There's nothing right about baseball that a few fat contracts
can't screw up
Scott Boras, agent for some of baseball's highest-priced
players, had to laugh when he heard that commissioner Bud Selig
had lectured major league general managers last week about
fiscal responsibility. "That's like a Jenny Craig meeting where
they're telling people, 'Don't eat cheeseburgers,'" Boras said.
Management just can't help itself. Only the day before, the
woeful Detroit Tigers gave one-dimensional free-agent third
baseman Dean Palmer (he hits home runs but doesn't hit for
average or field or run well) $36 million over five years. You
want fries with that?
The 1994 World Series was lost to a strike caused by the owners'
attempts to strong-arm the players into helping management curb
its profligate ways. Other than revenue sharing and an
inadequate luxury tax, the landscape hasn't changed--except the
spending has become even more inflationary. Though the best of
the free agents (Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Mo Vaughn and
Bernie Williams) were still on the market as of Monday, the
signings this off-season have set a standard for folly. The
going rate for a slap hitter with 22 lifetime home runs is now
$6.5 million a year, thanks to the four-year deal the Boston Red
Sox gave infielder Jose Offerman. A 30-year-old pitcher who has
never won eight games in a season? He's worth $9 million over
three years, based on what the Colorado Rockies handed lefty
The spending highlights the value of pitching--any kind of
pitching. Bohanon, Greg Swindell ($5.7 million from the Arizona
Diamondbacks) and Alan Mills ($6.5 million from the Los Angeles
Dodgers) got three-year deals despite ordinary credentials. A
less obvious trend is contracts that will pay mediocre players
into their mid- and late 30s. "Large-revenue teams don't care
because they can get other teams to take these old players off
their hands by paying part of the contract, as the Yankees did
with Kenny Rogers and Charlie Hayes," says Texas Rangers general
manager Doug Melvin.
Long-term crapshoots aren't limited to large-market clubs.
Detroit tacked a fifth year onto Palmer's deal after the Tampa
Bay Devil Rays--showing no humility after bombing with free
agents Wilson Alvarez, Wade Boggs, Roberto Hernandez and Paul
Sorrento last season--offered him four years.
If faceless players such as Palmer are worthy of five-year
deals, what about stars in their prime? Boras says the signings
are "evidence of just how healthy our game is." Given that four
of the nine biggest spenders last season didn't make the
playoffs, a better evaluation could be borrowed from Fed
chairman Alan Greenspan: irrational exuberance. --Tom Verducci
Karl Malone Sounds Off
Let's go to line 2. You're on the Karl Malone Show:
Thanks, Karl. First-time caller, longtime listener. It sounds
like most of Utah is telling you to go jump off a ski lift after
your on-air tirade last week in which you said you'd demand a
trade from the Jazz because you feel unappreciated by team owner
Larry Miller and the Utah media. The Jazz fans' reaction is
understandable. With the public already disgusted by the NBA
lockout, your timing could hardly be worse.
Or maybe they're worn out from trying to keep up with your
opinions. With all your flip-flopping, there must be a seat in
Congress with your name on it. You hinted in May that you wanted
to play in Seattle or Portland because you like rainy weather.
Rainy weather? Three weeks ago you proclaimed, "I'm not
abandoning Utah." You said, "Larry has done a lot of good things
for me and my family. I haven't forgotten that." Then last week
you went postal with a rambling, at times incomprehensible,
diatribe against, among others, Miller, who apparently angered
you by calling a meeting of the Jazz players while you were out
of town. Or something.
Most people would think you're wildly irrational. But most
people don't understand what Karl Malone (I know how much you
enjoy the occasional third-person reference) is going through.
Maybe even Karl Malone doesn't understand what Karl Malone is
going through. But to the impartial observer it's pretty clear
what's happening here: You're having a midlife crisis.
Yeah, great. Thanks for the call. Let's go to line--
Hey, don't cut me off. Think about it, Karl. You're 35 years
old, and you're beginning to sense your athletic mortality. So
what do you do? You try to recapture your youth any way you can.
You've had 13 happy years with the Jazz, 11 of them as an
All-Star, but your eye is starting to wander, and you're
thinking about throwing that stable relationship away. For what?
