With the NHL playoffs--a.k.a The Real Season--starting this
week, here are five predictions:
1) The Ottawa Senators, who for their first four years were to
hockey what Pauly Shore is to acting, will surprise the Buffalo
Sabres in the first round. The overachieving Sabres showed spunk
in winning the Northeast Division despite the early season loss
of star forward Pat LaFontaine, but they've run out of gas in
the last month. And while Buffalo goalie Dominik (the Dominator)
Hasek can win a series by himself, he's meeting formerly forlorn
Ottawa at the wrong time. The Senators slipped into the playoffs
for the first time, and then into the seventh slot in the
Eastern Conference, by winning games in the final week against
the Hartford Whalers, the Detroit Red Wings--in Detroit--and the
Sabres when any loss might have eliminated them. Look for
Ottawa's rushing defenseman Steve Duchesne (19 goals this
season) to put in a game winner.
2) The most intriguing first-round matchup will be between two
teams representing the NHL's push into the Sun Belt: the Mighty
Ducks of Anaheim, Ottawa's expansion cousins, and the Phoenix
Coyotes, the erstwhile Winnipeg Jets. The series should be the
national coming-out party for Anaheim's preternaturally
creative Paul Kariya and linemate Teemu Selanne, but also watch
underappreciated goalies Guy Hebert of the Ducks and Nikolai
Khabibulin of the Coyotes. Khabibulin's Bulin Wall nearly stoned
Detroit last spring in the opening round.
3) The Red Wings will be surprisingly tough. If any coach other
than Detroit's Scotty Bowman had taken a recent MVP and moved
him from forward to left defense--as Bowman did with Sergei
Fedorov three weeks ago, putting him alongside Larry Murphy--his
sanity would have been questioned. But Bowman is hockey's
winningest coach, and Fedorov, the Hart Trophy winner in 1994
and a third-liner for part of this season, has lent speed to a
sometimes creaky defense. If Bowman gets consistent goaltending
from Mike Vernon or Chris Osgood, the Wings will make life
miserable for the Dallas Stars in the second round.
4) Because goalie is the most important position in the
playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers are at a disadvantage. The
Flyers' duo of Ron Hextall and Garth Snow is eminently
exploitable and should sabotage a Philly team that is otherwise
poised to take a hard run at the Stanley Cup.
5) In our NHL preview issue (Oct. 7), SI predicted that the
defending champion Colorado Avalanche would beat the New Jersey
Devils, who missed the 1996 playoffs but are now the East's top
seed, in the Cup final. We still like our pick.
A DANGEROUS TRADE
Like everyone else who heard the news, ticket brokers at the
Masters were saddened by the apparent suicide of Allen Caldwell
III, a 40-year-old restaurateur and corporate-events planner
from Martinez, Ga. Caldwell shot himself with a 12-gauge
shotgun last Friday morning after failing to come up with
approximately 100 Masters tickets--known as badges--that he had
contracted to provide to corporate clients. The brokers were
also quick to point out a cold lesson of Caldwell's death:
Theirs is not a business for amateurs.
The mechanics of ticket brokering are simple enough: Secure
orders at a certain price and then try to fill them by buying up
tickets wherever they're available, preferably at a low enough
price to make a profit (SI, April 7). However, Masters badges
are among the most sought after, and therefore most expensive,
secondary-market tickets in sports.
Caldwell made a deal with an Atlanta-based tour packager, World
Golf Hospitality, to provide badges for clients who bought
Masters packages. Word among brokers in Augusta was that
Caldwell had promised to get the tour company between 70 and 100
badges at a price of $3,000 apiece, a far more substantial order
than he was accustomed to handling. During the week of the
tournament, however, badges were scarce and street prices ranged
from $6,500 to $10,000 for a single four-day badge. A broker's
axiom states: "You can always get tickets, if you're willing to
pay." But to fill his order, Caldwell might have had to take a
loss of $245,000 to $700,000, an exorbitant amount even for a
big-time broker, which Caldwell was not. Whether the prospect of
such a loss contributed to Caldwell's apparent decision to take
his life is unknown.
