ON A WINNING TRACK
Last Friday's tentative settlement of litigation against the
tobacco industry, which includes a ban on brand-name tobacco
sponsorship of sporting events, would seem to have sent tens of
millions of dollars in funding for NASCAR up in smoke. (The
settlement would have little effect on most other sports, which,
with the exception of some advertising in stadiums and arenas,
have already distanced themselves from tobacco money.) Yet,
because NASCAR is enjoying unprecedented popularity, the tobacco
ban will likely prove to be little more than a bump in the road
for the sport. Last weekend, as NASCAR moved into a superb new
venue, California Speedway (above) near Los Angeles, it shed
only crocodile tears over the $30 million a year in Winston Cup
Series sponsorship it stands to lose.
That money has become pocket change for NASCAR, which has been
quietly exploring ways to distance itself from its
tobacco-stained roots and move toward a determinedly wholesome
family image. The tobacco settlement could actually help NASCAR
by effectively freeing it from a sponsorship contract it
couldn't otherwise have escaped. "The popularity of the sport
ensures us of being able to choose our new direction carefully,"
says NASCAR marketing vice president Brian France. Several
corporations, including Pepsi, Coca-Cola and McDonald's, are
believed to be interested in bidding on the series sponsorship.
But France says he isn't sure a series sponsor is even needed
Out at California Speedway--a pristine, palm-lined oasis owned
by auto racing magnate Roger Penske and built in one of Southern
California's densest concentrations of heavy industry upon land
that was once the site of a steel mill--trams shuttled most of
the 95,000 spectators on hand for the California 500 back and
forth from 32,000 paved parking spaces. Penske, whose new track
will also host a CART race this fall, cites the 17.5 million
people who live within a 90-minute drive of the track, and
expects in a few years to draw 200,000 "guests" (as fans are
known at California Speedway) to each race.
The California track stands in contrast to the Texas Motor
Speedway, which opened in April near Fort Worth with 150,000
seats and a long string of luxury skyboxes but with a track that
drivers loathed. The 1996 Winston Cup champion, Terry Labonte,
who suggested in April that Texas Motor Speedway officials
"build a racetrack" after seeing the 1.5-mile oval with abrupt,
narrow transitions from banked turns to flat straights, called
the two-mile California Speedway "as good a racetrack as you
could ask for." Says Winston Cup points leader Jeff Gordon, who
won on Sunday: "Transitions into and out of the corners are
smooth, and there's a lot of grip. If you get those things
right, you've got happy race cars and happy drivers."
And that means happy fans. Drivers predict that once the
California Speedway is seasoned they'll be able to race four or
five abreast through the turns--a cavalry charge unheard of on
any track in the world. With such heady scenes in mind, NASCAR,
far from being clouded over by the tobacco news, continues to
breathe in the sweet fumes of success.
While Ted Turner, the 58-year-old vice chairman of SI's parent
company, Time Warner, was suggesting last week that he and Fox
network kingpin Rupert Murdoch engage in a boxing match to
settle their highly publicized feud--"It would be like Rocky,
only for old guys," said Turner--the 66-year-old Murdoch was too
busy expanding his empire to parry verbal jabs from another
By striking an $850 million deal to acquire controlling interest
in Cablevision Systems Corp., Fox Sports put itself in position
to become an unprecedented power in sports television. Fox,
along with its partner Liberty Media, already owned nine
regional sports channels, reaching 30 million viewers. With the
eight regional channels owned by Cablevision, Fox/Liberty now
has high-profile sports programming in virtually every major
U.S. market and has broadcast rights to 49 pro teams and 20
college conferences--including such national draws as the New
York Yankees and the Los Angeles Lakers. Murdoch, who is also
negotiating to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, will weave together
the local rights to create a national entity, Fox Sports Net,
that could reach 55 million homes as the only network with
broadcast rights in all four major pro sports.
Though it is being billed as a rival to ESPN, Fox Sports Net is
not a pure national network. Unlike ESPN, which offers regular
national programming of pro baseball, football and hockey, as
well as college basketball and football, Fox will have
commitments to air games regionally that may conflict with its
national mission. If Fox is to have a tangible impact on sports
viewing habits, it will do so by providing a solid slate of
nationally televised live events; that Fox Sports Net will
present news programming that competes with ESPN's various
offerings, with CNN/SI and with other news and highlight shows
is of minor significance in a crowded market. "The news aspect,
though it gets a lot of attention, is simply a way to round out
the hours," says Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports. "But if
Fox gives fans alternative events, it's a win-win situation for
A lot of fathers might envy Ken Griffey Sr. for being the only
man to play on a major league team with his son, but not far
from Seattle, in the Puget Sound division of the 25-and-over
Men's Senior Baseball League, 63-year-old centerfielder Jerry
Thornton has tripled Griffey's feat. Jerry and his three sons
play for the Red Sox in that league, and with Jeff, 39, at
catcher, J.B., 36, at second and Jon, 33, at shortstop, it's all
Thorntons up the middle. Each of the four batted more than .300
last season, and on Father's Day this year, with Jerry's wife,
Darlene, and 10 of their grandchildren on hand, Jeff, J.B. and
Jon contributed four hits in a 10-2 Red Sox win. Dad's going
hitless may not have been an accident. "Darlene keeps warning me
not to show the boys up," Jerry says.
