A Baseball Cup
We offer a modest proposal to spice up the summer game
It's May, and for sports fans in Detroit and Tampa, in
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, on Chicago's North Side, that means
one thing: the end of baseball season. Sure, teams in those
towns will continue playing through September. But for what? To
showcase their young talent to interested parties ("That's
R-O-L-E-N, Mr. Steinbrenner")? To provide bleacher bums an
excuse to skip work and soak up sun and suds? To feed the
pathology of Rotisserie geeks? To play the spoiler?
World Series hopes may be all but dead for half the clubs in the
majors, but what if those teams still had something
meaningful--an alternative championship--to play for? Here's
where baseball might take a lesson from overseas: European
soccer federations long ago learned that two championships are
better than one. While teams contend for regular-season titles
in their respective divisions, they simultaneously engage in a
national cup tournament involving clubs from the top divisions
down to amateur levels. That makes for some terrific David
versus Goliath stories. This year a fourth-division team from
Calais made up of teachers, dock workers and office clerks
captivated France by advancing to the final of the French Cup,
along the way defeating first-division clubs Racing Strasbourg
Here's a proposal for baseball: Create a blind-draw 32-team
tournament to start on July 4, among the 30 big league clubs,
the College World Series winner and the minor league team with
the best record to that point. Each two-game series would be
home-and-home, with teams advancing to the next round on
aggregate runs. Schedule the championship game for Labor Day at
Wrigley Field. Cut the major league season to 154 games to
accommodate the added work. Think the games won't matter to the
big league teams? Make them count in the standings. Secure some
corporate sponsor to attach its name and to pony up prize money
to further bolster interest. Want to get really daring? Give the
winner a berth in the playoffs if it doesn't otherwise qualify.
We've even got a name for our tournament. Dub it the Ernie Banks
Cup, in honor of the Hall of Famer who played 19 seasons without
a whiff of the World Series and who never balked at playing two.
Why the brutality of Heat vs. Knicks makes for must-see TV
Among the many colorful adjectives NBA fans have employed to
disparage the Heat-Knicks Eastern Conference semifinal series,
the most common is unwatchable. To which we offer two words: Lay
off. Or better still: Look closer. The seven games the two teams
will play--and make no mistake, they'll play seven--will
constitute the most exciting series of the postseason. (Two more
words: Stop laughing.) Herewith, our five-pronged defense:
You can't afford to miss a minute. You never know when tempers
will flare between these two, only that they will--and that the
point guard tossing and other forms of violence in the first
quarter will be avenged by the fourth.
Every basket is precious. With Defensive Player of the Year
Alonzo Mourning, tireless forward P.J. Brown and workhorse guard
Dan Majerle, the Heat allowed the fourth-fewest points per game
(91.2) in the regular season. The Knicks, with ball hawks Latrell
Sprewell, Chris Childs and Charlie Ward, were even stingier (90.6
points, second fewest). Good D makes every point count.
Forget the home court advantage. Brazenly led by former Knicks
coach Pat Riley, Miami isn't daunted by the Madison Square Garden
mystique, while New York seems to enjoy the taunts and jeers of
the denizens of AmericanAirlines Arena. In their playoff series
the last three seasons--all of which went the distance--the Knicks
were 4-3 at home and 5-5 in Miami.
Other series are somniferous. Leading 3-1 in their respective
series through Sunday, the Lakers (page 60) and the Trail Blazers
didn't look seriously threatened. Only the suspension of
Indiana's Reggie Miller (page 64) gave the outclassed 76ers
reason to hope. By contrast, after four games Heat-Knicks
remained utterly unpredictable.
All of which makes Miami-New York the best rivalry in the NBA.
