Au Revoir, Nos Amours?
The Expos may leave behind--don't laugh--a great baseball town
The obituaries will get it wrong. If the Expos don't survive in
Montreal after this season--and they very well could be the first
big league franchise since 1971 to relocate, given their revenue
woes and the warfare between principal owner Jeffrey Loria and
his Quebec partners--blame will cascade down upon the city.
Montrealers don't get baseball, critics will charge. Montreal has
never been a baseball city.
Well, a generation ago Siberia on the St. Lawrence was a terrific
baseball city. Between 1979 and '83, when the Expos played in a
stadium that was virtually uninhabitable in April and heated only
by pennant races in September, more than two million fans a year
tromped through the turnstiles. In those days the Expos had verve
and speed and stars such as Andre Dawson and Gary Carter. They
also had a song. At the slightest provocation the crowds would
burst into choruses of "Valder-ee, valder-aa," and if that wasn't
as traditional as Take Me Out to the Ballgame at Wrigley Field,
it was every bit as throaty and heartfelt. Competing against the
legacy of the Canadiens and the festivals that crowd the short,
vibrant Montreal summers, the Expos did fine. French-language
newspapers called them Nos Amours.
Of course, bad things happen to good franchises. The farm system
shriveled, pennant runs grew scarce, and then came 1994, when the
Expos had a 74-40 record, best in the majors, before baseball
drank the poisoned punch and went on strike. The annual fire sale
of players followed. The Expos gave up a future MVP in Larry
Walker, a future World Series MVP in John Wetteland, a once and
future Cy Young winner in Pedro Martinez. In an effort to get a
downtown ballpark, former managing partner Claude Brochu kept
reminding people how crummy Olympic Stadium was. If you keep
telling fans your stadium is terrible, you run the risk that they
might believe you.
Loria, a New York City art dealer, barged into the breach last
year, but he has a tin ear for local sensibilities and lacks the
patience to reestablish the trust of fans who have seen their
team battered by years of neglect, mismanagement and
underfunding. When the moving vans back up to the door, the sad
truth will be this: Baseball abandoned Montreal long before
Montreal abandoned the Expos. --Michael Farber
Cannabis versus Chaos
Is marijuana the way to mellow a hooligan?
The violence that broke out last Saturday between drunken
English hooligans and German fans in the Belgian city of
Charleroi before the Euro 2000 soccer match between their two
countries was hardly surprising, given that Charleroi officials
had allowed sales of potent Belgian beer (9% alcohol) to begin
at 8:30 a.m. on the day of the match. City officials opted not
to follow the lead of their counterparts in the Dutch city of
Eindhoven, where special Festival Beer--just 2.5% alcohol--was
sold before the England-Portugal match played there on June 13.
"In Eindhoven if you drink 10 beers, it will be the same as if
you drink three here," said Charleroi police spokesman Michel
Rompen. "Alcohol isn't the problem. It's the consequence of
alcohol that's the problem."
Questionable logic, especially in light of the placid behavior
of the English faithful in Eindhoven. Despite England's 3-2 loss
to Portugal, only a handful of arrests were made, all for minor
offenses. Dutch police suggested that Eindhoven had another
weapon in the battle against hooliganism: marijuana, which is
decriminalized in Holland and widely available in so-called
coffeehouses. "The cannabis may have helped relax them," said
police spokesman Johann Beelan the day after the Portugal match.
"Even the hooligans enjoyed the party." The BBC reported that
throughout the city's bars, the defeat inspired only "mild
disappointment and gentle applause."
Pot wasn't the only distraction Eindhoven offered. English fans
swelled the town's red-light district--prostitution is legal in
Holland--and two bikini-clad Dutch porn stars, Tona, 31, and
Kate, 26, mingled with English supporters. "We made a point of
kissing those who looked most like hooligans, and sometimes we
let them touch us," said Tona, "provided they were gentle."
HIGH SCHOOL MILER
The Slow Route To Four Minutes
Alan Webb, a junior at South Lakes High in Reston, Va., became
one of the most compelling stories of the Olympic year when he
seemed poised to become the first high school runner in 33 years
to break four minutes for the mile. Instead, Webb's coach, Scott
Raczko, last week called off scheduled assaults on the
four-minute barrier in Raleigh, N.C., and Eugene, Ore., and shut
Webb down for the season. It seems that a full-throttle nine
months of cross-country and track, including a spring spent
chasing the ghosts of Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori, has left Webb
physically and emotionally drained. For the patience, common
sense and compassion of this decision, Raczko and Webb's parents
deserve a gold medal.
