ALL SHOOK UP
On his flight home to Milwaukee last week after the All-Star
Game in Cleveland, acting baseball commissioner Bud Selig mulled
over numerous proposals for realignment of the major leagues.
Some plans would require one or two teams to switch leagues to
accommodate the 1998 expansion franchises: the Arizona
Diamondbacks, who have been slotted for the National League West
and are adamant about remaining there, and the Tampa Bay Devil
Rays, who are to play in the American League West and
desperately want to be moved. Other schemes, which are gaining
favor, call for the creation of four new divisions along
geographic lines that would mean the abolition of the
121-year-old National League and the 96-year-old American
League. "Baseball has the greatest tradition of any sport,"
Selig said last week. "We should be appreciative of it but not
be a prisoner of it."
While the expansion teams have brought the realignment issue to
the fore, talk of radical change began during the 1994 strike. A
marketing study prepared for the owners at the time determined
that realignment based on geography and an unbalanced schedule
weighted toward intradivisional play would enhance rivalries,
reduce travel and ultimately grow the sport. The 27% greater
attendance at interleague games than at intraleague games this
season has reinforced that notion, while also blurring the
distinctions between leagues.
There is no question that, with attendance lagging far behind
prestrike figures, baseball is desperate. But radical
realignment is at best a cosmetic fix. Rivalries aren't
necessarily going to flourish because of proximity; conversely,
distance didn't prevent those between the New York Mets and the
St. Louis Cardinals in the '80s, or between the Seattle Mariners
and the New York Yankees in the '90s. By destroying its
two-league tradition, baseball would risk losing what many fans
hold most dear--the records, the history, the World Series as we
know it. Those who treasure such traditions are precisely the
people most likely to pass on their passion for the game to the
next generation of fans.
While any realignment plan can be vetoed by a single owner who
is forced to switch leagues, there is a groundswell of support
for wholesale reorganization. One of the most vocal proponents
is the Diamondbacks' Jerry Colangelo, who is trying to use his
refusal to budge from the National League West as leverage.
"When we ask for a show of hands about which league people in
Arizona want, about 80 to 85 percent favor the National,"
Colangelo says. Of course, under the plan he supports, there
would no longer be a National League.
AND MAYS REMINDS US OF BONDS
Tiger Woods may be a 21-year-old with one victory in a major to
his credit, but even the greatest golfer in history can get a
little loopy in the face of Tigermania. When asked how he felt
about being compared with Woods, Jack Nicklaus, winner of 18
majors, said, "It's certainly a compliment."
ABOVE THE LAW
Last week Washington Redskins running back Terry Allen was
charged with driving under the influence and attempting to elude
police in Monroe, Ga., after going 133 mph in a 55-mph zone.
Police say Allen was finally caught when he lost control of his
Ferrari, struck a sign, then slid off the road and into a tree.
(He was not seriously injured.) Though Allen's case is the most
egregious we've come across, he's only the latest athlete caught
for obliterating a speed limit. Among the top speeders this year:
--Sedale Threatt, Houston Rockets guard. While allegedly driving
his Mercedes 109 mph in a 35-mph zone last June 26, in Paradise
Valley, Ariz., he bottomed out in a dip in the road, hit a tree
and was thrown through the sunroof. Threatt, who suffered no
significant injuries, was charged with DUI--his blood-alcohol
content of .236 was more than twice the legal limit--and five
other traffic violations.
--Tim Hardaway, Miami Heat guard. On June 20, he was caught
driving his Ferrari 110 in a 40 zone. No alcohol was involved.
Hardaway received a citation for speeding.
--Oksana Baiul, gold medal figure skater. Police arrested Baiul
on Jan. 12 after her Mercedes veered off the road into a group
of trees in Bloomfield, Conn. She had been driving close to 100
in a 45 zone and had a blood-alcohol content of .168 (legal
limit: .10). Baiul was 19 at the time, two years below the
drinking age. She was fined $90 and ordered to do 25 hours of
community service and to attend an alcohol education program.
