Gerry from Boston weighs in with some thoughts on sports talk
This is an article from the July 27, 1998 issue
There are 237 sports talk radio stations in this country today,
and they all have two things in common: 1) They run lots of
commercials for impotence cures, and 2) at one point they all
declare that they are going to be the first station to develop a
more erudite brand of sports talk. Some programming genius will
invariably vow to stop pandering to the lowest common
denominator and raise the level of discourse. But as Dirty Harry
said, a man has got to know his limitations. Leslie Nielsen
should not do Shakespeare, Magic Johnson should not host a TV
talk show, and sports talk radio should not attempt to be
In Boston last week, at an AM radio station that does sports
talk on weekends, a program director called the studio from home
and demanded that a caller be taken off the air. The caller's
crime? He used the term rat's ass. As in, "I don't give a rat's
ass about the World Cup." Peter Casey, the program director at
WBZ radio, found this language offensive, which makes him not
unlike a mugging victim who happened to be out for a 3 a.m.
stroll in a bad neighborhood. What did you expect, chief? When
you lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.
Which brings us to another common thread at most sports radio
stations: the wacky on-air personality known as (choose one of
the following) Dog, Mad Dog, Big Dog, Bulldog or Doggie Dog.
Truth is, most of the sports-rabid audience would rather listen
to the hysterical rantings of Mr. Mad Dog than, say, George
Will. It's fun. It's funny. It's sports. It's talk radio. It
works precisely because it's not erudite. I should know--I host
a five-day-per-week sports talk show on WEEI.
The host of the WBZ program, Boston icon Bob Lobel, resigned in
protest after the perceived censorship by Casey. The caller, a
caustic speed-dialer known as Butch from the Cape, achieved
celebrity status across New England. The story triggered the
usual polemics on the scourge of sports radio, which, many
experts agree, leads directly to teen smoking, body piercing and
Farrelly brothers films.
Sports radio is a misnomer. It's really guy radio--packaged and
sold to men 25 to 54 years old. When it's good, it has the feel
of a couple of guys at the bar, getting loose, talking sports.
When was the last time guys watched their language while debating
Griffey versus McGwire at a bar? Sports radio doesn't work when
you try to dress it up and pass it off as highbrow public
service. You can't make a silk purse out of a rat's ass.
The Bulls Report
JORDAN: UNCLEAR AIR
He has been known to change his mind on occasion (retirement
'95, jersey 45), but this time Michael Jordan seems to mean it.
"I always said I would not play without Phil Jackson. I haven't
changed that," Jordan said last Thursday at a press conference
held after he hacked his way through a celebrity pro-am in Long
Grove, Ill. "I just haven't made an official announcement."
So why doesn't he make that announcement and stop messing with
everyone's mind? Three possibilities: First, he is enjoying the
tantalizing will-he-or-won't-he drama being carried out almost
daily on the pages of Chicago's newspapers. Second, he can't
bear to depart without dissing the coaching choice of archenemy
Jerry Krause, the Bulls' general manager, who has apparently
settled on Iowa State's Tim Floyd as the replacement for
Jackson. "I just don't feel like I want to start with someone
who doesn't know me or know the way I play," Jordan said last
week of Floyd.
Finally, Jordan, though nowhere near as vocal on labor issues as
some would like him to be, is squarely behind the union in its
battle with the NBA. Jordan knows his potential presence on the
court is a valuable bargaining chip; it helps the players'
association put pressure on the owners to settle and preserve
some form of the Larry Bird exception, which allows teams to pay
their own free agents whatever they want regardless of the
salary cap. Without that, the Bulls would have no prayer of
Tour de France
A SPORT IN SHAME
Regardless of the race's outcome on Aug. 2, the 1998 Tour de
France will be remembered for the drug scandal that claimed the
event's top team. On July 8, three days before the Tour began,
Willy Voet, a masseur for the Festina team of France, was caught
at the Belgian border with an undisclosed quantity of
performance-enhancing drugs in his car. Though Voet first
claimed that the stash, which reportedly included steroids and
erythropoietin (EPO), a hormone that increases the production of
red blood cells, was for his personal use, Lothar Heinrich, a
physician for the Telekom team, said that Voet's car contained
enough drugs to supply "the Tour's 189 competitors all the way
to Paris." Voet then told police that the coaching staff of
Festina had instructed him to buy the drugs.