While the Western Conference may offer superior teams, no other
duel, either there or in the East, compares with the bad blood
and intrigue served up by Miami-New York. From the
benches-emptying Brown-Ward fracas of three years ago to New York
coach Jeff Van Gundy's terrierlike attack on Alonzo Mourning's
ankle a year later, postseason flare-ups between the teams have
become tradition--and translate into great theater. Add wrinkles
such as teacher versus student (Riley and Van Gundy), brother
versus brother (Miami assistant Stan Van Gundy is Jeff's sibling)
and friend versus friend (Patrick Ewing versus pal Mourning), and
you have the NBA's most complete, and compelling matchup.
Besides, is there a surer thing than a Heat-Knicks under?
LINDROS AND PHILLY
Taking a Flyer
Given the mutual distaste that defines Eric Lindros's
relationship with Flyers management (SI, April 10), and
considering that the concussion-prone Lindros may be just one
more hard knock from early retirement, you wouldn't expect
Philadelphia to renew his $8.5 million contract. But general
manager Bobby Clarke intends to do exactly that.
The Flyers will almost certainly be signing the 27-year-old
Lindros in order to trade him. He'll become an unrestricted free
agent this summer unless Clarke makes him a qualifying offer of
about $9 million by July 1. As Clarke said on Sunday, "You can't
let an asset like that just walk away."
The asset is a 6'4", 236-pound center who has averaged well over
a point per game in his career. The downside is that Lindros has
sustained five concussions in the past two years and three since
January, the most recent having come on May 4 in a collision
during a scrimmage with the Flyers' minor league affiliate.
Lindros's risk of further concussions dramatically lessens his
trade value, so if the Flyers do sign and move him, they'll
likely have to absorb some of that $9 million. "We'll decide
whether to accept the offer when that time comes," says Carl
Lindros, Eric's father and agent. It's hard to see how they
wouldn't take it, since Philly's offer would be substantially
higher than what Eric could command from another team.
Lindros was still hoping to get medical clearance and begin
practicing with the Flyers next week, and defenseman Eric
Desjardins, who replaced Lindros as captain after Lindros was
stripped of that title in March following a dispute with team
management, says he "would welcome" such a return. Privately,
several Philadelphia players have admitted that they've grown
weary of the Lindros distractions.
Certainly the Flyers faithful aren't expecting to see the Big E
on Broad Street next year. Last week at a sporting-goods store
near the First Union Center, Lindros jerseys had been cut to half
price. Even then, a store employee said, they weren't selling.
JPII ON SPORTS
Charles Barkley might not think athletes are role models, but
Pope John Paul II begs to differ. "Sportsmen, especially the more
famous, should never forget that they in fact become models for
the world of youth," the Pope told an audience of European soccer
officials last week. "It is therefore important that, apart from
typically sporting skills, they also carefully develop human and
spiritual qualities which will make them truly positive examples
in the public mind...Sports should be...a total valorization
of the body, a healthy spirit of competition, an education in the
values of life, the joy of living, the game and fun."
ADAM PETTY, 1980-2000
If there was one thing that stayed with you after meeting Adam
Petty, it was this: In an era when pro athletes are getting
younger and trying harder to act older, there was no mistaking
the fact that Petty was 19. He had a gangly frame, a goofy grin
and a goofier laugh. He was genuine, and he was charming--all of
which made it especially tough to accept last Friday's news that
the youngest of the racing Pettys had been killed in a crash
during practice for a NASCAR Busch Series race at New Hampshire
International Speedway in Loudon. His death came five weeks
after that of his great-grandfather, family patriarch Lee.
On occasion Adam's deeds belied his greenness. On the racetrack
he was the youngest driver to win an American Speed Association
race, at 17, and the youngest to win an Automobile Racing Club of
America race, a year later. (This was to have been his second
full season on the Busch circuit; he was slated to drive a full
Winston Cup schedule next year.) Off the track he could display a
maturity beyond his years. A few hours before he made his Winston
Cup debut, at Texas Motor Speedway in April, he was sitting in
his trailer talking about the tough season his father, Kyle, was
having. "I feel really bad for him because his engines just stink
now," Adam said. "I just hope he doesn't get down on himself."