IRON MIKE'S BIG BREAK
Last week the Nevada State Athletic Commission put Mike Tyson on
ice for at least a year, which ought to make him and his
handlers the happiest men alive, the $3 million fine by the
commission notwithstanding. (Tyson still kept $27 million of his
purse from his June 28 bout with heavyweight champion Evander
Holyfield.) The commission's revocation of Tyson's boxing
license saves him the embarrassment of campaigning as a
has-been. It also gives him time off to rebuild his image so
that he'll be able to make another high-profit swing through Las
While the commission acted in good faith, its ruling will simply
protect boxing's biggest box-office property, who would have
been exposed as a fighter whose most fearsome attribute was a
toothy grin. Careful match-making might have protected Tyson's
career, but his back-to-back losses to Holyfield, capped by the
bizarre biting that ended the second bout, would have undermined
his marketability. He would have become a novelty act, a joke.
Instead, with Tyson banished from boxing (he can apply for
reinstatement after one year), his handlers can retool his
mystique. Tyson, who has unrecognized talents as a con artist,
can merely feign rehabilitation and excite enough sympathy to
persuade two million people to plunk down $50 apiece to watch
his return. Team Tyson has been down this road before, remember.
After earning about $70 million from 1985 to '92, Tyson raped an
18-year-old and went to prison for three years. His return to
the ring was carefully scripted, and without providing even one
memorable athletic moment, he pocketed $140 million in just 22
months. Could a similar sting be in the works? Our own cynical
bet is that Peter McNeeley's back in the gym.
PLAYING WITH FIRE
In its bid to acquire the 2004 Summer Olympics, Stockholm has
promoted an image of Scandinavian serenity. Now a series of
frightening blazes threatens to send that reputation up in
smoke. Since May 19, seven sports facilities in and around the
Swedish capital have been badly damaged by fire. Arson is
suspected in at least five of the cases.
Most disturbing, and perhaps most telling, an exterior of a wall
of the house of former Swedish prime minister Ingvar Carlsson
was ignited by a crude firebomb on June 3. Carlsson is president
of Stockholm 2004, the organization leading the Olympic bid.
Though no one has claimed responsibility for any of the fires,
there has been widespread speculation in Sweden that they were
set by groups who oppose the Games for the possible
environmental damage they could cause. Stockholm police believe
that the same person or group may have set all the fires.
No one has been hurt in the blazes, which have ravaged tennis
centers, stadiums and ice hockey rinks, but nervous Olympic
advocates are feeling the heat. "We are taking this very
seriously," says Goran Laangsved, chairman of Stockholm 2004.
"It's rather difficult to protect yourself against madmen."
WHAT AN AGENT, WHAT A NIGHT
On Nov. 30, 1995, Miami sports agent Jim Ferraro wined and dined
three University of Miami football stars and watched as they
pulled away from the restaurant in a long limousine, allegedly
paid for by Ferraro. The players--receivers Yatil Green and
Jammi German and running back Danyell Ferguson--enjoyed the
treatment so much they ordered the limo the next night and then
walked out on a $1,032 bill. The driver turned the players in to
campus police, and they were forced to pay the tab. Subsequent
investigations by the NCAA and the Dade County State Attorney's
office have proved costly to Ferraro as well.
Because Ferraro was a $10,000-a-year Hurricane booster and a
licensed agent, the dinner and limo ride were deemed by the NCAA
an improper "extra benefit" for the athletes, who were each
suspended for two games in '96. Then on July 1 the state
attorney's office filed felony charges against Ferraro and his
assistant Eugene Mato for "committing unlicensed athletic agent
activity." Former Hurricanes wideout Wesley Carroll received a
felony perjury charge for trying to cover up the crime. Ferraro
and Mato--who along with Carroll did not return calls from
SI--were hit with misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to commit
The one-night total for Ferraro: five criminal counts filed
against him and his associates, one NCAA violation for his
favorite school and one wasted meal. Green, the Miami Dolphins'
1997 first-round pick, signed with archrival agent Drew
Rosenhaus, whom Ferraro once sued for trying to steal a client.