Last Thursday, Bruno Roussel, the team's coach, was suspended by
Tour authorities and taken into custody. Like Voet, Roussel
initially denied wrongdoing, but last Friday he told
investigators that Festina riders were systematically supplied
with drugs. "The object was to optimize performance under strict
medical control," Roussel said in a statement.
Just hours after Roussel's confession, the entire nine-member
Festina team, including Richard Virenque, a Tour favorite who
was 91 seconds off the lead, was kicked out of the race. Though
at week's end none of the Festina riders had failed a drug test
and none had admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, the
team will almost surely disband. Its sponsor, Miguel Rodriguez,
who owns the Festina watch company, said, "If the allegations
are true, I'll get out of the sport of bike racing." Roussel,
who is under investigation for violating French drug possession
and distribution laws, could face a two-year prison sentence.
Gerald Gremion, a Swiss physician who has worked with junior
cyclists, says that competitive riders as young as 16 routinely
request prescriptions for EPO and tell him that "everybody is
taking it." They know their role models. Allegations have long
persisted that an overwhelming majority of pros use
performance-enhancing drugs, particularly EPO, as well as
masking agents that prevent some of the drugs from showing up in
testing. Already this year, two riders were hospitalized with
liver and kidney problems thought to be brought on by the use of
perfluorocarbon (PFC), a synthetic blood additive that
transports oxygen more efficiently than human blood does.
If use of performance-enhancers is so widespread, why have so
few cyclists failed drug tests in this decade? Jean-Pierre de
Mondenard, a French sports physician, says it's because EPO, the
drug of choice among endurance athletes, can't be detected with
current methods. In such an environment drug use is bound to
proliferate. Says de Mondenard, "The riders have two choices:
either join in or forget about professional cycling."
The Notre Dame Trial
FLAGGED BEFORE THE PLAY
The job of Notre Dame football coach comes with big shoes.
Trying to live up to the likes of Frank Leahy and Ara
Parseghian, not to mention the sainted Knute Rockne, can turn a
man into mush. (Can't it, Gerry Faust?) But the job is even
tougher when the Golden Domer digs his own public relations
hole, as Irish coach Bob Davie did at the age-discrimination
trial in which Notre Dame was the defendant.
An eight-member jury in Lafayette, Ind., last week awarded
Davie's former offensive line coach Joe Moore $86,000, ruling
that Davie had discriminated against Moore on the basis of age
when he fired the then 64-year-old assistant in December 1996.
But it was the details that emerged during the trial that were
most damaging to Davie. He emerged as disloyal, for it was Moore
who had helped Davie secure an assistant's job at Notre Dame by
talking him up to Davie's predecessor, Lou Holtz. Davie emerged
as insincere, for his repeated claims that "age had nothing to
do" with his firing of Moore did not go over with the jury
("[Davie's testimony] seemed rehearsed, like his lawyers told
him exactly what to say," one juror told the South Bend
Tribune). Davie emerged as petty, for the things he found
objectionable about Moore included his smoking, long lunches,
dirty cars and doodling during meetings. Davie emerged as
somewhat mean-spirited, having testified that he "despised" some
of the things his predecessor had done as coach and questioning
whether Holtz suffered "mental problems" in 1996, when Davie was
Holtz's defensive coordinator.
Beyond the misfortune of having his private conversations about
a still-popular Irish figure such as Holtz made public, Davie
was embarrassed by one of this season's mainstays. Co-captain
offensive lineman Mike Rosenthal testified on Moore's behalf,
saying that he had heard Davie say Moore was too old for the job.
Davie said afterward that he wants to put the trial behind him
and just start coaching again. And he'll have a lot of coaching
to do. Davie was only 7-6 in '97 (his first season), and the
Irish face four bowl teams in their first five games. Last
week's trial hasn't made his task any easier.
