March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

Table of Contents
March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000


Why not ban NHL fisticuffs? Because fans love a good fight

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

Fighting in the NHL is morally reprehensible, ideologically
indefensible and one of life's guilty pleasures, like watching
Chevy Chase in one of those Vacation movies or eating a hunk of
leftover cherry cheesecake for breakfast. Maybe a few breakfast
bingers, before scarfing down the cheesecake with some milk
drunk directly from the carton, might seek intellectual
underpinning for their pig-out--Hey, I'm getting protein from
the cheese, fiber from the crust and fruit from the topping--but
realists accept that an occasional wanton act of gluttony needs
no further explanation than Just because....

This is the unspoken truth about fighting in the NHL: In
measured doses--and through the league's efforts fighting is
becoming less frequent (page 180)--people like it. Not people
who write editorials. Not people who are predisposed to dislike
the sport, who turn their rheumy eye to the NHL only when Marty
McSorley attempts to perform a hockey-stick lobotomy on Donald
Brashear. The people who like hockey fights are the ones who go
to the games, the ones who pay the freight in a league that
still derives more than 60% of its revenue from the gate.

When a fight breaks out on the ice, the noise level in the arena
swells fivefold, electricity crackling along with the odd
haymaker. In living rooms the visceral response is to pay closer
attention to the television screen, not to click to the
Discovery Channel. The traditional, tired justifications for
fighting--its spontaneity, the safety valve it provides for
those who might otherwise be tempted to commit mayhem with a
stick--are hooey, of course. Fights in the NHL are simply part
of the show, the equivalent of the chorus in Greek drama. They
provide a respite from the action and a commentary on what
already has occurred (usually a fight will break out in a chippy
game), and then the narrative resumes.

The league would survive, and maybe thrive, without fighting,
just as the cheesecake commando would do fine if force-fed a
daily bowl of Raisin Bran. But some of the good, irrational fun
would have seeped out of the sport.

If that's the case, let us eat cake. --Michael Farber

The victim of a famous on-court assault embraces his attackers

For the first time since the attack that made him part of
college basketball lore, Luke Witte stood up in the middle of
March Madness and said he's not mad anymore. Witte, a former
Ohio State center, still flinches when he recalls the night in
January 1972 when he was stomped and beaten by Minnesota players
Corky Taylor and Ron Behagen in the final seconds of a Buckeyes
win over the Gophers. Despite suffering lacerations to his chin
that required 27 stitches, as well as other injuries, Witte
played several seasons in the NBA with the Cavaliers before
entering the Presbyterian ministry and settling down with his
wife, Donita, in Charlotte, where they live with their three

On Sunday morning Witte revisited the past at Forest Hill
Church, where he's a minister. During a sermon by senior pastor
(and former North Carolina forward) David Chadwick on
forgiveness, Witte stood up in front of the 1,800 worshipers,
next to a photo of himself lying on the basketball court that
night, his face soaked in his own blood, and told them that
though he still feels the mental anguish from 28 years ago, he's
ready to embrace his attackers.

"I struggled this week," he told the congregation, thinking
about having to get up for the first time in his church and
profess his love for the Minnesota players who hurt him. But
Witte, 49, said he has come to the conclusion over the past
decade that he had two choices: wallow in bitterness or bask in
the liberation that comes with breaking loose from the past. "I
can choose to live in anger and hurt," said Witte, "but I can
also choose to live in the freedom of knowing Christ is in

So that's how Witte, wearing an Ohio State-red sweater for the
occasion, bared his soul on a weekend when his Buckeyes were
competing in the NCAA tournament. He wanted people to know how
much better it feels to love your enemy. "Your heart is free,
isn't it?" Chadwick asked Witte in front of the congregation.

"It is very free," Witte answered. --Ken Garfield

Killer Bats?

Arizona State pitcher Ryan Mills suffered a broken jaw.
University of Houston righthander Danny Crawford lost five
teeth. Cal State-Northridge reliever Andrew Sanchez? Fractured

"The injuries started popping up when the C405 aluminum alloy
came out as the bat standard in 1996--brain damage, broken jaws,
teeth knocked out," says Bill Thurston, rules editor of the NCAA
baseball rules committee for the last 15 years. "We really
became concerned that pitchers couldn't defend themselves
against the rockets being hit off these bats."

