PICK AN MVP, ANY MVP
The American League is chock-full of candidates this season
Let's begin with the premise that the American League's MVP
should come from what was not only the winningest team in the
league this year but also the winningest team in the history of
the league. Then we have to ask: Who's the MVP of the Mariners,
Ichiro Suzuki or Bret Boone?
Start, as Seattle does, with the leadoff hitter. Suzuki won the
batting title (.350), set a rookie record for hits (242),
finished first in stolen bases (56) and second in runs (127), and
deserves a Gold Glove for his defense in rightfield. So, just as
Barry Bonds is the obvious pick in the National League, Suzuki
must be his league's MVP, right? Wrong.
Suzuki's primary value is as a catalyst, a table setter. In this
role he isn't extraordinary, as evidenced by his .381 on-base
percentage, 14th in the league, including a poor .307 with none
out and no one on. Rickey Henderson, the last leadoff hitter to
win an MVP award, for the A's in 1990, had a .441 on-base
percentage that year. As for slugging percentage, Suzuki ranks a
lowly 39th. How many outfielders have won the MVP without placing
in the top 10 in either category? Zero.
October 14, 2001
So the MVP must be Boone. The Mariners were worried about their
offense this spring after losing Alex Rodriguez, but Boone picked
up where A-Rod left off. Batting mostly third or fifth, he drove
in 141 runs, tops in the league, while hitting .331. Upon closer
inspection, though, Boone had a whopping 202 at bats with runners
in scoring position and hit a bit worse in those situations
(.302). A great season, but a serendipitous one, too.
Maybe our premise was wrong. After all, no Yankee finished first
or second in MVP voting in any of New York's four recent
world-championship seasons. That opens the door for a lot of
The Indians have three. Jim Thome led Cleveland in homers,
slugging and on-base percentage--but he was a nonfactor in the
first two months of the season (.247 average), was neutralized by
lefthanders (.232, four home runs) and far too often failed to
make contact (185 whiffs). Juan Gonzalez had 140 RBIs, but he
batted .271 in the late innings of close games, missed 22 games
and DH'd in 21 others. "He takes days off," says one scout.
"Robbie Alomar is the glue of that team." Indeed, Alomar played
his usual incomparable defense at second base, hit .424 with
runners in scoring position and had a .415 on-base percentage.
He'd be a terrific choice for MVP--were it not for A's first
baseman Jason Giambi.
Giambi led the league in slugging and on-base percentage. Since
the MVP award was instituted in 1931, 10 of the 15 players who
did that for a postseason-bound team have won it. Giambi got on
base 32 more times than Suzuki. He had 89 fewer at bats than
Boone with runners in scoring position but had only 21 fewer
RBIs. He had 21 more extra-base hits and 20 more RBIs than
Giambi hit in the clutch (.354 with runners in scoring position,
.355 late in close games) and hit consistently (19 homers, 60
RBIs before the All-Star break; 19 and 60 after). He's also the
spiritual leader of a team that adopted his hang-loose philosophy
while rescuing its season with a 58-17 record after the All-Star
break. No player contributed more to a playoff-bound team. That's
why the search for the American League MVP isn't really that
difficult. It leads right back to where it ended last year: with
Giambi as the winner. --Tom Verducci
Things are getting somber in Happy Valley, where Penn State coach
Joe Paterno has been stuck on 322 career wins--one short of Bear
Bryant's Division I-A record--since last November. The Nittany
Lions are 0-4 for the first time, with formidable Northwestern
and Ohio State coming up. If JoePa can't get Penn State
untracked, he could be beaten to Bear's mark by Florida State
coach Bobby Bowden, who has 318 wins. Paterno isn't the first
sports figure whose wait to reach a milestone turned into a
weight around his neck.
White Sox pitcher Early Wynn entered the 1962 season with 292
career wins and seemed a lock to reach 300 that year. But after
Wynn amassed a 7-12 record to reach 299 wins on Sept. 8, he
dropped his last three decisions. He didn't get number 300 until
July 13 of the following year, pitching for the Indians. Wynn
finished 1-2 for Cleveland and retired with exactly 300
That number is also a benchmark for catchers: Only three had hit
300 home runs before Gary Carter of the Mets did it in 1988. He
swatted number 299 on May 16 and then didn't hit another for 225
at bats over nearly three months before belting number 300.