For a cheap fling? Today it's the Lakers, tomorrow it'll be the
Knicks or the Heat or some other team that flashes you a quick
glimpse of checkbook.
You used to be so unpretentious that you didn't even have an
agent. Now you're surrounding yourself with new, supposedly hip
friends, and your new rep is Dwight Manley. Another Manley
client, Dennis Rodman, whose antics used to offend your
down-to-earth sensibilities, is now your pro-wrestling buddy.
Then there's that hair-growth product you endorse. Hate to break
it to you Karl, but Rogaine is Midlife Crisis Indicator Numero
Uno. What's next, Viagra?
Try to remember that this crisis is temporary, Karl. Don't trade
your truck in for a Ferrari, and don't divorce the Jazz just to
have a little fun with some other franchise. You'll regret it in
the morning. --Phil Taylor
Browns Hire a Bodyguard
TAKING A BONE FOR THE TEAM
Lewis Merletti, who had headed up the Secret Service since June
1997, has been hired as director of security for the Cleveland
Browns, and Merletti sure seems serious about his job. "The
Secret Service is about teamwork," he said. "Football is
teamwork. The Secret Service goal is to preserve the American
way of life. Football epitomizes the American way of life."
Vince Lombardi never said it better.
During his 24 years with the Service, Merletti, 50, guarded
three Presidents (Ronald Reagan and George Bush as well as Bill
Clinton) and even got involved in high-level politics. It was he
who insisted that "protective-function privilege" should have
prevented agents from testifying before a grand jury in the
Lewinsky investigation, a claim rejected by the Supreme Court.
With such a resume one might think that a move to team security
would be a bit of a comedown. We don't, considering that the
Dawg Pound will be back intact when the new Browns begin play in
1999. There are plenty of security risks under those masks.
Nike's NBA Ads
BETTER THAN A CLIPPERS GAME
Yes, we're ready for the NBA to get back to work. But there's
one thing we're going to miss about the lockout: those Nike
commercials featuring celebrity courtsiders feeding their
basketball joneses in all sorts of unexpected places. We're
going to miss Dyan Cannon waving her pom-poms while a motley
group of middle-aged guys hacks it up on a playground. "Temple
City over-40 parks and rec basketball.... It's fan-tastic!"
Cannon shrieks. So are the ads.
There's the spot in which actor Samuel L. Jackson sips lemonade
while a few buddies play a game of H-O-R-S-E in the driveway,
and another featuring filmmaker Spike Lee and action hero Jackie
Chan watching a game of Pop-a-Shot at O'Brien's Pub. In the best
of the lot, Lee sits courtside at a St. Ignatius eighth grade
girls' basketball game and heckles a player. "Where's your game,
Regina Miller? Where's it at?" Lee shouts to the girl, who
replies in Reggie Miller fashion, "Shut up!"
The ads, which were created by the Portland-based agency Wieden &
Kennedy, end with the printed message START THE SEASON. HURRY.
Says Ralph Greene, Nike's global basketball director, "We're not
taking sides. We just want them to resolve their issues and play
Design for Sports
DEVELOPING A COMPLEX
Lehigh's athletic teams are called the Engineers. This year four
Lehigh athletes are living up to the name. Football players
Brian Baker and Nick Martucci, Dani Collins of the women's
soccer team and baseball player Charlie Meyer are among 11
undergrads helping design a sports complex for Lehigh's soccer,
field hockey and lacrosse teams.
The project arose from a Lehigh program called Integrated
Learning Experiences, in which architecture, business and
engineering students get academic credit for tackling real-world
assignments. By the time they pass their work to an engineering
team, the students will have drawn site plans, conducted soil
tests, studied traffic flow and drainage problems, and performed
cost-benefit analyses on a stadium that will feature both
artificial turf and grass fields, grandstands, lights and a
press box. "Basically we're doing the legwork for the real
architects and engineers," says Baker, a senior architecture
Baker knows all about legwork. As the school's leading rusher
this year, he has helped lead Lehigh (10-0) into contention for
the Division I-AA title. Still, he says the project is more
important. "I want to come back in 20 years with my kids and
say, 'See that sports complex? I helped build that,'" he says.