Farewell to Hudler
THE HUSTLER HANGS IT UP
Rex Hudler, a 37-year-old veteran of six major league teams but
late of the Triple A Buffalo Bisons, retired last week, a
milestone that will have no impact on, say, Cooperstown. (The
Wonder Dog bowed out with a .261 career batting average.) We
nevertheless lament his departure because Hudler was the
ultimate exponent of the increasingly rare commodity known as
There is a fine line between hustler and thespian, and Hudler
assuredly walked it. (Actually, Hudler ran it.) "Some of what
Rex does is put-on hustle," Milwaukee Brewers manager Phil
Garner once said, "but the guy sells it well." Even if he
didn't, it almost wouldn't have mattered. There is so much
nonhustle going on these days--batters trotting to first on
infield ground balls, hitters voguing at the plate before
deigning to run on long fly balls, outfielders loafing after
balls that have gone through their legs--that Hudler's hustle
was a much-needed, albeit much-overlooked, tonic. In batting
practice he collected loose balls near the cage like a madman,
swatted teammates on the butt as he ran to shag flies in the
outfield and, while others took their hacks, actually worked on
baserunning, taking long leads or breaking for home on infield
grounders. When he got his shot during the game, usually in
mop-up situations, he took the extra base, made the headfirst
dive for the ball in the outfield, broke up double plays with
In short, Hudler loved doing what he was doing, and that
enjoyment is what seems to be missing from the sport these days.
So many players seem so unenthused about BP, so uninspired
during the game, so uncommunicative after it. Hudler? A few
months ago he was making a promotional appearance at the
Philadelphia Visitors Center. "I insisted on wearing my
uniform," said Hudler, then with the Phillies. "I always feel
proud and honored when I wear a major league uniform."
After Philadelphia general manager Ed Wade told him he was being
waived last month, Hudler apologized to manager Terry Francona
for not contributing more, lauded the Phillies organization, ran
around the clubhouse urging his mates to keep hustling and
finally burst into tears as he packed his bags. He played only
11 games for the Bisons, a Cleveland Indians farm team, before
he realized his time had come. He made his last at bat a
memorable one. After being hit in the head with a pitch, Hudler
crumbled to the ground for a moment, then, waving away two
trainers, arose and dashed pell-mell for first base. Baseball
has to miss a guy like that.
TWO-MINUTE (OR SO) DRILL
During an Australian Rules football game in the remote town of
Ravensthorpe (pop. 392), Western Australia, last month,
23-year-old Hayden McGlinn collided head-to-head with another
player. After being taken to the town's small hospital, McGlinn,
the victim of a blood clot on the brain, started to fade. Steve
Hindley, a general practitioner on duty, saw there wasn't enough
time to fly him to the neurosurgery facility in Perth. So
Hindley made a command decision: "There was only one thing left
to do," he said, "and that was to drill a hole in his head."
After a hand drill borrowed from the town dentist malfunctioned,
Hindley went to work with an old woodworking drill discovered at
the Ravensthorpe school. Hindley sterilized the bit and bored a
hole into McGlinn's left temple, draining blood that had
accumulated and buying time to have McGlinn moved to Perth,
where at week's end he was in serious but stable condition.
Hindley declined credit for saving the player's life, calling
the operation a team effort. McGlinn's father, however, called
Hindley a hero. "It is positively the best bush medicine we have
ever seen," the elder McGlinn said.
Little League Controversy
Krystle Newquist, a 14-year-old first baseman from Lemont, Ill.,
says that after learning recently that her late grandfather had
been an alcoholic and had died of cirrhosis of the liver, she
couldn't swallow what she considers the hypocrisy of playing for
a Little League softball team sponsored by a bar. Krystle played
for the same team--the Foxes, sponsored by a local tavern called
The Carousel--last year with no objection; but before this
season's first game she covered the bar's name on her uniform
with duct tape. Lemont league officials invoked a rule saying
all players must wear unaltered, identical uniforms. When
Krystle continued to show up with the taped shirt, she was
kicked off the team. She then asked the school board to prohibit
the Little League from holding games on school property unless
the league banned bars from sponsoring teams. "Why is it O.K. to
advertise a tavern on the backs of children?" she asked the
board last week.
Well, the tavern is hardly conducting a full-scale ad campaign.
