Take Back the Plate!
In a game rigged for offense, pitchers have but one recourse
There are still some people who admire a two-hit shutout.
They're called pitchers. The rest of us, of course, want Arena
football scores. And baseball, being what you might call
revenue-sensitive, has accommodated our tastes. So it has given
the hitters juiced balls, bandbox ballparks, thin air, hormone
therapy and (thanks to the DH) more at bats. The
purists--pitchers?--may think baseball has become a vulgar game,
but, hey, you gotta sell tickets. "The mind-set of the game
today," says Royals manager Tony Muser, "is try to pound the
other team into oblivion and win 12-11 and say, 'Man, what a
ball game!'" Exactly! Home runs are up, scoring is up,
attendance to follow. Maybe.
Who could have a beef with this magnificent trend? Just pitchers,
the poor saps who have to walk into a place like Houston's Enron
Field and watch hopped-up balls clear Little League alleys. "The
poor pitchers turn on ESPN," Muser says, "and they see 28 minutes
of balls reaching the seats."
There's not much most guys can do about it. Well, there has been
this recent bit of guerrilla warfare, wherein the pitchers, now
wound as tight as their Rawlingses, have been trying to take back
the plate. They call it pitching inside--we call it chin music--but
anything to restore their rightful place in baseball seems to be
It hasn't worked as well as they might have hoped. Now we have
24 minutes of balls reaching seats and another four of players
spilling out of dugouts and onto the field. The latest run of
bench-clearings, including a doozy of a brawl at Comiskey Park
on April 22 when a couple of guys got hit by pitches and it
seemed that the whole South Side of Chicago poured onto the
diamond, are examples of inadvertent and decidedly vulgar
entertainment. Certainly the incidence of two-hit shutouts
hasn't increased: The White Sox won that little duel with the
The poor pitchers. All they mean to do is return a little style
to the game, and what do they do instead? They create even more
fan-friendly hoo-ha. Home runs! Beanballs! Fights! Nobody need
ever be bored by baseball again. If, that is, you still want to
call it baseball. --Richard Hoffer
Why the world's best doesn't deserve a free pass to Sydney
For the first time since 1896, the U.S. will field fewer than
three runners in an Olympic marathon. At the men's trials in
Pittsburgh on Sunday (page 88), no runners met the Olympic
standard of 2:14. As a result only winner Rod DeHaven will
represent the U.S.
What gives? After all, waiting in the wings is Moroccan-born
Khalid Khannouchi, 28, the fastest marathoner in history
(2:05:42), who negotiated miles of red tape to become a U.S.
citizen early last week. By now his heartwarming story is
well-known--how he fell in love with America during a 1993 visit
and stayed, training on the mean streets of Brooklyn after
working late-night shifts as a busboy. Khannouchi repeatedly
claimed that representing the U.S. was his dream.
Yet on April 16, just days after his immigration lawyer told him
he had an 80% shot at getting citizenship in time to participate
in the U.S. trials, Khannouchi ran the London Marathon, where he
aggravated injuries and all but ensured he'd be unable to run in
Pittsburgh. Apparently the chance to represent the U.S. didn't
mean so much to Khannouchi that he'd break his contract with
London and pass up the prize money and the six-figure appearance
fee that went with it.
Taking the money and running may be the American way in many
endeavors but not in Olympic qualifying. To represent the U.S.
in track an athlete must survive the trials. If U.S. Olympic
officials start adding team members by petition, they might as
well contest the trials in a courtroom--which is surely where
DeHaven, who ran his brains out in killing heat and humidity,
would go to plead his case. A free pass to Khannouchi would
require the U.S. to bump the trials winner, and that, most
certainly, is not the American way. Best of luck to Khannouchi
in the Olympic marathon in 2004. Not sooner.
Terry Cloth Temptation
As part of his continuing effort to revamp the Mavericks' image,
Mark Cuban, Dallas's dot.com billionaire owner, shelled out $22
apiece for "half robe" towels for the locker rooms at Reunion
Arena. Anything to show his players--and their opponents, some of
whom might be NBA free agents in the near future--what the new
Mavs are all about. "When you take a shower, do you like to dry
off with a nice, plush towel and slip into a thick, comfortable
robe?" says Cuban, sounding like a guy who knows from plushness
and comfort. "For $22 I can get the half robes and make our guys
more comfortable. It's crazy not to."
Judging by how many were pilfered, the luxurious linens proved
irresistible to more than one visiting player, but Cuban was
happy to have rivals take home a keepsake of his new regime.
"There are a lot of Mavs embroidered towels in the houses of
players from other teams," he says. "It's a $22 investment for a
constant reminder of how the Mavs are a better place to work."
