SPORTS SEIN OF THE TIMES
Seinfeld was conceived as a show about nothing, though it turned
out to be nothing of the sort. Rather, Seinfeld was a show about
sports: Face-painted New Jersey Devils fans, recalcitrant
will-call-window attendants at Giants Stadium, middle-aged ball
boys at the U.S. Open, yada, yada, yada.... But the reverse is
also true: Sports nowadays are all about Seinfeld. So whenever
opposing players or officials offended them at this year's Final
Four, members of the the Stanford band chanted, "No soup for you!"
Step further into this hall of mirrors and you will see sports
and Seinfeld emulating each other emulating each other into
infinity. Several professional athletes, none of them actors,
appeared on Seinfeld during the show's nine seasons. Several
Seinfeld actors, none of them professional athletes, were
preseason contract holdouts in 1997, seeking a Jordanesque $22
million apiece from NBC for what would become the program's
final year. In what is now the Sein qua non of athletic
entitlement, Jerry Seinfeld received free Nikes on the set of
his sitcom, which comes to an end on May 14. Jerry Stiller, who
played Frank Costanza, got his own Nike commercials, in which he
looked more like Vince Lombardi than Lombardi ever did.
Speaking of Lombardi, the final episode of Seinfeld has already
reached Super Bowl levels in ad rates ($1.8 million per 30
seconds) and hype (five months of promotion, or three days
longer than the typical Super Bowl pregame show). No wonder NBC
executive Don Ohlmeyer openly rooted for a World Series sweep
last October, lest the Fall Classic bump a Seinfeld episode from
the schedule. So it has come to this: A show that so often
touched on World Series teams and heroes--be they the 1986 Mets
of Keith Hernandez or the '96 Yankees, for whom George worked in
the front office under the blustery command of the
calzone-loving Big Stein (who was even more Steinbrennerian than
Steinbrenner), or Joe DiMaggio, who dunked his morning cruller
at Dinky Donuts--grew to be of vastly greater interest to
Americans than the World Series itself.
May 10, 1998
If no program better crystallized the 1990s, that's because this
decade will largely be defined by an endless and unhealthy
obsession with sports. On Seinfeld, George wanted to name his
unconceived child Seven, for Mickey Mantle. In real life,
memorabilia collectors wanted to buy Mantle's liver. One had to
suspend disbelief in switching from Seinfeld to SportsCenter,
not the other way around.
On one particularly memorable episode Jerry developed a crush on
Hernandez, the former Mets first baseman who was, alas, already
in love with someone else: himself. "I'm Keith Hernandez!"
Hernandez was heard to be thinking before he made out with
Elaine in a parked car. You couldn't ask for a better moment to
encapsulate sports fans and sports stars at the end of the
millennium. --Steve Rushin
John Heckler, a resident of Lexington, Ky., and a lifelong
Kentucky basketball fan, is a little perturbed. His truck, a
1993 Toyota pickup, was nearly totaled. And in March's NCAA
title game, the Wildcats beat Utah--the team that in an
understandable change of heart, he was rooting for. "I'll never
support Kentucky again," says Heckler, 35, the manager of a
retail store. "The players think they can do whatever they want
around here, like they own the town just because they're
athletes. It never bothered me. But no more, I'm done."
On the night of Sept. 16, 1997, Heckler was driving on a
Lexington street when he saw a pair of headlights coming
straight toward him. Seconds later a car crashed into Heckler's
truck on the driver's side, came to a momentary stop, then sped
off. Within hours, police investigators had concluded that the
car belonged to the godfather of Wayne Turner, the Wildcats'
starting point guard, and that Turner likely had been the driver
of the car or a passenger in it. Yet the police didn't arrest
Turner, who has since admitted he was at the wheel. It was not
until April 14 that Turner was charged with leaving the scene of
an accident and driving without proof of insurance. Says
Heckler, whose truck suffered $8,000 worth of damage, "It's
favoritism at its best."
Or worst. The county attorney's office admits it delayed
prosecuting the case so that Kentucky would be at full strength
for its title run. "It was our feeling that Wayne Turner wasn't
going anywhere," says Jack Miller, first assistant to the county
attorney. "We knew who he was, and there was no reason to
disrupt the basketball season with that type of charge."