With these safety concerns--not to mention outrageous scores--in
mind, the rules committee and others have been pushing for a
"woodlike" standard to slow the speeds of balls coming off
aluminum bats (Scorecard, Jan. 12, 1998, et seq.). Metal bats
have larger sweet spots; concentrate their weight closer to the
hands; and have more give, creating a so-called trampoline
effect, which increases the initial velocity of the ball. As a
result state-of-the-art aluminum bats can propel a ball
considerably faster than 110 mph, whereas balls hit by wood bats
average about 92 and rarely exceed 96.

So, if 96 is the limit for wooden bats, why is 97 mph the NCAA's
"woodlike" standard? And why were aluminum bats that can hit the
ball much faster than 97 mph okayed for use this season? It may
have something to do with last September's dropping of a lawsuit
filed by bat manufacturer Easton against the NCAA. In August
1998 the NCAA adopted new rules governing the diameter and
length-to-weight ratios of nonwood bats, prompting a
restraint-of-trade suit by Easton, some of whose bats would have
been rendered illegal. The NCAA also decided to conduct tests on
both wood and aluminum bats using the Baum Hitting Machine (BHM)
at an independent lab in Lowell, Mass.

In December '98 the rules committee and BHM inventor Steve Baum
approved a protocol for the testing, and last June an NCAA
blue-ribbon committee tightened the protocol. Last summer,
however, the NCAA loosened the protocol without explanation.
Most of Easton's 1999 line passed the tests, and Easton dropped
its suit.

"The protocol was specifically altered to cover up the metal
bats' trampoline and center-of-gravity effects, because the 1999
metal bats would not have passed," says Baum, a maker of
wood-composite bats who's suing the NCAA and three aluminum-bat
makers. He cites 19 alterations, ranging from setting the
benchmark exit speed at 97 mph to lowering the pitch and bat
speeds enough to dampen the trampoline effects. Baum insists
that these changes were made so that Easton bats would pass

Easton and the NCAA didn't return SI's phone calls, but in
February, Jim Sherwood, the UMass-Lowell engineering professor
who conducted the tests, sent an E-mail to the NCAA in which he
acknowledged agreeing to "a compromised protocol" and said that
he "understood the urgency to end the Easton case and cooperated
in resolving that matter." He said he feared someone could be
seriously hurt or even killed by bats being used this season.

Thurston, who coaches the Amherst College baseball team, thinks
this year's bats are no safer than those used last year. If he
and Sherwood are right, hunting season on NCAA pitchers will
continue. "Our original concern was to get the game back in
balance and make the game safer for the pitcher," Thurston says.
"With the change in protocol, neither goal has been

MACK ROBINSON, 1914-2000
Ahead of Jackie, Behind Jesse

In an effort to recapture lost fans, USA Track and Field has
mounted an advertising campaign that focuses on the sport's
history and America's considerable role in it. That such a
campaign is needed points out a troubling truth: That history is
perilously close to being lost, and with it the legacies of some
of America's most remarkable athletes.

Among those worth remembering is Mack Robinson, who died on
March 12 at age 85. He was Jackie's older brother (by four
years) and proud of it; thanks largely to his efforts, a statue
of Jackie was erected on the UCLA campus. He was also a terrific
athlete in his own right. At the 1936 Berlin Games, Robinson
tied the Olympic record of 21.1 seconds in a semifinal of the
200 meters and matched that time in the final, only to finish
second to the incomparable Jesse Owens, who ran 20.7 on a dirt
track in light rain. Robinson had began the '36 season as an
unknown sprinter at Pasadena Junior College who needed $150 from
a few local businessmen to attend the U.S. trials in New York
City. There he upset 1932 Olympic 200 silver medalist Ralph
Metcalfe, among others, to earn a place on the team.

