Hank or Ted or Willie or...
Who's the best living ballplayer now that Joe DiMaggio's gone?
The title Greatest Living Ballplayer was officially bestowed on
Joe DiMaggio by Major League Baseball in 1969, and for the last
30 years of his life he wore the crown proudly. DiMaggio liked
the sound of that phrase, often insisting that it be included in
his introductions. The Yankee Clipper may have had a .325 career
average to Ted Williams's .344 and may have hit fewer homers
than Darrell or Dwight Evans, but the label seemed to fit so
well that hardly anyone objected.
When Joltin' Joe left and went away earlier this year, his title
should have been bequeathed to the No. 1 contender, but the
process hasn't been so simple. One thing baseball fans across
Talk Show Nation can agree on, however, is that the new Greatest
Living Ballplayer was expected in Boston for the All-Star Game.
Ted Williams was to throw out the first pitch at Tuesday's game,
and Hank Aaron and Willie Mays were to be introduced beforehand.
While seas of fans would part for all three baseball deities,
nobody was going to be introduced as the new GLB. Though
Williams, the last man to hit .400, was DiMaggio's on-field
rival, the two had an informal agreement: Ted called Joe the
greatest ballplayer he ever saw, and Joe called Ted the greatest
hitter he ever saw. Unlike the Clipper, the Splinter didn't
glide across the outfield or on the base paths. All Williams
wanted was for people to point to him and say, "There goes the
greatest hitter who ever lived," and so they do. Ted Williams is
the Greatest Living Hitter.
Aaron's the guy with the numbers--755 homers, 2,297 RBIs--but in
his 23 seasons he wasn't always considered the greatest active
player. He never hit 50 homers and won only one MVP award. (Mays
and Williams had two apiece.) Aaron gets too little credit for
his defense and baserunning (20 or more steals six times) and
usually falls short in comparisons with Mays, his more complete
Mays, who broke in with the New York Giants in 1951--DiMaggio's
final season--was exceptional in every way. A spectacular
centerfielder, he led the National League in home runs four
times and steals four times. His 660 careers homers put him
third behind Aaron and Babe Ruth and 299 ahead of DiMaggio.
Indeed, if it hadn't been heresy, Mays could have laid claim to
DiMaggio's title while Joe D. was still around.
Greatest living player? One other candidate was in Boston this
week. Ken Griffey Jr. passed DiMaggio on the home run list in
May--at age 29. Griffey has already hit 379 homers, won seven
Gold Gloves and started 10 All-Star Games. He is on pace to
shatter Aaron's home run record before he turns 40 and people
start introducing him as the Greatest Living Ballplayer. Until
then, the honor belongs to Mays. --Gerry Callahan
The Falcons' Troubles
HOW TO PLUCK A DIRTY BIRD
Dan Reeves began the Falcons' minicamp last week with a
heartfelt warning. "Remember how hard we came at the teams that
were at the top?" Reeves asked his players. "Now we're the team
at the top of the NFC, and teams will come hard after us."
Judging by its off-season, however, Atlanta may be poised for
the quickest slide into mediocrity since the Chargers went from
the '95 Super Bowl to 26-39 over the next four years.
In February, Falcons wideout Tony Martin was indicted on federal
money laundering and conspiracy charges for his alleged
involvement with a drug smuggler. The team cut Martin rather
than pay a $400,000 bonus he was to get on March 1. Losing
Martin--an 11-year veteran who signed with the Dolphins--leaves
Atlanta with just four receivers who have caught NFL passes and
without a deep threat. "They aren't going to run by you, that's
for sure," says one NFL defensive coordinator.
The Falcons won't run much at all unless Reeves resolves a nasty
contract dispute with Jamal Anderson, who led the NFC in rushing
last year with 1,846 yards. Anderson never attends off-season
workouts, but this year he blew off minicamp too and racked up
$4,882 in fines for it. Entering the last year of a five-year
contract that calls for a $1.6 million base salary in '99, he
wants a three-year extension worth $10 million, including a $6
million signing bonus. Reeves, who doubles as coach and general
manager, offered Anderson to the Patriots on draft day, but New
England said no.
"They're pushing us into a corner," Anderson's agent, Jim Sims,
says of his contract talks with the Falcons. Reeves contends
that the front office has "gone about as far as we can go."
"I say pay the guy," says offensive tackle Bob Whitfield. "Of
course, when he gets his deal, I'll be asking for more real
Starting right guard Gene Williams, another holdout, might soon
be released--perhaps to clear cap room for Anderson. Starting
left guard Calvin Collins may be headed for the bench, and due
to free-agent signings and Reeves's youth movement there's a
good chance that Pro Bowl cornerback Ray Buchanan will be the
only starter from the NFC champs' defensive backfield who
returns to the position he played last year. "For a team that
went to the Super Bowl, it seems like a big shake-up," Buchanan
"There are still a few weeks before training camp," says Falcons
linebacker Jessie Tuggle. "It'll all get worked out. It always
Not always. Ask the Chargers.
