THE HITS KEEP COMIN'
In spring a college football coach's fancy turns to hitting.
That's because spring practice is the time to sharpen players'
blocking and tackling skills. Full-contact drills are less
feasible during the fall, when teams have to be fresh for a game
each week. "There is a lot of teaching to do in the spring,"
says New Mexico coach Dennis Franchione. "And as a result there
is a little more contact."
Just how much more there should be is a matter of contention.
According to NCAA statistics, injuries occur at a higher rate in
spring football than in any of the 15 other sports
studied--including fall football. In spring practice there are
9.8 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures. (An athlete exposure
is defined by the NCAA as "one athlete participating in one
practice or game where he or she is exposed to the possibility
of athletic injury.") The fall football figure is 6.5. Says
Dennis Wilson, director of Auburn's Department of Health and
Human Performance and head of the NCAA's competitive safeguard
committee: "Our feeling is that you ought to be able to run your
off-season program as safely as your in-season program."
With that goal in mind, the NCAA in 1991 reduced the number of
spring practice days for Division I-A programs from 20 to 15.
Contact practices, in which players block and tackle in full
gear, were limited to 10 of those 15 days. Coaches grumbled but
adjusted. On "noncontact" days, when players are allowed to wear
only helmets and upper-body pads, they still engaged in hitting
(though not tackling). Perhaps as a result, the injury rate
remained almost unchanged, and in January the safeguard
committee proposed cutting contact back further, to five days
out of the 15.
The football coaches weren't happy with that proposal, and it
was eventually withdrawn at the request of the NCAA council and
the conference commissioners, who were loath to force a face-off
between the medical and the coaching factions. The safeguard
committee plans to come back to the coaches in June with a
recommendation to limit the first three days of spring practice
to noncontact workouts without helmets or pads. And, while the
committee is willing to retain 10 contact days, it likely will
seek to abolish the all-but-tackling scrimmages that occur now
on the noncontact days. "We fear that football sees us as trying
to ruin their sport," says Wilson, "but we're trying not to get
out too far ahead of the coaches. We're trying to find common
IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING
St. Louis Cardinals reliever Rich Batchelor will earn $157,500
this season and is married.
A SHIMPAN'S VIEW
Mike DiMuro is a 6'2", 180-pound umpire with considerable
chutzpah and swagger. Those qualities wouldn't distinguish him
in the U.S. major leagues, but in Japan, where DiMuro works,
he's unnerving the natives. "The players wonder if I'm this
crazy American from the Wild West," he says. "They take the long
way around when they pass me going out to the field. They're a
little apprehensive about what I'm going to do."
DiMuro, 29, is the first U.S. ump in Japan pro baseball. A
six-year minor league veteran whose father, Lou, umpired for 20
seasons in the American League, Mike was offered the job by U.S.
baseball executives last winter and agreed to spend a year
covering Far Eastern bases. "I thought it would be good for my
career," says DiMuro. "I'm under the microscope here. That's
DiMuro has learned that a shimpan (umpire) is not at the top of
Japan's on-field hierarchy. Big league umps who complain when
managers kick a little dirt might consider that Japanese
skippers often bump umps without being ejected and sometimes
spend an hour arguing a routine call. "A younger umpire is
intimidated by an older manager, based on the culture here,"
says DiMuro. "The umpire's going to be intimidated into thinking
he made the mistake."
Yet DiMuro seems impervious to intimidation--or custom. In a
preseason game, Yakult Swallows pitcher Tetsuhiro Nonaka
committed an obvious balk. Japanese umps usually let balks go,
especially when the pitcher plays for Yakult manager Katsuya
Nomura, a fabled slugger who retired in 1980. But DiMuro,
working first base, made the call; Nomura, enraged, raced out of
the dugout with an interpreter. "He told me I was going to ruin
Japanese baseball," says DiMuro, who speaks only snatches of
Japanese. "All four umps saw it, but I was the only one to call
Even as Japanese pundits have urged him to "behave himself,"
DiMuro has gone on enforcing his will. Japanese players like to
show their grit by sliding into first base, and when called out
by DiMuro on a recent slide into first, a Yokohama BayStars
player leaped up to protest. Snapped DiMuro in English, "Don't
slide next time and you'll be safe."