In New York and Berlin, Robinson ran in the battered spikes that
he had worn throughout the college season. "I thought I'd at
least get a pair of new shoes [for making the team]," he told
the Los Angeles Times in 1984. "I always thought if I'd had some
help, I could have beaten Jesse, or made it even closer than it

In 1938 Robinson dropped out of school and returned home to
Pasadena to earn a living. For several years he swept streets,
often wearing his USA Olympic sweatshirt. "If anyone in Pasadena
was proud for me other than my family and close friends, they
never showed it," he once said. Nevertheless Robinson, who moved
on from street sweeping to community development, worked
tirelessly in Pasadena to improve its deteriorating northwest
side. In '97 he finally received recognition with the unveiling
of the Pasadena Robinson Memorial. It honors both Jackie and

Sit Down And Cheer

During Stanford's NCAA tournament games in Birmingham, Cardinal
yell leader Joe Cavanaugh sat near one corner of the
court--except when an opposing player went to shoot a free
throw. Then Cavanaugh would wheel himself under the basket to
scream and try to distract the shooter.

Cavanaugh, a junior who uses a wheelchair, believes he is a
cheerleading pioneer. "I never saw anybody in a chair do it,"
Cavanaugh says, "so I thought, I'll see if I can be the first."
He and the other yell leaders work with the Stanford band, whose
notoriously questionable taste led at least one opponent to
believe Cavanaugh was pulling a prank. When the Cardinal visited
UCLA in February, a media relations worker for the Bruins, who
were buffeted last year by a handicapped-parking scandal
involving athletes, couldn't believe Cavanaugh had the gall to
show up at Pauley Pavilion in a wheelchair. "Why do you guys
keep harping on the scandal?" he was asked.

Cavanaugh played tailback and safety at Regis Jesuit High in
Aurora, Colo. In the summer of '95, before his junior year, he
contracted Epstein-Barr syndrome. The virus brought on
transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord that
cost him the use of his legs. Cavanaugh saw yell leading as the
next best thing to playing. After Stanford's first-round win,
fellow yell leader Mark Ganek jumped clear over Cavanaugh to dunk.

When he's not leading yells, Cavanaugh serves as a sports
administrator for The Stanford Daily, but he'll relinquish both
roles this spring. He's taking a leave to work on his Internet
start-up,, which will offer products and services
to the disabled. "We've gotten $2 million in venture capital,"
Cavanaugh says. It's obvious he's willing to take a risk.



He said his troops weren't distracted, but Bob Knight's Hoosiers
sure seemed out of it as Pepperdine dismantled Indiana 77-57 in
the first round. Knight's motivational ploys were under scrutiny
last week after accusations by former Hoosiers of abuse,
including the General's having waved soiled toilet paper at
players to show them what they were playing like. So what'll it
be next year, Coach: a new approach or the same old stuff?

Go Figure

$120 million
Price Renault paid for the Benetton F/1 team, $24 million more
than the top bid recently for the Kansas City Royals.

68, 3
Consecutive wins and Division III titles by the Washington
University women's basketball team.

Florida Marlins players who were quarantined last weekend with a
"mumps-like" virus.

Assistant coaches under Don Nelson on the staff of the Dallas

Roses Red Wing Sergei Federov gave to Anna Kournikova at a
tennis tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz.


Losing Touch
Norway's Rune Gjeldnes and Torry Larsen, who are skiing from
Russia to Canada via the North Pole, and Jo Le Guen of France,
who's rowing across the Pacific. They'll soon lose their primary
means of contact with the rest of the world when investors pull
the plug on the bankrupt Iridium's satellite phone system, which
had been used by adventure travelers to phone home from remote

Martina Navratilova, to an endorsement deal with Subaru, her
first national ad campaign. Said Martina, who's openly gay, "If
I'd been quiet about [my sexual orientation], I would have had
ads long before this."

Former Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich, by the L.A. Avengers
of the Arena Football League. Was this what dad Marv had in mind
when he groomed his son from infancy to become a pro passer?

Eduardo Chimello, general manager of top Brazilian soccer club
Flamengo, after his players were served poppy-seed rolls on a
team flight. Fearful of a mass drug-test failure--poppy seeds
are said to cause false positives--Chimello ordered flight
attendants to replace the offending rolls with unseeded ones.

