Baseball may have blundered into its best idea in years:
Oh, this baseball commissioner is a political smoothie. For the
grand opening of his daughter's new ballpark in Milwaukee in
April, Bud Selig invited President Bush to throw out the first
pitch, but the former Texas Rangers owner ended up throwing out
the second first pitch. The Budman reserved the first first pitch
for himself. Smooth. Then late last month, as the Florida
legislature was preparing to vote on a tax bill to fund a new
ballpark for the Marlins, Selig wrote a letter to State Senator
Alex Villalobos of Miami, warning that the Marlins "cannot and
will not survive in South Florida without a new stadium." Selig
predicted one of two dire outcomes should the bill fail: The
Marlins would move or fold.
Can't you just see all those big ol' Florida pols holding out
their bourbons and cigars with stiff arms as they let loose a big
ol' shudder? What makes Selig think any sane taxpayer would be
willing to bail out a baseball team these days? Particularly a
mediocre one with a history of mercurial ownership, playing in a
sweltering climate ill-suited to the summer game? Selig's threat
was emptier than the Marlins' upper deck. Last Friday the Florida
senate adjourned without voting on the stadium plan, effectively
letting it die.
During the labor battles of the early 1990s, Selig and the other
Lords of Baseball, suffering acutely from NBA envy, kept talking
about the importance of "growing the game." Of course, there was
no widespread public clamoring to grow the game. The owners
didn't care. Hundreds of millions of dollars were to be made in
expansion franchise fees. As a result there are two pointless
teams in Florida, another in Arizona.
Along the way, baseball's symmetry was trashed. Now we--we, who
pay for it all--have four five-team divisions, one six-team
division and one four-team division. We had balanced schedules;
now we have unbalanced schedules. We have wild-card teams. We
have a first-round playoff called ... what is that round called
again? Baseball stole a page from the NBA business plan, all
right. Before we knew it, baseball's long season had been
Now Selig threatens to close down "franchises" for the health of
his "industry." He talks about "contraction." He may have arrived
at his first good idea--unwittingly, of course. The real debate is
whether baseball was better with 24 teams or 16. With fewer clubs
and fewer players and better pitching, ordinary fans might
actually want to follow a baseball season again. They might
actually care. --Michael Bamberger
The Weakest Links: Teams Least Likely to Be Missed
MLB Expos. Drew fewer than 5,000 fans on three straight nights
last week; new indoor lacrosse franchise would be serious threat.
NBA Clippers. Pathetic .353 franchise winning percentage; zero
playoff series victories since 1976, when they were Buffalo
NFL Cardinals. One postseason win in last 53 years; largest
crowd every season flocks to Sun Devil Stadium to root for
NHL Hurricanes. Tobacco Road fans would rather watch NASCAR:
Averaged 69% of capacity, far below league average of 90%, in 82
home games over past two seasons.
DEAD MAN HAWKING
For such an artful ballplayer, Lou Gehrig was a clumsy pitchman.
During an appearance on Robert Ripley's Believe It Or Not radio
program in the late 1930s, Gehrig, who had a $1,000 contract to
endorse Huskies cereal, was asked how he began each day. "With a
big bowl of Wheaties!" Gehrig replied, touting Huskies' chief
breakfast table rival.
If Gehrig's skills as an endorser are still lacking, it's no
longer his fault. This week the French telecommunications firm
Alcatel will begin airing a 30-second television spot featuring a
digitally altered version of Gehrig's famed farewell address at
Yankee Stadium. As it did in its current, highly controversial ad
in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I Have a Dream"
speech to an empty National Mall in Washington, D.C., Alcatel has
manipulated the Gehrig footage to show the Iron Horse proclaiming
himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth" in front of a
Not surprisingly, critics are irate about the commercial
appropriation of one of sport's touchstone moments. "Gehrig is a
hero who stood for something much greater than selling modems,"
says Gary Ruskin, executive director of the progressive watchdog
group Commercial Alert. "Alcatel is cheapening this moment by
turning it into a commercial property that's no different from
the Taco Bell chihuahua."
Alcatel and its ad agency, Arnold Worldwide, maintain that both
the Gehrig and the King spots are intended to "extol these
individuals, honor their memories and protect their integrity,"
says Arnold senior vice president Jim McGinn. As for the Gehrig
estate, which had to approve the use of the footage, executor
George Pollack says the six-figure rights fee Alcatel paid will
be applied to various charities, including research on Lou
One advantage to using historical figures in commercials, of
course, is that dead legends, unlike their living counterparts,
are immune to new scandal. Critics, however, would argue that
exploiting these revered figures to sell products, with no sense
of whether those personalities would or would not have consented
to it, is a scandal in itself. "I find it ludicrous to connect
Gehrig's speech with a telecommunications outfit," says Gehrig
biographer Ray Robinson. "This is baseball's Gettysburg Address.