Jimmie Foxx's dry spell, between 499 and 500 homers, wasn't as
long. Still, it represented a tortuous span for a slugger who
had averaged a round-tripper every 14.2 at bats when the 1940
season started. Foxx belted number 499 on Sept. 4. It took him
20 days to reach 500, which is what he finished the year with.
Sometimes No. 1 is the toughest mark to reach. Golfer Bobby
Wadkins failed to win an event in 712 attempts on the PGA Tour,
from 1975 to 2001. He holds the record for most Tour earnings
(more than $2.8 million) without a win. Wadkins, though, found
new life at 50: In August he won in his first time out on the
Then there are the guys who come up just short. On Sept. 24,
Tuffy Rhodes of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes tied Sadaharu Oh's
Japanese single-season record of 55 home runs. Alas, in the final
five games he failed to bag number 56. Seems Tuffy, an ex-Cub,
will have to wait till next year. Paterno, who doesn't have a
patsy on his schedule, might have to do the same.
Trading in Hate
Running back Rod Smart, a.k.a. the XFL's He Hate Me, signed with
the Eagles last week, marking the latest high note in his
dizzyingly up-and-down career. Here's a glance at how Smart's
stock has fared over the years:
Nov. 20, 1999
Standout senior tailback for Western Kentucky finishes season
with Ohio Valley Conference-leading 1,249 rushing yards.
April 16, 2000
Passed over in NFL draft.
Oct. 28, 2000
Las Vegas Outlaws select him with 357th pick in XFL draft.
Feb. 3, 2001
15 million viewers watch as XFL begins play and NBC focuses on
Smart's jersey, which has HE HATE ME emblazoned on it.
May 10, 2001
Aug. 14, 2001
Signs with Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL; plays vs. B.C. Lions
three days later, returning five kickoffs and two punts for 93
Aug. 22, 2001
Released by Eskimos.
Oct. 2, 2001
Signed by the Eagles. Says Smart, "I was always prepared for
The Hingis Jinx
A European temptress leaves behind a string of boyfriends who
discover that their careers are in peril after their encounters
with the woman. This week's episode of Law and Order? No, just
the romantic resume of tennis's black widow, Martina Hingis. To
Justin Gimelstob PRE-MARTINA Promising U.S. prospect who turned
pro at age 19 in 1996 and broke into the top 100 by July '97
DATED MARTINA Summer '97 POST-MARTINA Plummeted to 138
Julian Alonso PRE-MARTINA Hard-hitting Spaniard who broke into
top 40 at beginning of 1998 DATED MARTINA Summer '98 POST-MARTINA
Finished '98 at 106; now unranked and suffering from a chronic
Ivo Heuberger PRE-MARTINA No. 2 player in Switzerland rose to 125
in world rankings in '98 DATED MARTINA Summer '99 POST-MARTINA
Finished '99 at 219
Magnus Norman PRE-MARTINA Consistent top 10 player DATED MARTINA
Most of 2000 POST-MARTINA Dropped out of top 30; now sidelined
with back injury
Chris Calkin PRE-MARTINA Up-and-coming assistant state attorney
in Florida's Dade County; assigned to high-profile Hingis
stalking case earlier this year DATED MARTINA April '01 to
present NOW Accused of unethical conduct and conflict of interest
by lawyer for convicted stalker Dubravko Rajcevic, due to
Calkin's relationship with Hingis. (Calkin said he and Hingis
began dating after the case; a circuit judge ruled Rajcevic's
conviction will stand.)
High fashion sports gear
It's every surfer's dream: bright sun, low winds, big swells, a
$2,400 Gucci board under your arm. All right, maybe not every
surfer's dream, but for riders looking to make fashion waves,
Gucci and other haute couturiers can help. Yes, the world of
high fashion has discovered the lure of adventure sports. Trendy
skateboarders can now ride on a $450 Burberry deck (below,
right), chic climbers can outfit themselves in Chanel's $195
helmet and $640 mountaineering boots, and fashionable skiers can
strap on $520 Pradas. As Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld says,
"Fashion is no longer restricted to suits, dresses and evening
Why has the glamour class gone for the pret-a-sporter look?