Dogs Rescue Man
A HARROWING HUNTING TRIP
Finding a heartwarming angle in a hunting accident that leaves a
victim paralyzed is a near-impossible task, but Dave Zanin, a
sophomore linebacker and the leading tackler for American
International College in Springfield, Mass., has one: He'd
probably be dead were it not for three very smart Labrador
On Nov. 9, while hunting in the woods near his hometown of Great
Barrington, Mass., Zanin fell from a tree stand to the ground.
Bleeding from the mouth and head, Zanin lay with his legs bent
awkwardly beneath him for two hours in the 40[degree]
late-afternoon chill, before being discovered by three black
Labs romping through the woods. Zanin watched helplessly as the
dogs circled and then two ran off. The third dog stayed behind,
pacing around him. At one point Zanin--by now frigid and
drifting in and out of consciousness--was jolted awake when the
Lab, which was crouched over his chest as if to keep him warm,
licked his face.
Within an hour the first two Labs returned with their owner,
John Raifstanger, a friend of Zanin's who lives near the tree
stand. Upon finding Zanin, he called police, and Zanin was
helicoptered to the Bay State Medical Center in Springfield.
"It's almost a real-life Lassie story," says American
International coach Art Wilkins, whose Yellow Jackets, wearing
Zanin's number 37 on their helmets, clinched the Eastern
Football Conference Bay State Division title with a 53-16 win
over UMass-Lowell last Saturday. "Those dogs saved his life."
More Mascot Madness
WHAT ABOUT THE NEXT EIGHT?
Gladys, the clubhouse cat for the Welsh second division soccer
team Wrexham, has been signed to a sponsorship deal by PetsMart,
a local pet store. She will receive free food for the rest of
Red Holzman (1920-1998)
RED ON RED
Red Auerbach doesn't remember the year, other than that it "was
a long time ago, around 1939," but he does remember the kid. "I
was helping out coaching at George Washington, and this name,
Holzman, kept coming up," Auerbach says. "He had played for
Franklin Lane High in Brooklyn and [while at the University of
Baltimore] was looking for a new college, so I went to check him
out. He was a real good defender and a decent shooter. He ended
up at CCNY and proved to be what I said he was--a helluva player."
William (Red) Holzman turned out to be much more than that.
Holzman, who died of complications from leukemia last week at
age 78, made his biggest mark on basketball after retiring as a
player in 1954. He coached the New York Knicks to their only NBA
titles, in '70 and '73, and was a mentor to several coaches,
most notably Phil Jackson.
In 1943, Auerbach was stationed at a Norfolk, Va., naval base,
helping coach an intramural team, when Holzman, a 5'10" guard,
reported there for duty. Holzman played on a team--not
Auerbach's--that included such standout players as Bill Feerick.
After the war Holzman starred for the Rochester Royals in the
National Basketball League, winning championships in '46 and '51.
After Auerbach took over as coach of the Celtics in 1950,
Holzman, dubbed Red by his wife, Selma, for his fiery hair,
frequently found himself playing against the other Red's team,
and then, during his own early years on the bench with the
Milwaukee and St. Louis Hawks, coaching against the Celtics. By
the time Holzman took over the Knicks in 1967, however, Auerbach
had moved to the Boston front office. That didn't stop one Red
from admiring the other.
"Red had the Knicks moving all the time," Auerbach says. "They
didn't break like we did, but they were always cutting, passing,
moving. I never had much use for the Knicks, but Red Holzman was
different. I respected him."
Last Saturday, Auerbach learned of Holzman's death from a
reporter who called him at home. "I told the guy Red was an
honorable man," Auerbach says. "He was part of my era. He loved
the game, just like me. I look around, and I don't know who the
hell is left."
--That Tennessee's thank-you note to Arkansas is in the mail.
--That troubled Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf turns over a new
one--on and off the field.
--That someone, say Stephen Hawking, write a book explaining the
Bowl Championship Series system.
--That we all could retire to stud after one good year, like
Breeders' Cup champ Awesome Again.
Fine, in dollars, handed down by the NFL to Vikings defensive
tackle John Randle for using excessive eye black in a game.
Games without a loss for the Wheaton (Ill.) College men's soccer
team, breaking the collegiate record set by Penn State from
NBA teams with majority owners whose personal or family wealth
exceeds $1 billion.