A FEW MORE ON ICE
When the NHL announced plans last week to expand from 26 to 30
teams by the 2000-01 season, it raised predictable cries that
the league was overextending itself and diluting a talent pool
already thinned by the addition of five teams in the past six
years. The fear is that with so many teams having only a few
highly skilled players, more clubs will rely on the mind-numbing
neutral-zone trap that has become so popular in recent years.
With an emphasis on cautious play and team execution rather than
individual ability, the trap enables a less-talented
club--including, of course, an expansion team--to stay in the
game with a better one.
But despite the naysayers' concerns, the NHL's decision to add
teams in Nashville, Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio, and St. Paul is a
good one. The NHL could expand to 50 teams and still provide the
best hockey of any league in the world. And while expansion
teams may indeed use some form of a trap, they won't necessarily
employ the stultifying mid-ice holdups popularized by the New
Jersey Devils when they won the Stanley Cup in 1995; that's
because hockey coaches are famous imitators, and this year's
playoff semifinals included four teams not dependent upon the
trap--the Colorado Avalanche, the Detroit Red Wings, the New
York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.
The NHL is wise to tap as many new markets as possible. Hockey
is a vastly better sport live than on television, and while
purists may well detect a decline in play, fans will still be
getting a high-quality game. "I think we can expect to see the
NHL expand even to Europe," says Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman.
"When the league first expanded to 12 teams in 1968, I figured
that was a lot. Now look at us."
While we applaud the comprehensive local sports coverage
provided by The Times of Trenton, N.J., we can't help but wonder
about the editorial judgment shown in Sunday's edition. Above a
four-column story on a Lower Bucks County (Pa.) American Legion
League baseball game and the reasons for its long delay in
getting under way, the paper ran this headline:
NORTHAMPTON OUTLASTS NEWTOWN; UMPIRE SHERRARD FOUND DEAD
NICARAGUA'S NO. 1 EXPORT
Dennis Martinez struck out the first three batters he faced and
beat the Detroit Tigers in his big league debut for the
Baltimore Orioles in 1976. He pitched a perfect game for the
Montreal Expos in the summer of '91. And in the '95 playoffs he
defeated the Seattle Mariners to put the Cleveland Indians in
the World Series for the first time in 41 years. But Martinez
says that of all his triumphs, the lone game he won this season,
his last in the big leagues, meant the most: On April 14,
pitching for the Mariners, he beat the Indians with six innings
of one-run ball. "I showed everybody that I could still do it,"
says Martinez, 42, who announced his retirement last week. "I
met the challenge."
Martinez, the first Nicaraguan to play in the majors, made a
career of meeting challenges. Formidable among them was his
battle with alcoholism, which he traces back to a shot of rum he
downed just before pitching in a semipro game in Managua at age
15 and which led him into a rehabilitation center in the winter
of 1983. Were it not for his drinking, Martinez, who finished
with a 241-187 record, would be a cinch Hall of Famer. Between
'83 and '86 he went 29-42 as he struggled to overcome his
addiction. "When I got out of rehab all I could think of every
day was how to not have a drink so I could stay alive," says
Martinez, whose alcoholic father was killed while driving drunk
In 1987, the year after he wept at being traded from the Orioles
to the Expos, Martinez resurrected his career and became an even
better pitcher than he'd been during his early years as a
consistent 15-game winner with Baltimore. Outsmarting hitters
with two types of fastballs, two changeups and superb control,
he was one of baseball's most entertaining and effective
pitchers. In '90 he became, at 35, the oldest player to make an
All-Star team for the first time. On July 28, 1991, he set down
27 straight Los Angeles Dodgers to become the second-oldest
major leaguer to throw a perfect game. Revered in his native
land, Martinez dined with then Nicaraguan president Violeta
Barrios de Chamorro to celebrate the perfecto.
In 1995 there was serious talk in Nicaragua of the intelligent
and patriotic Martinez running for president himself. But he was
busy dominating hitters for the Indians, who had acquired him in
'93. Last year a strained tendon forced Martinez to miss most of
the second half of the season, and when the Indians let him go,
detractors said he was through. Though Martinez went 1-5 in nine
starts for the Mariners this year, he did have a few good
outings, including that last, satisfying win. "I'm going out
with my head up," says Martinez. "I don't know if I'll make the
Hall of Fame, but I think I deserve it. People may say I won't
get in. I like to prove people wrong."