It ought to be sacrosanct." --Daniel G. Habib
Quest for Fire
The Salt Lake Winter Games are looking for 11,500 good
torch-bearers for their 13,500-mile, 46-state Olympic torch
relay. You can nominate a worthy candidate (including yourself)
by writing a 100-word essay on the theme "Light the Fire Within"
and submitting it to saltlake2002.com by May 15. Here's how we
envision a few essays by sports figures.
Andre Rison "I would like to nominate my ex-girlfriend Lisa (Left
Eye) Lopes. In 1994 she lit the fire within my suburban Atlanta
mansion. Burned the place to the ground."
Mike Tyson "My former promoter Don King would be a splendid
choice. He was inspirational to me because he showed that a
convicted felon and hellraiser could still achieve stupendous
greatness. Just watch that he doesn't walk off with your torch."
Tom Hicks "As owner of the Texas Rangers, I can think of no
better candidate than my new shortstop, Alex Rodriguez. This fine
young man has suffered through the turmoil of a 2,000-mile
relocation, sacrificing what now looks to be a probable playoff
spot (not to mention Seattle's excellent coffee)."
Sergei Fedorov "I nominate Miss Anna Kournikova. So many of my
fellow athletes carry a torch for her that I think she should
return the favor."
Jason Williams "Yo, check out my man Isaiah Rider. Like, playa
knows how to light it up, if you know what I mean."
Mark Cuban (e-mail No. 257) "Here's another great idea: portable
DVD players for all 11,500 torchbearers! If I'm included, that
is. Oh, and can I ride in the bobsled?;)"
More than 60 years after he captured America's imagination, the
charismatic thoroughbred Seabiscuit is again making a late
charge. His improbable resurgence began two months ago with the
publication of Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit: An American
Legend, chronicling the tale of the rags-to-riches horse who beat
Triple Crown winner War Admiral in a famous 1938 match race. The
critically acclaimed book has been a surprise success, topping
The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for seven weeks. In
Hollywood a bidding war erupted for the movie rights; Universal
won out by committing more than $1 million. PBS's American
Experience has begun work on a documentary about the horse, and a
toy company, Beyer, is even considering producing a plastic
Seabiscuit figure. Meanwhile, Seabiscuit items on eBay have
become hotter than Churchill Downs in August. A recording of the
calls of two of the horse's races, previously valued at $15 to
$20, recently sold for $270.
Hillenbrand, who may write a children's book about the horse, has
been asked to participate in three documentaries and a Seabiscuit
play. "Seabiscuit was enormous then, and he's enormous now for
the same reason: He's the ultimate underdog," says Hillenbrand.
"The owner, trainer and jockey are also great underdog stories.
Those are universally appealing no matter when you tell them."
Q Why aren't there more female race car drivers?
A Unlike other sports, racing doesn't put as much of a premium
on physical attributes, like size and strength, in which men
enjoy an advantage over women. So blame society. Girls just
aren't encouraged to develop an interest in trading paint. "I
was odd," says IRL driver Sarah Fisher (left), 20, who finished
second in the Infiniti Grand Prix in Homestead, Fla., last
month. "My parents were both into racing, so they passed it on
Even if a woman has desire and talent, marketers aren't beating
down the doors to sponsor a female driver. Shawna Robinson, who's
attempting to become the first woman to qualify for a Winston Cup
race since 1989, has tried for two years to land a sponsor who'll
support a full season on either the Winston Cup or the Busch
Grand National circuit. "I've had sponsors say, 'Sure, you'll get
us a lot of attention, but there's no other woman out there, so
this is high-risk,'" says Robinson.
Still, racing is beginning to draw more female fans, which means
it may only be a matter of time before women drivers begin having
an impact. "Go to any track on a Saturday night and a girl will
probably be competing at one of the levels," says Robinson.
"That's better than five years ago, and a lot better than five
years before that. It's slow, but we're making progress."
San Diego State and the NCAA, by Joshua and Karen Gruenberg of
San Diego, who claim they were prevented from entering Cox Arena
for a March 17 NCAA tournament regional session because they
didn't have a ticket for their daughter Sidonie, then seven
months old. They say that requiring tickets for every person,
regardless of age, discriminates against women who breastfeed
By the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, the Amateur Sports
Integrity Act, which would ban betting (even in Nevada) on
Olympic, college and high school sports. The bill, which now
moves to the full Senate, contains an amendment exempting office
A Canadian newspaper ad for Mennen Speed Stick after it ran
once during the Devils-Maple Leafs playoff series. The ad
depicted a map of New Jersey, a deodorant container and the text
"Unfortunately there are some smells even we can't do anything
about. Go Leafs Go." A spokesman for Colgate-Palmolive, Mennen's
parent corporation, said the ad "does not reflect the global
values of the company."
By Elmwood College in Cupar, Scotland, what is thought to be
the first academic credential in caddying. Students will undergo
40 hours of class instruction on etiquette and customer care and
be evaluated during 30 rounds of golf.
One home game from the schedule of reigning Italian Serie A
soccer champion Lazio, for racism and anti-Semitism by its fans
during an April 29 game with crosstown rival AS Roma. Lazio
supporters booed and taunted Roma's black players and held up
offensive banners targeting Roma's Jewish fans.
