Baseball should try a new way to spread the wealth--talent sharing
No more melancholy sight was seen at baseball's winter meetings
last month than that of small-market general managers working
the lobby of the host hotel. Working for what, exactly? Herk
Robinson of the Royals and Terry Ryan of the Twins, for
instance, might have made themselves more useful by carrying
bags or shining shoes. Clubs with limited resources have become
as insignificant in the wheeling and dealing of winter as they
have on the field.
Is anybody else tired of the same seven or eight teams jousting
over the best players? The pilot light has gone out in the hot
stove league across too many cities, and somebody has to relight
Within the next four weeks baseball's so-called blue-ribbon panel
of experts will present recommendations to address the economic
disparity among teams. Forget a salary cap--it won't happen in
baseball. But increased revenue sharing must be part of any
solution: Media revenue, such as the $800 million from baseball's
new deal with ESPN, should be carved in unequal slices: more
millions to the Pirates, for example, and fewer to the Yankees.
Revenue sharing isn't the whole answer, though. Owners also need
creative ways to level the playing field, and that means sharing
talent, not just money. One way would be to allow the 10 teams
with the least revenue to benefit from an annual expansion-style
dispersal draft, with the chance that they'd turn up the next
Vinny Castilla or Omar Daal--expansion gems of the past. Still
better would be giving players with four years of service the
option of declaring for restricted free agency: They could sign
with one of the 10 poorest clubs or wait two years for their full
six-year free-agent rights. Such a plan would give the Royals and
the Twins a shot at an emerging star like Indians pitcher Steve
Either scenario would close the gap between rich and poor more
than having the Yankees, Dodgers and Braves scribble out welfare
checks to their hungry brethren. Equally important, such player
movement would restore some of what commissioner Bud Selig
rightly calls the essential ingredients of fandom--faith and
hope--by adding a new dash of charity. --Tom Verducci
A dose of real life might be the cure for John Rocker
Once upon a time, if a professional athlete slurred a nation,
you would apologize for him by saying, "He's a dumbbell, what do
you expect?" More recently, sports figures sometimes lost their
jobs over bigoted comments, but they were announcers or general
managers, not guys who could run a 4.4 40 or throw 98 mph.
Athletes could count on some forgiveness, with the general
understanding that they weren't exactly diplomats to begin with.
Then--what happened?--athletes became better paid, more popular,
even more influential. We naturally presumed they were smarter,
too. This played to one of America's more desperate beliefs: that
somebody truly important can't possibly be an idiot.
Now we know otherwise. It was disappointing but not terribly
shocking when Braves reliever John Rocker referred to a black
teammate as "a fat monkey" and ripped immigrants, women and gays
in these pages (SI, Dec. 27-Jan. 3). And were we really all that
shaken when Vaclav Prospal of the NHL's Senators called French
Canadian Canadien Patrice Brisebois a "frog"? Plenty of idiots
are out there, and a proportionate number of them play pro
sports. What's a commissioner to do?
Ordinarily, nothing except get the offender to read an apology
written by a lawyer. But the stakes are high in sports these
days, so an apology is no longer enough. The new thing is
counseling--psychological testing for Rocker, per the commish's
order, and so-called diversity training for Prospal.
Well, if a couple of sit-downs work for these two guys, good for
Big Time Sports. Still, we can't help but think this has more to
do with p.r. than with the rehabilitation of bigots. Big Time
Sports, which so carefully cultivates consumer confidence (and TV
ratings), can't afford to come off as some sweaty KKK. So if
Rocker and Prospal can somehow be reprogrammed to speak in
Hallmarkese, then leagues, networks and sponsors will all breathe
It's a fine idea but, like all of Big Time Sports' ideas, a
little arrogant. Bud Selig is going to help stamp out racism by
sending Rocker to a headshrinker? We can't say we share Selig's
optimism (or calculation). A better corrective than counseling
might be real life, which moves toward justice in ragged,
decidedly undogmatic fits and starts. Real life, by the way, is
what happens when Rocker suits up alongside Brian Jordan, warms
up with Javy Lopez and has to take the hill against, oh, let's
see...Albert Belle. --Richard Hoffer
HIGH SCHOOL SCANDAL
East Side Story
Over the past few years the apartment above Catalucci's
Restaurant at 387 Chestnut Street in Newark's Ironbound section
has been something of a basketball United Nations. It was home to
Boban Savovic of Montenegro, now a guard at Ohio State, when he
led Newark's East Side High to a New Jersey sectional
championship two years ago; it briefly housed Sam Nadeau of
France last season while he led East Side to a 22-3 record and
another sectional title; and it appears to have been home away
from home for East Side's five foreign players this season--until
the Newark Star-Ledger blew the whistle.
