WHO YOU CALLING A HEADHUNTER?
The Indians' Jaret Wright might not deserve his evil rep
The announcement could have been broadcast in the middle of
homeroom. It was as if American League president Gene Budig had
grabbed a microphone and bellowed, "Jaret Wright, report to the
principal's office immediately." Thus Wright, a Cleveland
righthander who had hit five batters this season and triggered
two bench-clearing brawls, was officially condemned as a
beanball-throwing bully--a headhunter, as they're known in the
hallways of baseball.
Never mind that when Budig called him to league headquarters in
New York City last week, Wright had a 7.61 ERA. Never mind that
he had allowed 103 base runners in 60 1/3 innings and shown worse
accuracy than NATO. Never mind that Wright is an unpolished
23-year-old with a 97-mph heater. (Think of a kid with a
learner's permit taking a Viper for a spin.) When Budig called
him in for a well-publicized meeting he told the world, in
effect, that Wright was a very bad boy.
"There were no accusations," says a source close to the
participants. "There was talk about throwing inside and how to
prevent fights. But even Budig said they should never have
At schoolmaster Budig's side was his special assistant, Bob
Gibson, a man known for playing splendid chin music in his day.
Hall of Famer Gibson could tutor Wright on intimidating hitters
without beaning them. In 17 seasons with St. Louis he never hit
more than 13 batters. He nicked only seven in 304 2/3 innings in
1968, the year he went 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA. Wright hit 21
batters in 343 2/3 innings since he reached the majors in '97.
Some of the game's best pitchers have judiciously plunked
people. Nolan Ryan was so notorious for dusting anyone who dug
in against him that rookies were told not to make aggressive
movements in the batter's box. When he was with Boston, Roger
Clemens shouted into the Yankees' dugout that he was going to
hit someone. Derek Jeter and Chuck Knoblauch welcomed Clemens to
New York this year by wearing catchers' gear into the batting
Like fights in hockey and promises in politics, throwing at
batters is part of the game. The public spanking of Wright
recalls the treatment in the early '90s of Pedro Martinez,
another guy with a live four-seam fastball he hadn't yet
harnessed. Sure, Wright's immaturity showed when he gave
Boston's Darren Lewis a let's-go-at-it wave after hitting Lewis
in the shoulder. Yes, the kid could use a remedial course in
humility, maybe in the minors. But Wright's not the only one who
deserves a demerit. Budig and others who cry "headhunter" at the
drop of a batter should also work on their control. --Tom
College Beanball Shocker (cont.)
Jaret Wright wasn't the only dangerous pitcher in the news last
week. On June 2 the Cubs made Wichita State's Ben Christensen
their first-round pick in baseball's amateur draft. He's the
pitcher who beaned Evansville's Anthony Molina while Molina was
standing about 30 feet from home plate before a game on April 23
(SCORECARD, May 17). "For three seconds he made a terrible error
in judgment," Chicago general manager Ed Lynch said of
Christensen, who had thought Molina was trying to time his
warmup pitches and who said he had been coached to brush such
hitters back. "Ben is an outstanding young man. I'm sure there's
a lot of remorse for what happened."
In a conference call with Chicago reporters, Christensen talked
about Molina, whose vision may be permanently impaired. "I'm
just hoping he gets better quick," Christensen said, "so he can
get on with his life like I can. I haven't been able to tell my
side because of a pending lawsuit. Baseballwise, I feel bad it
happened, but it's not going to affect me playing ball."
Fred Taylor and Bob Knight
Three years ago Fred Taylor, who coached an Ohio State
basketball team featuring John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas and a sub
named Bobby Knight to the 1960 NCAA title, suffered a brain
aneurism that left him in a wheelchair. Since 1997 the
74-year-old Taylor has been in a Hilliard, Ohio, nursing home
often with players he coached--Fred's Formers, they call
themselves--by his bedside.
