CODE OF SILENCE
On Sept. 30, Richie Phillips, head of the baseball umpires'
union, drew a line in the infield dirt by issuing a
zero-tolerance edict to acting commissioner Bud Selig and the
American and National League presidents. Still stinging from
baseball's failure to suspend Baltimore Orioles second baseman
Roberto Alomar during the 1996 playoffs after he spit on umpire
John Hirschbeck in the last week of the regular season, Phillips
warned that the umps would eject anyone arguing "within an arm's
length" of them during the upcoming postseason. Baseball told
Phillips that by unilaterally imposing such conditions on the
players, he would violate his union's collective bargaining
agreement with baseball. But the umpires had made their point.
"Basically," says one manager of a playoff team, "they tried to
scare the crap out of everybody."
They apparently succeeded. Through Sunday there had been no
ejections during the postseason because, despite numerous
disputable calls, no one has dared to vigorously dispute them.
"You don't say anything because you can't take the chance of
getting run," said a National League playoff pitcher. When Eric
Gregg established a dubious strike zone in the Florida Marlins'
2-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in Game 5 of the National
League Championship Series, a game in which he consistently rang
up pitches that appeared far wide of the plate, there were few
overt gripes. Braves centerfielder Kenny Lofton feebly protested
once; manager Bobby Cox, whose seven ejections in 1997 led the
majors, barely uttered a peep. Watching the game on television,
another manager in the playoffs called Gregg's work "an
embarrassment for baseball."
Arguments with umpires can range from the hilarious to the
tedious to the dangerous: Phillips has cited Cox's stepping on
the feet of Ed Montague in an Aug. 6 game as another instance of
the umpires' unsafe working conditions. Since last year the umps
have pushed for a formalized code of conduct, which is still in
the process of being drawn up. Any code should protect them from
physical abuse such as Alomar's and Cox's. But an arm's-length
standard would be excessive and unfair. An argument by a player
or manager, even if it winds up nose-to-nose, is a team's only
means of holding an umpire accountable for his work. While such
beefs rarely result in overturned calls, they are a vital--and
reasonable--part of baseball gamesmanship.
HE'S SO MONEY
With 474 rushing yards through last Sunday, Gary Brown of the
San Diego Chargers is on pace to earn a $1 million bonus for
gaining 1,000 yards this season. We believe he'll get it because
Brown is a money player: He played at Williamsport (Pa.) High,
whose teams are nicknamed the Millionaires.
You'd think that after 15 consecutive losing seasons, including
a record of 34-114 over the past six years, the Mansfield (Pa.)
University women's basketball team would want all the practice
it could get. But first-year coach Luke Ruppel had a more
devilish plan. He decided to forgo the team's Oct. 15 Midnight
Madness workout session and instead brought his team to
Mansfield Holy Child Catholic Church. There Father Louis
Kaminski began a 40-minute service with these words: "We are
here to exorcise the demons that have plagued this program for
so many years."
When NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue asked Players Association
executive director Gene Upshaw to consider extending the current
collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2000
season, to 2007, Upshaw was stunned. Since the start of the
season Upshaw has been trying to drum up approval from the
players for a one-year extension. (That approval is a gimme,
with only 15 no votes out of about 1,300 cast so far.) But the
owners also hope that their ongoing TV negotiations will yield a
contract that runs longer than the traditional four-year deal.
"The time is right and the game healthy enough to get some real
long-term agreements in TV and labor," says the Denver Broncos'
Pat Bowlen, chairman of the owners' TV committee.
There's one catch: Tagliabue wants any extension of the labor
deal to include a hardening of the salary cap. Under the current
agreement, teams can circumvent the cap when signing new stars
by spreading their huge bonuses over the length of the contract,
thus softening the impact on each year's payroll. But players
won't give up their signing bonuses, and they shouldn't. Because
NFL contracts aren't guaranteed, such bonuses are the only way
these living-on-the-edge athletes can be assured of getting paid
if they're injured or cut. "There will be no givebacks," Upshaw
says. "These owners have to restrain themselves. We're not going
to help them do that."
Earlier this month World TeamTennis presented rookie of the year
awards to Mary Joe Fernandez, 26, who has a career record of
462-210 in her 12-plus seasons on the Women's Tennis Association
tour, and to Richey Reneberg, who at 31 was the oldest American
to finish in the 1996 year-end Top 100 rankings.
NEARING A PAYOFF?