Dollars it will cost a family of four to attend a Knicks game,
the most costly such NBA outing, according to Team Marketing
Cost for a family of four to attend a Hornets game, the cheapest
Average increase in Astros' weekday home attendance when Randy
Johnson pitched, according to Street & Smith's SportsBusiness
Earnings in dollars by steer roper Guy Allen in 1998, a
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association record for his event.
Consecutive strikes by Tony Roventini, making him the second
bowler and first lefty to roll an official 900 series.
You Can Go Home Again
Is there a less likely place for Bobby Bonilla to have landed
than back in New York with the Mets? The team exiled him in 1995
after he hit only .278 over 3 1/2 seasons, all the while
alienating fans by failing to live up to great expectations and
warring with the Big Apple press. But Bonilla, who was dumped by
the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, is hardly the first athlete
to return to the scene of the boos. Here's how a few other
returnees have fared.
Get out of Town! Come Home Settled In?
MARCH '96 When MARCH '98 Means, with 883
Natrone Means eschews Means returns as yards on 212 carries
off-season workouts a free agent with this season, breaks
("It's my fat time," he a six-year his foot in
says), Chargers send $19.1 million Sunday's game
the porky running back, contract against the
a hero of their '94 Super Ravens; may be
Bowl team, packing out for four weeks
APRIL '89 15 months MAY '94 Byner Byner stays with
after Earnest Byner signs as a free the team through
fumbles at the goal line agent with its move to
in '87 AFC title game, Cleveland, saying, Baltimore and
possibly costing Browns "I feel like God averages 399.5
a Super Bowl spot, he's brought me here yards per season
traded to Redskins for a special before retiring last
AUGUST '97 Saying FEBRUARY '98 Second in NFL with
Kevin Greene's holdout Greene, released by 13 sacks for 1-8
ruined Panthers' camp, 49ers, is signed by Panthers, whose
management fines Panthers to defense ranks
wild-haired linebacker two-year 29th in league
$292,626--then $5.5 million
cuts him contract
JULY '87 Less than a APRIL '90 Sox Boston releases
year after Red Sox' offer Buckner, 40, Buckner in
Bill Buckner and Met a minor league June'90 after
Mookie Wilson's contract, and he he hits .186 in
World Series grounder makes the parent 43 at bats
became one with history, club in spring
Boston waives its training
aging first baseman
Awards handed out before a jumper has been drained might seem
pointless, but don't tell Elton Brand of Duke, Mateen Cleaves of
Michigan State, Richard Hamilton of Connecticut, Andre Miller of
Utah or Lee Nailon of TCU, all of whom were named to the AP
preseason All-America team last week. The honor is a strong
predictor that they'll be high NBA draft picks. Here's how the
preseason All-Americas this decade have fared.
NBA Top 5 Picks 23
Drafted 6-10 8
Drafted 11+ 6
Pumping iron or pedaling an Exercycle is passe. The latest
health-club craze is the role-playing workout. A real drill
sergeant puts a "platoon" of lycra-clad "recruits" through a
make-believe Parris Island boot camp ("Drop and give me 20, Mrs.
Berkowitz!"); a genuine New York City fireman has his charges
hauling dummies across the gym floor while sirens wail. The
sports world is rife with possibilities for such classes:
In this lightning-paced workout, wrestle 50-pound tires on and
off a "car," haul hoses and feel the burn when fire breaks out
"under the hood."
Negotiate your way to a buff bod under the guidance of a real
NBA agent: jog in place while holding weighted cell phone to
ear; work up a sweat as you tote clients' massive egos.
John Madden's Tele-straight to Fitness
Celebrity-taught class features constant movement of arms, upper
body and jaw; get a full cardiovascular workout as you shill a
line of "products."
Suds to Studs
Work the calves and biceps as you pump the StairMaster while
toting a tray of sloshing brewskis, just like a real stadium
vendor. Increase flexibility by twisting to calls of "Hey, beer
Pounds will fall when you make the call! Bend behind the plate
for flexibility, punch out the "batter" for power, toss a
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The official magazine of Britain's Leeds United soccer club
offers a George Graham Toilet Sticker, a photo of the team's
former manager--who went to a rival club--meant to be placed at
the bottom of fans' toilets.
prospects after losing star guard Larry Hughes to the NBA:
"We're excited about the coming season--but, then, guys on death
row are excited too."