THE MAN WHO WOULD BE POPE
Can the commissioner's new powers heal baseball?
Bud I's appointment as head of the baseball church by the
Cardinals and the other 29 major league teams last week was
welcomed at the owners' meetings with a puff of white smoke
that, refreshingly, wasn't wafting in from a fire sale in
Montreal or Minnesota. Bud Selig had been commissioner since
July 1998. Now he was being trumpeted as pontiff of parity.
After gutting the position by forcing Fay Vincent's resignation
in '92, after muddling along for six years with a commissioner's
office but no commissioner, the owners ordained that Selig
should have the most clout of anyone in baseball since Kenesaw
Bud I has been charged with ensuring long-term competitive
balance, and in theory he can brandish a beefed-up "best
interests of baseball" clause like a Louisville Slugger to
achieve that end. He can block trades and even attempt to impose
a salary cap after the 2001 season if he thinks bargaining with
the Players Association is at an impasse, though that latter
power is roughly equivalent to having the freedom to stick a
damp fork into an electrical outlet.
The problem is, Bud I is like a pope under the Medici: His
powers are hardly absolute. He can dole out baseball's so-far
minuscule Internet rights fees to feeble franchises--Yahoo!--but
until he gets the Yankees to put their half-billion dollars from
local broadcast rights into the pool with the Expos' $12.75 and
three subway tokens, until revenue sharing is broad and bold,
the gap between the Midases and the Minnesotas will not be
Selig has the best of intentions--when SI asked him what he
considered the most significant act by a sports commissioner, he
named Pete Rozelle's persuading NFL teams to share their
revenue--but he will be operating with a Band-Aid in a sport
that needs a tourniquet. The economic paradigm truly has shifted
in the past five years. "If you study [the competitive imbalance
of earlier decades]--and I've looked over the financial
statements of great teams in the past--you'll see it was brought
about by excellent baseball men like Branch Rickey and George
Weiss far more than it was by money," Selig said. "It wasn't as
much about money as it was about competence. That's what we hope
Good luck, but baseball needs a reformation. --Michael Farber
Future Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas faces his toughest challenge
In his 11 seasons with the Chiefs, nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker
Derrick Thomas had become almost as familiar a figure off the
field as he was on it. Kansas City fans knew of his interest in
JFK conspiracy theories. They knew about the pain he still felt
over the death of his father, an Air Force B-52 pilot who was
shot down over Vietnam in 1972. They knew that he read to
children at libraries on Saturdays before most home games as
part of a program he started called the Third and Long
Foundation. Now they know that Thomas needs every ounce of the
indomitable spirit he has shown over the last decade to overcome
the obstacle before him, one that has ended his Hall of Fame
career at age 33.
On Monday, a day after the one-car accident in Kansas City that
killed one of his best friends and threatens to leave him
paralyzed from the waist down, Thomas was flown to Jackson
Memorial Hospital in his hometown of Miami, where he'll receive
treatment for injuries to his spinal column. The facility is on
the same campus as the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which
was cofounded in 1985 by ex-Dolphin Nick Buoniconti after his
son, Marc, was paralyzed during a college football game. Chiefs
physician Jon Browne said Thomas had "good use of his upper
extremities and his upper chest area." The injury, said Browne,
was at the fifth cervical vertebra (which is right below the
neck); Thomas also had a fracture of a thoracic vertebra.
Thomas was the cornerstone of the Kansas City franchise during
the '90s. He conjured up memories of Lawrence Taylor, whose
mantle as the game's top pass-rushing linebacker Thomas
inherited in '90 with a 20-sack season; his breakout game was an
NFL-record seven-sack outing that year against the Seahawks on
Veteran's Day, a performance he dedicated to the memory of his
father. "If you wanted to be a pass rusher," says Rams defensive
end Grant Wistrom, "you studied film of Derrick Thomas."
Thomas's star had begun to fade a bit in recent years, but if an
offensive lineman didn't bring his A game, Thomas would still
make him pay. Raiders left tackle Pat Harlow found that out in
the 1998 opener at Arrowhead, in which Thomas turned quarterback
Jeff George's afternoon into a nightmare. When insiders began to
talk about Titans rookie pass-rush phenom Jevon Kearse, one name
kept coming up as the standard of comparison: Thomas.
This off-season he was to have taken a ride in a B-1 bomber at
an Air Force base in Missouri. No doubt that flight would have
honored the memory of Air Force Capt. Robert Thomas. Derrick
thought his father a man of courage, a quality that the son
JORDAN AND FALK
Too Close For Comfort
Michael Jordan may no longer be playing, but it appears he still
gets all the calls--at least the important ones. When Jordan
became part owner and president of basketball operations for the
Wizards last week, his relationship with his agent, David Falk,
who also represents more than 40 NBA players, immediately
constituted a conflict of interest. But don't expect the league
to blow a whistle.
Several league sources think commissioner David Stern will stop
short of requiring Jordan to sever all business ties with Falk.
