A SELIG SMOKE SCREEN
Talk of beanballs and a new draft clouds baseball's big issue
Ever since he replaced Fay Vincent in the palace coup of 1992,
baseball commissioner Bud Selig has been tagged a passive company
man, more mope than Machiavelli. This off-season, however,
Selig's office floated a flurry of trial balloons on everything
from a proposed competitive-balance draft, which would shift
players from top teams to underperforming clubs, to a crackdown
by umps on head-hunting pitchers. Among fans and the media,
reaction to the flow of ideas has ranged from puzzlement--World
Series home field advantage being given to the league that wins
the All-Star Game?--to apoplexy at the thought of Randy Johnson
being tossed for a little chin music.
So how serious was Selig about this reform movement? The answer
became clearer with reports last week that the commissioner's
office had issued a gag order, threatening a $1 million fine to
any owner who publicly discusses labor issues. Understand that
the most pressing matter facing baseball isn't whether to fiddle
with the All-Star format. It's the lockout looming at the end of
the season, when the collective bargaining agreement expires.
Last summer Selig called the widening financial gap between
baseball's haves and have-nots "my number one priority," and it's
certain to dominate the upcoming labor negotiations. The recent
spate of high-profile proposals has helped direct attention away
from these sticky problems.
Take last week's memo from Selig's right-hand man, Sandy
Alderson, to big league umpires reinforcing their power to eject
a pitcher without warning if they determine that he intended to
hit a batter. The edict resurrected the hottest of 2000's
hot-button issues and made Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza fresh
news. "You don't have that many incidents during a season when
someone throws at a batter's head," says Angels righthander Tim
Belcher, "but the few incidents become magnified."
All the better to shift the focus from the negotiating table. The
expiration of each of the eight previous basic agreements has
resulted in a work stoppage, and much of the acrimony at the root
of baseball's labor wars has been caused by public potshots taken
by one camp at the other before and during negotiations. Selig's
gag order--along with intimations from the union that it will also
hush up--suggests that this year's talks will be conducted on the
Q.T. That means the details of revenue sharing and salary cap
proposals (anathema to owners and players, respectively) won't
come up for public dissection.
"It's been a circus," Selig has said of past negotiations. "You
got updates at 10 o'clock, at noon, at 2. We're not going to do
that anymore. We're going to do it quietly. When we start, nobody
will know." Here's hoping they already have.
--Daniel G. Habib
Four Dubious Acts by Baseball Commissioners
Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Bans barnstorming in the mid-'20s, effectively ending games
between white and black pro clubs.
A.B. (Happy) Chandler
Teetotaling Kentuckian signs six-year, $6 million deal in 1947
with Gillette for TV rights to World Series, eschewing more
lucrative offer from Rheingold beer.
Invoking best-interests-of-baseball clause, hands lifetime bans
(later overturned) to Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie
Mays for doing promotional work for Atlantic City casinos.
Citing policy against investment from outside North America,
opposes 1992 bid by Japanese owners of Nintendo to buy Mariners;
reverses course after deputy Stephen Greenberg concedes no such
EDDIE MATHEWS, 1931-2001
FIRST IN OUR HEARTS
As a Hall of Famer and one of only 16 players to hit 500 home
runs, Eddie Mathews has a secure place in baseball history. But
Mathews, who died on Sunday of complications from pneumonia at
69, also holds a special place in SI's history--as the athlete
featured on the cover of our first issue, dated Aug. 16, 1954.
At the time Mathews was one of baseball's most promising young
sluggers, but his prowess was incidental to his being on the
cover. Sid James, SI's first managing editor, wanted to run a
red-blooded sports photograph on that first issue, in contrast to
some of the effete cover subjects--like dogs and sailboats--that
were to follow. Since the issue was to appear during the summer,
baseball was a natural. In those days color pages had to be
prepared six weeks in advance, however, which is how photographer
Mark Kauffman ended up shooting a Braves-Giants series at County
Stadium in early June. No story in that first issue accompanied
the cover shot, only a short box on the contents page that
identified Mathews and declared the scene "baseball's classic
home plate tableau."
The selection of Mathews for our inaugural cover was, in
retrospect, fortuitous, for he embodied many traits we would come
to celebrate: poise, teamwork, durability, all-around excellence.
Mathews went on to hit 40 home runs in 1954, and together with
his more celebrated teammate, Hank Aaron, formed the one-two
punch that led the Braves to a World Series title in '57 and a
National League pennant in '58. Mathews ended his career with 512
homers and was elected to the Hall of Fame in '78. "It's funny,"
he told SI in 1999. "When that picture was taken, I didn't think
of it--or myself--as anything special. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and me,
we were nuthins."
