It's the hottest December on record for the reigning national
This is an article from the Dec. 14, 1998 issue
Since when has baseball been a winter sport? Everybody thought
the NHL would gain from the NBA lockout, but hockey hasn't
exactly stolen the spotlight with such blockbuster news as
Arturs Irbe's comeback and Zambonis that leak poisonous fumes.
It's baseball that has filled the hole Michael Jordan left
behind. After what may have been the best season in the game's
history, folks don't want to let go.
You'd have thunk the noise would have died down after McGwire's
and Sosa's heroics and the Yankees' coronation, but the
headlines keep coming: JOHNSON SIGNS FOR 52 BIG UNITS. ANGELS
GIVE MO BETTER MONEY. Instead of fading into the usual
background noise--a Mike Morgan trade rumor, an injury report
from Caracas--baseball is all the rage. Can the Mets, with Mike
Piazza behind the plate, Robin Ventura at third and Bobby
Bonilla falling down in the outfield, catch the Braves? By
signing Albert Belle and Will Clark, have the Orioles cornered
the market on glower power? Who gets Roger Clemens? Baseball's
hot stove is now a microwave. Last week, when CNNSI.com asked
fans if they were paying more attention to baseball this
off-season, 94% said yes.
Baseball fever may not seem so hot to Twins and Pirates fans.
Only rich teams make the playoffs these days. Still, the game is
big news even in small-market towns thanks to another 1990s
phenomenon: media saturation.
As in other sports, baseball's marquee players and glam clubs
are developing national constituencies. Little Leaguers
everywhere root not only for their home teams but also for
McGwire, Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. Purists who love pitching--at
least starting pitching--can't help admiring the Braves. Today's
fans, wherever they live, watch SportsCenter and read USA Today.
They play in fantasy leagues and follow big league transactions.
More and more they are baseball fans, not slavish boosters of
the local club. That's what Tony Gwynn and his Padres teammates
misunderstood in September when they blasted their home crowds
for cheering Sosa. Those fans weren't betraying the Padres. They
were rooting for the sport. They were cheering a rowdy old game
that is finally becoming a truly national pastime.
Clemens should land somewhere soon--the Rocket's fate was
uncertain as SI went to press--but that won't end the fireworks
in an off-season that has seen a dozen of the game's best
players bank more than half a billion dollars. As of Monday,
Kevin Brown was available. Will the surly sinkerballer make the
Dodgers dangerous, the Orioles ornerier, the Braves unbeatable?
There are 111 shopping days left until Opening Day. --K.C.
We're losing about $200 a month," says Portland Blazerdancer
Sara Post, "and we all miss the thrill of performing for NBA
crowds." Post and her fellow pro cheerleaders may pine for their
old jobs--they earn from $50 to $80 per game--but the lockout
hasn't sidelined them entirely. Dance units around the league
have been performing at conventions, fund-raisers and even
private parties. The Blazerdancers cheered up fans at a recent
University of Portland game. The Phoenix Suns Dance Team has
stayed sharp by rehearsing four times a week and performing at
street fairs, nursing homes "and every charity event you can
imagine," says their director, Kimberly Lewis. Power n' Motion,
the New Jersey Nets' ensemble, will entertain sailors at the
Earle Naval Weapons Station in Leonardo, N.J., next week.
Members of the Sacramento Kings' FastBreak Dance Team, one of
the few troupes being paid during the lockout, were delighted to
get a gig at a recent high school alumni game. "The girls were
so desperate to perform they treated it like a Kings game," says
Wendy Fresques, Sacramento's manager of game operations. As
amped as those creaky alums were that night, though, their
lockout story can't match that of Adam Grant's.
Adam, 13, had a few surprise guests at his bar mitzvah last
month: the Laker Girls. The cheerleaders' visit to the Bel-Air
Country Club in Los Angeles was a secret until two of them
carried the 95-pounder to the dance floor on their shoulders. "I
sort of tumbled a little, but I held on," says Adam. The Girls,
he says, "had on their little bras and their suits. They danced
with me, and everybody watched."
