A NEW LOOK
When major league owners ratified a collective bargaining
agreement on Nov. 26, they guaranteed labor peace in baseball
for at least four years and cleared the ground for a seismic
shift in scheduling: Interleague play will begin next season.
Each of the four teams in the American League West will play
four games against each team in the National League West; the
five teams in the American League East will play three games
apiece against their National League East counterparts; and the
five American League Central clubs will do the same against the
National League Central teams. The new matchups, while they may
be anathema to the purists, conjure up some tantalizing scenarios.
In the West: Oakland A's Mark McGwire hitting in the Colorado
Rockies' Coors Field. McGwire homered every 8.1 at bats in '96,
and Coors is the best hitter's park ever; Al McGuire could hit
one out of that place....Texas Rangers first baseman Will Clark
returning to San Francisco for the first time since he bolted as
a free agent in 1993, leaving behind legions of grieving Giants
fans....Seattle Mariner Randy Johnson, the game's most
intimidating pitcher, facing San Diego Padre Tony Gwynn, the
game's best hitter....The 6'10" Johnson batting for the first
time since '89; with luck he'll face San Francisco reliever Doug
Creek, who is a mere 5'10"....The Los Angeles Dodgers' dominant
Hideo Nomo facing Seattle's daunting 2-3-4-5 hitters: Alex
Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner.
In the East: New York Yankees pitchers David Cone and Doc Gooden
pitching against the New York Mets for the first time; Darryl
Strawberry swinging against his old team too....Atlanta Braves
shortstop Rafael Belliard, who hasn't homered in his last 1,805
at bats, dating to '87, hitting for the first time against
Detroit, which last season surrendered a record 241 home
runs....The Boston Red Sox returning to Shea Stadium for the
first time since their collapse in the 1986 World Series....The
Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays playing the first
all-Canadian series, with Toronto perhaps starting lefty Paul
Spoljaric, who hails from Kelowna, B.C., against Montreal's
Rheal Cormier, a native of Moncton, New Brunswick.
In the Central: Chicago White Sox outfielder Albert Belle
stepping up against the Pittsburgh Pirates, his salary ($11
million) being higher than those of the Bucs' entire starting
nine....Kansas City Royal Bob Boone managing against his son,
Bret, the Cincinnati Reds second baseman (the last time a father
managed against his son: Seattle skipper Maury Wills versus
Texas second baseman Bump Wills in 1980)....The Pirates playing
the Milwaukee Brewers in the Small Market Series, with all 3,000
fans in attendance (whether in Milwaukee or Pittsburgh)
receiving, we hope, a copy of the new basic agreement
autographed by owners Bud Selig of the Brewers and Kevin
McClatchy of the Pirates.
UPDATE: BLOOD MONEY
Six years ago outside a barn in Newberry, Fla., investigators
watched as an itinerant stablehand named Tommy Burns and an
accomplice used a crowbar to crush the leg of a valuable show
horse. This cruel act was part of a plot by the horse's owner to
kill the animal and collect insurance money (SI, Nov. 16, 1992).
Last week in a U.S. district courtroom in Chicago, Judge Charles
Norgle sentenced Burns, 35, to six months in jail--the minimum
term under federal rules--for his role in the Florida attack and
in 19 other equestrian killings. The light sentence reflected
the extraordinary cooperation Burns had given authorities since
his arrest. With information provided by Burns, the FBI, the
Illinois State Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms launched an investigation that rocked the U.S.
equestrian world and led to 27 indictments and 26 convictions.
"The results of Mr. Burns's cooperation have been truly
extraordinary," says assistant U.S. attorney Susan Cox.
According to authorities, Burns helped convict 14 equestrians
for killing their horses for insurance money, and he assisted in
many prosecutions for stable fires and other frauds.
Clearly, Norgle's sentence also reflected his belief that Burns,
who ran away from home at 14 and drifted from job to job in the
horse world before sliding into crime, has turned his life
around: He now has an auto-sales and -rebuilding business in
suburban Chicago and is planning to buy a house there as well.
Burns's transformation has also been noted by the agents who
have worked with him for the past six years. "What he has done
with his life," says Cox, "is nothing short of remarkable."
MAKING A POINT
If the Toronto Raptors fall on hard times this season--and with
a 4-10 record and a last-place position in the Central Division
at week's end, they've begun the descent--they can turn to their
backup point guard. They might not get double-figure stats from
5'10" Donald Whiteside, 27, who was averaging 1.9 points and 1.6
assists, respectively, but they are likely to get double-figure
inspiration. On Oct. 3, the day Toronto's training camp opened,
Whiteside was teaching physical education and theology at Leo
High, a Catholic school in Chicago from which he had graduated
in 1987. Whiteside was preparing a lesson called "the seven
sacraments of the Catholic Church" when he got the call to come
in for a tryout with the Raptors.