Marin Zdravkov, 36, of Sofia, Bulgaria, who officially changed
his handle to Manchester United in honor of his favorite soccer

In the privates, a male streaker at a Cambridge-Oxford women's
rugby match, by the referee. The lad invaded the pitch wearing
only a Cambridge scarf and escaped through the crowd after the
ref's free kick.

Lords of No Rings

Dan Marino's retirement and Ray Bourque's trade to the Avalanche
evoked the question: Who are the best players in the four major
sports never to have won a championship? We whittled the
candidates down to two in each sport (sorry, Ernie Banks and
Barry Sanders) for this tale of the tape.


Dan Marino

25 NFL records; 420 touchdown passes and 61,361 passing yards

Closest Call
Lost only Super Bowl 38-16 to 49ers in 1985

Karmic Reason He's Ringless
Made those lame Isotoner TV commercials in the 1980s

But at Least He ...
Still has both knees to walk away on

Dick Butkus

Eight-time All-NFL First Team; named linebacker on 75th
Anniversary squad

[Closest Call]
Joined Bears two years after their 1963 NFL title

[Karmic Reason He's Ringless]
Grid gods knew he would star in awful kiddie hoops show Hang Time

[But at Least He...]
Won title as Coach Katowinski on Hang Time

Our Pick
Even the most fearsome defender ever can't snarl at Dan's records


Karl Malone

Third alltime in scoring; 11-time All-NBA First Team; two-time

Closest Call
Lost NBA Finals to Jordan's Bulls in 1997 and '98

Karmic Reason He's Ringless
Fearing HIV, he opposed Magic Johnson's return to NBA in 1992

But at Least He ...
Has regained all that hair thanks to Rogaine

Charles Barkley

One of three guys with 23,000 points, 12,000 boards, 4,000

[Closest Call]
Lost NBA Finals to Jordan's Bulls in '93

[Karmic Reason He's Ringless]
Once attempted to spit at heckler and instead hit little girl

[But at Least He...]
Can spit at anyone he likes when he's Alabama governor

Our Pick
Sorry, Charlie. God makes power forwards with Malone in mind


Ted Williams

Lifetime .344 average, 521 homers, two Triple Crowns, last man
to hit .400

Closest Call
Boston lost 1946 Series to Cardinals in seven games

Karmic Reason He's Ringless
Never tipped cap to fans, even after homering in final career at

But at Least He ...
Is enshrined in Fishing Hall of Fame

Ty Cobb

Alltime best .367 lifetime average, 12 batting titles, 892 steals

[Closest Call]
Lost Series in 1907, '08, '09; retired year before A's won

[Karmic Reason He's Ringless]
Besides climbing into stands to pummel handicapped heckler?

[But at Least He...]
Bought 300 shares of Coca-Cola in '18 and made fortune

[Our Pick]
Williams, who lost prime years to war. Plus he wasn't a racist


Ray Bourque

400 goals (as of Sunday), most by defenseman; five Norris

Closest Call
Lost Stanley Cup finals to Oilers in 1988 and '90

Karmic Reason He's Ringless
Larry Bird hogged all titles allotted to Boston stars since 1980

But at Least He ...
Could sip from Lord Stanley's mug with Colorado

Marcel Dionne

731 goals, third alltime; two Lady Byng trophies for

[Closest Call]
Made it to the second round three times with Kings

[Karmic Reason He's Ringless]
Despite $3.6 million contract, drove '76 Buick Skylark for

[But at Least He...]
Kept the Lady Byngs, got rid of the Skylark

Our Pick
Bourque, but here's hoping he works his way off this list soon

This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us

Upon taking the mound for his first appearance in a spring
training game, Braves reliever John Rocker received a standing
ovation from the Kissimmee, Fla., crowd.

Fights are the Greek chorus. They provide a respite from the
action and a commentary on what has occurred.
They Said It
Mavericks coach, on Sean Elliott's return to the Spurs after
his life-saving kidney transplant: "I love the guy to death."