WAKE OF THE FLOOD
During his 15 seasons as a big league manager Joe Torre has
often told his players about Curt Flood. The mention of Flood,
who died on Monday morning after a long battle with throat
cancer, would elicit blank stares from many younger players, but
Torre would keep talking about his former St. Louis Cardinals
teammate, trying to communicate the importance of Flood's
contributions. "So much of what you have," Torre would tell his
charges, including the world champion 1996 New York Yankees, "is
because of this man."
Flood, who was 59 when he died at UCLA Medical Center, was a man
who took on an outfield wall--he was one of the first players
adept at the leaping snatch of a potential home run--with the
same resolute courage that he took on the lords of baseball. In
October 1969 he told the Cardinals, to whom he had given 12
distinguished seasons in centerfield, that he would not honor a
trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, thus challenging the
century-old reserve clause that kept players from having a voice
in what team they played for. In a letter to commissioner Bowie
Kuhn he wrote the famous sentence: "I do not feel that I am a
piece of property to be bought and sold."
Flood was widely reviled by the baseball hierarchy, subjected to
hate mail and death threats from hostile, uncomprehending fans
and branded as a revolutionary by segments of the sporting
press. He was nothing of the sort; friends remember him as quiet
and thoughtful, "someone with great depth," as Torre put it on
Monday. Flood had just opened a studio in St. Louis to paint
portraits--Torre's young daughter, Tina, was one of his first
subjects--when the Cards informed him of the trade in a terse
With baseball union chief Marvin Miller at his side, Flood filed
a suit in January 1970 that charged baseball with violating
antitrust laws. Two lower courts and finally the Supreme Court
rejected his challenge and upheld the game's antitrust
exemption. But, as Miller says, "the case was a winner, even
though the decision went against us." With the consciousness of
the sports world raised, the union continued its legal
challenges, and in 1975, in response to grievances filed by
pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith, a federal arbitrator
struck down the reserve clause.
Flood rarely complained that he hadn't enjoyed the fruits of his
battle (the most he ever made in a season was $90,000) and,
according to Miller, knew from the beginning that he was
fighting for the generations that would follow him. "He refused
to say that present athletes are overpaid," says Miller. "He
understood that he, like Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle, was
Flood's stats and skills--he was a .293 lifetime hitter over 15
seasons, an outstanding base runner whose abilities were
overshadowed by the basestealing brilliance of teammate Lou
Brock, and a seven-time Gold Glover--never got him into the Hall
of Fame. But few players hold such importance in baseball's
history. "Every ballplayer," said Torre, "not just his
contemporaries, should mourn his passing."
Ultimate fighting, the no-holds-barred combat sport that has
been drawing crowds--and stirring controversy--in cities across
the country, is trying to break into the Big Apple. New York
city and state officials barred ultimate fighting in 1995, but
last year the state legislature legalized it. Despite the law,
city mayor Rudy Giuliani has vowed to prevent a bout that is
scheduled to take place in March. "This is people brutalizing
each other," the mayor said.
And you'd hate to see that in New York.
A JUST PENALTY
"Excessive and unprecedented." "Excessive and unjust." Those
were the phrases uttered by, respectively, the executive
director of the NBA Players Association and the agent for Dennis
Rodman after the Chicago Bulls forward (page 30) was suspended
for at least 11 games, fined $25,000 and ordered to undergo
counseling for kicking courtside photographer Eugene Amos in
Minneapolis on Jan. 15.
The union boss, Bill Hunter, and the agent, Dwight Manley, were
wrong, even about "unprecedented." The suspension (Rodman will
have to appear before commissioner David Stern to plead his case
for reinstatement after 11 games) is the second longest in
league history for an on-court incident. The Los Angeles Lakers'
Kermit Washington was given 26 games in 1977 for a punch to the
face of the Houston Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich. Neither is the
Rodman penalty excessive or unjust. Rodman was out of control
when he unleashed his unprovoked kick at Amos, and contrary to
what many are saying, it doesn't matter whether Amos exaggerated
the severity of his injury or not. (On Monday night Rodman
reportedly agreed to pay $200,000 to Amos in an out-of-court
settlement.) Then, too, repeat offenders should be--and usually
are--treated harshly, and Rodman, who has been suspended for 29
games for various offenses since the start of the 1992 season,
is an all-pro recidivist.