Just one question: Does tempting players with towels count as
WEST NILE DANGER
Sportsmen along the East Coast have a common foe this summer: the
mosquito, principal carrier of the West Nile virus that killed
seven people, several horses and at least 5,000 birds in
Connecticut, New Jersey and New York last year. Golf courses and
horse tracks are among those launching efforts to protect
competitors from the pests.
More than 50 golf clubs from Connecticut to Virginia are
installing the $1,295 Mosquito Magnet, which looks like a gas
grill but emits a warm, moist plume of carbon dioxide that
attracts the insects from up to 100 yards away then sucks them
into a disposable net, where they die of dehydration. Says Joe
Alonzi, grounds supervisor for Westchester Country Club in Rye,
N.Y., which ordered two Mosquito Magnets in preparation for next
month's PGA Buick Classic, "If just one person around here gets
the virus, that's too many."
Among those most skittish about the skeeters are horse trainers.
On Long Island last year, nine horses died from West Nile
encephalitis, including a retired racehorse who was to breed
thoroughbreds. "We knew of about 25 sick horses in a three-mile
radius," says Neil Cleary, the chief examining veterinarian at
Belmont Park, where the world's most talented 3-year-olds will be
racing on June 10. "There were probably a lot more. The problem
is, sometimes the horses don't show symptoms."
Belmont officials have been stocking nearby lakes and ponds with
goldfish, which eat mosquito larvae, and spiking standing water
with larvicide. Vets at the track have been testing for West Nile
among the chickens that have long made their home at Belmont,
since birds are known carriers of the virus, and have shipped
about 500 of the fowl to a farm in upstate New York.
Organizers of the U.S. Olympic equestrian trials in dressage this
weekend and next were even more cautious. They moved the event
from Gladstone, N.J., to Loxahatchee, Fla., because of the fear
that officials in Europe, where final Olympic qualifying will
take place, might not accept horses coming out of the Northeast.
"People in Europe don't want to take any chances," says Maureen
Pethick, director of dressage for the U.S. equestrian team.
"Neither do we."
Hot Bats, Hot Air
At times it seems everyone but Jim Garrison has chimed in with
reasons for baseball's offensive explosion. But might the babel
emanating from purists and conspiracy theorists be drowning out
the reasoned voice of science?
Over the past 25 years the average temperature in the U.S. has
risen about 1[degree], a monumental change in meteorological
terms. The same period has seen the average number of home runs
hit per major league game rise some 65%. Mere coincidence? Maybe
not. High school physics teaches that flying objects face less
resistance when the air is less dense--the implication, in
elementary terms, is that balls go farther in warm weather.
At least on the surface, the numbers are compelling. In 1998,
the hottest year on record in the U.S., Mark McGwire and Sammy
Sosa became the two hottest home run hitters on record. Last
year was the second steamiest, and there were 2.28 homers per
game, the most ever. Conversely, the summer of 1992 was among
the century's coldest, possibly as a result of the June 1991
eruption of Mount Pinatubo, and major league batters chilled
out, too, belting the fewest home runs per game since 1981.
Robert Adair, an emeritus professor of physics at Yale and
author of The Physics of Baseball, says the effect of
temperature on baseball isn't a matter of whether but of how
much. He estimates that a ball could be hit an extra four feet
for every 10[degree] increase in the air temperature. An average
temperature increase of 1[degree] Fahrenheit, he says, raises
the probability of a home run by about .67%. "Warming certainly
increases the number of home runs," says Adair, "but it's a
pretty small percentage compared to the fluctuations we don't
In other words, using temperature as a predictor for home runs
may be only slightly more reliable than using the magic 8 ball,
but at least it has the benefit of scientific backing. If the
major leagues' powers-that-be ever want to put baseball's raging
sticks in check, they can build more Comericas, raise the mound
or cross Bud Selig's name off the cowhide. Or they can join
When Olympics collectibles experts saw the inventory of the
William Porter Payne Collection last Thursday, this is what they
discovered: The going rate for Billy Payne's trash is $500.
What else would you call three boxes of his leftover business
cards? They were part of the collection for which the private
Georgia Amateur Athletic Foundation--a nonprofit organization
created by Payne in 1987 to oversee Atlanta's Olympic bid--paid
the former head of the Atlanta organizing committee $975,000 in
1998. The bounty, which included a Georgia Power Co. pen set
valued at $1,000 (framed, of course) and a CENTENNIAL GAMES
T-shirt valued at $10,000 (understand, it was made especially for
Payne), was intended for display in the foundation's downtown
Olympics museum, which now seems unlikely to be built.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, appraiser Ingrid
O'Neil said in defense of her valuation, which included $113,000
for 43 Olympic torches, "If I would carry a torch, that torch
would be worth the same as if anybody else carried it. If
somebody like Billy Payne carried it, that would make a
Countered Don Bigsby, president of the Olympic Collectors Club,
"On the open market, I don't think anybody would pay [those
prices]." No doubt the thousands clamoring for the first stuffed
Whatizit (appraised value: $500) would beg to differ.