An All-America first baseman and basketball center for the
Buckeyes, Taylor was a 6'3", 200-pounder who made the big
leagues in 1950 but batted just .191 in three seasons with the
Washington Senators. ("I had one weakness," he said. "A pitched
ball.") He became Ohio State's basketball coach in '59 and went
297-158, winning seven Big Ten titles, including five in a row
from '60 to '64. His record of 27 straight conference victories
in '60-61 and '61-62 stood until Knight's Indiana team won 37 in
a row from '74 to '76. After hanging up his whistle in '76,
Taylor spent two seasons as Bob Costas's color man on Big Ten
basketball broadcasts, then took a job as general manager of The
Golf Club in New Albany, Ohio.
Taylor's illness has brought many of his old players hustling to
his side. One of the most faithful is Knight, who has long
sought Taylor's advice and who made the older man his assistant
at the 1979 Pan-Am Games. Knight also helped organize a golf
tournament held last week to pay some of Taylor's medical bills.
"Even Bobby Knight couldn't have coached Bobby Knight," Taylor
used to say, but he was a fierce supporter of Knight despite
their disparate dispositions Now it's Knight who plays a
supporting role, often driving the 220 miles from Bloomington,
Ind., and slipping into Mill Run Care Center with gifts for
Taylor. "I'll get all over you people if you don't give my coach
the best care you can possibly give him," Knight warned the
center's staffers one day. "Do you hear me?"
The Indiana coach sends videotapes of the Hoosiers' games to his
mentor, who screens them with daughter Nikki Kelley. But when
Knight comes to visit, the two men with a combined 57 years of
playing and coaching experience at the college level don't waste
time watching basketball. They'd rather talk about the game.
CRONY TO CRITIC: SHUT UP
As the Olympic bribery scandal unfolds, one top sponsor--and
only one--keeps questioning the IOC's commitment to reform.
David D'Alessandro, president of John Hancock, has called for
conflict-of-interest regulations, term limits and open elections
of IOC members. Last week the mightiest of the Olympics' silent
partners tried to silence him. During Olympic meetings in
Lausanne, Switzerland, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol told The
New York Times, "I'm sick of watching this two-bit bully get on
his soapbox. His actions demanded a response, and that response
is, 'Shut up.'... His continual seeking of front-page publicity,
for no other reason than to get his name in the paper, is a
No, the murder of 11 Israelis at the Munich Olympics was a
tragedy. This is an argument about money. D'Alessandro, whose
company spent $40 million to become an Olympic sponsor, has
every right to question whether the IOC is papering over its
problems with halfhearted reforms. Ebersol, whose network signed
a $3.5 billion deal for the U.S. television rights to the
Olympics from 2000 through 2008, is entitled to defend his
investment against criticism, too. But Ebersol went too far in
Lausanne. Like former U.S. Olympic Committee deputy secretary
general John Krimsky Jr., he suggested that D'Alessandro's
activism is hurting efforts to raise money for U.S. athletes.
That was a cheap attempt to turn public opinion against
D'Alessandro. No country is investing more money in the Olympics
than the U.S., and no rival will overtake America anytime soon.
(In '96 the U.S. won 101 medals; Germany was second with 65.) In
any case, it is absurd to accuse D'Alessandro of trying to do
financial harm to a cause he paid $40 million to support.
The time for Ebersol to wax indignant was when IOC members were
extorting cash, gifts and free vacations for themselves. Instead
he directs his ire at D'Alessandro, whose calls for drastic
measures make more sense than the IOC's claim that it can cure
itself. (Its latest so-called reform, the IOC 2000 commission,
was supposed to have 24 members, at least half of whom had no
ties to the IOC. The commission now numbers 80, including 44 IOC
members and 10 other Olympic insiders.)