Last Thursday night, one national broker heard that Caldwell was
desperately in need of badges. "I went to World Golf's
hospitality tent and asked Caldwell if I could help, because we
were able to fill our orders and still get more badges," said
the broker. "He said, 'No, I think I've got it under control.'
It was eerie. There were at least 30 clients sitting right there
without badges, and they weren't happy. But he was so calm.
Almost too calm, I remember thinking, because he had to be
TIM BELCHER, TIM BELCHER
Kansas City Royals pitcher Tim Belcher has overcome his share of
difficulties during an 11-year major league career that, through
Sunday, had yielded a respectable 110 victories and a 3.80 ERA.
After undergoing surgery on his right hand in 1989 and on his
right shoulder in '90, Belcher, now 35, played for six teams
from '91 to '96 and went a rock-bottom 7-15 with the Detroit
Tigers in '94. But that's nothing compared with what Tim Belcher
This Tim Belcher is a 22-year-old, strong-armed senior
outfielder for Division II Quinnipiac College, of Hamden, Conn.,
who at week's end was dominating the Northeast-10 Conference
with a .520 batting average, 10 home runs and 45 RBIs in 18
games. The Tim Belchers are not related, but they share the
power of perseverance. In June 1993 the younger Belcher was
pitching in an American Legion game in North Haven when he was
struck by lightning. "I had just gotten the ball from the
catcher when I heard the loudest noise I'd ever heard," he says.
"I looked down, and sparks were coming off my cleats. Then I
felt this huge shock through my body, and it knocked me down."
Belcher had headaches for a few days but was otherwise unharmed.
In October 1994 the younger Belcher was in the Quinnipiac team
bus when it flipped over on a highway. "We were sliding for a
while and it got pretty scary," he says. No one was critically
injured, but Belcher spent several months rehabbing a badly
wrenched back. After those incidents he was hardly rattled when,
in a March 18 game against Wagner this year, he ran facefirst
into a post that was part of the centerfield fence. Belcher was
flattened but remained conscious and went on to hit two singles
in the game.
Though the two Belchers have never met, the younger collects the
elder's baseball cards and always checks the box score the
morning after the Kansas City veteran has pitched. One day Tim
Belcher may even face Tim Belcher. The younger Belcher has
attracted major league scouts with his hitting, which includes a
two-grand-slam game against Bridgeport on April 8. The two slams
tied a Division II record set exactly five years before by
Michael Tucker of Longwood (Va.) College, who spent last season
as a Royals teammate of Tim Belcher.
AND THE PLAYERS CAN'T EVEN VOTE
After Indiana high school principals voted last year to end an
87-year-old tradition by dividing the state's open basketball
tournament into four divisions based on enrollment (SI, March
17), the reaction was largely hostile. Thus, given the depth of
Hoosier hoops hysteria, it would be hard to overstate the
significance of a resolution passed last week by the Indiana
legislature--but not impossible. When lawmakers approved a
second tournament among the four divisional winners so that a
single champ will still be crowned, House Speaker John Gregg
announced, "The resolution has passed. The republic has been
A SMALL PLACE IN HISTORY
When Bob (Sugar) Cain died on April 7 at 72, the newspaper
obituaries were brief. And they all began with something like
this: "Bob Cain, a Detroit Tigers lefthander who pitched to a
midget...." Though there were a few other notable events in
Cain's six-year major league career, which he began with a
strikeout of Ted Williams in 1949 and finished with a record of
37-44, he will always be known as the man who walked 3'7" St.
Louis Brown Eddie Gaedel on Aug. 19, 1951.
With the St. Louis crowd going wild and his teammates stifling
laughter, Cain calmly delivered four straight unintentional
balls to pinch hitter Gaedel, who had been sent up holding a toy
bat in the famous stunt orchestrated by Browns owner Bill Veeck.
"It was one of those moments that I knew would be remembered for
a long time," Cain said last year. "I wanted to handle myself
In February 1952 the Browns acquired Cain, and he had his best
season. His 12-10 record included a 1-0 win over the Cleveland
Indians in which he and Bob Feller both threw one-hitters. Yet
even years after his retirement in '54, Cain did not forget to
whom he owed his place in history. At Gaedel's funeral in '61,
Cain was the only ballplayer present.