Turner was not a newcomer to Fayette County's Athletic Vehicular
Overlookage program. In April 1997 he was cited for speeding and
driving without a license. A summons was issued in June after
Turner skipped a court appearance, but prosecutors, who could
have arrested him, took no action. Last Thursday, Turner pleaded
guilty to the speeding charge and paid $90 in fines and court
fees; he will not be prosecuted for missing the court date. In
the hit-and-run case, Turner pleaded guilty on April 21 to a
reduced charge of failure to file an accident report, and
admitted that he lied to police and filed a false stolen-vehicle
report. He was ordered to pay $97.50 in fines and court costs.
Meanwhile, Heckler faces a $400-per-year hike in his insurance
A University of Kentucky spokesman said that neither Turner nor
coach Tubby Smith would comment.
"I always thought that hit-and-run was a pretty serious
offense," says Heckler. "If I had been in a small car, I'd
probably be dead. But that didn't matter here. It's how things
work--the star walks away, and the victim suffers. He should be
in jail right now. Instead, the guy's probably signing
WHAT ABOUT THE BINDING?
Crown Publishers has announced that Michael Jordan's
as-yet-untitled "career retrospective in images and words" is
due out in November. A company press release says that it took
10 months to produce the "heavyweight, premium brightness
[paper] stock with exceptional retained ink gloss" on which the
book will be printed. Once the special stock, Rare Air Pub Gloss
Text, was developed, it then became "vital" to "marry" this
Michael Jordan of paper with the best inking process available.
That led to consultation with a company known for its
"proprietary color technology" which will turn out "a unique
finished product that will feature upward of 19 colors,
unparalleled ink density and crisp resolution."
The R and D for these projects was overseen by Rare Air, Ltd.,
the Jordan-owned company that's packaging the book for Crown.
Rare air, we might add, also describes the press release.
ALERT THE NOBEL COMMITTEE!
In another instance of dedicated scientists working hard for the
expansion of knowledge and the betterment of society, UCLA
marketing professor Don Morrison and a team of statisticians
have uncovered an astounding fact. According to a university
news release, Morrison and his team "crunched the numbers" from
59 Stanley Cup finals and determined that "hot goalies may be a
key factor in determining which team will win the Stanley Cup."
Women's Pro Draft
WNBA WINS STAR WARS
The American Basketball League--outdrawn, outmarketed and
outtelevised by the rival Women's National Basketball
Association--has held one advantage over its rival league:
better players. Last week's WNBA draft, however, revealed
changes in the landscape of women's pro basketball that put the
ABL in a defensive, even precarious, position.
Seven of the eight senior Kodak All-Americas have signed with
the WNBA--among them, Connecticut's Nykesha Sales and Stanford's
Kristen Folkl (both of whom will sit out this year because of
injury), Harvard's Allison Feaster and Old Dominion's Ticha
Penicheiro. The league also signed Maine's Cindy Blodgett, the
NCAA's second-leading scorer, and Malgorzata Dydek, a 7'2"
center from Poland. "When we went after college seniors last
year, they couldn't have comprehended how successful our league
was going to be, what kind of crowds we were going to draw,"
says Val Ackerman, the WNBA commissioner. "When we went out
there this year, the players were tuned in."
Tuned in, apparently, to attendance that averaged an impressive
9,669 per game and league-generated endorsement opportunities
not available to ABL players, who last season made about $35,000
more than WNBA players (albeit for 16 more games). Six days
after the WNBA gobbled up the goodies, the ABL draft was left
with one '98 All-America (North Carolina State's Chasity
Melvin), a handful of lesser stars (Illinois's Ashley Berggren
and Louisiana Tech's Alisa Burras) and a bunch of names unknown
to the average women's hoops fan.
Tracey Williams, the ABL's vice president for player personnel,
says her league is more interested in talent than drawing power.
"The players we signed are going to have an immediate impact,"
she says. "They'll make names for themselves."