What D'Alessandro wants is true reform, not promises from the
same old IOC cronies. The worst thing he could do now would be
to take Ebersol's advice and shut up. --Ian Thomsen
Fratello Gets the Ax
He Took the Fall for Uglyball
For a month now NBA coaches in Denver, Los Angeles and New
Jersey have endured a grueling vigil. Mike D'Antoni, Kurt Rambis
and Don Casey can never be sure they'll still have jobs at the
end of the day. It never occurred to Mike Fratello to have such
concerns. Yet it was Fratello, the Cavaliers' coach of six
years, who cleaned out his desk at Gund Arena on June 1 after
Cleveland owner Gordon Gund fired him. Only once in Fratello's
tenure did the Cavs have a losing record--a 22-28 mark in the
truncated season just past--and when Gund summoned him for a
meeting last week Fratello thought he and the boss would be
discussing this year's NBA draft. "I never saw this coming,"
Cavs attendance dropped 16.7% this year, and fans didn't thrill
to the team's slowdown style. The coach says he'd planned to go
up-tempo with his young club in '99, but center Zydrunas
Ilgauskas broke his left foot after five games, and guards Derek
Anderson and Brevin Knight kept missing stretches of games with
various ailments. "How can you run up and down the floor without
quality players?" Fratello asks.
Some players griped that he was too controlling a coach. "He
treated us like robots, not people," one Cav told SI. Those
sentiments weren't unanimous--Ilgauskas, for one, was a Fratello
fan--and Fratello says he has mellowed. "I think I've changed,"
he says. "I've backed off."
Fratello would be welcome in the broadcast booth, where he spent
three years with NBC, but he wants another coaching job. He
remains one of game's top tacticians, a man who turned the Cavs
and, before them, the Hawks into consistent winners. Teams like
the Nets and the Wizards could do worse than hire a guy who
could help them win ugly. Still, team sources in New Jersey and
Washington say that neither club will pursue him.
Timberwolves assistant coach Randy Wittman is the front-runner
for the Cavs' job. Suns assistant Scott Skiles, former Charlotte
coach Dave Cowens and Denver assistant John Lucas are also
candidates. Whoever accepts the job will have to take short
money, since the Cavaliers owe Fratello almost $5 million for
next season. Still, Fratello envies his successor's good
fortune. "If this team ever gets healthy," he says, "it's not a
good team, it's a great one." --Jackie MacMullan
Tarasco's Bad Night
When Yankees leftfielder Tony Tarasco stepped to the plate in
the second inning on June 1, he expected to hear his favorite
song on the Yankee Stadium P.A. system. Instead, he and 32,759
fans heard a stream of obscenities booming out over the Bronx.
Like many clubs, the Yankees invite players to suggest music for
their at bats. Chuck Knoblauch likes the Beastie Boys, while
Bernie Williams prefers Prince. Tarasco brought in a soundtrack
from the movie Belly that night, and when an audio technician
mistakenly played track 16, a raw tune called Tommy's Theme,
fans were treated to its opening refrain, which repeats the word
motherf-----s more times than most people would care to hear.
That technician won't be playing anybody's theme songs for a
while. In Tarasco's latest turn at bat, Michael Jackson's Man in
the Mirror rang out, and the club has put two other happy tunes
in heavy rotation: Shiny Happy People and All You Need Is Love.
--That David Duval and Tiger Woods bring their A games
--That Jeff Van Gundy loses the comb-over and, like Andre
Agassi, accepts his hair loss.
--That Charismatic has a long and fruitful career at stud.
Combined attendance at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and
Belmont--a record for the Triple Crown.
Autographed Bibles that Mets pitcher Orel Hershiser will send to
other big league players, PGA Tour golfers and sports announcers
for Father's Day.
Putts by John Daly on the 18th hole during the first round of
the Memorial Tournament, after which he promptly withdrew.
Batting average of Mariners DH Edgar Martinez in four
at bats after intentional walks to Ken Griffey Jr.
Cost of a Mercedes-Benz reportedly purchased by agent Tank Black
for Florida linebacker Jevon Kearse two days before Kearse
played in the 1999 Orange Bowl.
Mets' ERA in May, their worst pitching month since April 1962,
the team's first month in the majors.
Purse won at Churchill Downs by Beatmichiganagain, a 2-year-old
filly bred in Ohio.
Diamonds in each of the Broncos' Super Bowl XXXIII rings.