If that sounds like something a father would say about his son
rather than vice versa, it's because Adam and Kyle's relationship
was as much buddy-buddy it was child-parent. Adam spent most of
his formative years at tracks or in garages, learning what it
takes to be a driver. "Growing up the way I did, I don't have a
lot of close friends my age," Adam said. "So my dad's my best
People say such things all the time, but if you took one look at
the two of them together, you'd know just how true it was. They
had practically everything in common--except, as Adam joked, "I
don't have long hair, and I'm more clean-cut." In Victory Lane at
Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1998, after Adam won his first ARCA
race, Kyle was beaming as he told reporters that of all the
victories the Petty clan had notched, this one made him the
proudest. Asked how he felt about his dad's words of praise, Adam
said, "It makes me want to cry." --Mark Bechtel
Upon receiving his league MVP award, scholar-center Shaquille
O'Neal showed off his grasp of the Western canon. "From this day
on I would like to be known as the Big Aristotle," said O'Neal,
"because it was Aristotle that said, 'Excellence is not a
singular act but a habit.'" Right on--as long as Shaq calls the
rim Sosias when he's at the free throw line. That's the name of
the slave in Aristophanes' Wasps who cries out, "Oh! my god!
Whence did this brick fall on me?"
Frustrated by Rickey Henderson's surly attitude and lackadaisical
play, the Mets finally released the future Hall of Famer, who was
hitting just .219. That he needs 55 runs to jump from fifth to
second behind Ty Cobb on the alltime list should help Henderson
discover his lost stroke with a more tolerant (read: desperate)
Payout to Orlando Hernandez for having four numbers in the $360
million Big Game lottery.
Vote won by Tom Osborne in Nebraska's 3rd congressional district
Age of Marlins pitcher Joe Strong, the oldest player to make his
big league debut since 1960.
Pay-per-view cost to Blazers fans to see Game 2 of the
Portland-Utah series, which was blacked out locally.
Mavericks assistant coaches after the hiring of Sidney Moncrief
to revamp the Dallas defense.
By Crunch Fitness, a Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire's Ass?
contest. The winner, drawn at random from those who enter on
crunch.com or visit a Crunch gym, will face off in the ring
against a yet-to-be determined moneybags.
Lakers forward Rick Fox, by the NBA, from wearing a sweatband
with the number 15 on it--a reference to how many postseason
victories it takes to win the NBA title. Fox and his brother are
marketing FIRST TO 15 paraphernalia during the playoffs.
For the NBA draft, Kansas recruit DeShawn Stevenson, after the
Educational Testing Service red-flagged a 700-point jump in his
SAT scores. He got a 450 when he took the test two years ago and
an 1150 this spring.
The $551,841 sale of Wilt Chamberlain's purported 100-point
ball, by Leland's auction house. Doubts arose as to whether the
auctioned ball was the one with which Wilt scored his 100th
against the Knicks on March 2, 1962, or the ball put in play
after his final basket.
A Rapids-Fusion MLS game, by Rapids midfielder Seth Trembly, 18,
who had coach Glenn Myernick's permission to attend the prom at
Arapahoe (Colo.) High, where Trembly's a senior.
Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn seems to be everywhere--except
on the football field. Since the 1997 season, when he
intercepted six passes and broke up 20 others, the oft-injured
cornerback has played just 10 games but garnered so much
publicity that he's in danger of becoming football's equivalent
of George Hamilton--famous for, more than anything, being famous.
