POINT OF NO RETURN
In announcing last February that he had contracted the virus
that causes AIDS, Tommy Morrison, the perennially overhyped
heavyweight contender previously known chiefly for his left
hook, his party-hearty lifestyle and his role as an overhyped
heavyweight contender in Rocky V, exhibited a surprising
eloquence and a striking sense of courage and resolve. Here, it
seemed, was a compelling--if unlikely--spokesman for the battle
against AIDS. Which made the fighter's announcement last week of
a proposed return to the ring all the more dismaying.
Morrison's stated reason for what he said will be a one-bout
return is to raise money for Knockout AIDS, a foundation for
children with HIV and AIDS that he founded in June with his
longtime promoter, Tony Holden. Yet there is wide speculation
that Morrison is simply reluctant to let go of boxing. Last
January, Morrison signed a multifight contract with Don King;
had things gone as expected, he would now be preparing to meet
Mike Tyson in the richest showdown of Morrison's career. Plus,
as Holden explains, still-good health has sent a mixed message
to Morrison, who remains a fit 228 pounds. "He doesn't feel any
effects," says Holden. "To an athlete, this is confusing."
A more troubling reason for the comeback might be that despite
more than $10 million in career earnings, Morrison may not be
financially prepared for the most important fight of his life.
Treating HIV patients can cost thousands a month, and sources
close to Morrison will say only that the boxer, who has been
aggressive in learning about the disease and pursuing treatment,
has "some" insurance.
There is no doubt that Morrison has already helped boxing,
having increased awareness and prompted more widespread prebout
testing in his bloody business. But the latest Morrison move has
raised questions that no one around him seems ready to answer.
"His whole life has been full of violence and money and greed,"
says Holden, "but his heart is 100 percent in the right place."
Wherever his heart is, his body should not be allowed through
the ropes. There's no conclusive evidence that HIV can be spread
through sports, but the sanguinary nature of boxing argues
against HIV-positive athletes competing, at least until more
research is done. For now the debate seems academic. When
Morrison's license was revoked by Nevada, every other state with
a boxing commission followed suit. And TV's reaction to the
proposed return has so far been thumbs-down; Showtime's Jay
Larkin last week termed the idea of airing any Morrison fight
But Morrison says he's determined to box again. And given
boxing's history, who would doubt that there are opponents
willing to fight him, venues willing to host such a bout and
promoters sleazy enough to arrange a showcase for The HIV
IN NAME ONLY
The Lehigh men's golf team won the Cornell-Colgate Invitational,
played on Sept. 7 and 8 in Ithaca and Hamilton, N.Y., by beating
18 other teams but not Cornell. The Big Red was forced to sit
out its own tournament because of an Ivy League rule prohibiting
competition before the completion of two weeks of classes.
Cornell coach Dick Costello, who says he was unaware of the rule
when he planned the event, appealed for an exemption but was
turned down. "I accept total responsibility," he says, "but I
don't condone the lack of respect for humanity the Ivy League
appeals committee had."
Though enraptured by the brilliance of MVP candidate Alex
Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners, history-minded fans in the
Emerald City might recall an era in which their shortstop did
not hit .365 and look like a GQ cover model. They remember the
late, lamented Ray (Oil Can Harry) Oyler, for whom the term
good-field, no-hit could have been invented.
In 1969, the only year that the Seattle Pilots existed before
becoming the Milwaukee Brewers, the Ray Oyler Fan Club numbered
as many as 50,000. That's remarkable considering that the
Pilots' average attendance at their aptly named home park,
decrepit Sicks' Stadium, was only about 8,000. "We'd have an
oompah band play before his at bats," says Robert Hardwick, a
former disc jockey who was the nominal president of the fan
club. "It was an awful band."
And Oyler was an awful batter. A spindly, 5'10" 165-pounder, he
hit exactly his weight for Seattle that year. Bad, but not as
bad as his ignominious stickwork in '68. That year, playing for
the world champion Detroit Tigers, he hit .135, the worst season
average ever for a position player who appeared in at least 100
games, and somewhat lower than the league-leading .363 that
Rodriguez was batting at week's end. O.K., it was the "year of
the pitcher," but Oyler did not get a hit after July 15. He was
benched in favor of converted centerfielder Mickey Stanley
during the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. After
Seattle picked up Oyler in the expansion draft, a Detroit disc
jockey started a fund drive for an "Oyler World Series share"
that Oyler was certain to miss as a Pilot. It netted $30.80.