They're paramedics, masseurs, psychologists and strength
coaches. Head trainers of NHL teams do everything from refilling
water bottles to attending to virtually every knocked-out tooth.
Their duties cover a broad spectrum--and so does their salary
Chris Mizer, trainer for the expansion Blue Jackets, makes
roughly $40,000 a year. "It's certainly not the money that
attracted me," says Mizer, who jumped at the chance to work for
an NHL team. At the other end of the scale, the trainer for a
recent Stanley Cup champ earns $100,000 per year, plus bonuses
for championships and the like. More typically, trainers are paid
in the $70,000 range. For example, the Red Wings' John Wharton, a
10-year veteran, makes about $75,000.
You can't put a price on a good trainer's skills. Ask former
Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk, whose neck was slashed by a skate
in 1989. Blood gushed from the six-inch cut until trainer Jim
Pizzutelli arrived and applied pressure to the jugular vein,
saving Malarchuk's life. "If you have a $50 million player
payroll," says Maple Leafs winger Gary Roberts, "a trainer isn't
where you should try to cut costs."
Gauging the wit and wisdom of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
This week: NBA fines him $10,000 for rushing onto the court
during a brawl between the Cavs and Mavs, a fight sparked by Gary
Trent's late basket that gave Dallas 100 points--and 19-point
lead--and earned each Reunion Arena fan a coupon for a chalupa.
"It was instinct," Cuban said of his mad dash. "That's from
[having been] a bouncer."
Everyone knew the XFL would have its foes, but who would have
expected that three weeks into its inaugural season, the
rough-and-tumble league's biggest adversary would be the Not
Ready for Prime Time Players?
The rumble began on Feb. 10, when the Chicago Enforcers-Los
Angeles Xtreme game went into double OT and ran 45 minutes late.
That delayed the start of the much-hyped Saturday Night Live
episode hosted by Jennifer Lopez back to 12:15 EST, severely
hurting the show's ratings. NBC downplayed the incident; one
staffer said, "This proves the XFL isn't rigged. If it was fixed
like wrestling, it would have ended when the network told it to."
But SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was furious. Although
sporting events have pushed back SNL before, as show spokesman
Marc Liepis says, "A World Series game is one thing. This was
game two of the XFL."
The network acted swiftly to appease Michaels. Start times for
games were pushed up by five minutes, to 8:10, long-winded player
introductions were scrapped, and halftimes were cut from 15
minutes to 10. Even rules changes were instituted: Now the game
clock will run as soon as the ball is spotted after incompletions
and changes of possession. "This is a new league," says NBC
Sports spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard. "It's a work in progress."
God, how I miss the Mattel electronic handheld football game that
any normal (which is to say, completely maladjusted) 10-year-old
boy played pretty much nonstop for all of 1977. That year, for
the first time in history, television viewing actually
declined--by 6.4% from '76--and the reason is obvious: The
electronic gaming age had arrived, led by a battery-operated
wonderment that was smaller than a book of LifeSavers.
If you don't know what a book of LifeSavers is, you probably
missed out on Mattel Football, a trailblazing marvel that was
little more than an LED screen on which players were represented
by glowing red hyphens. You could move the brightest hyphen, the
ballcarrier, up and down and forward by furiously clicking
buttons with your right thumb. The object, of course, was to
elude the defensive red hyphens pursuing you. When you scored--or
gave up the ball on downs--you handed the game to your friend
Kevin Sundem for his turn. It was brilliant.
One Thursday night my big brother Tom and I were banished to our
bedroom before The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour came on. We would, alas,
miss Raymond J. Johnson Jr. and his killer "You can call me Ray,
or you can call me Jay" routine. So, when I scored the winning
touchdown on Mattel that night (an event always punctuated by an
electronic bugling of "Charge!"), Tom could no longer bear life's
unfairness and punched a hole in our bedroom wall. We were both
stunned. His arm went in all the way up to his shoulder. We
covered the hole with a Farrah poster and--after a terrifying
eternity listening for Dad's footfalls, which never came--giggled
ourselves to sleep. --Steve Rushin
Broadband Sports, the parent company of AthletesDirect.com,
which operates the home pages of more than 300 sports figures,
including Kobe Bryant, Brandi Chastain and Derek Jeter. The
pages will still be viewable but won't be updated unless the
athletes do so themselves.