It simply ponied up $250 to subsidize a team, as it has done
since 1974. "Believe me," says Tim O'Brien, The Carousel's
co-owner, "we didn't sponsor a girls' softball team to get more
customers." Granting Krystle's request would also create a
slippery slope. Should the Little League refuse sponsorship
from, say, Pizza Hut or Piggly Wiggly, since those
establishments also sell alcohol?
"We have a policy that prohibits direct advertising of alcohol
and tobacco," says Lance VanAuken, a Little League Baseball
spokesman. "When it's more of a gray area, we leave it up to the
local leagues." As O'Brien says, "You'd think you'd want as many
businesses as possible helping kids to play sports in the summer."
--That Jim Bouton, spurned for so many years by the Yankees,
suits up and pitches a 1-2-3 inning when he makes his
Old-Timers' debut on Saturday.
--That some of the joie de vivre displayed by 17-year-old Justin
Rose in the British Open rubs off on Tiger Woods.
--That Brett Favre, who has a cameo in There's Something about
Mary, keeps his day job.
Leftfielders who have played next to centerfielder Ken Griffey
Jr. in the 10 seasons Junior has been with the Mariners.
Dollars earmarked for eight winter sports by the USOC in an
effort to help the U.S. win its most Winter Games medals ever--at
least 14--at the 2002 Olympics.
Pounds of steel in Bank One Ballpark's retractable roof, which
at week's end had been closed for six straight Diamondbacks
games because of temperatures as high as 117[degrees] in Phoenix.
Score shot by 12-year-old golfer Henry Liaw of Los Angeles to win
a junior tournament at the 5,214-yard, par-70 Alhambra Golf
Course in Los Angeles.
Weight, in pounds, of the hard-foam toilet suit worn by Les
Waters, who circles the bases in his getup between innings at
Savannah Sand Gnats games as part of a conservation-awareness
Years between Red Sox reliever Dennis Eckersley's last pitch in
the minor leagues and the one he made last Saturday for
Pawtucket, where he was rehabbing a shoulder injury.
WHO'S BASEBALL'S BEST DEFENSIVE SHORTSTOP?
The 25-year-old Cuban defector landed on American soil in 1993;
in three seasons with the Mets he's shown he can cover nearly
every inch of that ground with his glove. No one since Ozzie has
ranged from the hole to shallow center as gracefully or as often
as Ordonez, and his howitzer arm turns those dazzling stops into
outs. He sometimes misses the trapeze, but his nine errors are a
far cry from the 27 he made in '96. --Stephen Cannella
Reliability is a shortstop's top priority, and no shortstop has
been more reliable than the Cleveland Indian whose record .981
career-fielding percentage doesn't even reflect his 37 errorless
postseason games. Vizquel, 31, didn't muff a single ground ball
from August 1997 until he booted one last Saturday. SportsCenter
loves the acrobatic Ordonez, but would you take Dominique (Human
Highlight Film) Wilkins over Larry Bird? --Tom Verducci
Hold your envy of fresh-faced Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, who
were handed starting jobs on draft day. In the past 20 years,
seven rookie quarterbacks have started in Week 1 and held on to
the top job for at least nine games, and only one of them, a guy
named Elway, turned his team from loser to winner. It seems
likely that Manning, who's saddled with the 3-13 Colts, and Leaf,
who takes over the 4-12 Chargers, will find out that first jobs
aren't supposed to be easy.
Rookie QB Starts Record Record +/-
John Elway '83 Broncos 10 9-7, .563 2-7, .222 +.341
Rick Mirer '93 Seahawks 16 6-10, .375 2-14, .125 +.250
Drew Bledsoe '93 Patriots 12 5-11, .313 2-14, .125 +.188
Doug Williams '78 Bucs 10 5-11, .313 2-12, .143 +.170
Jeff George '90 Colts 12 7-9, .438 8-8, .500 -.062
Mike Pagel '82 Colts 9 0-8-1, .056 2-14, .125 -.069
Troy Aikman '89 Cowboys 11 1-15, .063 3-13, .188 -.125
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
A new league-sanctioned pro football video game, NFL Xtreme,
features cyberplayers who limp when injured, talk trash, flex
over fallen opponents and, according to a promotional release,
perform "50-plus touchdown dances."
was sitting out a game during a recent Reds-Cardinals series in
St. Louis: "I'm glad. That leaves three less walks I have to