In January 1981, at age 43, 11 years after his last major league
game, for the California Angels, Oyler suffered a fatal heart
attack. That was a shock because Oyler had always been a
resilient player, one who had made a quick recovery from a
perforated ulcer. "I got the ulcer from worrying," he once said.
"You'd worry, too, if you hit like I did."
Allan Malamud, who died last week of a heart attack at age 54,
was one of Los Angeles's unlikeliest celebrities. Creator of the
long-running "Notes on a Scorecard," one of the area's best-read
sports columns, he was nevertheless perversely famous for his
movie work--woodenly acted bit parts in 15 films, including Car
Wash, Raging Bull and Tin Cup.
Mud, as his friends called him, was nobody's idea of a movie
star. His Larry Fine-esque shock of hair was untamable, and none
of the diets he ever tried, including his ill-fated ice-cream
diet, did much to reduce his girth. But there is such a thing as
likability, and Malamud's shone in his column, at dinner, in the
press box. When he died, none of us could remember any one thing
he'd said, any particular line he'd written or any adventure
(outside of dessert) that happened in his company. All we could
remember was that our first read of the day was his scattershot
column, and that dinner with Mud would be a long and lively one.
To his friends, the success of his column was as mysterious as
his movie career. Mud was shy and unobtrusive, and though he was
a terrific writer, he never let flashiness get in the way of
information. His column, which first appeared in 1974 in the now
defunct Herald Examiner and continued at the Times, did not lack
opinions, but it was never cynical. He was, as his friend and
director Ron Shelton said, guileless.
His death caught us by surprise, and friends, scrambling to form
defining anecdotes, realized that Mud had been quite a
character: a guy who drove his Cadillac the walking distance
from his downtown apartment to his office every day, bet big at
blackjack, sneaked a peach pie to a pal on a diet, always
offered a compliment, talked sports or movies until the last
plate had been cleared. That role, his many friends realized,
was the one Mud was born to play.
WILL FORECHECK FOR WORK
In Canada, even the panhandlers know their hockey. At the corner
of Yonge and St. Clair streets in Toronto last week, a man with
a need for a helping hand and a distaste for a certain widely
reviled Colorado Avalanche rightwinger was carrying a sign that
read WILL HIT CLAUDE LEMIEUX FROM BEHIND FOR FOOD.
Reporter Matt Rudy suited up last week for the Throwbacks
Training Camp, a one-day fantasy workout session in Canton, Ohio.
Ray Nitschke is chrome bald. He has a funny hitch in his gait.
His fingers are battered and crooked. He's got a cigar jammed
deep in the side of his mouth and sweatpants pulled up far past
his waist. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is paying the
59-year-old former Green Bay Packers linebacker and five other
gridiron greats to spend the day with 40 starstruck campers,
running drills and talking about the old days.
But Nitschke is going insane. He jabs a finger at me and smacks
a tackling dummy. "You hate this guy!" he screams as he
throttles the red sled. After this rudimentary lesson in the
forearm shiver, he turns us loose on the dummy. Six hamstring
pulls later, our group moves on to Otto Graham and Precision
Passing. Graham, who won 10 league or division titles with the
Cleveland Browns, has a lower-key approach. He is, after all, 74.
The camp is one of five organized by the Hall and scheduled to
be held at various sites around the country this fall. For $250,
any male or female masochist over 18 can hit the field with the
likes of Graham, Nitschke, Deacon Jones, Gale Sayers and Paul
Warfield. Sayers, the Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago
Bears, leads the Running to Daylight session, complete with
agility drills and sprints. Warfield, who starred at wide
receiver for the Browns and the Miami Dolphins, demonstrates
curls, posts and slants, and effortless one-hand grabs. Jones,
an end on the Los Angeles Rams' Fearsome Foursome defensive
line, hosts Kill the Quarterback, which turns out to be more
diatribe than diagram. "I don't care if you have God back there
at quarterback," Jones says. "If we do what we're supposed to,
he's looking for another kind of work."
Just then, Nitschke bellows at a camper for some misstep on the
field, and Jones flashes a heavy-lidded grin. "Lombardi used to
yell at Ray all the time," says Jones. "He's been waiting his
whole life to use it on someone else."
Teams that will have retired Nolan Ryan's jersey after the
Astros, following the lead of the Angels and the Rangers, do it
Teams--the Mets--for which Ryan pitched that have not.