DiMuro won't transform the Japanese style of play, but he has
already won some grudging respect. Two weeks after the
controversial balk call, DiMuro was umping another Yakult game
in which Nonaka was pitching. He balked again, and again DiMuro
called it. This time Nomura didn't leave the bench.
His churlishness on the court alienated teammates, his smugness
as a TV analyst alienated viewers, and his eagerness to take
credit for their ability alienated his four basketball-playing
sons. Yet one person believes that Rick Barry is just the man to
succeed the fired Rick Adelman and coach the Golden State
Warriors back to respectability. Anyone in the Bay Area who
flipped on the tube or picked up a paper last week was likely to
learn that Rick Barry thought Rick Barry was eminently qualified
for the job.
His self-promotional campaign ground on so unremittingly that
last week deejays on the Warriors' own flagship radio station,
KNBR, played tapes of his blather as background noise,
occasionally pausing "to hear a little more from Rick Barry."
None of which prevented Barry from going on that station a few
hours later and doing a live reiteration of his credentials: his
high profile, his knack for developing talent, his skill at
communicating. "Everybody seems to have this opinion that I'm
this terrible ogre of a person that all the players would hate,"
said Barry, a Hall of Famer who led Golden State to the NBA
title in 1974-75. "People look back at how I was as a player,
the way I acted on the court. Heck, I'm 53 now. I'm different."
While the Warriors' brass hasn't scheduled Barry for an
interview, it hasn't mocked him either--unlike the Orlando
Magic's then general manager Pat Williams, who in 1987 equated a
December 7 entreaty from Barry for Orlando's vacant coaching job
to another disaster on that date, Pearl Harbor. Barry is not
without portfolio. He was 12-4 as coach of the Cedar Rapids
Sharpshooters of the Global Basketball Association before that
league folded in December 1992. And the CBA's Fort Wayne Fury
canned Barry in March '94 after he went 25-46.
Thus far, no one else has taken up the drumbeat for Barry. So he
marches on alone, as he so often did during his playing days. "I
don't have a great, great ego," he said. "I have a great, great
confidence in myself."
THE WHOLE SEVEN YARDS
Last Nov. 2, Waynesburg (Pa.) College could do nothing to stop
senior running back A.J. Pittorino of Hartwick College in
Oneonta, N.Y. In leading the Hawks to a 42-14 win at Waynesburg,
Pittorino carried 46 times for 443 yards to set an NCAA
all-divisions rushing record. Six months later, however, the
Yellowjackets appear to have thrown Pittorino for a loss--of
seven crucial yards.
After reviewing a grainy, one-camera videotape of the game, the
NCAA ruled last week that Pittorino gained only 436 yards. That
left him five yards behind the 441 amassed by Dante Brown of
Marietta (Ohio) College in a game against Baldwin-Wallace
College last October, and sore at Waynesburg officials for
having challenged his record. "It seems like they were
embarrassed by being the ones I broke it against," says
Pittorino. "They did whatever they could to make sure I didn't
But Yellowjackets defensive coordinator Mike Dunlevy insists
that it's Waynesburg's policy to review statistics for each
game. In this case, four days after the game the coaching staff
spotted a play on which Pittorino had been credited with a
24-yard gain but--because of a penalty--should have been
credited with only 15 yards. "This wasn't a judgment call," says
Dunlevy. "We knew it wasn't right."
Waynesburg contacted Hartwick about the discrepancy, and the
schools bickered over it until, at the Hawks' request, the NCAA
intervened. In an unprecedented move the NCAA went to the
videotape--and found other plays on which Pittorino had been
credited with either too few or too many yards. The NCAA arrived
at 436 as his total.
Pittorino was left with only disappointment. "Someone just
should've had it right the first time," he says. "What's so hard
about adding up yardage, anyway?"
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
When it comes to detecting the use of performance-enhancing
drugs, international sport continues to be a hall of mirrors
(SI, April 14). Last week's news that four Chinese swimmers had
tested positive for anabolic steroids or testosterone at a meet
in China 16 months ago and been suspended by FINA, the sport's
world governing body, could be taken as evidence that China is
at last cracking down on the use of illicit substances. Or it
could be seen as business as usual. A host of questions surround
the case of the banned swimmers, who brought to 23 the number of
Chinese athletes in Olympic sports suspended for drug use since
1991--more than the total for the rest of the world since
testing began in the early '70s.