Caps fine fourth NFL season with selection to All-Madden team
Marries college sweetheart Whitney Casey
Wins made-for-TV Superstars competition
After pleading with Giants coach Jim Fassel to let him return
kickoffs, blows out right knee on opening kick of first preseason
game; misses entire season
Completes successful rehab by defending Superstars title on
surgically reconstructed knee without Giants' knowledge or
Skips Giants' off-season workouts to train in California with
noted football guru Marv Marinovich
Divorces Whitney; stung by anonymous potshots from Giants
Returns to camp, strains hamstring, misses first two games of
Bares midriff in fashion spread in football issue of GQ, which
touts the cornerback's "comeback in cashmere"
Returns after 21-month layoff; allows crucial catch during
Patriots' game-winning drive
Makes big-screen debut in comedy Superstar; ham-fisted Saturday
Night Live spin-off tanks at box office
Suffers season-ending fracture of left leg in on-field collision
with Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet; continues to show up on
TV in commercials for Charles Schwab and Nike
During Super Bowl pregame bit with ABC's The View gals, enters on
cue--and in uniform pants--when Meredith Vieira says football is
"all about the butt"
While Elton John looks on, proposes to Law and Order star Angie
Harmon on The Tonight Show, moments after she told Jay Leno she
preferred not to talk about her private life
Three-peats in Superstars competition, prompting Giants
spokesman Pat Hanlon to say, "I'm just glad he came back in one
Amid the cacophony of cliches, even the casual sports fan will
notice a relative newcomer in the field of prefab excuses for
wrongdoing--a new catchall used by sports figures to cover
boo-boos petty and grand.
November 1996 UCLA fires basketball coach Jim Harrick for lying
about a recruiting dinner on his expense report.
Harrick: "I made an error in judgment to protect my players."
Better judgment Get boosters and agents to foot bill.
January 1997 Former WHL coach Graham James pleads guilty to
sexually assaulting two teenage players more than 300 times.
Defense lawyer Lorne Scott: "[It was] a terrible, terrible
error in judgment."
Better judgment 300 fewer terrible, terrible errors.
July 1997 A Notre Dame assistant coach fails to report that Irish
football booster Kim Dunbar had paid players' ways to Las Vegas.
NCAA infractions committee: "[This was] an error in judgment."
Better judgment Tell Dunbar that CJ's Pub in South Bend is
closer, cheaper and has karaoke on Wednesdays.
November 1998 Blue Jays skipper Tim Johnson, later a Brewers
scout, admits he lied about having served in Vietnam.
Brewers G.M. Dean Taylor: "He's made an error in judgment."
Better judgment Leave phony Nam heroics to Stallone.
April 1999 UConn point guard Khalid El-Amin is busted for pot.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun: "This was an error in judgment."
Better judgment Cigarettes are more effective for weight loss.
April 1999 Wichita State pitcher (and future Cubs draft pick) Ben
Christensen beans Evansville's Anthony Molina in on-deck circle.
Chicago general manager Ed Lynch: "For three seconds
[Christensen] made a terrible error in judgment."
Better judgment Hurl witticisms, not beanballs.
Autumn 1999 Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blaches gives out
bullets as rewards for big defensive plays.
Chicago coach Dick Jauron: "It's an error in judgment that we
Better judgment Ever heard of lollipops?
December 1999 Hoop magazine, official publication of the NBA,
airbrushes tattoos and jewelry from picture of cover subject
Allen Iverson (above).
NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre: "An overexuberant person in our
organization made a decision.... It was an error in judgment."
Better judgment Embrace the modern player, tats and all.
April 2000 Winston Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield's crew uses illegal
Team co-owner Michael Kranefuss: "Mistakes were made, and there
were certainly some grave errors in judgment."
Better judgment Save the hooch for Victory Lane celebrations.
May 2000 IOC vice president Kevan Gosper infuriates countrymen
by agreeing to let 11-year-old daughter, Sophie, be first
Australian to carry Olympic torch.
Gosper: "My fatherly pride clouded my judgment.... I apologize
to all those who were upset by my lapse of judgment."
Better judgment Isn't Elle Macpherson from Australia?
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Kathy Jager, a 56-year-old grandmother, was stripped of her two
sprint medals from the 1999 World Veterans Athletic
Championships and suspended for two years after testing positive
had something meaningful to play for?
Islanders fan, after being invited to a pancake breakfast with
prospective team owners Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar: "They're
billionaires, and they're taking us to IHOP?"