Rodman, who has a one-year, $9 million contract, can get along
without the $1 million-plus in salary and incentives that he
stands to lose, but it's clear that he can't get along without
help. In April 1993 he sat in his pickup truck with a loaded
rifle in his lap contemplating suicide. Police found him the
next morning asleep with the gun in the seat next to him. His
self-destructive behavior on and off the court since then points
to a man who has still not gotten his life together. Rather than
complain about the penalty, the players' association and Manley
should be making sure Rodman takes the counseling seriously.
LET THE GAME BREATHE
Senior writer Tom Verducci reports on last week's winter
The debate over league assignments for the 1998 expansion clubs,
the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays,
degenerated into the usual every-team-for-itself bickering. So,
unable to come to a simple, sensible agreement, interim
commissioner Bud Selig and his band of do-it-yourselfers once
again broke out their toolbox and tinkered with the game. Having
already nailed together a framework for interleague play--which
still needs improvement--the owners further damned the 96-year
separatist tradition of the American and National leagues. In
order to pass a vote to put Arizona in the National League and
Tampa Bay in the American League, they empowered a realignment
committee to consider switching clubs from one league to the
other. The committee's report is due by June 30.
In one likely scenario the Houston Astros would join their
intrastate cousins, the Texas Rangers, in the American League
West. And the Kansas City Royals would go to the National League
Central if, as expected, Tampa Bay lands in the American League
East and the Detroit Tigers shift to the Central. The Royals
would hope to develop an intradivisional rivalry with the
cross-state St. Louis Cardinals. Such league-hopping would begin
in 2000 at the earliest.
What if, as expected, baseball adds two more expansion teams
around 2003? Will the leagues get gerrymandered again? Will the
American League and the National League have lost their
identities by then, having become as insignificant as the AFC
and the NFC? Already the owners have given us a playoff system
that puts a second-place club on virtually equal footing with a
division champion. Interleague play begins this year, meaning
that batting and pitching titles will be decided among players
facing markedly different opposition. And the pooh-bahs still
haven't solved the DH conundrum, choosing the bastardized
compromise of using the rules of the home team--a system that
has proved troublesome in the World Series.
These unfunny Tim Taylors should remember the old carpentry rule
before they take their saws to the integrity of the leagues:
Measure twice, cut once. No other sport relies on history and
context to create drama the way baseball does. When they rework
the schedule to accommodate interleague play for '98 and beyond,
owners should also see to it that divisional rivals play one
another more frequently. For instance, at a time when they're
picking up games against the Montreal Expos, the New York
Yankees should also start playing the Boston Red Sox more often.
Realignment should be considered, but only as part of a
well-thought-out long-range plan--not as a quick fix to the
latest squabble among owners.
A CHAMPION'S SLIDE
Women's figure skating, that strange sequined world with one
blade in sport and the other in showbiz, has, despite booming
ticket sales and TV ratings, not had a good time of it lately.
Nancy Kerrigan, America's icy darling, has been on skating's
equivalent of maternity leave since October. Tonya Harding has
announced she is returning to competition, thus assuring the
return of full-scale tabloid coverage too. And Oksana Baiul, the
1994 Olympic gold medalist who has not won a substantive
competition since Lillehammer, is out of shape and possibly out
At about 2:30 on the morning of Jan. 13, the 19-year-old Baiul
crashed her green Mercedes into a cluster of trees in
Bloomfield, Conn., a few miles from her home in Simsbury. Twelve
stitches were needed to close a gash in the back of her head.
Baiul, whose blood alcohol level was .168, well above the .10
legal limit--and who is two years below Connecticut's legal
drinking age--was reportedly recuperating at her home at week's
end. Baiul, who is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 27 to
face a DUI charge, declined to speak to SI. Meanwhile, the 1997
Tour of World Figure Skating Champions, of which she was the
female star, skates on without her, and a children's book about
her life (Oksana Baiul: My Own Story) is due out this week.
Is Baiul heading for a big fall, like that of another prodigy,
Jennifer Capriati? The danger signs are there. Some skating
officials feel that Baiul, an orphan who was born in the
Ukraine, is in desperate need of guidance and direction. She
lives alone and has rebelled against her coach, Galina
Zmievskaia, an intimidating she-bear of a woman who often
travels on the tour. Baiul's representatives at the William
Morris Agency don't get much involved in her private life;
Shelly Schultz, Baiul's agent, while expressing concern, says
that her client "hasn't shaved her head or gotten a bunch of
tattoos," as if that fact were a reliable index of stability.