SHIRTS AND SKINS
Brandi Chastain's celebration of her World Cup-clinching kick
wasn't the first striptease in sports history. Going topless is
so common in soccer that FIFA, the sport's governing body,
handed down a ruling making shirt removal a yellow card
offense--a penalty Brazilian star Rivaldo of Spain's Deportivo
la Coruna avoided in 1996 by tearing off his jersey to reveal an
identical Coruna jersey beneath.
Shirt-shedding isn't soccer-specific, either. Andre Agassi and
Pete Sampras routinely fling their sweat-drenched shirts to fans
after tournament victories. During his years with the Bulls,
Dennis Rodman often threw his top into the crowd after home
wins, giving fans a peek at his latest piercings and tattoos.
The postrace peel is a time-honored track and field
tradition--sprinters like Dennis Mitchell often follow a
10-second race with a topless victory lap lasting a minute or
more. Not even the sport of kings is immune: After Lite Light
won the 1991 Coaching Club American Oaks, the filly's part owner
Stanley Burrell, a.k.a. Hammer, removed his shirt and traded
high-fives with other denizens of Belmont Park's posh clubhouse.
Will we see a downward trend? After he scored in an English
soccer game in '95, goalie Jonathan Smith ripped off his shorts,
an act for which he was fined 6 [pounds] (about $10). "It came
as quite a shock," Smith said of the penalty, echoing the
reaction of fans who had just learned that Smith, like President
Clinton, wears boxers.
UCLA Parking Scam
Anyone who saw UCLA lose to Miami 49-45 last December might call
the Bruins' defense pass-challenged, but porousness is not
recognized as a handicap under the Americans with Disabilities
Act. That's why 14 current and former UCLA football
players--including guard Oscar Cabrera, fullback Durell Price
and linebackers Ryan Nece and Tony White, all starters last
season--are in trouble with the law. Last Thursday, Los Angeles
city attorney Jim Hahn filed criminal charges against the
players, accusing them of submitting false applications for
handicapped-parking permits. According to Hahn's office the
players' applications claimed bogus disabilities and bore the
signatures of nonexistent doctors. The Los Angeles Times
reported that one player cited Bell's palsy, a condition that
typically causes temporary facial paralysis, as his handicap.
Another used "bad knees" as his reason for needing to use
special parking spaces.
The players could face six months in jail and fines of $1,000
each. "I am embarrassed and disappointed for the young men who
were involved," said UCLA coach Bob Toledo. "Those individuals
will be disciplined by me."
Sports Web Sites
Agent Arn Tellem had a great NBA draft, with two of his clients
among the first five picks. Michael Noonan did well, too, with
two of the top six. Now Tellem will negotiate for Baron Davis
and Jonathan Bender, while Noonan will try to deal off the pair
of Web addresses to which he owns the rights: lamarodom.com and
Noonan, 24, is a cybersquatter, a speculator who registers
Internet addresses that contain catchy phrases or the names of
the famous or potentially famous. (Anyone can register an
unclaimed name by paying around $70 to one of four
clearinghouses.) He recently put eight sports-related addresses,
including terrelldavis.com and kerrywood.com, up for bid on a
squatters' auction site, DotBroker.com.
Last year Compaq, the computer company, paid $3.35 million for
the address altavista.com to use for its popular search engine.
This month the National Thoroughbred Racing Association made a
five-figure payment for NTRA.com. In each case the address had
been registered by a company already doing business under the
same name or acronym. Squatters are trickier. They often use
celebrities' names to draw visitors to completely unrelated
sites. Raymond McElroy hawks a vitamin guide at sammysosa.com, a
site featuring a cursory tribute to the Cubs' slugger and the
line, "Notice: This domain name...is for sale." Sports figures
can be tough customers, however. Two years ago Ira Rainess, Cal
Ripken's agent, refused to pay a squatter several thousand
dollars for calripken.com. That's why Ripken's home page can be
found at 2131.com.
Not all squatters are greedy. Noonan's friend Dave Mazzaferro of
Torrington, Conn., says he collects URLs because they're "like
one-of-a-kind trading cards." Not long ago he snapped up
jimcalhoun.com in honor of the UConn basketball coach. "No one's
ever gonna buy that one," says Mazzaferro, "but it's fun having
it." --Noah Liberman
In a nightmare he had on July 1 in Cincinnati, Diamondbacks
pitcher Brian Anderson found himself standing naked in the
corridor outside his locked hotel room. Still worse was the
moment when Anderson, who had dozed off and sleepwalked into the
hallway, realized that this was no dream.
"When the door closed behind me, I woke up and panicked," he
says. "I grabbed the DO NOT DISTURB sign from the door and tried
to slide it between the door and its frame the way we did in
college, but it didn't work. Then I saw a USA Today on the
floor. I grabbed a couple of sections and put one in front of me
and the other behind. Finally I saw a guy cleaning the workout
room. He gave me a towel and called a security guard who let me
back in my room." The next day Anderson survived a scare in St.
Louis--two homers by Mark McGwire--to beat the Cardinals 9-5.