On Dec. 16, the day before the Red Raiders were to open their
season with five foreign transfer students on their roster--the
most ever on a New Jersey public school team--the New Jersey State
Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) declared four of
them ineligible on the suspicion that they had broken NJSIAA
residency rules and transferred for athletic reasons after being
recruited. The Newark school board suspended East Side coach Ed
The coach's troubles began after reporters from the Star-Ledger,
acting on a tip, staked out the Chestnut Street apartment for
five days. Only three players--Tony Nkeruwem, Jeff Varem and Lucky
Williams, all from Nigeria--had their names on the mailbox at 387
Chestnut, but Kudjo Sogadzi of France and Marco Vukovic of
Yugoslavia also apparently lived there, with no adult in sight.
"The only thing we saw resembling a guardian was when Leibowitz
took them out shopping," says Steve Politi of the Star-Ledger.
Leibowitz, who owns a Westfield, N.J., insurance agency, has
denied recruiting the players, telling the newspaper, "They're
not exchange students, they're foreign students who now reside in
Leibowitz's teams had gone 61-31 since he took over at East Side
in 1995. Now he faces a February hearing before the NJSIAA's
Controversies Committee. Meanwhile the Chestnut Street
Five--including Sogadzi, who played for the Red Raiders last year
and retains his eligibility--have dropped out of school. The
apartment is empty. Phone calls go unanswered.
Revolt of the Headset Set
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has a mess on his hands. Unless
he acts decisively in l'affaire Belichick, every NFL coach will
start thinking he has license to turn his back on his team.
Last week Jets head-coach-for-a-day Bill Belichick, citing
concern that his authority might be curtailed under a new team
owner who will be determined next week, became the fourth coach
in three years to skip out on his team. In 1997, when Bill
Parcells, who was contractually obligated to coach the Patriots
that year, left to coach the Jets, Tagliabue brokered an
agreement that sent four New York draft choices to New England as
compensation. A year ago Mike Holmgren, with a season left on his
contract with the Packers, bolted to the Seahawks in exchange for
a second-round draft choice. Also last year, Chiefs coach Marty
Schottenheimer resigned with two years left on his deal, and when
his agent sent signals last week that Schottenheimer might return
to coaching, Kansas City quietly said it would want first-,
second- and third-round picks from any team that signed him.
Since when could coaches, unlike players, walk away from their
teams so freely? Picture Brett Favre walking into Green Bay
general manager Ron Wolf's office, quitting and then three days
later calling Wolf to say, "I want to play for the Vikings, so
let's work out a deal."
Belichick signed a six-year contract with the Jets in 1997, when
the team was owned by Leon Hess. The contract stipulated that
Belichick could leave the team at any time for a head coaching
job elsewhere so long as Parcells was still the Jets' coach. But
if Belichick were still with New York when Parcells stepped down,
the contract mandated that Belichick would automatically become
the Jets' coach no matter who owned the club--a key provision
given that Hess died last May and the team is being sold by his
estate. (The sale could be approved at the NFL owners' meetings
on Jan. 18.) A league source who has seen the contract tells SI
it is his understanding that the contract binds Belichick to "the
current owner or heir to the current owner or successor to the
current owner," and that it includes no escape clause in the
event of new ownership. (SI's attempts to discuss the matter with
Belichick were unsuccessful.) Belichick may be correct in
thinking he won't have the same authority under a new owner as
Parcells had under Hess, but that doesn't mean the club should
have to sit still and watch him walk away.
Now the ball is in Tagliabue's hands. The league has scheduled a
Jan. 13 hearing on the Belichick matter. The commissioner will do
the game a disservice if he simply brokers another draft-pick
transaction between New England and New York. Whatever
Belichick's contract may say, this is what the commissioner
should do: Mandate that any coach who willingly leaves a team
before the end of his contract may not coach in the NFL until
that contract expires. --Peter King
BUSH'S YOUTHFUL ERROR
George W: 'All Right, I Admit It'
Even Democrats can admire the candor that presidential candidate
George W. Bush showed during a debate last week in New
Hampshire, where the Republican front-runner--and former Texas
Rangers managing general partner--was asked to name his greatest
mistake. "I signed off on that wonderful transaction: Sammy Sosa
for Harold Baines," said Bush, referring to a 1989 trade between
the Rangers and the White Sox. Said Baines, "I can see why he
got out of the business."
Years since the Dolphins won a playoff game on the road before
their victory in Seattle on Sunday.
Saves by goalie Martin Brodeur through 29 minutes of the Devils'
4-3 defeat of the Coyotes on Jan. 8.
Earnings from seat licenses for the NFL's expansion team in
Houston in the first 21 days they were sold.
Back taxes skiing champ Alberto Tomba agreed to pay after he and
his father were indicted in Italy.
Rank of Mercedes Championship winner Tiger Woods, 24, on golf's
alltime money list.