"People's mouths dropped open," says Randi Grant, Adam's mom,
who considered the cheerleaders' $350 fee a bargain. The Laker
Girls were swarmed by autograph-seekers after their hour-long
performance, and on the following Monday, Adam was surely the
most popular kid at Horace Mann Junior High. "Everyone kept
saying, 'Great party,'" he says.
Money and Murder
The Royal Family Jewels
The 1998 Asian Games, which opened last Saturday in Bangkok,
were plagued from the start. Mosquitoes swarmed through open
windows to attack gymnasts and weightlifters. Ants invaded
athletes' dorm rooms. Dead insects by the thousands kept turning
up in the swimming pool.
The games' real controversy, however, concerned 105 guests who
didn't show. Last month Saudi Arabia, which had planned to send
66 athletes and 39 officials to participate in seven events,
withdrew from the competition. The Saudis cited their nation's
centennial celebration and the onset of Ramadan, but the full
story also featured stolen jewelry, political corruption and
In 1989 Kriangkrai Techamong, a Thai working in the palace of a
Saudi prince, stole several sacks of jewelry, including
priceless Saudi royal family heirlooms, and shipped them to
Thailand. After the thief's arrest in 1990, Thai police returned
the loot to its owners with great fanfare, but the Saudis soon
discovered that most of the returned jewels were fakes.
Later--amid rumors that corrupt Thai politicians and police were
involved in the scam--the wife and son of a Thai jeweler who
supposedly knew the gems' fate were kidnapped and murdered.
Bangkok newspapers ran photos of the wives of high-ranking Thai
officials wearing what appeared to be the stolen baubles.
The friction between Saudi Arabia and Thailand runs deeper than
the dispute over stolen jewelry. In 1990 three Saudi diplomats
were gunned down in Bangkok, possibly in connection with
kickback schemes involving the export of Thai labor to Saudi
Arabia. Incensed, the Saudis recalled their ambassador and sent
a special envoy, Mohammed Khoja, to investigate the jewel heist
and the murders. Khoja left the Thai capital last summer with no
answers. His replacement, Waheeb al-Sehli, told guests at a
recent embassy function, "Thailand might have forgotten about
the slaying of the diplomats and the jewelry fiasco. The Saudi
people, on the other hand, will never forget."
A Swimsuit Issue
Out of the Frying Pan
Should competitive swimmers be allowed to wear a Teflon-coated,
neck-to-ankle bodysuit that helps them slip through water with
virtually no resistance? Adidas's new Equipment Fullbody Suit
looks like a luge outfit and repels water like sealskin. Company
spokesman John Fread says the unisex suit, which was tested at
the University of Calgary's Human Performance Lab and will sell
for $130 when it hits stores in March, reduces drag by 12% and
also decreases muscle vibration, which can cause fatigue.
Several British swimmers, including Neil Willey (below), wore it
in this year's British national championships and set five
national records. The Teflon suit seems to be legal for
international competition--"Assuming there's no effect on
buoyancy, we probably would not object," says technical
chairperson Carol Zaleski of FINA--and its nonstick surface
cleans with no scrubbing.
Gambling at Northwestern
The Scandal That Won't Die
Last Thursday, nine days after former Northwestern basketball
players Dion Lee and Dewey Williams were sentenced to prison for
a 1995 point-shaving scheme (SI, Nov. 9), former Wildcats career
rushing leader Dennis Lundy and three other former Northwestern
football players were indicted for perjury in a sports gambling
case. Lundy is accused of lying under oath when he denied
fumbling deliberately in a November 1994 game against Iowa and
when he denied making bets with a student bookie on Northwestern
football games in '93 and '94.
At a press conference two hours after the indictments were
announced, athletic director Rick Taylor fulminated about the
"betrayal" of his school by the players involved and said, "Our
only relief is that it is over." He and others at Northwestern
may have spoken too soon, however.
SI has learned that federal investigators questioned 10 other
Northwestern athletes about the case, but they were not charged.