True, the players' association prohibits player agents from
representing general managers, coaches and other front-office
personnel in basketball matters. But Falk could--and probably
will--continue to handle Jordan's endorsement deals. That's
unfortunate, because conflicts of interest aren't so much about
unethical behavior as they are about its possibility, and the
only way to avoid such concerns is for Jordan and Falk to
extricate themselves entirely from each other's bank accounts.
Otherwise their motives will be questioned every time either one
makes a move that even indirectly involves the other.
Consider this scenario: Three years from now Washington goes
after free agent-Falk client Elton Brand of the Bulls. Does Falk
advise Brand to re-sign with Chicago, or does he steer him
toward the Wizards to make sure Jordan, his endorsement cash
cow, doesn't get peeved? Or envision next summer, when
Washington center Jahidi White, represented by Falk, becomes a
free agent. Does Jordan offer White a fatter contract because
Falk helps Jordan make hundreds of millions of dollars in
various deals? Does Falk fail to drive as hard a bargain on
White's behalf if Jordan is sitting on the other side of the
"It doesn't concern me at all," says Wizards forward Juwan
Howard, a Falk client, of the relationship. "Michael will do
what's best for his team. All he cares about is winning the
championship, and if I'm not getting the job done, he'll ship my
butt right out of here." But the integrity of Falk and Jordan
isn't the issue. As long as they have the incentive to help each
other for personal profit, they and the league will never be
entirely free of suspicion. --Phil Taylor
There have been Stanley Cup parties that have lasted longer than
the Canadian government's offer to subsidize that nation's six
NHL franchises. Just three days after announcing a bailout worth
as much as $13.9 million annually through 2004, Industry
Minister John Manley abruptly withdrew the plan last Friday
after noisy, negative opinion swept the country. The reversal
left several issues up in the air, most notably the future of
the Senators, who are likely to be put up for sale by owner Rod
Bryden, the principal lobbyist for federal support.
Ottawa may soon become the third NHL franchise to leave the
country--Quebec and Winnipeg have lost teams to the U.S. in the
last five years--but the taxpayers' spontaneous rejection of the
handout is stark evidence that the NHL already has lost Canada.
Despite whatever real economic advantages or psychic income an
NHL franchise might provide, despite the tax breaks and direct
financial incentives the government bestows on other
corporations in a dicey economy, Canadians could not wrap their
minds around anything more than the nub of the issue: The feds
planned to use tax dollars to prop up rich owners and,
indirectly, their almost-as-rich players. Hockey is an intensely
personal sport in Canada, the worsted wool of the national
fabric. A Canadian is rarely more than one person removed from
knowing someone with NHL ties--his accountant's brother-in-law
played in the 1980s, or he went to school with Doug Gilmour's
cousin--and the familiarity, the sense of being a member of the
game's extended family, was precisely what made hockey matter.
That one degree of separation also ultimately scuttled the deal.
Canadians took a look at the multimillion-dollar salaries of men
who are their neighbors, studied the bloated ticket prices that
for the average fan reduce an NHL game to a TV show, sneered at
the luxury-box crowd that gets a 50% entertainment write-off and
said, Not a chance. Eighteen letters on the editorial page of
The Globe and Mail in Toronto last Thursday, all opposed to the
plan, were a bellwether. Canadians weren't rejecting the game or
even the red-faced government, just a league that has hopelessly
lost touch. --M.F
JAILBIRD ON THE FIELD
Nowhere to Run
Gary Croft, a defender for Ipswich Town of the English first
division, knows a thing or two about shadowing an opponent
around a soccer pitch. Last week, though, the shoe was on the
other foot. Actually, it was an electronic monitoring device,
placed there as a condition of Croft's parole.
Croft was arrested on Sept. 30 and sentenced to four months in
jail for driving with a suspended license and--because he gave
the police a friend's license instead of his own--"perverting
the course of justice." He spent a month in Suffolk's Hollesley
Bay prison, where he was allowed to use the gym for 90 minutes a
day to stay in shape. Croft was released on Jan. 10, on the
condition that he wear the monitoring device around his ankle,
on the field and off, until February. "It's the sports version:
waterproof and shockproof," he joked.
Five days after his release Croft played 20 minutes of a 3-0
home win over Swindon Town, whose visiting fans serenaded him by
singing, "You must have come in a taxi," to the tune of
Guantanamera. "I've missed the big-game atmosphere. It's
something you love as a footballer, and it was great to be part
of it again," said Croft before hustling home to beat his
court-imposed 7 p.m. curfew.
Vileness in Vermont
To all collegiate athletes too macho, too scared or too drunk to
haze and tell, let events at the University of Vermont serve as
a warning. Corey LaTulippe, a walk-on goalie, says that he and
eight other freshmen were guests of dishonor at an Oct. 1 party
thrown by the hockey team at which each freshman was forced to
perform acts of degradation ranging from walking in an elephant
line while holding each other's genitals to doing naked push-ups
while dipping their penises into glasses of beer, which they
were then forced to drink.