Maybe. But for a league burdened with a flimsy TV deal, low
attendance (4,333 per game last season) and the uphill battle of
competing against the NBA's publicity machine, the inability to
land a Folkl or a Sales may well prove to be a crushing blow.
College Ump Has Had Enough
TOO MUCH NOISE, TOO MUCH FUNK
Gary Mitchell has been umpiring college baseball games for 15
seasons, the last eight in the Missouri Valley Conference, and
in recent years the abuse he has taken from coaches, players and
fans has increased in frequency and intensity. So have the
profanity-laced insults those groups have tossed at one another.
"This season has been the worst," says Mitchell, "and unless
someone does something, next season will be worse again."
Two recent incidents, both of which would have commanded
national attention had they not happened in the relatively
obscure world of college baseball, have borne him out. On April
24 at Indiana State's Sycamore Field, several Wichita State
players, irritated by the taunts of fans (some of whom were
illegally consuming alcohol), charged into the stands and
scuffled with the hecklers. Several weeks before that, during a
nonconference game at Oklahoma State, coach Dave Schrage of
Northern Iowa, a Missouri Valley member, suffered a broken nose,
a deviated septum and facial cuts after a Cowboys player
allegedly knocked him to the ground during a bench-clearing brawl.
Two incidents do not an epidemic make. But Mitchell says most
fights go unreported, so there's only anecdotal evidence of the
incivility he says is tearing at the fabric of the college game.
"The people who should be doing something about it, the coaches
and athletic directors, are sitting on their hands," says
Mitchell. "Many of the coaches, in fact, are the worst offenders."
Oklahoma State's response to the brawl was to suspend second
baseman Billy Gasparino, the player who allegedly knocked
Schrage to the ground, for just three games; coach Tom Holliday
did that only after he was advised by an NCAA rules official
that that's the mandatory penalty for a player who leaves his
position to join an altercation. The Cowboys have denied that
Gasparino decked Schrage, although they offered to settle with
Schrage by paying his medical bills. As to Schrage's initial
demand that Oklahoma State pay him $500,000, lawyer Charles
Drake, the only representative of the school who would comment,
said, "That's one expensive nose." Schrage says he will file a
The harshest penalties meted out after the Northern Iowa-
Oklahoma State game were the rest-of-the-season suspensions the
Missouri Valley gave to umpires Tim Norman and Dennis Walker
because they ejected no one after the brawl; the former may miss
a College World Series assignment because of the suspension.
Mitchell wasn't happy about that. But at least the conference
did something--and promises to do more. "Shame on us that we in
college sports have allowed this to happen," says commissioner
Doug Elgin. "Shame on administrators everywhere if we keep
allowing it to happen."
--That the Reverend Reggie White, who took to the stump again
last week to denounce homosexuals, remembers that "the tongue
can no man tame; it is an unruly evil" (James 3:8).
--That college football, which last week added two postseason
bowl games, adopt a less-is-more philosophy.
--That ankle-grabbing Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy get a gig on
Miles from Chavez Ravine to the Dodgers' new Tokyo office,
opened, according to team officials, to "enhance the
organization's relationships in Asia."
Women's squads among the 248 teams added by NCAA schools in
Consecutive league track meets won by the Reading (Mass.) High
boys before Mike Connelly was disqualified for "taunting" after
raising his index finger as he won the two-mile run against
Woburn High, costing Reading the victory.
Amount, in dollars, oft-injured daredevil Evel Knievel, 59 and
suffering from potentially fatal hepatitis C, bet his
37-year-old doctor that Knievel would outlive the physician.
Steps ridden up by French mountain biker Hugues Richard during
his 36-minute, 26-second climb of the Eiffel Tower.
Averages maintained in two bowling leagues by two-time Olympic
hurdles champion Roger Kingdom, who hopes to join the pro
Triathlons completed in the past eight weeks by Michele Malo,
who is in her fourth month of pregnancy.
WHO IS THE FUTURE OF WOMEN'S TENNIS?