Fusaichi Pegasus and Irish mare Name of Love, at Ashford Stud
near Versailles, Ky., on Valentine's Day. It was the first
pairing for the 2000 Kentucky Derby winner, whose stud rights
went for $60 million last year. He has at least 100 more dates
lined up in 2001.
Made-for-TV head-to-head matches between LPGA phenom Karrie
Webb and four top male golfers. She'll play New Zealand's
Michael Campbell on his home turf, Nick Faldo in England, John
Daly in the U.S. and an Australian player yet to be determined.
Referee Oliver Wood, 46, of Newnan, Ga., with aggravated
assault and bringing a weapon onto school property, after he
allegedly slashed coach Jerry Sweeney with a knife at a
basketball tournament for seven- and eight-year-olds in
Fayetteville, Ga. Police say Wood, a Baptist minister, took
issue when Sweeney, a Fulton County marshal, complained about
Wood's refereeing. Sweeney received 17 stitches in his left arm.
Wood's lawyer says the charges have no merit.
By Dutch police, an unidentified 20-year- old hacker from
Sneek, Holland, who claimed responsibility for last week's
worldwide computer virus. Asked why he linked the virus to a
photo of tennis vixen Anna Kournikova, the man said, "I am a big
fan of hers. She deserves some attention, doesn't she?" Sneek
mayor Siebold Hartkamp says he wants to hire the lad to work on
the city's computers.
Leggo My Logo
Last week Fox Sports executives found themselves caught up in an
unexpected flap with NASCAR over race car logos. During Fox's
Feb. 11 telecast of the Budweiser Shootout, the network showed
digital animations of cars with certain sponsors' names left
off--specifically, those that had not bought ad time on the
broadcast. After protests by NASCAR, Fox backed down and agreed
not to do the selective editing again. But the whole to-do got
us wondering, what would the sports world look like if all
commercial logos were removed?
Divorce, American style: Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez (below) is
being sued by his ex, Hilda Maria Fiallo, for nearly $8,000 a
month in child support. Ordonez and Fiallo were divorced in
Havana on July 8, 1993, and a Cuban court awarded Fiallo
$1.50--yes, $1.50--a month in support for the couple's only
child, Rey Jr. Four days later Ordonez defected to the U.S.
during the World University Games. The shortstop signed a
four-year, $19 million contract with New York in 2000, which is
why Fiallo, who defected last year with Rey Jr., now eight,
wants to renegotiate. Although Ordonez has been voluntarily
giving Fiallo $6,250 a month since November, Fiallo says she
needs more because she doesn't speak English and can't work.
Another twist: Ordonez is now married to Fiallo's stepsister,
Everyone wants a Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight. But who's going
to get to stage it: HBO, Showtime or Hollywood? Director Steven
Soderbergh wants to make a Las Vegas bout between Lewis and
Tyson the backdrop for the heist at the heart of his upcoming
Ocean's Eleven remake, which will star George Clooney, Brad
Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts. Neither fighter has
committed yet. Filming began last week....
Actor Stephen Baldwin is sponsoring a 24-year-old boxer named
Meagan McBain, who made her pro debut last Friday in Atlantic
City. The two met four months ago in New York City's Grand
Havana Room cigar lounge. "What impressed me was her cool," says
Baldwin. "She looks like a descendant of Rocky Marciano." The
similarity may end with looks: McBain fought to a four-round
draw against Norma Galloway, who'd been TKO'd in her only other
fight by 38-year-old Jacqui (daughter of Smokin' Joe)
Fine levied by the NBA on Grizzlies exec Dick Versace after he
said the Raptors will soon be in the same dire financial straits
as Vancouver is.
Jaguars owned by tennis star Jan-Michael Gambill, 23, who has
signed to endorse the automaker.
Amount Craig Kellogg of New Berlin, Wis., made on eBay selling
photos of the teenager who accused Mark Chmura of sexual assault
before the auction site pulled the sale.
Consecutive games, through Monday, in which Wisconsin basketball
players Mike Kelley, Andy Kowske and Mark Vershaw had all
Days before the Feb. 28 U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier in
Columbus, Ohio, that a crew from Mexican TV network Televisa
arrived in the city to begin reporting on the match.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
At the United Center streamers were shot off and Another One
Bites the Dust was played over speakers after the Bulls snapped
their club-record 16-game losing streak.
On Lakers coach Phil Jackson's gifts to him of Nietzsche's Ecce
Homo and Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha in consecutive years: "Why
do I always get the Harvard books?"