Twilight of the Goons
Hockey's hit men are getting squeezed out by guys who can play
Rocky Thompson is only 21, but he's old school, definitely old
school. The long-haired, snaggle-toothed son of a pulp-mill
worker, Thompson used the chops that made him a Saskatchewan
Golden Gloves champ to win a spot on the Flames' roster last
season. He played in only 12 games all year. After sparring last
summer in a Calgary fight club and engaging in several on-ice
bouts during the preseason, Thompson was spotted limping around
the Flames' locker room before the season opener sporting a
purplish forehead and a split upper lip. Asked to assess his
hockey skills, he paused and said, "My skating is a weaker part
of my game."
For all his bare-knuckle appeal, Thompson didn't get into a game
before being sent to the minors in October--another reminder of
how hard life is for good-hit, no-skate players in today's NHL.
Thanks to a crackdown on brawling and an influx of
finesse-oriented Europeans, the NHL's fights-per-game has
dropped from 2.1 in 1987-88 to 1.2. Listen to Nick Fotiu, a
former Police Athletic League boxing champ who bludgeoned his
way through a 13-year NHL career that ended in '89. "The way
hockey is now, guys can't just fight," says Fotiu, now a minor
league coach. "They also have to be able to play."
Good teams, such as Ottawa and Philadelphia, are doing without a
facebreaker this year, and the Red Wings have stayed atop their
division without the services of cudgeler Joe Kocur, who has
been injured for almost half the season. In the 1980s the Wings
built a team and an ad campaign around Kocur and fellow hit man
Bob Probert: the Bruise Brothers. "They beat a lot of people up
and helped sell a lot of tickets," says Detroit president Jim
Devellano. "You couldn't market that today, which is good--we're
not the WWF."
Fighters still roam the ice, from the Blues' Tony Twist to the
Mighty Ducks' Stu Grimson. But these aging pulpers have few
heirs apparent. When Thompson got a January call-up, he played
just three games and had a fight in each one. In his last dustup
Rocky was felled by a punch from the Sharks' Brantt Myhres--a
semi-tough who rarely suits up--and suffered a concussion.
Thompson says he'll return soon. We hope so, Rock. When you do,
work on your skating.
THE LAKERS' STAT ATTACK
On Jan. 9, 1998, the Lakers beat the Clippers 125-115 at the
Sports Arena. Guard Nick Van Exel, the Lakers' top assist man,
dished out a team-high five--a count that has led to a legal
battle between a former statistician and the two teams.
Kevin Hill, who spent three seasons logging stats for the
Clippers and two more working for both L.A. clubs before they
both fired him in January '98, has filed a lawsuit claiming he
was canned for speaking up about what he alleges to be the
Lakers' creative accounting of stats. Hill's claims:
During that Jan. 9 game, Lakers p.r. chief John Black lit into
the Clippers' four-person stat crew. The statisticians were
"screwing Van Exel out of his assists," Black told them. They had
already given Van Exel an assist on one disputed play but refused
to change their call on another, an inbounds pass from Van Exel
to Eddie Jones, who paused a few seconds before draining a
The Lakers filed a complaint with the NBA over the stats
dispute. "It's not the first time I've had a disagreement with
these people," Black told the Los Angeles Times. "In my opinion
they are purposely [shorting] us on the stats." (The league
denied the complaint.) Two days later Hill was quoted
anonymously in the Times, defending his crew. On Jan. 15 the
Clippers found out he was the paper's source and fired him. The
Lakers did the same that day. "I'm completely qualified to work
NBA games," says Hill, who earned $35 a game, "but I haven't had
any offers since last January."
Hill claims stat disputes are common at the Forum--a charge his
lawyer, Michael Miller, plans to formalize in court documents
that will be filed on March 17. The Lakers hand out assists like
Halloween candy, says Hill, who also says Black frequently
phoned the stat crew to lobby for assists.
Black declines comment on Hill's charges but says, "We have no
stat policy. The league has policies we adhere to. If I discover
an inaccuracy, I'll correct it." Asked if Black often calls
during games to suggest changes, Carl Giordano, the Lakers' stat
crew chief, says, "At most Black might call a couple times a
year and say there was a blocked shot. He's never asked that we
add an assist."
Nonsense, says Hill. "This goes to the integrity of the game. At
the Sports Arena, handing the ball to a guy who dribbles from
the three-point line to the basket for a layup isn't an assist,"
he says. "At the Forum, it is."
Boxing's Bad Girl
BLOODIED BUT UNBOWED
Last Friday night at a casino in Bay St. Louis, Miss., Shannon
Hall got her nose broken while losing a 10-round IBA women's
heavyweight title bout to Suzy Taylor. The loss was the first
for the 28-year-old Hall, who had been unbeaten in 10 previous
fights but plenty bruised outside the ring. "That's what's wrong
with me," says Hall, a former Arkansas State cheerleader and
dancer at a Dallas men's club. "I've had my head beat in too
The 5'10", 168-pound Hall spent three years as an American
Gladiator. Under her stage name, Dallas, she spent her evenings
rough-and-tumbling on TV and in one of sports' nethermost
reaches, Gladiator dinner theater. She took more punishment last
year while winning the professional Toughwoman World
Championship, in which fighters race through 60-second rounds.