The first question is why the results took so long to come to
light. According to FINA, Chinese officials say the tests were
taken at their country's national championships in January 1996,
but FINA was not notified of the results until February 1997.
Cornel Marculescu, FINA's director, calls delays normal, but
according to Phil Whitten, editor of Swimming World, no previous
test results have been kept confidential longer than five
months. In addition Swimming World, the bible of its sport, has
no record of a Chinese national-championship meet in January 1996.
The timing of the infractions is significant because, effective
Jan. 28, 1996, FINA increased the length of a suspension for a
positive test from two years to four. If the four Chinese
swimmers--three female and one male--had tested positive after
that, they would have been suspended until the year 2000. And
the case could have had far more serious ramifications for all
of Chinese swimming: Last summer FINA instituted a policy under
which a country could be banned from international competition
for two years if four of its swimmers tested positive for
steroids by FINA testers in a 12-month period. By reporting the
infractions itself, China avoided that punishment.
BATTERED BUT ON BASE
In early April, Wisconsin-Milwaukee assistant head baseball
coach Scott Doffek informed senior catcher Clay Schwartz that he
had been hit by pitches five times in the first 27 games of the
season. "Don't worry," Schwartz said. "I'll get on a hot
streak." He then proceeded to get plunked 15 times over the
Panthers' next 21 games. One of those balls left a mark: In a
6-5 win over Northern Illinois on April 27, Schwartz took one
for the team for the 62nd time in his college career,
surpassing the NCAA record set by Santa Clara second baseman Lou
Donati between 1991 and '94. "Most people jump out of the way,"
the 6-foot, 200-pound Schwartz says. "I just stand there."
Cumulative TV viewers expected for the 64 matches of soccer's
1998 World Cup, more than twice the number who watched the '96
Helmetless players in the NHL following the retirement of Blues
center Craig MacTavish, who entered the league in 1979, before
helmets were mandated.
Grand slams hit in 32 games this season by centerfielder Tim
Belcher of Quinnipiac College in Connecticut.
Fee, in dollars, for Michael Jordan's four-day fantasy
basketball camp in Las Vegas, open to the first 72 applicants
over age 35.
Basketball-playing 7'2" twins in the Pac-10, now that South
Africans George and Philip Von Backstrom have signed letters of
intent with Oregon State and USC.
Copies of NFL Films' video of the Green Bay Packers' '96-97
season sold in its first five days of release, making it the
fastest-selling sports video ever.
Years since the last victory at Yankee Stadium for Mariners
righthander Dennis Martinez, 41, who has more wins than any
other active pitcher but is 1-12 in his career at the Stadium.
THE NEW DREAM TEAM!
Since the NBA popularized Dream Team as a moniker for the 1992
U.S. Olympic basketball squad, the phrase has been used to
describe many groups of elite professionals, from O.J. Simpson's
lawyers to Reggie Lewis's cardiologists. But Snap-on, a leading
motor sports toolmaker, has provided the most wrenching stretch
yet. The company recently alerted the national media that it has
"finalized its crew-chief 'Dream Team' for 1997." The Dreamers,
from left: Ron Brown (chief for Dave Villwock's hydroplane); Jim
Brissette (Doug Herbert's top-fuel dragster); Rick Rinaman (Al
Unser Jr.'s Indy car); Larry McReynolds (Dale Earnhardt's stock
car); Joe Shear Jr. (Jay Sauter's pickup truck); and Steve Ragan
(Andre Ribeiro's Indy Car).
A survey by the men's and women's college basketball coaches'
associations drew responses from 689 male and 1,086 female
players to statements about sportsmanship. A sampling:
My teammates would expect me to cheat if it meant the difference
in winning a game.
Div. I Men 46.7% agree
Div. III Men 26.6%
Trash talking is an acceptable part of being competitive.
Div. I Men 45.9% agree
Div. III Men 31.4%
It's an important gesture of sportsmanship to shake hands with
opponents after a game.
Div. I Men 81.9% agree
Div. III Men 88.2%
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
In efforts to end a seasonlong slump, Exeter City, a
third-division English soccer club, hired psychic Uri Geller to
place special "energy-infused" crystals behind the team's goal.
Coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, who were swept in the first
round of postseason play by the Jazz, on why he wouldn't
speculate on Utah's chances in the second round: "I don't get
paid to make a fool out of myself more than 82 times in the
regular season and three times in the playoffs."