The man whose pep talks gave new meaning to the term Dodger Blue
has added red and white to his repertoire: Tommy Lasorda has been
named manager of the 2000 U.S. Olympic baseball team. When asked
what he would first say to his squad of 24 he grinned and
replied, "Rest assured, I'll fire them up." Just don't mike him
when he does.
Innings pitched by Randy Johnson, through Sunday, since he last
gave up a home run to a lefthanded batter.
Games Kristine Lilly has played for the U.S., most by any soccer
player, male or female, for a national team.
Minutes Minnesota led in its first-round NBA playoff series,
compared with 68 for winner Portland.
Record for home runs by one player at Busch Stadium, held by
Cardinals slugger Ray Lankford.
Amount the Salt Lake Organizing Committee has spent on legal fees
related to the Salt Lake bid scandal.
The Screen Actors Guild picket lines, by Tiger Woods and Nomar
Garciaparra. Woods, a SAG member by dint of his numerous TV ads,
balked at filming a Nike spot in Orlando, and Garciaparra, who
joined the union when he appeared in the sitcom Two Guys and a
Girl, put off doing a Dunkin' Donuts spot in Boston.
Controversial Braves reliever John Rocker, by Andrew Teller of
Bellflower, Calif., on the field at Dodger Stadium. Said Teller,
"Everyone should be allowed to speak their mind, and that's what
The Dorchester Gladiators, a British over-40 rugby team, which,
because of a translation error, found itself pitted against
Steaua Bucharest, Romania's best club, in a game carried live on
Romanian TV. "It frightened us to death," said fullback Dave
Scaddon. "We had been out for a few beers the night before and
were all feeling a bit fragile." Dorchester lost 61-17.
Elon College's new nickname (SCORECARD, May 1). The school's
sports teams, which had been the Fightin' Christians, will now
be the Phoenix.
Bill Stewart, coach of the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts,
from traveling with his team to the U.S. for Game 2 of the
league championship series against the Plymouth (Mich.) Whalers.
Stewart was stripped of his general manager job for twice
smuggling Ukrainian-born defenseman Vladimir Chernenko into the
U.S. in the team bus's baggage compartment.
Call It a Comeback
Like a real-life Roy Hobbs, Kerry Wood rose from the dead last
week. In his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery in
April 1999, the Cubs' 22-year-old fireballer allowed the Astros
only three hits over six innings and cracked a homer en route to
the win. But Wood isn't the first diamond stud to wow us in a
return engagement from a long layoff.
May 6, 1941, to July 1, 1945
Joined Army after receiving low draft-lottery number, re-upped
after Pearl Harbor
Hit eighth-inning home run to help Tigers beat Athletics 9-5
Sept. 30, 1948, to June 28, 1949
Had surgery to remove bone spurs from right heel
Singled in first at bat, went yard in second to help Yankees
beat Red Sox 5-4
Aug. 18, 1967, to April 8, 1969
Partial blindness, dislocated jaw, broken cheekbone, courtesy of
Jack Hamilton heater
Hit two-run, 10th-inning homer to help Red Sox beat Orioles on
May 28, 1988, to Aug. 10, 1989
Cancerous tumor forced docs to cut chunk of muscle from Giants
lefty's pitching shoulder
Took one-hit shutout into eighth inning against Reds to earn 4-3
Oct. 5, 1991, to April 9, 1993
Two-sport star had left hip replaced as result of injury in NFL
playoff game while with Raiders
Launched 400-foot pinch-hit homer on first swing for White Sox
May 2, 1996, to Sept. 2, 1996
Righthander had surgery to remove career-threatening aneurysm in
Tossed seven no-hit innings for Yankees against A's, yanked on
strict pitch count
Oct. 14, 1998, to April 3, 2000
Underwent treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Blasted game-winning Opening Day homer for Braves against Rockies
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
After the Kings' Chris Webber and Jason Williams were written up
for reckless driving--both had been cited for speeding in
January--Webber said, "If Sacramento troubles me about a ticket,
they will lose a nice person in the community."
restore pitchers' rightful place in baseball seems to be the idea.
rivalry: "I spent two years with New Jersey, so I appreciate any