Height, in inches, of basket on which Harlem Globetrotters
Michael Wilson and Sean Williams dunked last week, breaking
previous record by one inch.
Sum, in dollars, paid to Nebraska by Northern Illinois to back
out of a football game at Lincoln next season because of a
Margin (220-157) by which Indiana principals approved splitting
the state hoops tournament into divisions determined by
enrollment, disappointing those Hoosiers still celebrating tiny
Milan High's upset of Muncie Central in 1954.
Percentage of males at an Atlanta Braves game who did not wash
their hands after using the rest room, making baseball fans the
most unsanitary group in an American Society of Microbiology
Bob Dole may have put the Dodgers back in Brooklyn last week,
but as these pencils (still in stores) show, he's not the only
one with a skewed sports compass.
Golden State Warriors forward Joe Smith's spotless image was
spattered in July when he was charged with malicious wounding
for what prosecutors said was his part in a July bar brawl in
Chesapeake, Va. (SCORECARD, Aug. 12). Some of the damage was
undone last week when a district judge dismissed the allegations
in a preliminary hearing.
"Thank you, Lord!" cried Smith's mother, Letha, after the ruling
was announced. Thank you also to six defense witnesses who were
at the scene and effectively countered the testimony of
prosecution witnesses who contended that Smith (left) struck a
male dancer with a beer bottle, cutting the dancer below the neck.
Smith, 21, admitted he was drinking that evening in Ridley's
Restaurant and Lounge and that he and his friends were loud. But
he denied throwing an ashtray (which the prosecution said
precipitated the brawl), and he denied hitting the dancer with a
bottle. Now he wants to put the incident behind him, although he
says it has changed him. "I'm not as open as I used to be,"
Smith says. "I was known as a good, wholesome person who never
got in trouble. It tarnished my image and really hurt me."
Chad Ganden, the learning-disabled swimmer who fought an
eligibility battle with the NCAA while at Naperville (Ill.)
North High (SCORECARD, Dec. 11, 1995), earned a partial victory
when he was awarded an athletic scholarship last month to
Michigan State, where he is a freshman. But his battles with the
NCAA are not over. Ganden, who won back-to-back 100-yard
freestyle state titles, was declared a "partial qualifier,"
meaning he is allowed to work out with the Spartan swimmers but
cannot compete this season. The NCAA did not recognize two of
Ganden's high school subjects as core courses, leaving his grade
point average of 2.1 below full-qualifier status. Michigan State
planned to file an appeal with the NCAA this week, but Ganden's
parents, Warren and Susan, frustrated by what they consider the
NCAA's unwillingness to accommodate learning-disabled athletes,
say they're not optimistic.
NASCAR is cultivating a more genteel, upscale image these days,
but all that paint tradin' on the track still has a way of
leading to punch swappin' in the pits. The postrace dustups in
Dover, Del., on Sept. 15--Kyle Petty versus Michael Waltrip, and
Jimmy Spencer versus Wally Dallenbach--were the latest in a long
line of high-octane brawls. Here are some classics.
1979 In the granddaddy of all NASCAR slugfests, after Donnie
Allison bumps Cale Yarborough on the final lap of the Daytona
500, taking both out of race, Yarborough (on ground, above), a
sometime alligator wrestler, takes on Donnie and brother Bobby.
1993 Upset over a collision with Brett Bodine two weeks before,
Ricky Rudd approaches Bodine during qualifying at North
Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, congratulates him on a good run and
then takes a punch at him. "He scuffed me," says Bodine.
1993 After being bumped out of a race by Bobby Hillin Jr. while
leading at Bristol (Tenn.) Raceway, Dale Jarrett walks to the
edge of the track and heaves his helmet at Hillen's car as it
speeds by. "It's a shame idiots like that are out there," says
1995 Crowded by Lake Speed during the last laps of the Miller
Genuine Draft 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Michael
Waltrip cuts off Speed in the pits, hops out and punches him
twice. "He parked me like a highway patrolman," says Speed.
1995 After Ted Musgrave causes Ricky Rudd to spin out during
the Hanes 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Rudd's crew chief,
Bill Ingle, punches Musgrave, drawing a $250 fine.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Despite an ongoing incident involving a local mother who was
holding her daughter hostage and threatening her with a hatchet,
the ABC affiliate in Buffalo made quarterback Jim Kelly's
hamstring pull the lead story on its 5 p.m. news broadcast last
Boxing promoter, citing his credentials to speak to an assembly
of Harvard Law School students: "I've been in more courtrooms
than any of you."