Men with shaved heads who played in the NBA last season.
Men with shaved heads who played in the NBA in 1989-90, the
season before Michael Jordan shaved his.
Price, in pounds (about $33,000), paid at auction in London for
the tennis racket Fred Perry used to win Wimbledon in 1934.
Strokes needed by former Stanford golfer Mhairi McKay to
complete the 16th hole at Cypress Point, the first ace by a
woman on that storied hole.
Languages in which ESPN's X Games are being televised around the
Skateboards checked daily at the main entrance by fans attending
X Games events.
Times in his career that Texas Rangers shortstop Bill Ripken has
gone on the disabled list.
U.S. patent number issued to New Jersey inventor Paul Gandolfo
for his twin-laced football, which has a second set of laces
designed to give quarterbacks a quicker grip.
THE SECOND TIME AROUND
Eight months after Evander Holyfield knocked out Mike Tyson to
take the WBA heavyweight championship, the two fighters will
face off again (page 22). Tyson's promise to be "a lot more
intense this time" hasn't rattled Holyfield. "I don't think
there's anything he can do to change the outcome," he says.
Holyfield may be right. Eleven times before, a deposed
heavyweight champ has faced his conqueror in a rematch for a
title. Only four times has he won. Below are some of the most
memorable return engagements:
IN THIS CORNER
Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney
THE FIRST FIGHT
Sept. 23, 1926 "Honey, I forgot to duck," Dempsey tells wife
after Tunney takes the title on 10-round decision.
Sept. 22, 1927 Dempsey floors Tunney but forgets to go to
neutral corner, and after Long Count, fight continues; Tunney
wins in 10.
[IN THIS CORNER]
Jersey Joe Walcott vs. Rocky Marciano
[THE FIRST FIGHT]
Sept. 23, 1952 After 12 furious rounds, Walcott is ahead when
Marciano lands a right for KO and the title.
May 15, 1953 Much ballyhooed bout proves anticlimactic when
Marciano flattens a clearly faded Walcott in first.
[IN THIS CORNER]
Floyd Patterson vs. Ingemar Johansson
[THE FIRST FIGHT]
June 26, 1959 Johansson, with his "toonder and lightning" right
hand, drops champ Patterson seven times on way to third-round
June 20, 1960 After a year spent "learning to hate," Patterson
unveils a vicious left hook, and with a KO in fifth (above),
becomes the first heavyweight to regain the title.
[IN THIS CORNER]
Sonny Liston vs. Cassius Clay
[THE FIRST FIGHT]
Feb. 25, 1964 Clay "shocks the world," battering Liston into
quitting on his stool before eighth; after fight the new champ
changes name to Muhammad Ali.
May 25, 1965 Before only 2,434 in Lewiston, Maine, Ali KO's
Liston in one round with "phantom punch" he claims was taught to
him by Stepin Fetchit.
[IN THIS CORNER]
Evander Holyfield vs. Riddick Bowe
[THE FIRST FIGHT]
Nov. 13, 1992 The fighter once called Ridiculous Bowe earns
respect--and the title--in a 12-round slugfest.
Nov. 6, 1993 In fight interrupted by the crash landing of a
parachuting "fan man," Holyfield regains the title with 12-round
The Wimbledon fortnight began on Monday, and for computer-savvy
fans eager for up-to-the-instant coverage there are plenty of
outlets on, fittingly enough, the Net. Here's a look at the
All-Cyber lineup for tracking the All-England action.
IBM Official Wimbledon Website (www.wimbledon.org) This site is
appropriately stuffy, with staid graphics, but for stats, bios
and interviews, this is the spot. Did we mention stats?
Purple Sport's Wimbledon (www.wimbledon.com) This site provides
almost as much number crunching as IBM's but in far more
appealing fashion. There's also a general-news ticker. Other
sports sites, including CBS SportsLine, The Sporting News and
Tennis magazine, offer pages devoted to the tournament.
Meanwhile, a smaller-scale operation provides a fresh perspective:
J. Brazier's Wimbledon (www.wmin.ac.uk/~braziej/wimbledon.html)
Despite its bare-bones presentation, Brazier's site is full of
helpful, quirky info. A feature, "The Art of Queueing," offers
tips on lining up for tickets. "One thing that is frowned upon,"
counsels Brazier, "is saving spaces in the queue for friends....
[You] will probably be sent to the back of a by now very long
line." Keep your place. Bookmark this site.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Diego Maradona, the Argentine soccer star who once served a
15-month suspension for using cocaine and is attempting a
comeback, has hired Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who is banned
from competition because of steroid use, as his personal trainer.
At the LPGA Oldsmobile Classic in East Lansing, Mich., after
watching Laura Baugh, who is seven months pregnant with her
seventh child, tee off: "You the mom!"