The Chicago Marathon on Sunday brought good news and bad news
for U.S. distance running. The good news: 31-year-old Jerry
Lawson of Jacksonville finished in 2:09:35, the fastest time by
an American in more than three years. The bad news: Lawson
placed seventh, more than two minutes behind winner Khalid
Khannouchi of Morocco. Also ahead of Lawson were four Kenyans
and a Briton.
In the 1970s and early '80s, U.S. male runners dominated
marathoning. With Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Alberto
Salazar, the U.S. had the world's No. 1 runner in the year-end
rankings eight times from 1971 to '82. But only two American
men, one of them South African-born Mark Plaatjes, have ranked
among the Top 10 in the world in the past 14 years. Worse, U.S.
runners aren't only falling behind the rest of the world,
they're getting slower as well. From 1980 to '83 five American
men broke 2:10; only three, including Lawson, have done so since.
Lawson is an oddity among U.S. runners, and not just because of
his goatee, his nine earrings and his training regimen of as
many as 200 miles a week. Unlike so many of his contemporaries,
Lawson has been willing to pass up paydays on the lucrative
road-racing circuit to concentrate on the marathon.
Ironically, his nonmercenary approach almost earned him the
biggest payoff in running history. Earlier this year New Balance
offered $1 million to the U.S. runner who broke the recognized
American record for the marathon (Bob Kempainen's 2:08:47 run at
Boston in 1994) by the widest margin during '97--which was
somewhat like offering a million bucks to the baseball player
who exceeds Roger Maris's home run record by the greatest margin.
Lawson won't run another marathon this year, but he says he's
not worried about missing out on the prize. "I want to keep
getting faster, and I think I've positioned myself just right,"
says Lawson, who was buoyed enough by his Chicago run to stay up
partying into the wee hours before heading home and back to
training on Monday. "I feel like I'm ready to explode."
NO HANG TIME
Despite the fact that it lost 28-0 to Hamilton College in a
Division III matchup last Saturday, Colby College never punted
to end any of its 11 possessions. In the ass kicking, the White
Mules threw four interceptions, missed two field goals, had two
possessions halted by the end of halves, twice surrendered the
ball on downs and lost one fumble.
In their series' five years on NBC, the producers of Homicide:
Life on the Street have used police tape to cordon off
fictitious murder scenes on streets and back alleys all over
Baltimore. But the show had never tried to stage a crime at the
city's best-known setting: Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The idea
that Peter Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, and the
Maryland Stadium Authority would permit Homicide to portray some
grisly murder there, made-for-TV or not, seemed hopelessly
But in what producers David Simon and Jim Yoshimura describe as
a moment of "pure, unencumbered genius," they jiggered the plot
so that the ballpark brass not only embraced the idea but also
happily allowed Orioles pitchers Armando Benitez and Scott
Erickson to make cameo appearances. In this season's second
episode, which is to air on Friday, the victim and the killer
are both obnoxious men with thick Long Island accents. Each is a
New York Yankees fan. "Someone should check the Maryland
Annotated Code," says Detective John Munch, who is played by
Richard Belzer. "I'm not sure this is actually a crime in
MAKING THE PLANET SAFE
It is always refreshing when an athlete makes a principled stand
on the issues of the day. So we were particularly pleased to see
Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, heretofore reluctant
to stump for a cause, boldly affirm his loyalty to Planet Reebok
by placing tape over the Nike swoosh that now adorns the Lakers'
warmups. Shaq's next campaign: a Pepsi in every lunchbox.
END OF THE BOOK?
Zander Hollander's office, in his Manhattan apartment, is filled
with books, most of them about sports, most of them covered with
dust. It is where, for the last nine years, he has edited The
Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball, the wonderfully sarcastic,
if not entirely reliable, annual that last week released its
24th--and possibly last--edition.
A writer and editor for the now long-defunct New York
World-Telegram in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Hollander, 74, dates
back to a rougher age of journalism. In 1965 he left the paper
to concentrate on creating books and became the unofficial king
of sports paperbacks. He has edited dozens of trivia collections
as well as titles ranging from Broadway Joe and the Super Jets
(1969) to The Complete Encyclopedia of Hockey (1970) to Bud
Collins' Tennis Encyclopedia (1997).