Who are the 10? Where are they now? Are some of them still at
Northwestern? What, if anything, was their involvement? When
asked about the 10, Taylor professed ignorance. "The only
individuals who admitted gambling to us in our investigation
were Lee and Lundy," he said. "I was surprised at the three
other football players [indicted]."
The surprises could get bigger. If Lundy--who denies any
wrongdoing--or one of the other indicted players pleads not
guilty to perjury, there would be a jury trial in which the
names of the 10 and possibly of other student-athletes who were
involved in gambling at Northwestern would likely be revealed.
In 1995, looking back on the university investigation that led
to his and Lundy's gambling-related suspensions, Lee told SI
that student gambling at Northwestern was pervasive. "They made
it look like it was two kids with a problem," he said. "It's
bigger than us. I'd say there's an athlete in every sport who's
involved. It's a schoolwide problem." Northwestern officials
want the public to believe that they conducted what athletic
director Taylor calls a "four-year investigation, a very
thorough investigation." The investigation may not have been
quite so thorough after all. --Lester Munson
Art That'll Move You
Follow That Sculpture!
Every Memorial Day, thousands of visitors pour into Ferndale,
Calif. (pop. 1,420). Nearly 100 of them are huge amphibians--the
stars of Ferndale's annual Kinetic Sculpture Race. A whimsical
contest in which artistic merit matters almost as much as speed,
the three-day event matches human-powered vehicles, lavishly
decorated to resemble all manner of wild creatures and odd
objects, on a 38-mile course over streets and sand dunes as well
as the Eel River and two miles of Humboldt Bay. Now the Bedford
Gallery in Walnut Creek, Calif., has put 16 of these monsters on
display in Surreal Wheels: Racing Sculpture from Northern
California, which runs through Jan. 17.
"These are substantial, well-crafted works of art," says curator
Carrie Lederer. "On top of that, they roll, swim, slice and
dice--you name it." The stars of America's only fully amphibious
art exhibit include Crawdude, a 15-foot crawfish with
quick-snapping claws, a cubist three-wheeler called The Sub
Humans, and Yellow Submarine, a 750-pound rolling septic tank
that unlike, say, Rodin's The Thinker, features sirens and a
giant squirt gun.
Turmoil in Japan
Say It Ain't Oh
Many managers have been shoved overboard for their players'
failings, but few have taken the plunge that may await Sadaharu
Oh, baseball's international home run king and--for now--manager of
the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in Japan's Pacific League. With three
Hawks embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal, Oh, a national hero,
could be slapped with a lifetime ban from the sport he helped
popularize in Japan.
Oh's players are accused of stealing opposing catchers' signs
through clubhouse televisions and relaying the info to Hawks
hitters via a co-conspirator in the stands, who would signal the
type of pitch that was coming by the way he held a megaphone.
Japanese officials usually turn a blind eye to sign-swiping when
it's done from the diamond or the dugout. Off-the-field
assistance, however, violates Japan's ancient bushido code,
which forbade samurai warriors to carry concealed weapons. The
spirit of bushido lives on in Japanese sports in a ban on some
of the sneakier forms of cheating.
All three accused Hawks have denied stealing signs but are being
investigated by team and league officials. Any player found
guilty of such chicanery faces a possible lifetime suspension--as
does his manager, whether or not he was in on the trickery. "I
have no knowledge of this taking place," says Oh, "but I realize
I could be purged from baseball. It is my responsibility to
prevent such things from occurring."
A lifetime ban may seem extreme, but Japanese front-office types
sometimes literally live and die by their baseball reputations.
Last month, for example, Katsutoshi Miwata, the chief scout for
the Orix BlueWave of the Pacific League, jumped to his death
from an 11-story building after failing to sign his top draft
Says Oh of his possible banishment, "I am ready to face the
---That we all could have the luck of Bobby Bowden, whose Florida
State Seminoles will play for the national title thanks to the
fall of two unbeatens last Saturday.
--That college football coaches who accept new jobs would stay
with their teams through the bowls instead of bailing out on
--That NBA owners finally give an inch.