Since Lillehammer, Baiul has grown five inches and put on 10
pounds, and her skating has yet to catch up. Tour sources say
that over the last year Baiul has trained haphazardly and
displayed little of the discipline that made her a champion. One
can only hope that for Baiul, and the people who care about her,
the run-in with the trees will be a start to getting her out of
Games of broadcast experience of new This Week in Baseball host
Ozzie Smith, who replaces the legendary Mel Allen.
Dollars needed in 1967 to secure three nights in an upscale
hotel, dinner and dancing, Disneyland admission, pregame brunch
and a ticket to the first Super Bowl, at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Percent of alcohol in the Coors beer that Muslim Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar pushes in a new TV commercial, drawing condemnation
from the Islamic Society of North America.
Miles trekked by Norwegian explorer Borge Ousland in becoming
the first person to cross Antarctica alone.
Bottles of Michael Jordan cologne sold in its first two months
on the market.
Ounces of cheddar cheese to be devoured by each contestant in a
Green Bay Packers-inspired speed-eating competition on Friday in
This year's Super Bowl has brought an astonishing array of
curios to the shelves of New Orleans shops. Here are some of the
oddments folks will be able to remember the game by.
Your team lose? Raise this white mug and surrender with a last
Improbable figurines: a clean-shaven Brett Favre and Drew
Bledsoe about to run with the ball.
This hacky sack (above) keeps the spirit of the Grateful Dead
alive and kicking; the mini-rig (below) is no Madden Cruiser,
but what a long, strange truck it is.
Prefontaine, Hollywood Pictures, opens Friday
What was it about U.S. distance runner Steve Prefontaine that
would compel Hollywood, more than 20 years after his death, to
green light not one but two feature films on the runner's life?
Prefontaine, the first of the dueling biopics to cross the
finish line (the other, Pre, from Warner Bros., is set for fall
release), goes only partway to answering that question.
Prefontaine, who was 24 when he was killed in a car accident in
May 1975, has been called the James Dean of track and field. A
working-class kid from Coos Bay, Ore., the cocky Pre was a
bulldog among the whippets of distance running, a ferocious and
charismatic competitor. He won seven NCAA titles at Oregon from
1970 to '73 and at the time of his death held every American
record from 2,000 through 10,000 meters. He was also an
outspoken advocate for athletes' rights in an era when the
Amateur Athletic Union ruled his sport with unchecked arrogance.
Prefontaine director Steve James and producer Peter Gilbert--the
team behind Hoop Dreams--approach the Pre legacy with obvious
respect. And though the plot feels sketchy at times, the
cooperation of the runner's family and several of his teammates
and friends help make the film rich in personal detail. Whether
non-track nuts will appreciate the choreography that went into
reenacting the Munich Olympic 5,000 remains to be seen. What
they should appreciate, though, is the soulful performance of
actor Jared Leto (above), who not only captures Pre to a T in a
series of athletic uniforms and god-awful '70s getups, but can
also run a bit. Very good as well is R. Lee Ermey as
larger-than-life Oregon coach Bill Bowerman, growling at his
star runner and tinkering in his garage with waffle irons and
rubber compounds to create the shoes that would become the first
James and Gilbert do fudge a few details. In the most troubling
instance Pre is shown sipping a soft drink at a party just
before his fatal crash. In reality, his blood alcohol level was
found to be .16, well above the legal limit. Part of what made
Prefontaine such a compelling figure was his relentless honesty.
There was no need to compromise it here.
The first Winter X Games, an ESPN creation, will take place from
Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 in Big Bear Lake, Calif., with high-danger,
cutting-edge events like downhill mountain biking, half-pipe
snowboarding and high-speed ice climbing. We say, Danger's good,
but how about some traditional winter games?
A (Side)Walk on the Wild Side
Lead-weighted snowsuits and 50-pound shovels add heart to this
angina-inducing staple of suburban life.
Snow Angels of Death
Love Story this ain't. Hypothermia-defying artists create
designs while lying facedown in the snow, wearing only boxer
shorts and bedroom slippers.
Snowball Blood Battle
No "softballs" in this competition--projectiles are packed with
ice. And, hey, no fair running into the house!
Competitors test for skating safety by creeping onto "frozen"
surfaces that are booby-trapped with hidden heating coils.
Lunch Tray Cliff Sliding
The ordinary cafeteria accoutrement becomes a veritable death
sled when it's slathered with grease and a competitor takes it
careening down an icy mountain.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
In a survey that asked which NFL coach would make the best
president of the United States, the leading choice of fans was
Teen tennis sensation, on what she does with the money from her
$10 million endorsement contract with an Italian clothing
company: "I like to make presents to myself a lot."