca-Cola, has returned to the Mets. He will be assistant general manager of their Double A affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y. His boss there? One R.C. Reuteman. "And," says Brown, "I think we sell Pepsi at our ballpark."
Now watch the team go seven up in its division.
Every time Yale hockey goalie Todd Sullivan takes his position in the net for the Bulldogs, he knows his father will be cheering from the stands. Oh, sure, there was the tournament in Alaska two years ago that the elder Sullivan simply blew off, and he did arrive too late for the Harvard game last season. But give the old man his due. How many other hockey parents commute to their sons' games—from El Salvador?
Paul Sullivan, 53, a former professional tennis player and a graduate of Harvard, of all places, is co-owner of a textile company based near San Salvador. Though he still maintains a home in Wayland, Mass., where Todd grew up, he spends most of the winter in Central America, more than seven hours by plane from Boston. "He'll fly in the afternoon of the game and fly out that night or sometimes the next morning," says Todd, a senior political science major who hopes to play in the NHL. "If we have a couple of games in a row, he'll rent a car and drive from one to the next. He's pretty supportive, I guess."
Paul was in New Haven last Friday when the Bulldogs beat the Crimson 3-2, and he says he'll be at every game this season. And if his son makes the pros?
"He'll be there," says Todd. "He just hopes I don't wind up in Edmonton."
One sure way for spring training to start on time would be for Congress to send baseball's antitrust exemption to the death it deserves. Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Don Fehr has said his members would return to work immediately if the law were repealed. The results of last week's election muddle the picture. Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, an exemption opponent, will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would have to approve any such legislation before it could come to a vote. Meanwhile, his likely counterpart at the House Judiciary Committee, Henry Hyde (R., Ill.), last month opposed legislative intervention that would constitute "blatant favoritism for any union." Owners are cheered by the failure of several antiexemption Democrats in the House, including Jack Brooks of Texas and Mike Synar of Oklahoma, to survive this election season; players are encouraged that President Clinton has said he'll sign any bill rolling back the exemption.
The big loser may be former Senate majority leader George Mitchell, who didn't run for reelection and made no secret of his interest in the commissioner's job. The owners were considering Mitchell because of the sway he would have had with a Democratic Congress. Now, says one Republican Senate staffer, Mitchell's hiring "would unify the Republican party in both houses against baseball. The antitrust exemption would disappear in a matter of minutes. Mitchell ticked off everyone with his partisanship, and it would be payback time."
Party lines blur completely on this issue. As a rule politicians from regions hunting for major league franchises support repeal to allow more franchise movement and expansion. For the moment, lawmakers from Florida and Arizona support repeal, too, because they don't want to lose out on the economic benefits of spring training. On the other hand, politicians from long-standing big league cities want to retain the exemption, to keep clubs where they are. Thus we have the strange state of affairs in Illinois, where the conservative Hyde and two liberal Democratic senators, Carol Moseley-Braun and Paul Simon, agree for perhaps the only time in their lives.
All of this may be moot if supermediator Bill Usery keeps wearing that test-pattern sweater he sported at last Thursday's bargaining session. You'd rush to settle, too, rather than be exposed to that eyesore any longer.
Ballpark of Dreams
The perfect place to watch and play baseball would have power alleys deep enough to allow for triples and spectacular catches. The bullpens would sit alongside the foul lines, so fans could better see who's up and throwing. Shangri-la Stadium, were it ever built, would seat about 45,000 people—enough to generate a roar of the crowd but not so many that the ballpark wouldn't have an intimate feel. And, of course, the grass would be natural and the parking free. Meccano Inc., the French company that makes Erector sets, collected suggestions like these from fans and former big leaguers before building its Dream Baseball Park out of struts and screws. The seven-by-seven-foot model, assembled at Meccano's factory in Calais, was shipped last week to New York City, where it will be on display in the lobby of the Empire State Building for three months beginning Nov. 17.