Just Peyton Manning's luck. In his first NFL playoff game the
guy who couldn't beat Florida as a collegian will face the most
devastating force to come out of Gainesville in years,
quarterback crusher Jevon (the Freak) Kearse. The Titans'
defensive end set a rookie record with 14 1/2 sacks this year
and wreaked havoc on the Bills in last week's crazy wild-card
win. Manning's Colts may have the home field edge, but the
Titans know how to win on Freak plays.
Up and Down
Ratings for Monday Night Football, which fell by 1% this year
but ranked third among prime-time programs--the best finish in
MNF's 30-year history.
Tennessee state architect Mike Fitts, a Titans seat license
holder who recommended the 2-1 ratio of women's to men's toilets
in Adelphia Coliseum and who gritted his teeth along with other
male fans through long waits this season while women often
breezed through their facilities. Standard ratios in other
stadiums are 1.5-1 or less.
By the Yankees, cybersquatter Brian McKiernan, who registered
the name newyorkyankees.com in 1997. His lawyer says McKiernan,
who denies that he has demanded $25,000 from the team to give up
the name, "thought it would be a neat thing for his kids."
Victoria Adams, a.k.a. Posh Spice, who revealed on Britain's
The Big Breakfast TV show that her husband, the hunky English
soccer star David Beckham, likes wearing her thong underwear.
Beckham has also been known to don sarongs and, at their wedding
reception, a purple frock.
WHRB-FM's Bach marathon, which will be interrupted by the sounds
of face-offs and chipping teeth. Harvard's radio station will
preempt parts of its 216-hour Bachfest to carry the Crimson's
hockey games against Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
For 80 million Dominican pesos (about $5 million), you too can
live like Sammy Sosa--in a new four-story, 25,800-square-foot
mansion built in a style its architect calls a fusion of Spanish
colonial and pyramid. Casa Sosa features an exact replica of the
staircase from Titanic, a film Sammy likes so much he named his
house after it. The place also has a 1,600-square-foot master
bedroom; a 12-car parking lot; a movie theater; a library; and a
swimming pool shaped like a 21, Sosa's jersey number. The house
stands out from its Santo Domingo neighborhood, which is lucky
for anyone trying to find it: Instead of accepting a street
number between those of his neighbors on Avenida Anacaona, Sosa
gave the house one he could never forget: 21.
Your first reaction to the news that the Harlem Globetrotters
are considering playing Purdue might be, Will Boilermakers coach
Gene Keady's hair look better with a bucket of confetti thrown
on it? Last week's announcement that the Globetrotters will soon
play without shenanigans against a dozen or so Division I
college programs, possibly including Purdue, raises another
fundamental question: Just how good are the guys in the red,
white and blue without their old ball-on-the-rubber-band trick?
The answer: probably better than you'd expect. Though their most
notable victory in serious competition came in 1948, when they
beat the George Mikan-led world champion Minneapolis Lakers
61-59, the Globies have fared well in a few recent trick-free
outings. In '95 they went 10-1 against a barnstorming team of
former NBA players, including a 48-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
and in '97 and '99 they won all six games they played against
college all-star teams featuring a total of 10 future NBA
first-round draft picks.
Under a three-year deal with the National Association of
Basketball Coaches that was signed on Jan. 1, the Globetrotters
will play 10 to 15 games against NCAA teams in the 2000-01
preseason and another game against college all-stars during Final
Four weekend. College coaches have long sought to upgrade the
quality of their preseason opponents, and Globetrotters owner
Mannie Jackson has wanted to show off his players' skills. "The
allure of playing at the Final Four is that it puts us back in
mainstream basketball," says Jackson, who hopes his team's new
deal is just the beginning of an ascent in the basketball
hierarchy. "The ultimate payoff will be in another year or so,
when we can schedule some national teams and top international
club teams, and eventually play in the world club championship."
That might sound like lofty talk for a team whose biggest names
are former Maryland stars Exree Hipp and Johnny Rhodes. But
Jackson points out that though the Trotters play almost nightly,
they still find time to practice--not rehearse--for an hour and a
half per day. "They go hard, just like you'd see at a Celtics
practice," he says. "These guys are together 250 days a year
without any distractions."
That cohesiveness, plus the Globies' athleticism--Michael (Wild
Thing) Wilson can dunk on a basket 11'11" high--could make beating
the Trotters a taller order than a college team might expect.
"All basketball players think they're a little better than they
are," says Jackson, "but I think we're one of the 25 best teams
in the world."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
A German scientist--and tennis fan--named a newly discovered
species of sea snail Bufonaria borisbeckeri.
sign with any of the 10 poorest clubs.
Bulls center, on wearing a jersey that spelled his name SMIPKINS
in a game against the Nets: "I thought I was a foreign player."