Hikers and bikers beware: Dead rattlesnakes can bite. That's the
news from toxicologists Frank LoVecchio and Jeffrey Suchard of
the Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix. Their
study of Arizona rattler attacks showed that 15% occurred after
the animals had been mortally shot, bludgeoned or even beheaded.
Zombie snakes have long been part of Southwestern folklore, but
LoVecchio and Suchard turned up true rattler tales that sound
like the stuff of fright films. One man shot and decapitated a
snake, then waited five minutes before picking up the severed
head--which lunged and bit him once on each hand. Another victim
was holding a dead rattler's severed head with its fangs pointed
away from him when the snake suddenly shifted its jaw and sank
its teeth into one of his fingers, which had to be amputated.
According to LoVecchio and Suchard, touch sensors in a rattler's
skin and the heat-seeking pit organ between its nostrils and
eyes can trigger a strike-and-bite reflex for up to an hour
after the animal dies. Suchard's advice: Treat a decapitated
rattler as "a very short snake."
--That future Women's World Cuppers who aren't so good-looking
prove just as popular.
--That old Fenway Park gets to host a few more big games.
--That this year's spate of world records heralds a track and
Nine-millimeter slug that a CAT scan showed in the skull of
welterweight Charles Young, who had applied for a license to
fight in Atlantic City.
Cost to propose marriage via the scoreboard at Philadelphia's
Jockstraps made by Bike during the company's 125 years of
providing athletic support.
Amount the city of Edmonton will spend to change Capilano Drive
into Wayne Gretzky Way.
Seconds the New York Liberty's Rebecca Lobo played this season
before blowing out her ACL--which didn't keep fans from voting
her in as a starter in the WNBA All-Star Game.
Cops required to subdue the Jets' Jumbo Elliott and Jason Fabini
and the Bengals' Matt O'Dwyer after a bar brawl in Long Beach,
Yards by which miler Roger Bannister, who broke the four-minute
barrier in 1954, would have trailed Hicham El Guerrouj after the
latter's 3:43.13 world-record run last week.
do it yourself
Here's a whirlybird you can fly without a license--a motorized
paraglider called the Whisper GTO, last seen whizzing through
the Florida skies over Kissimmee. Basically a big fan attached
to a harness and a parachute, the gas-powered gizmo gives fliers
70 to 90 minutes of flight time at altitudes up to 18,000 feet.
Kissimmee's Paraborne Aviation has sold 3,000 of the
contraptions, which cost $7,500 each and can be converted into
flying three-wheelers called Sky Trikes. Is the Whisper as quiet
as its name? "My neighbors don't even complain about me flying
out of my yard at seven in the morning," says one satisfied
LEON THE LIP
After the Mavericks finished practice on July 6, assistant coach
Donnie Nelson told players to run an extra set of sprints. "Why
don't you run it?" forward Leon Smith shot back. A surprised
Nelson said the comment would cost the rookie two extra sprints,
whereupon Smith flung down his jersey and stalked off the floor.
Smith, 18, is a 6'10" Chicago high school phenom whose supposed
immaturity may have helped scare off every team but Dallas on
draft day. He skipped all the major predraft camps, and even his
high school coach, Landon Cox, says he shouldn't have come out
for the draft. Smith's difficult childhood might help explain
his outburst--he grew up in group homes as a ward of the
state--but that won't help the woeful Mavs, who gave up the 40th
overall pick and a future second-round choice to get him. At
least Smith has already mastered two useful NBA moves: refusing
to apologize and speaking of himself in the third person. "This
is typical me," he said after his run-in with Nelson. "This is
Leon every day. I'm not going to change."
With the dons of Wimbledon thinking of rescheduling the
fortnight--delaying the tournament two weeks to give players
more practice time on grass and to take advantage of better
summer weather--other sports might follow suit. Here are eight
more events that should dump their blind dates.
Date Better Date
BCS Bowls Jan. 1-Jan.4 Jan. 1
New Year's Day should be an orgy of college football's top
games, not a tease before the big one
Daytona 500 Mid-February Mid-November
NASCAR's Super Bowl should be the year's last major race, not
Women's NCAA Final Four Late March Late February
As a warmup for March Madness, distaff finals could be February
Stanley Cup Finals Late June Early June
Ice would be more playable earlier in spring
Baseball All-Star Game Mid-July July 4
National pastime's midseason bash belongs on America's birthday
PGA Championship Mid-August Late October
Golf's fourth major should be the season finale, not a
post-British Open anticlimax
World Series Mid-October Early October
Cleveland's parade wouldn't be called on account of snow
Tyson-Holyfield III Early 2000? Never
A better pay-per-view show: Tyson chews out Don King on Court TV
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
As part of a $615,000 endorsement deal, CFL players will wear
the logo of the Canadian government on their helmets.
Lomond: "If you put a rope around the earth and measure it at
26,000 miles and then put another rope three feet above the
surface, how much longer is that rope? I missed a two-foot putt
thinking about it and suddenly had a four-footer for bogey."