The rush to turn children into serious athletes has gotten out
of hand. High school players are considering the NBA in record
numbers. Figure skaters, gymnasts and swimmers are racing to be
the next teen (or preteen) sensation. Across America kids as
young as eight vie for spots on ferociously competitive
traveling teams in basketball, hockey and soccer. It's
considered sacrilegious to put the brakes on a promising kid's
career, as if the window of athletic opportunity closes at age
18. It doesn't.
Webb is strong and fast and tough and dedicated, and to be a
great miler you need to be all of those. He ran 3:59.9 for a
1,600-meter relay split at the Penn Relays in April, which is
the equivalent of a 4:01.4 mile. Two weeks after that he sat on
his high school track and told an SI writer who had asked about
a sub-four mile, "I know it hasn't been done in 33 years, and
I'm going to do it." He spoke reverentially of Roger Bannister.
Webb skipped his prom to run a meet in Charlotte on May 20 and
produced a spectacular 4:03.3, only to have to answer an hour's
worth of dour media questions that all played on the theme, Are
you disappointed? He was.
Ryun ran 3:55 in high school and improved by four seconds over
the rest of his career, which was good enough to set the world
record twice. After Webb breaks four minutes, he'll need at
least another 17 seconds to reach the world mark. "He can't help
but make it under four next year," says Raczko. If he does,
great. If he doesn't, that's fine, too. People who care about
him are trying to ensure he has a long, successful career, with
sweet memories and no burnout. --Tim Layden
McCain: Stop the Mismatch
Julio Cesar Chavez, 103-4-2 in the ring over the last 20 years
but 14-4-1 over the last 6 1/2, turns 38 on July 12. It has been
more than three years since he defeated a top 10 opponent and
more than two since he fought as a super lightweight (140
pounds). Two bouts ago he broke Long Island forklift operator
Willy Wise's three-fight losing streak. Yet Chavez is the WBC's
top super lightweight contender, and earlier this month the
Arizona State Boxing Commission approved his license in
preparation for a planned July 29 bout in Phoenix with champion
Kostya Tszyu (24-1-1, 20 KOs), who is 30 and at his peak.
The fight has critics inside and outside of boxing wondering what
gives, other than Chavez's leathery face. Last month Senator John
McCain (R., Ariz.), cosponsor of the recently passed Muhammad Ali
Boxing Reform Act, sent a letter to his state's governor, Jane
Hull, calling the fight "an illegitimate and potentially
dangerous mismatch." The bout had been scheduled for Las Vegas on
July 15, but on the May morning when Chavez's licensing was to be
discussed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, promoters
pulled the fight and Chavez was yanked from the commission's
agenda. Earlier, several Nevada commissioners had expressed
concerns about the validity of Chavez's No. 1 ranking, his
ability to make weight and his poor performance against Wise.
"Officially the fight was never turned down, but there were
certainly misgivings," says Mark Ratner, the commission's
executive director. Association of Boxing Commissions president
Greg Sirb went further, asking on May 18 that WBC president Jose
Sulaiman reevaluate Chavez's ranking and writing that the Tszyu
bout "does not appear to be a competitive match-up."
The Arizona commission's executive director, John Montano, notes
that Chavez passed his commission's physical and has been knocked
down just once, by Frankie Randall in 1994. According to Luis
Medina, the WBC's controller of records, the sanctioning body had
"extensive medical examinations" conducted on Chavez and had him
prove his competence by fighting journeyman Buck Smith in
December. Chavez knocked Smith out in the third round.
Sulaiman, like Chavez a native of Mexico, has admitted that
Chavez's ranking isn't solely a function of his performance
inside the ring. Sulaiman told The New York Times, "He's been
such a hero in my country that I want him to retire with dignity
Muzzle That Cat
The first time a new Bengals signee rips the front office--and
given the perpetually sorry state of the franchise, that could
be any minute now--he could have more than hell to pay. A
controversial new clause the team is writing into all new
contracts says that a player who publicly criticizes the
Bengals' organization could forfeit some or all of his signing
bonus. While the NFL Players Association has condemned the
clause as "illegal" and a violation of the collective bargaining
agreement, Cincinnati isn't backing down. "We feel we have the
right to expect not just [players'] best performance but their
loyalty," says president Mike Brown. "We don't want to have to
go through the kind of situation we went through with Carl."