LaTulippe had told assistant athletic director Jeff Schulman
about the initiation party two weeks before it happened, as well
as an incident when he was directed by captains to accompany the
team into a local bar with a fake I.D.--an offense for which he
was fined by a liquor inspector. Schulman and athletic director
Richard Farnham interviewed each Catamount and were told that no
hazing had occurred and none was planned.
After a lawyer for LaTulippe, in an Oct. 28 letter, detailed
specifics of the party, Vermont officials interviewed players
and found some abuses, though not of the magnitude described by
LaTulippe. Minor penalties were assessed, but officials later
found evidence that misleading statements had been made. Though
details were not made public, university president Judith
Ramaley canceled the rest of the season, a month after
LaTulippe, who has left Vermont, filed a lawsuit against the
Hockey is scheduled to resume for the 2000-01 season at Vermont;
it's a good bet that some of the odious traditions associated
with the program will not.
Hanging in the office of Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher is a photo
of a jubilant Bears rookie celebrating with an NFL immortal. The
rookie, a scrappy cornerback, is Fisher, who in 1981--minus the
wraparound shades--returned a punt for a touchdown in his third
NFL game. The immortal is Walter Payton. As Fisher leads his
Titans into Sunday's Super Bowl, he'll undoubtedly pause for a
moment and think of Payton, his role model. So should football
NFL teams whose only three losses had been to one club, before
the Jaguars fell to the Titans on Sunday.
900 to 1
Probability, based on Las Vegas preseason odds, of a Rams-Titans
Sacramento forward Lawrence Funderburke's jersey number and spot
at which he was drafted in '94.
Jaguars' revenue growth in 1999, tops among NFL teams, according
to Hoover's Online.
5 of 5
Half-court shots made by Jason Adams, 12, during a halftime
contest at a Calera (Ala.) High game.
Heavy metal has-beens Twisted Sister, who have asked the Braves
not to play their song I Wanna Rock when slur-spewing closer
John Rocker takes the hill. "We've got Hispanics in this band,
Italians...people who are Polish and Russian," said guitarist
Jay Jay French. "We're all immigrants, all foreigners."
By a New York City taxi driver; an Olympic gold medal and the
WBA super welterweight championship belt, to David Reid, who had
left them in the cab on his way to a TV interview.
Sack king Reggie White and televangelist Jim Bakker, who are
reported to be planning a 24-hour religious channel. The
Minister of Defense may also revive Bakker's Heritage USA theme
park, which would feature such attractions as a roller-coaster
ride through heaven and hell and a train trip through the Red Sea.
Mike Tyson's invitation to visit Britain's Parliament, after
protests by women MPs. Also, while touring Madame Tussaud's Wax
Museum, Iron Mike referred to Winston Churchill as "another damn
Clifton, N.J., mom Marel Chiviak's three-year-old daughter and
two-year-old son, by Passaic Valley High's All-State DH, Alex
Rivera, after Marel tossed the two children from the
second-floor window of her burning house. Who says DHs can't
In the Oliver Stone flick Any Given Sunday, a fictional pro
football team (the Miami Sharks) vies for a fictional
championship (the Pantheon Cup) in a fictional league (the
AFFA). But is everything in the movie invented? Consider the
similarities between Sharks owner Christina Pagniacci, played by
Cameron Diaz, and Rams owner Georgia Frontiere.
Is cute blonde girl with pug nose
Inherits team from father
AFFA commissioner says of her, "I honestly believe that woman
would eat her young"
Threatens to move team to L.A. unless she gets $250 million for
Her coach, Tony D'Amato, shoves smarmy, goateed talking head
Jack Rose in front of TV crew
D'Amato is played by Al Pacino, famed for mobster roles in The
Godfather, Dick Tracy and Donnie Brasco
Her star linebacker Luther (Shark) Lavay saws quarterback's SUV
Mom is played by Ann-Margret
Boasts of having an 11 handicap from the white tees
Strolls among naked men in locker room
Described by childhood friend as "cute little blonde girl with
the pug nose"
Inherited team from sixth husband
After inheriting Rams, fires stepson who had been groomed since
boyhood to run the team
Made good on threat to move Rams from L.A. in exchange for new
$260 million stadium
Her onetime quarterback Jim Everett shoved smarmy, goateed
talking head Jim Rome in front of TV crew
Her seventh husband, Dominic, did jail time for scalping Super
Bowl tickets through a reputed mobster
Her former star linebacker Jack (Hacksaw) Reynolds earned
nickname by sawing car in half
Mom was a singing accordion player
Remembered by childhood friend as being "good at acrobatics"
Once worked for urologist
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Scuffles at home games of the East Coast Hockey League's New
Orleans Brass are now called Regency Rumbles for the Ford dealer
that obtained sponsorship rights to the fights.
granted is hardly absolute.
Former welterweight champion, after hearing that Derrell Coley
was accusing De La Hoya of ducking him: "Ducking him? I don't
even know who he is."