The designers clearly drew inspiration from baseball's dowager palaces. The park's irregular dimensions echo Yankee Stadium and Fenway, and the architectural details suggest such retro parks as the Ballpark in Arlington and Oriole Park at Camden Yards. There are nods to progress too, including a retractable roof and a Diamond Vision screen to go with the hand-operated scoreboard.
A few suggestions too minute to be integrated into the design have been left to the imagination. "I'd like a keypad at each seat, so you can order knockwurst in the sixth inning," said former Tiger pitcher Mark Fidrych. Young fans wanted seats that could be jacked up so short spectators might see better. And a 13-year-old girl suggested coin-operated Magic Fingers in each seat to relieve late-game stress. But perhaps the most fanciful suggestion came from a fan in Ithaca, N.Y. He proposed something baseball stadiums haven't come equipped with of late: ballplayers.
To Michael Porter, losing isn't everything; it's the only thing. Porter, a sophomore running back at Prairie View A&M, has been a loser in the last 51 football games he has played. After three 0-10 seasons at Houston's Jefferson Davis High School, he chose Prairie View, then at 24 straight losses and counting, "for academic reasons." On Saturday the Panthers broke Columbia's Division I-AA record with their 45th consecutive loss, 52-7 at Jackson State.
"People are amazed that I keep playing, but I'm not about to quit," Porter says. "I try to play good football on every down. I don't look at the clock or think about the score. I know that what I've gone through will help me later in life."
Leland's, a Manhattan collectibles dealer, will be putting $2 million worth of sports memorabilia on the auction block this weekend, including the four-room house in Commerce, Okla., in which Mickey Mantle grew up (bid range: $30,000 to $40,000). But several of the lots are souvenirs of far more dubious people or moments in sports history.
1 1919 Black Sox World Series ticket. Say it ain't sold! Shoeless Joe and the boys beat Cincy in this contest, Game 3, on their way into the tank. Bid range: $1,200 to $1,500.
2 Heidi Game signed program. NBC may have cut away early from that 1968 Jet-Raider epic, but whoever owned this item was plenty tenacious: It's signed by 41 members of the losers, who went on to win the Super Bowl. As the Raider owner might say, Just bid, baby—$500 to $600.
3 June 12, 1994, dance recital ticket autographed by O.J. Simpson. The Juice signed this on the night of the murder of his estranged wife, Nicole, who also attended their daughter's performance. With bids starting at $1,200 to $1,500, here's evidence that—for some, anyway—crime pays.
4 Dwight Gooden's 1987 Tidewater International League championship ring. It was Doc's for having pitched a few games in Triple A after drug rehab; it's yours for a bid starting at four to five K's.
5 James Ward oil portrait. This 19th-century heavyweight champ was the first titleholder known to have thrown a fight. Take a dive into the bidding at $3,000 to $4,000.
6 Two autographed Pete Rose bats. Personalized gifts to bookmaker Ron Peters, this lumber helped establish Charlie Hustle's gambling and ensured that he'd be going once, going twice, gone from baseball. A $2,000 to $3,000 play.
7 Wade Boggs's gift to Margo Adams. A "lot" of fun! The uniform number of the randy Bosox third-sacker graces this pendant, which Boggs gave his mistress on their first, uh, anniversary, and which Adams once ripped off in a snit when she thought her Boggsy had been untrue. This bit of silverwork is yours for $1,200 to $1,500.
8 Anti-Semitic letter from Ty Cobb. Discussing offers from Hollywood, Cobb refers to "jew picture guys." With Tommy Lee Jones's portrayal of the Georgia Peach about to hit the cineplexes, this could be a steal at $2,000 to $2,500.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
IKEA, the home-furnishings chain, will offer free quiche to all males who visit its stores on Jan. 15, the day on which the NFL conference championships will be played, "to give a break to the men who turn off the game and spend their Sundays creating beautiful things."
They Said It
Former NFL tight end, on the hit movie "Forrest Gump": "[It's] the heartwarming story of a simpleminded Southern boy who leads a fantasy sports life. I kind of wish, though, that they had stuck with the original title: "The Terry Bradshaw Story."