That would be Carl Pickens, the receiver who held out all of
last preseason, then in December unleashed a public diatribe in
the Bengals' locker room, tearing into the decision to bring
back coach Bruce Coslet for 2000. Brown says the Bengals will
enforce the clause only in cases of serious malice, but if they
do, the NFLPA will take the issue to an arbitrator. "The
collective bargaining agreement strictly controls club
discipline, and the club cannot negotiate additional discipline
into [a] contract," says NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen.
The union has encouraged Bengals rookies not to sign any
contracts containing the clause. (First-round draft pick Peter
Warrick struck a seven-year, $42 million deal, but the clause
was negotiated out of his contract because of numerous other
provisions tied to his off-field conduct.) While leaguewide
reaction to the controversy has been mixed, that Cincinnati is
the team embroiled in it surprises few. Says agent Steve
Weinberg, "Typical Bengals."
What's going on in there? That's what fans are asking after
Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch lost his ability to make
a simple throw to first. No one's safe: Knobby's wild toss into
the stands last Saturday belted Fox sportscaster Keith
Olbermann's mom in the face.
Where Caddyshack and Bull Durham ranked among the American Film
Institute's 100 funniest flicks.
Big league pitching appearances by Pirates righty Bronson Arroyo
before he pinch-hit for Pittsburgh.
Consecutive batters retired by the Diamondbacks' bullpen over
four games last week.
Seconds it took for Moya, a two-year-old Cincinnati Zoo cheetah,
to run 100 meters chasing a teddy bear.
Sunday's A's-Royals score, one to which the Chiefs and the
Raiders have never played in 40 years.
Bonfire, the tradition at Texas A&M on the night before its
football game with Texas, for at least the next two years as the
school continues to review the collapse of the bonfire structure
last November that killed 12 students.
Of ads, Stanford's football and basketball venues, on orders
of university president Gerhard Casper, who worries that college
sports are becoming too commercialized and "part of a vast
Naming rights to the Broncos' stadium scheduled to open in
2001, contrary to the wishes of two thirds of those who took part
in public forums, who wanted to retain the name Mile High
Randy Moss, from a USAir flight before it left Charleston,
W.Va., for Pittsburgh, over a dispute about the size of his
carry-on bag. Fellow passenger Patty Garcia said of the Vikings'
receiver, "He was a complete gentleman. If there was any
instigation, it was from [the flight attendant]."
If the cash-strapped Twins had known the frenzy their
bobble-head promotions would cause, they might have staged
auctions instead. On June 9 they gave away 5,000 Harmon
Killebrew dolls (left); within two days the statuettes were
bobbing up on eBay, where one sold for $192.50. On Monday, 28
Kent Hrbeks from last Saturday night's giveaway were available,
with bids reaching more than $120. Next up: Tony Oliva and Kirby
Puckett dolls. Investors will be waiting.
Work It, Juan!
No, that's not Curly Howard having a molar removed. It's IOC
president Juan Antonio Samaranch, 79, doing a stretching
exercise in his Lausanne apartment, part of the Olympic
pooh-bah's workout regimen in preparation for Sydney.
Two teams of eight sports figures, stranded on a deserted island.
Who stays? Who goes? Who's the first to chow down on a rodent?
Cast your vote for your favorite castaway at cnnsi.com/si_online.
No one's better at making something out of nothing
Sportfishing great guaranteed to come back with dinner
Offers universal health care for castaways; tribe could build
raft out of his wooden personality
Essential if island ever needed to be repopulated
Beach volleyballer would make excellent activities director;
already has bikini
Clippers forward brings wealth of experience in being
hopelessly stranded on godforsaken corner of earth
Michelle Smith de Bruin
Could show others her secret to radical swimming improvement
Dinka warrior once killed lion with spear back home in Sudan;
he's also ideal for that hard-to-reach coconut
Zen master could convince comrades they weren't hungry
Perfect tribe mate: Couldn't throw anyone off island
Can count on pistol-packin' coach to sneak in some much-needed
Marathon record holder ideal for long runs to water hole
Able to start fires with inflammatory language, incendiary
Jean Van De Velde
French golfer useful for hacking through jungle; discourses on
existentialism are ideal campfire conversation
What's tribal council but another form of negotiation?
Extensive knowledge of tropical ecosystems a huge asset; did
Ph.D. thesis on Daniel Defoe...aaah, who are we kidding?
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The executors of Joe DiMaggio's estate have sold a game-worn
uniform from 1951, his final season, to Upper Deck, which plans
to cut it up and distribute the pieces inside packs of trading
every bit as heartfelt as at Wrigley Field.
Showtime exec, on the likelihood of a bout between his network's
fighter Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, who's allied with HBO:
"There will be pork chops growing on the palm trees of Tel Aviv