Caught In The Web Web sites devoted to baseball players run the gamut from the ridiculous to the subliminal

April 25, 1999

When Darryl Strawberry was arrested last week after allegedly
cruising for a hooker and having cocaine on his person, or
possibly cruising for cocaine and having a hooker on his
person--honestly, who can keep track anymore?--the New York
Yankees outfielder made a strong case for himself as baseball's
Jerk of the Week. A formal dishonor, a kind of Bobby Knighthood,
the Jerk is bestowed every seven days on a few baseball and
basketball personalities by the custodians of
www.jerkoftheweek.com, a Web site that monitors Kevin Brown and
Barry Bonds in the same way that Greenpeace monitors seal
poachers.

So when new Baltimore Orioles outfielder Albert Belle said in
spring training, "I'll put forth the effort to work with the
media," and less than two weeks later announced that he would
never again speak to the press, he was named a Jerk, and not for
the first time. Indeed, Belle is on his way to the Irving
Thalberg Lifetime Achievement Award for his unrivaled body of
jerkwork--or was until he became a subject of a Web site this
season and revealed himself to be a self-effacing,
life-embracing Roberto Benigni.

"Hey everybody," is the salutation at www.athletedirect.com,
where the sanguine slugger has described "the pageantry" of
Opening Day, played a superhero in a series of Saved by Albert
Belle comic strips and challenged visitors to complete a
crossword puzzle faster than he did. What's a six-letter word for
Magnanimous Marylander? A-L-B-E-R-T, who will one day make the
author of The Joey Belle Sucks Page! eat his words. Or eat
something, anyway.

Big leaguers past and present have found a place where their
reputations can be overhauled, their legacies Armor-Alled: It's
called cyberspace. What Pravda was to the U.S.S.R., the personal
Web page is to MLB. To read of Steve Garvey's "conservative
defensive moves" and "great hands" on the Steve Garvey Mr.
Consistency Home Page is to wonder if the phrases are
unintentionally resonant or are superdeadpan references to the
off-field interests of the politically right-wing serial
philanderer. This is, after all, the Los Angeles Dodger who
inspired the most memorable item on David Letterman's Top Ten
List of Least Popular Exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame:
"Number 4--Steve Garvey's bed and on-deck circle."

Ty Cobb, Steve Carlton, Bonds and Brown are among other ornery
cusses who have had their images burnished--their skeleton
closets refurnished--on the Internet. Among the contributors to
these pages are enabling fans, cyber-stalking groupies,
memorabilia profiteers and the athletes themselves. A home run
hitter who once gave a rat to a female reporter is pictured as
an adorable baby in a photo posted on the Official Dave Kingman
Site; visitors to www.reggiejackson.com will see a leering Mr.
October surrounded by endearing Mr. Octobears, stuffed animals
that can be yours if you call a toll-free number. (Have your
major credit card handy.)

As a Yankee, Jackson declared himself "the straw that stirs the
drink." New York's latter-day Straw can be worshiped at, among
other places in cyberspace, the Darryl Strawberry Tribute Page
and a grammar-challenged site called The Man That Built New York.
The anonymous author of that page, writing before last week's
arrest, seemed convinced that history would vindicate his
subject. "Someday," reads a caption, "New York will be renamed
the Big Strawberry."

What a World Wide Web we weave when first we practice to
deceive.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)