Whiteside made such an impression in camp that Toronto waived
two former first-round picks (B.J. Tyler and Harold Miner),
eating the final four years of Tyler's six-year, $6.8 million
contract in the process. "Donald makes the right decisions, he
shoots the ball, he defends," says Raptors coach Darrell Walker,
who is giving Whiteside eight minutes a game. "All the things
you want in a point guard."
Those skills were overlooked in the 1991 NBA draft, which
occurred three months after Whiteside, then a senior, led
Northern Illinois to a 25-6 record and an NCAA tournament berth.
Thus began a four-continent odyssey for Whiteside that included
playing stints in Kalgoorlie and Hobart, Australia; Caracas,
Venezuela; Riga, Latvia; and Rockford, Ill.--where he stopped
for an eight-game cup of joe with the Lightning of the CBA.
In '95 Whiteside, who majored in communications at Northern
Illinois, gave up the chase--"He was tired of having people tell
him he should be in the NBA but never getting a break," says his
agent, Willie Scott--and took the job at Chicago Leo. He did
play in the Chicago Pro-Am League last summer, and that's where,
at Scott's request, Raptors scout Larry Thomas, the brother of
Toronto general manager Isiah Thomas, came to take a look at
him. Larry was sold when Whiteside burned Randy Brown, a Chicago
Bulls backup guard, for 28 points. Whiteside hasn't had that
kind of game in the NBA yet, but he does have the important job
of backing up the Raptors' star, Damon Stoudamire, on a team
whose general manager, a 12-time All-Star as a point guard, pays
a lot of attention to the position.
"I feel I'm an inspiration to a lot of the kids at Leo," says
Whiteside. "I told them that whatever you want is possible if
you work hard enough and are patient. I've pretty much proved it
Lamenting what he characterized as the unfair treatment he
received from the media and from John Hirschbeck's fellow
umpires after the spitting incident that just won't dry up, the
Baltimore Orioles' Roberto Alomar recently told The Washington
Post that he felt he had been "crucified the same way Jesus was
crucified." He followed up that bit of hyperbole by saying of
the umpires, "I don't think they should have blown [the
spitting] out of proportion."
One of freshwater fishing's most hallowed catches, the
world-record 11-pound, 15-ounce smallmouth bass caught by David
Hayes in Dale Hollow (Ken.) Reservoir in 1955, has been declared
a fraud. This fall the International Game Fish Association
struck Hayes's mark from the record books after learning that
unbeknownst to Hayes, his guide, John Barlow, had stuffed three
pounds of lead weights into his bass before the fish was weighed.
Shortly after the fish was caught, Barlow, feeling guilty,
confessed in an affidavit submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, which oversees the reservoir. But the Corps, which
has no jurisdiction over fishing records, ignored the mea culpa,
and for four decades the record stood. Then this summer Eldon
Davis, an assistant high school principal in Livingston, Tenn.,
hosted an outdoors festival and invited Hayes, asking him to
bring his trophy fish to help drum up publicity. After several
fishermen told Davis that the legendary bass appeared no bigger
than eight or nine pounds, he began to smell something fishy. He
started casting about in local fishing circles and dredged up
the affidavit, which Barlow, now 80, verified.
The world record will likely go to John Gorman of Plainfield,
Ind., who caught a 10-pound, 14-ounce smallmouth in 1969, also
in Dale Hollow--without, it should be noted, the services of
Barlow. Hayes, 71, took the loss philosophically. "I've held the
record for 41 years, and I've had my fun," he told Bassmaster
magazine. "I'm not going to lose any sleep."
GIVE HIM SHELTER
If there is a sports league in which you might expect a member
of the Hell's Angels to feel at home, it would be the
rough-and-tumble Quebec Semi-Professional Hockey League, based
in the province's burned-out industrial south. On Oct. 5 Sylvain
Vachon, a 6'1", 235-pounder who has been a member of the
notorious motorcycle gang for two years, debuted in that league
as a winger for the Windsor Papetiers. "Strong, rough," says
Vachon, 30, describing his style of play. "You need players like
me to protect the rest of the team."
When Vachon, who makes his living as a structural technician,
not only threw his weight around but also showed adequate
skating and stickhandling skills in Windsor's season-opening
loss to Thetford Mines, his hockey career appeared to be getting
in gear. But then it went into a skid. Believing that the Hell's
Angels--a gang suspected of wielding influence in the Quebec
drug trade--should not be represented in the league, the
Thetford Mines front office began to raise some hell of its own.