Soccer clubs among the 16 in Colombia's first division that have
owners wanted on drug-related charges, according to government
Questions in the newly released The Ultimate Mickey Mantle
Trivia Book, one for each of Mantle's home runs.
Estimated cost, in dollars, of the Ferrari 456 GT that Mike
Tyson bought on the day his ban from boxing was announced.
Basketball hoops installed at Shaquille O'Neal's new
15,000-square-foot mansion near Beverly Hills to enable him to
practice his free throw shooting.
Consecutive games in which the Los Angeles Dodgers had started a
righthanded pitcher before lefty Dennis Reyes faced the San
Francisco Giants on Sunday.
Protesters who gathered in London's Hyde Park on July 10 to
voice their opposition to a government-proposed ban on fox
SOME SURREAL SHOWDOWNS
Last week IBF superheavyweight champion Eric (Butterbean) Esch
said he wants to box Dennis Rodman in a $1 million extravaganza.
The Worm is holding out for $25 million, but if the bout
happens, it won't be the first (or last) strange pairing in the
squared circle. Here's a look at the oddest of the odd couples.
MUHAMMAD ALI, heavyweight champ, vs. ANTONIO INOKI, Japan's
heavyweight wrestling champ; at Budokan Arena, Tokyo; June 26,
In 15-round snoozer Ali, 34, throws just two punches as Inoki
spends most of bout on his back, playing footsie with The
Greatest. Fans throw beer and fruit. Ali yells, "Inoki no fight!
Inoki girl!" and suffers huge welts on his legs. Dud ruled a draw.
Ali swears off gimmick fights, then changes mind three years
later and whips NFL defensive lineman Lyle Alzado in eight
rounds. Inoki goes on to win seat in Japan's parliament.
CHUCK WEPNER, ranked heavyweight, vs. ANDRE THE GIANT, 7'5",
430-pound pro wrestler; at Shea Stadium, Flushing, N.Y.; June
In preamble to Ali-Inoki bout, which was shown on TV at Shea,
Wepner throws hammering jab to head. Giant laughs; massacre
begins. Andre flattens Wepner with head butt, then picks him up
and tosses him from ring. Wepner never climbs back in.
Wepner, woozy from head butt, says, "I could beat him." Match
forgotten by everyone but Sly Stallone, who, in Rocky III,
fights Hulk Hogan in an identically choreographed event.
ARCHIE MOORE, 46-year-old light heavyweight champ, vs. GEORGE
PLIMPTON, 32-year-old writer; at Stillman's Gym, New York; 1959.
In first of three rounds, Moore slips, gets mad and bloodies
Plimpton's nose. For rest of fight Plimpton throws series of
feeble jabs he later describes in his book Shadow Box. The champ
is too nice to beat up a civilian--even a journalist.
Ever enterprising, Plimpton goes on to play quarterback for
Detroit Lions and goalie for Boston Bruins. Moore loses to
Cassius Clay as heavyweight in 1962.
TWO TON TONY GALENTO, heavyweight/beer drinker, vs. PETER THE
GREAT, kangaroo; at Hamid's Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City,
N.J.; July 23, 1939.
Living up to claim "I'll fight anyone--and anything," Galento,
who once knocked down Joe Louis, fires hard left to marsupial's
midsection. Peter counters with right, then falls and kicks
Galento in groin. Kangaroo takes three-round decision.
"Put boxing gloves on the bum's hind legs," says Galento, "and
I'll fight him again." No rematch, but Two Ton later boxes a
bear and wrestles an octopus to draws. Peter retires undefeated.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
A Virginia entrepreneur is selling a set of trading cards
depicting 79 of the nation's top high school athletes.
Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop, on his partial interest in the
Mission Viejo Vigilantes of the independent Western League: "I'm
a typical owner. It doesn't matter what our record is just as
long as I make money on the deal."