Getting Naked For Charity
Track and field's hottest souvenir is racy enough to make Austin
Powers flash his crooked smile and say, "Oh, behave." The
Omni-Lite Millennium Calendar of Champions, dreamed up by U.S.
high jumper Amy Acuff, shows some of track and field's elite
women in the nude. Is the calendar, which goes on sale on June
20 at Acuff's Web site (www.trackgirls.com), too shagadelic?
"There's a fine line between exploitation, sexism and
celebration," says USA Track and Field president Craig Masback.
"Those who took part in the calendar are the best judges of that."
Besides Acuff, who's shown waving an American flag while
exposing her red-white-and-blue-painted torso, the calendar
features Angie Vaughn (right), the world's third-ranked
100-meter hurdler, high jumper Tisha Waller and nine others.
"One girl's husband had a problem with it. Otherwise we've been
hearing only positives," says the 23-year-old Acuff, whose goal
is to drum up publicity for her sport while raising funds for
the Florence Griffith Joyner Community Empowerment Foundation,
which helps disadvantaged children.
A self-described "beanpole" as a teen in Corpus Christi, Acuff
says she built strength and confidence through sports. "All the
girls were afraid that if they lifted weights they'd turn into
men," says Acuff, who ranked fifth in the world in '98. "Girls
are still misled about muscles, but in these calendar pictures
our muscles are ripped. It will be good for girls to see that
beauty isn't just skin and bones."
She'll get no argument from jocks like Curt Clausen, the
top-ranked American 50K walker. "No one on the men's side is
complaining," says Clausen. "We're not offended in the least."
Rally of the Dolls
This month Mattel rolls out Major League Baseball Barbie, a
potential rival for last year's NASCAR Barbie, the top-selling
Barbie collectible of 1998. These five sporty models would give
fans a full dollhouse:
Pads, jersey and flak jacket for work; bikini for Pro Bowl week
Helmet radio; pillbox full of Vicodin
Says, "I'm going to Disney World" or "I have a concussion"
Cashmere sweater; Ace bandage ensemble
Princess cell phone; cashmere denture case
Sews up her own wounds
Itsy-bitsy polka-dot mawashi; kimono
Robe with flattering vertical stripes; liposuction kit
Anatomically correct, but who could tell?
Jams with knee and elbow pads; full-body cast
Navel, nose and nipple rings; hot-pink tattoos
Hot-pink compound fractures
14K gold evening gown; business suit with hidden pockets
Briefcase full of $20s; hot-pink safe
Crossed fingers; palms that extend to be greased
Ken Antonio Selltheranch
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The Spinmaster Reel 2000, a TV remote control shaped like a
fishing rod and reel, lets viewers change channels by spinning
Who says summer vacations should be relaxing? With July and
August around the corner, it's time for more than armchair
adventure. Dig out those hiking boots, dust off the compass and
spread out the trail maps. Whether you're hiking, spelunking,
climbing or mountain cycling, these sites will get you fired up
for a sweat-drenched outdoor jaunt to remember.
Popcorn? Moonmilk? Those are just two of the cool subterranean
formations to light up while spelunking through this virtual cave
site before you pack up to go under.
Backcountry trekkers and weekend bushwhackers can check out
Basecamp's site to discover the best spots in the U.S. to hike,
the gear to pack and the most effective ways to keep your grub
out of the wrong paws.
Steer through Mountain Bike Review's site to get the lowdown on
1,100 trails, mostly in the U.S. and Canada; talk shop with other
spokeheads; catch up on racing news; or find the right ride for
Daredevils can scale this rock-climbing site to locate practice
gyms, guides or climbing partners and to size up vertical
challenges across the land.
sites we'd like to see
Cyber Hades where sidelined Patrick Ewing descends to keep up
with playoff action.
Real-time video of Jaret Wright's fastball, plus a transcript of
his woodshed talk with American League president Gene Budig.
artificial turf in Pittsburgh: "When you play with no sleeves,
you can get rug burns. You don't want to risk injury."