A TALL ORDER
A 7'9" North Korean may be coming to an arena near you. Ri Myong
Hun, 28, wants to play in the NBA. The center on North Korea's
national team, the rail-thin, 235-pound Ri can dunk flat-footed
and would supersede 7'7" Washington Bullet Gheorghe Muresan as
the tallest player in NBA history.
Though economic sanctions against North Korea have prevented Ri
from signing a contract in the U.S.--such a deal would violate
the 1950 Trading with the Enemy Act--Ri's Cleveland-based agent,
Michael Coyne, has launched a vigorous appeal to the state
department for an exemption. North Korea supports the appeal.
"We're hoping to have him in Canada within a few weeks so he can
be evaluated by NBA scouts," says Coyne, who is so sure Ri will
get a contract with the league that he's working on spec until
Ri made his international debut last August in a tournament in
Taiwan. In North Korea's 89-67 loss to a squad of U.S.
collegians, he scored 27 points and made 11 of 12 free throws.
That convinced the U.S. coaches, Wake Forest assistants Ernie
Nestor and Russell Turner, that Ri had pro potential. "With more
development," says Nestor, "this guy could be a player."
Not everyone agrees that Ri is NBA material; league scouting
consultant Marty Blake says Ri is a "joke." But Coyne says he
has been contacted by seven teams in the league. Pete Newell,
who specializes in training big men, told Cleveland Cavaliers
president Wayne Embry that Ri is a "likely prospect." Says
Embry, "He would be worth looking at if we get him out of North
Korea. Of course, he hasn't played good competition. This is a
At least Ri knows he would have NBA centers looking up to him.
Weight, in tons, of the four-by-seven-by-10-foot limestone
baseball glove to be placed in the atrium of the Louisville
Slugger Museum near the 120-foot-tall steel bat already on
Respective Nielsen overnight ratings for Saturday's coverage of
the Masters on CBS and for the Miami Heat-New York Knicks game
that aired on NBC at the same time.
Dollars paid at a Boxborough, Mass., auction for an 1820
bait-casting reel, a record for any piece of fishing tackle.
Pitches thrown by Oakland A's reliever Mark Acre to earn two of
the A's first three victories.
Opening miles of the 1998 Tour de France that will be ridden in
Ireland, marking the first time the race will not start on the
Teams of seminarians set to play in the first unofficial soccer
world cup for Roman Catholic priests in training, near
The Lakers have Jack Nicholson; the Knicks, Spike Lee. Guess
which playoff teams draw these lesser luminaries.
A Quaker Oats flack/oater actor Wilford Brimley
B Margaritaville melodist Jimmy Buffett
C Shock rocker supreme Alice Cooper
D Preening pseudo-grappler Hollywood Hulk Hogan
E Hall of Fame spitballer Gaylord Perry
A: Utah Jazz; B: Miami Heat; C: Phoenix Suns; D: Orlando Magic;
E: Charlotte Hornets
All in a Row
For an NBA-record nine straight seasons (1987-88 through
'95-96), John Stockton of the Utah Jazz led the league in
assists. But Stockton's dominance as a disher will end this
year; he'll finish behind the Indiana Pacers' Mark Jackson.
Here's a look at some hardy perennials in other sports.
Tiny speedster averaged 41 thefts with White Sox and Orioles
while winning every stolen base title from 1956 to '64.
The Great One iced assists titles from 1979-80 to 1991-92 and
won nine MVP awards in that span.
From 1981 to '90, the not-so-long-but-oh-so-straight Peete was
the Tour's most accurate driver.
Sturdy Packers Hall of Fame end led the league in receptions
from 1941 to '45.
The NFL Rookie of the Year in 1957, Cleveland's battering ram
was rushing champ from that season through '61.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Washington Bullets superfan and notorious heckler Robin Ficker,
citing a 100% price increase, says he may not buy season tickets
for 1997-98, when the Bullets move into the new MCI Center.
Former defensive end at Columbia, a school more noted for
academics than football, on taking the intelligence test at the
NFL scouting combine: "All of a sudden a lot of guys wanted to
sit next to me."