Ben Bentley, 81, Chicago sports fixture and longtime moderator
of the cult favorite The Sportswriters on TV.
Ken Iwamoto, 28, a native of Asahikawa, Japan, is the interpreter
for Mets outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Iwamoto (right), a former
minor league trainer, learned English nine years ago. This is his
first job as a translator.
How do you translate: word for word or more for meaning?
I'm an editor. I don't change the meaning of what Shinjo says,
but if I directly translated him, it would sound awkward. I try
to find the best word or phrase to express an idea. To translate
correctly I have to read minds, so to speak.
What's the toughest part of translating for Shinjo?
Conveying his character to the American press. He's very
friendly. The first day at Shea, he hit a home run, and we had a
press conference. Shinjo was really funny, cracking jokes to the
Japanese press. I wanted the American press to understand, too.
But he's not really a hot dog?
No. I didn't even know the meaning of hot dog until this year. We
never use hot dog in Japan. It's an American baseball word.
Have you ever been at a loss for a word?
In spring training Shinjo said he wanted to be shitsukoi. I
couldn't think of how to translate it, so I kind of made it up.
I said, "I'm going to use all my utilities and try to make the
pitchers confused." Then I went to the Japanese-English
dictionary and looked up shitsukoi and found that it translates
How much of your job is helping Shinjo adjust to America?
A lot. Take fans. In Japan players keep away from fans, so at
first he had a hard time signing autographs for such a long time
every day or having his picture taken with fans.
Do you go out together?
Shinjo doesn't go out often, but sometimes we'll walk around or
go to Starbucks. Shinjo likes Starbucks coffee. He likes caramel
macchiato. He's Americanizing himself pretty easily.
Is his English improving?
Definitely. He's not afraid to make mistakes. Like caramel
macchiato. That's hard to pronounce for the Japanese, so he keeps
saying, "caramel macchiato, caramel macchiato," over and over.
Bobby Valentine managed for a year in the Japanese leagues. How
much Japanese does he know?
More than we think, so we can't really talk behind his back. But
he and Shinjo really understand each other. Shinjo likes to ask
funny questions. One morning he was eating a doughnut, and Bobby
came into the clubhouse. Shinjo asked him in Japanese, "How many
doughnuts...do you think a fat woman can eat...at the same
time?" Bobby just smiled.
For everyone who got a kick out of the thought of Kobe Bryant
pulling a Richard Hatch, we've got news for you: It ain't gonna
happen. More than a few ears perked up last week after CBS
president Leslie Moonves said he's considering a celebrity
version of Survivor and that he had lined up some potential
contestants, including Bryant (below), who, Moonves said, "has
expressed an interest." Others supposedly ready to go before the
tribal council were Ray Romano and Kate Hudson. But Bryant told
SI, "That's way off. I haven't considered it." A network
spokesman confirmed a celeb Survivor is being discussed but said
no participants have been considered. As for how Moonves came up
with Bryant's name, the spokesman couldn't say, but an insider
noted that Bryant's agent, Arn Tellem, is married to CBS
Entertainment president Nancy Tellem. If Moonves wants
suggestions on sports figures to dump in the wilderness, we
could come up with a few names...
Michael Sokolove's story on Darryl Strawberry for the April 15
New York Times Magazine will become a book. Simon & Schuster is
paying Sokolove a reported $250,000 to recount Strawberry's
troubles and to trace the lives of his former teammates at
L.A.'s Crenshaw High...
Nike's Freestyle ad takes several cues from the Broadway musical
Stomp. Now Freestyle will be transformed into--what else?--a
Broadway musical. Ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, which created the
spot, and commercial production company @radical.media are
producing Ball, a hoops-themed stage show. Ball was conceived
five years ago by Wieden & Kennedy copywriter Jimmy Smith, and
Freestyle came out of the musical's development. Tony-winner
Savion Glover will choreograph, and musical contributors will
include Bootsy Collins. "It's based on Sophocles's Antigone but
set in a contemporary court," says Jon Kamen, president of
@radical. Ball is slated to open in spring 2002.
Fine imposed by Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon on any player
whose cell phone rings in the clubhouse.
XFL players, of the 400 in the league, who opted out of their
two-year contracts, freeing them to sign with other leagues.
Amount English soccer power Manchester United agreed to pay the
club Preston North End for the rights to 12-year-old prodigy
Balls hit by Barry Bonds into the Allegheny River at
Pittsburgh's PNC Park during batting practice on May 1; no
shots have yet hit the water on the fly during a game.
Round in which the White Sox took A's starting second baseman
Frank Menechino in the 1993 draft, two rounds after then Chicago
general manager Ron Schueler had selected his daughter Carey.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Cheryl Reeves, 19, of Levittown, Pa., is suing her former
softball pitching coach for more than $100,000, claiming, among
other things, that she suffered anguish and the loss of earning
capacity because he taught her an illegal pitch.
Former Formula One champion, on high-tech innovations: "Today a
monkey could drive an F/1 car. Although I don't know how fast he
could drive it."