His chefs d'oeuvre, however, have been the handbooks, which he
began issuing in 1971 with the first baseball edition. Hockey,
football and basketball soon followed. All feature a biting
sense of humor, none so much as the basketball books. They turn
the zinging one-liner into an art form--at least by the
typically prosaic standards of such publications. This year's
victims include New Jersey Nets center Yinka Dare ("Pronounced
dar-RAY. Translated as: 'He who comes to NBA without game'"),
the Timberwolves' Australian guard, Shane Heal ("Maybe the ball
rotates differently in this hemisphere") and Washington Wizards
forward Ashraf Amaya ("Where would Washington have been without
his 144 minutes?").
Yet as more and more magazines publish annuals faster than
Hollander can and with more up-to-date information, his
handbooks, which debuted at $1.25 and now cost $7.99, are
nearing extinction. The football handbook was discontinued a
year ago, and the 1997 baseball handbook will be the last for
the sport. Basketball may have been Hollanderized for the last
time as well. Seven years ago circulation hovered around 85,000.
Today it's closer to 40,000. "I don't know if there's room
anymore for a guy like me," Hollander says. "It's a shame, but
I've had a helluva run."
Dollars to be earned this season by new New Mexico State
basketball coach Lou Henson, an alum and former Lobos coach who
took the job on a pro bono basis.
Dollars to be earned this season by New Mexico State assistant
athletic director Neil McCarthy, the former hoops coach, who was
reassigned for emphasizing winning over academics.
Calories burned per day by crew members in the Whitbread
round-the-world yacht race.
Calories burned by a 185-pound man running six mph for six hours.
Years in which the host team of baseball's All-Star Game--which
this year was the Cleveland Indians--has won the World Series.
Percentage by which the amount awarded Mitch Green in his suit
against Mike Tyson over a 1988 street brawl ($45,000) exceeded
Green's purse for his 10-round loss to Tyson in '86.
PASSING INTO HISTORY
AS OF MONDAY, New York Rangers center and alltime NHL point
leader Wayne Gretzky had 1,849 assists. With two more he will
surpass, with assists alone, Gordie Howe's career point total of
1,850, which Howe achieved with 1,049 assists and 801 goals.
That means that even if Gretzky never scored a single goal (he
had 865 as of Monday), he would still have more points than
anyone else in history. Here's a look at some of the Great One's
assist statistics through last week. All numbers are NHL records.
--GRETZKY GOT HIS first assist on Oct. 10, 1979, against the
Chicago Blackhawks, when he helped set up Kevin Lowe for the
first goal in Edmonton Oilers history.
--GRETZKY ASSISTED 132 players, including three--Jari Kurri, Luc
Robitaille and Glenn Anderson--on more than 100 goals, and his
current coach, Colin Campbell, on one.
--OF THE 598 goals Kurri scored in his career, 364 (61%) were set
up by Gretzky.
--IN 1985-86 Gretzky averaged 2.04 assists a game for the
Oilers, well above the next-best single-season average--
Gretzky's 1.70 in 1987-88.
--IN THREE SEASONS during the '80s Gretzky had more assists than
any other player had points.
--GRETZKY HAD 260 playoff assists. Only one player, Mark Messier,
with 295, had more playoff points.
--GRETZKY HAD 783 more assists than Paul Coffey, who was second
on the list; only 22 players have had 783 assists in league
--AGAINST THE VANCOUVER CANUCKS, where Messier, his former
Oilers and Rangers teammate, now plays, Gretzky had 161 assists,
more than against any other team.
For 18-year-old George Vlosich of Cleveland, a childhood pastime
has evolved into a lucrative art. His specially preserved Etch A
Sketch portraits sell for $3,000 apiece.
The Chicago Bulls
Cole Porter wrote, "I get no kick from champagne." Well, Cole
Porter never played on a World Series winner. The postvictory
clubhouse champagne spree is an integral, if messy, part of
every Fall Classic. Members of this year's winning team will be
toasting themselves with specially designed, laser-engraved
bottles (left) licensed by Major League Baseball and produced by
Big League Bottling of Lake Bluff, Ill. The bubbly in the
bottles--Schramsberg Vineyards 1992 blanc de blancs--is big
league as well. "Schramsberg is noted for its rich, elegant
style and its crisp, dry finish," says Josh Greene, editor of
Wine & Spirits magazine. "Of course, the undertone of aged
Chardonnay may be lost when sprayed around a locker room."
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
The Kansas State defense has nicknamed itself the Lynch Mob.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward, to his young teammate Kevin
Garnett (who just signed a $125 million contract) after Garnett
complained that he couldn't buy a layup: "Yes, you can."