Hours pro motorcycle racer Stephanie Reaves spent plunging a
knife into cantaloupes as the stunt person who stabs Anne Heche
Percentage of fans in a CNNSI.com poll who say they're spending
time formerly devoted to the NBA "making whoopee," giving whoopee
a three-point cushion over the runner-up, watching college
Price, in dollars, of a Mikhail Gorbachev-signed baseball in
Sports Collectors Digest.
Dollars per inning Randy Johnson will make through 2002 if he
matches his single-season high of 255 1/3 each year.
32, 1 1/2
Distance, in feet and inches, of the world record for dead
cricket spitting, held by Dan Capps of Madison, Wis.
Margin by which big-city Muncie (Ind.) Central High blew out
Milan High in the first rematch of the 1954 upset that inspired
the movie Hoosiers.
Goals by Washington High and Frankford High in the Philadelphia
Public League field hockey championship, their fifth straight
scoreless tie in the title game.
A Tie for the Record
If you can't give Mark McGwire's 62nd home run ball as a holiday
gift, here's a fallback: neckwear inspired by the artwork of the
new home run king. Stonehenge Ltd., the New York City company
that brought out the Jerry Garcia collection, has created a
McGwire special edition tie as part of its Jimmy V line of ties,
which is based on art by sports figures.
Over the summer, at Stonehenge's request, McGwire did a
pen-and-ink sketch that Stonehenge designers interpreted to
produce the final objet d'art. Artistic license was obviously at
work: While the slugger's serene image (below, right), which
could be described as "sunset with seagulls," stands firmly in
the Romantic landscape genre, the final product, though drawing
on McGwire's use of color (he used a blue ballpoint pen) and
form, owes as much to the abstract figuration of Frank Stella.
The neckpiece retails for $35. A portion of the proceeds benefit
the V Foundation, the cancer-research group established by former
North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano shortly before
his death in 1993.
Sixteen and zero aren't the only numbers being chased in Denver
these days. Despite subpar performances the last two weeks,
Terrell Davis still has a good chance to become just the fourth
back to reach 2,000 yards in a season. With 1,654, all he must
do is maintain his 127.2-yards-per-game average in the Broncos'
final three games--two of them against defenses that are among
the league's worst. To break Eric Dickerson's mark of 2,105
yards, Davis needs to average 150.7. Here's how Denver's
remaining opponents stack up against the run and how Davis has
fared against the NFL's best and worst ground defenses.
TEAM DEFENSE RANK ALLOWED/GAME
Giants* 23 126.8
Dolphins 6 94.5
Seahawks* 25 131.2
*Davis versus bottom 10 defenses: 140.5 yds/game
Davis versus top 10 defenses: 102.3 yds/game
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Lawrence Taylor, fresh off his triumphant cameo in The Waterboy,
will join Al Pacino and Cameron Diaz in Oliver Stone's next film.
THEY SAID IT
One hundred-year-old bowler from St. Clair Shores, Mich., whose
high game this year is 199: "I'm just tickled to death to get
out of the house."
There's a reason the online economy is booming: Most of us
aren't in good enough shape to elbow through the crowds and
sprint from store to store during the holiday shopping season.
There are hundreds of sports-related retail sites in the
cybermall; here are three spots to hit to take care of the
sports fans on your list.
Anyone with a passion for baseball should head for the
Cooperstown Ball Cap Company's online catalog and its selection
of custom-made wool caps. Choose from the logos of teams in the
majors, minors, Negro leagues and semipros, dating back to the
turn of the century.
Never been to the World Series or to the Masters? No matter:
Pretending you've been there, done that--like a jet-setting
fan--just got easier. Order game programs for major upcoming
events at the recently launched OfficialStuff.com and check its
archives for playbills from memorable tournaments and games of
If it's bounceable, throwable, hittable or inflatable, you'll
find it at Justballs (above). From featherlight shuttlecocks to
15-pound medicine balls, this online ballporium has every
sporting projectile you could possibly look for.
sites we'd like to see
Chat room for football fans fed up with college bowl computer
Cyber timeline of the sordid Dominique Moceanu family saga.