So Williams beats the world's No. 1 player twice, and Hingis is
supposed to roll over? Forget it. Her serve and volley may not
be Venusian, but they're ideal for her cagey, Evertian baseline
style, one that will help keep her injury-free. Sometime soon
Hingis will discover the joys of a personal trainer. That's when
her conditioning will catch up with her tennis, and Venus will
once again be the second planet from the sun. --J.M.
OR VENUS WILLIAMS
Williams is 6'1 1/2", lean and lithe; Hingis is 5'7", tending
toward pudgy. Williams has an outrageously physical game and a
122-mph serve; Hingis's most well-developed muscles are the ones
she uses to smirk. After losing to Williams for the second time,
Hingis (who doesn't concede that Steffi Graf was her equal) said
of Venus, "She's going to be a tough opponent." Too tough, it
says here. --Sandra Bailey
Take heed, Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, owner of the American
League's best batting average (.442) at the end of April. You,
too, Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette, who entered May hitting
a National League-leading .420. Few things are as uncertain as
the glory of an April day. Here's a look at this decade's
first-month average leaders (all right, this season began on
March 31) and how they finished. For many, clearly, the cruelest
months were still ahead.
Year* AL Fast Starter Final Avg./Final Rank
1997 Bip Roberts .395 .302/[#]
1996 Marty Cordova .403 .309/[#]
1994 Paul O'Neill .448 .359/1
1993 John Olerud .450 .363/1
1992 Roberto Alomar .382 .310/7
1991 Edgar Martinez .412 .307/[#]
1990 Tony Pena .403 .263/[#]
[Year] NL Fast Starter Final Avg./Final Rank
 Larry Walker .456 .366/2
 Wally Joyner .407 .277/[#]
 Ellis Burks .413 .322/[#]
 Barry Bonds .431 .336/4
 John Kruk .407 .323/3
 Craig Biggio .359 .295/[#]
 Mariano Duncan .408 .306/[#]
*1995 SEASON DELAYED BY STRIKE [#] DID NOT FINISH IN TOP 10
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Italy's parliament was suspended for the day last week when two
legislators--in an incident Deputy Prime Minister Walter
Veltroni termed "embarrassing and grotesque"--called each other
clowns and thieves and nearly came to blows on the floor of the
Chamber of Deputies while discussing a referee's controversial
decision in a soccer game.
THEY SAID IT
Former Cornhuskers football coach, upon being given a lifetime
Nebraska fishing license: "I hope I live enough years to use it."
BLAST OFF, DOC!
You say you don't have a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering? That
you haven't completed a neurosurgery residency? No problem.
According to a number of athletes, coaches and front-office
types, there are plenty of jobs in the sporting world for which
you need not be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon. For
NFL COACH "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be a
coach in this league." --Former coach Ray Perkins
NHL COACH "It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that
if one of your best players is out, you're shorthanded."
--Capitals coach Ron Wilson
KENTUCKY DERBY STARTING-DRAW ANNOUNCER "Mistakes happen, but
here you've got the Kentucky Derby. It isn't brain surgery."
--Churchill Downs president, Tom Meeker, after an announcer's
mistake necessitated a redraw
NBA REBOUNDER "They were more aggressive on the boards. That's
all rebounding is. It's not brain surgery." --Timberwolves
forward Tom Gugliotta
BASEBALL PERSONNEL EXECUTIVE "Any fool could determine which
players should be signed to multiyear contracts. Our approach
isn't brain surgery." --Angels general manager Bill Bavasi
ATHLETE'S CAREER COUNSELOR "You don't have to be a rocket
scientist to figure out that you need a degree to get a job."
--Ravens' No. 1 draft pick in '97, defensive end Peter Boulware,
on his determination to get his Florida State diploma
ON-COURSE GOLF ANALYST "You don't have to be a rocket scientist
to know that Tiger was doing something." --Golfer Tom Lehman,
on roars from the gallery that greeted Tiger Woods's shots
during a '97 tournament
NFL CORNERBACK "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to
figure out which side they're going to." --Panthers cornerback
Tyrone Poole, on reading offenses
COLLEGE FOOTBALL RECRUITING ANALYST "You don't have to be a
rocket scientist to evaluate film.... It isn't brain surgery."
--Freelance scout Tom Lemming, on helping coaches spot high