After that she spent two months in TV's roller derby remake,
Hall also has an impressive track record as a bar brawler. "If
you're a built chick, you get bothered," explains Hall, who
estimates she's been in at least 15 saloon scuffles, mostly with
men. Last year she spent a night in jail and paid a $200 fine in
Bay City, Mich., after a beer-soaked punch-up with a male
bouncer. Next came 35 days in a Florida county jail after she'd
piled up too many unpaid speeding tickets for drag racing her
Last July, Hall lost her cornerman, Cody Koch, when he was
killed in a bar fight in Saginaw County, Mich. In October her
close friend and sparring partner Manny Niguera committed
suicide. "I'd never been so close to death before," Hall says.
"My fire just went out." Her eventful year left little time for
training, but by last Friday she'd regained her fire, if not her
timing. In her first fight in 12 months she gave Taylor all she
could handle. In the ninth round Hall led on one judge's card
and was tied on the other two when she put her glove to her face
and said, "Wait, I can't breathe." After she cleared her nose of
blood, referee Elmo Adolph stopped the fight.
Hall may take up an offer from the WWF to wrestle
professionally. "Late in the fight I realized I didn't like what
I was doing," she says. "Plus, there's no money in women's
boxing." She does have a match scheduled for May 25, when she'll
marry construction worker Justin Feliciano. "My nose will heal
by then," she says. Meanwhile Feliciano proves his love by
kissing her battered face.
DANGER: MEN RELAXING
You got your Ironman triathlon and your Raid Gauloises, but for
sheer danger there's nothing like spring training. Last week the
Mets' Brian McRae took off running and a chunk of a tooth flew
out of his mouth. Phillies ace Curt Schilling suffered back
spasms, an injury that Phils manager Terry Francona blamed on
too much standing around. "I told them they'd be standing around
a lot," said Francona, perhaps annoyed because Schilling had all
winter to work on his loitering. Still ahead was Week 2, with
the strains of stretching, toe touching and live BP.
Abducted in Acapulco
NEWS OF A KIDNAPPING
Mexicans were shocked when Alvaro Campos, father of national
soccer team goalkeeper Jorge Campos, was kidnapped on Feb. 16 by
eight armed bandits. The younger Campos immediately flew home
from a tournament in Hong Kong. His six brothers and sisters
comforted their mother while Jorge shuttled between Acapulco and
Mexico City, where he worked out with his Mexican league team,
Kidnappings have become routine in Mexico. At least 1,500
occurred last year, with ransoms ranging from hundreds of
dollars to tens of millions. "This country has always been
beautiful, a paradise," says national team midfielder Alberto
Garcia Aspe, decrying the government's inability to curb the
billion-dollar kidnapping industry. "Now see what it's
becoming." Claudio Sanchez, one of Campos's World Cup teammates,
vows to move his family to the safety of the U.S.
After holding Alvaro for six days, his captors released him near
a highway outside Acapulco. "They kept him in the mountains,"
says Jorge, who will not discuss whether ransom was paid, for
fear of encouraging other kidnappers. "He was treated well,
thank god. They gave him sandwiches and water."
The senior Campos, unfazed, joked about his ordeal. "I've warned
my wife that if she doesn't treat me as well as they did, I'll
go back," he said.
Olympic Champ's Lowlight
Russia's Aleksandr Karelin may well be the best wrestler of all
time--a winner of eight world championships and three Olympic
gold medals in Greco-Roman wrestling. That's why it was
surprising to find him making like Haystack Calhoun on Feb. 21,
beating Japanese pro wrestling hero Akira Maeda before a crowd
of 17,048 in Yokohama Arena. Karelin, 31, tossed his foe around
the ring while Maeda tried to land kicks in the wide-open bout,
which dominated weekend sports coverage in Japan. After winning
on points, Karelin said he plans to compete in the Greco-Roman
world championships in September and try for his fourth gold at
next year's Olympics in Sydney. If he succeeds, it's believed he
will be the first professional wrestler to go for Olympic gold.
He'll surely be the first Olympian to have beaten a guy who once
faced Andre the Giant.
At first it seemed a typical sight at the Mariners' training
camp in Peoria, Ariz. A brash young millionaire stepped onto the
field wearing wraparound shades and a backward cap. Ken Griffey
Jr.? No, this was Ichiro Suzuki, a five-time batting champ from
Japan. Suzuki, 25, and pitchers Nobuyuki Hoshino, 33, and
Nobuyuki Ebisu, 26, are practicing in Arizona until March 7 as
part of an exchange program between the Mariners and the Orix
BlueWave in Seattle's sister city of Kobe. Suzuki, an outfielder
who's called simply Ichiro in Japan, is a .350 hitter in his
seven Pacific League seasons. In 1994 he batted .385, highest
ever for a Japanese player. "I have enjoyed seeing players like
Ken Griffey Jr. up close and comparing my game to theirs," he
said on Sunday through an interpreter. "If it's possible, I want
to someday play in the United States."