It voiced objections to Vachon in the press and also presented
evidence to the league's board of governors showing that Vachon
had spent several years in a juvenile detention facility and
also had a police record stemming from bar fights.
Fans began calling and faxing the league, either decrying Vachon
or supporting him. The Papetiers stuck by their man and sold
some 2,000 advance tickets (about twice their average) for their
game against the Louiseville Jets on Oct. 25. That day, the
governors announced that the league's other teams had agreed not
to play Windsor as long as Vachon was in uniform, and
Louiseville boycotted the game.
Reluctantly, Windsor general manager Roland Larochele released
Vachon from his $55-a-game job. But a few days later Vachon
began a fight for justice and took his case to the Quebec Human
Rights Commission, seeking protection under the province's Human
Rights Charter. A ruling is pending. "It's discriminatory," says
Vachon. "What's next--I can't rent an apartment because I'm a
Hell's? I can't go to a concert because I'm a Hell's?"
Unless the commission finds for him, Vachon will have to be
content with his other sport, at which he is no slouch and to
which an Angel seems suited. Last summer he raced his
350-horsepower Harley-Davidson drag bike to a Quebec record of
7.68 seconds for the quarter mile, attaining a speed of 178 mph.
Consecutive Kentucky regular-season basketball games attended by
Wildcats fan Bob Wiggins, 68, before a mild heart attack forced
him to miss Kentucky's appearance in last week's Great Alaska
Napa Valley acres bought by retired race driver Mario Andretti,
who plans to produce his own Chardonnay.
Dollars that Atlanta Olympic organizers say USA Track and Field
(USATF) still owes for use of facilities during pre-Games events.
Dollars ACOG is refusing to pay USATF for marketing fees.
Days after the World Series parade that New York Yankees Cecil
Fielder and Charlie Hayes demanded to be traded.
Boys who played high school football in 1995, the largest number
of male participants in any high school sport.
Girls who played high school football in 1995, up from 295 in '94.
Cookies don't make Ashley Dodson crumble. Ashley, 11, from
Clarksville, Ind., won Nabisco's annual Oreo-stacking
competition recently when she piled up a mouth-watering 24
cookies in 30 seconds. Her prize is a visit to the Cincinnati
Reds' 1997 spring training camp.
Marvin Miller, 79, legendary executive director of the Major
League Baseball Players Association from 1966 to '83, believes
that the union, after having to contend with bad-faith
negotiating, ended up surrendering too much in the collective
bargaining agreement that owners approved on Nov. 26 because the
union consented to provisions that limit salaries and, in
effect, make the players partners in collusion. Miller feels
that by doing this, the players betrayed future major leaguers.
He also thinks many conceptions about the labor strife were
distorted by myth.
Myth 1: Negotiations would have moved faster under a real
commissioner. It's amazing how the myth of the strong
commissioner has survived. The commissioner is employed by the
owners, who hire him and can fire him.
Myth 2: The owners were deceitful, dishonest negotiators. No,
they were worse than that. In hopes of derailing any agreement,
the hard-liners changed the rules in 1994 so that passage of any
deal required approval by three fourths (as opposed to a simple
majority) of the owners. If such a requirement, previously
unheard of in collective bargaining, applied to all elections,
we would never elect a president.
Myth 3: Any salary cap would have satisfied the owners. Given
the owners' professed ardor for a cap, Chicago White Sox owner
Jerry Reinsdorf, who as owner of the Chicago Bulls is quite
familiar with the NBA's loophole-riddled cap, should have been
confronted with an offer to accept the cap as it works in
basketball. Given that NBA salaries have soared so high they
make baseball salaries look trivial, I guarantee he would have
Myth 4: Both sides have learned from this fiasco, and we won't
see a repeat when the deal expires in 2001. I would have thought
the owners had learned from the 1972 strike, or the failed '76
lockout, or their losses in the '81 strike. But teams change
owners, and new owners listen to the Bud Seligs, who say, "If we
stick together, we can beat the union." I think of the
philosopher Santayana, who said, "Those who cannot remember the
past are condemned to repeat it."
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Glenora Wine Cellars of New York has released Bobsled Red, a
wine it says captures the essence of bobsledding and is intended
as an accompaniment to pizza and Buffalo wings.
Colorado middle linebacker, on the Buffs' being an 18-point
underdog against Nebraska last Friday: "I don't keep track of
the odds. If I did, I would have gone to Boston College."