Ichiro will qualify for free agency after nine seasons in Japan,
but Orix could "post" him--make him available to the highest
bidder, either in Japan or the U.S.--as soon as next year. His
spring training sojourn is viewed in Japan as the BlueWave's
attempt to showcase him to big league clubs.
Comparisons to Griffey should be limited to popularity (Suzuki
is as famous in Japan as Michael Jordan is here), defense and
swagger. A six-foot, 155-pounder, Suzuki lacks Griffey's power.
His arm is considered the best in Japan, however, and his speed
has impressed the Mariners. "That guy can get after the ball,"
says Seattle rightfielder Butch Huskey. "From what I've seen, he
can track down just about anything."
Despite the language barrier, Griffey and his counterpart often
joke around, play catch and run sprints together. "He's a cool
guy," says Griffey. "You can tell he has confidence in his
ability." Junior has taught Ichiro to touch fists instead of
shaking hands with teammates. The Mariners' guest of honor has
also picked up some American baseball slang. He says "What's
up?" like Griffey, and when asked on Sunday how things were
going, Ichiro grinned and said, in English, "Same old s---,
every f------ day."
--That the NFL would save one Monday Night Football game to get
fans through the dog days between the Super Bowl and March
--That Shaquille O'Neal and Dennis Rodman will limit their film
work together to the study of Lakers opponents.
--That big-wave surfing contests were televised.
Record-setting time of Australia's Paul Crake, 22, who climbed
1,576 steps to win the 22d annual Empire State Building Run-Up.
Length in inches of a titanium plate to be removed from skier
Picabo Street's left leg on March 22.
Free throw attempts by the Crawford County (Ind.) High girls'
basketball team in the fourth quarter of a 64-53 win over
Estimated vision of the Padres' Wally Joyner before laser eye
surgery improved his sight to 20/25 in his left eye and 20/20 in
Percent of respondents to an on-line poll who admit using
"watching an NBA game" as an excuse for not having sex.
Cost of a limited edition Steyr-Mannlicher air pistol engraved
with the signature of singer Barbara Mandrell.
Times that University of Houston basketball coach Clyde Drexler
failed to show up for his live weekly TV show before it was
Harvard graduates among International Boxing Digest's six most
influential people in the sport.
Last week the New York Yankees and the New Jersey Nets agreed to
merge, forming YankeeNets, a $1.4 billion partnership largely
intended to maximize the teams' local TV revenue. If the deal
works, other teams are bound to get together.
Portland Trail Blazers, Chicago White Sox and Washington Capitals
Edmonton Oilers and Seattle Seahawks
Montreal Expos and Washington Redskins
Milwaukee Brewers and Ottawa Senators
MightyMagic Rocket Rangers
Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets and
Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays
New Orleans Saints and New York Knicks
Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Milwaukee Bucks
DON'T TREAD ON ME
Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Pirates and Denver Nuggets
NBA stars and scrubs alike are clanging more iron than Ma
Kettle. Through Sunday the Knicks' Patrick Ewing was 78 for 192
(.406), while Timberwolves backup forward Tom Hammonds was 4 for
22 (.182). Here are the league's three worst shooters with at
least 100 attempts, and a pair of non-NBA percentages for
.304 (31 for 102)
Denver altitude makes for thin-air balls
Needs to go 27 for 27 to reach .450
.304 (45 for 148)
Keeps hearing Coach Ainge whisper, "I'd hit that"
Needs to go 40 for 40 to reach .450
.313 (35 for 112)
Former no-look dunking champ can't shoot with eyes open
Needs to go 28 for 28 to reach .450
.321 (148 for.461) in '98
Target often curves, slurves and slides at up to 90 mph
Shot .475 as San Diego State point guard
.394 (13 for 33) in '98
Dozens of good ol' boys going 200 mph get in his way
One more win and we'll be sure he's a robot
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Angered by a call during a soccer game in South Africa, a player
pulled a knife and charged the referee, who got a gun from the
sidelines and shot the player dead.
Finally, the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules kick into
high gear this week. Log on to keep pace with the rites of
spring, when tickets are cheap, the games--and players--are
friendly, autographs are easy to obtain, and even the Chicago
Cubs have World Series dreams.
The virtual version of Spring Training magazine has schedule
information for every club, and ratings of the 100 minor league
prospects most likely to make a hit in camp. On the site's
history link, relive the days when the Cubs trained on Catalina
Fastball, the baseball supersite, posts daily reports from all
30 major league camps; maps and directions to each site, and
links to listings of postgame attractions in every spring city.
There's also a handy division-by-division rundown of free-agent
signings, so you can learn the rosters before players learn each
Get your mouse in midseason shape at Major League Baseball's
official site, which has all the necessary spring training
info--scores, recaps, standings, stats--as well as an
affectionate last look at the scintillating 1998 season.
sites we'd like to see
Mike Tyson's on-line diary of time spent in solitary confinement.
MP3 format album of hits penned by Garth Brooks during a tour
with the San Diego Padres.
to bench-press too much weight: "I thought it was metric."