Adventure sports apparently have become culturally hip enough to
attract the attention of the fashion elite. As Paulene Hsia, a
lecturer in fashion retailing at the Institute of Textiles and
Clothing at Hong Kong's Polytechnic University, told the South
China Morning Post, "To be seen as a brand on the cutting edge,
fashion houses have to tap into existing trends and culture.
Brands are increasingly into lifestyle marketing."
In short, expect to see more jock gear along the lines of Gucci's
$1,020 kickboxing gloves and Chanel's $1,250 snowboard (below,
left). Can a BMX by YSL be far behind?
Washington Post metropolitan reporter Michael Leahy, to cover
Michael Jordan on a daily basis for the paper. According to the
job description, the paper hopes for "an account of a season
that will be truly great journalism and that will distinguish
The Post among all the authors and writers who have and who will
write about Jordan."
By Allen Iverson, the release of his rap CD, because of the
negative reaction to his single 40 Bars, whose lyrics were seen
as misogynist and homophobic. Said Iverson of the album, the
release of which had been put off twice, "I feel like people took
it the wrong way, and it kind of took all the excitement out of
England soccer captain David Beckham, from wearing a
stars-and-stripes armband, as a gesture of support for the
victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, during his country's World Cup
qualifier against Greece last Saturday. FIFA, soccer's governing
body, said it would have been an inappropriate political
statement. Beckham dedicated his last-minute goal, which put
England into the World Cup, to the U.S.
To the New York Public Library, the manuscript of Jack
Kerouac's On the Road, which Colts owner Jim Irsay bought at
auction in May for $2.43 million. Irsay says he'll give the
scroll to the library if Kerouac fans raise $2.5 million to aid
victims of last month's attacks.
By Georgia Tech, a suit against Salt Lake City's Triple A
baseball team over the ball club's use of the nickname Buzz,
which Georgia Tech had trademarked for its mascot. The
university spent more than $700,000 to win a $600,000
settlement from the team, which has been renamed the Stingers.
The Fatburger chain of West Coast restaurants, by an investment
group led by Magic Johnson.
The Inquiring Photographer
We visited Detroit's Comerica Park last Saturday for the
afternoon doubleheader between the hapless Tigers (65-94, 24
1/2 games out in the AL Central) and the hopeless Royals (63-96,
26 1/2 games out) to ask some of the estimated 2,500 fans on
hand the all-important question:
What the hell are you doing here?
"We hadn't been to Comerica Park before. It's beautiful. Plus, we
had discount tickets." --Hing Wong, 37, St. Clair Shores, Mich.
"There's, like, nothing to do today, and I have no homework this
weekend." --Jason Leineke, 12, Grosse Pointe, Mich.
"You've got tickets, you don't throw them in the garbage, you
know." --Bill McDonald, 71, Battle Creek, Mich.
"I had a ticket for a game that was rained out in April." --Louise
Cross, 78, Detroit
"We had tickets as part of a church group. We had 25 originally,
but only five came." --Casaundra Williams, 31, Saginaw, Mich.
"They're the closest team to our house." --Alex Potter, 13,
"Hey, the sun was shining, so we said, 'What the heck.'"
--Carrie Armstrong, 37, with her father, Ellsworth Anderson,
87, Dearborn, Mich.
"I have season tickets. I'm using the ticket up." --Leon Taylor,
"It's something to do on a Saturday." --Don Dolinski, 69,
Rochester Hills, Mich.
"I wanted to take my little brother to a game so he could collect
autographs. We came to a late-season game because if only 10
people are here, he has a better chance."
--Daniel Baker, 20, with his brother Mike, 12, Walled Lake, Mich.
Strange to say, but the hottest place for a Hollywood celebrity
or a sports star to be seen these days is ground zero. Everyone
from Muhammad Ali to Elizabeth Taylor has visited the site of the
World Trade Center disaster, ostensibly to help raise the spirits
of rescue workers. The celeb traffic has gotten so heavy that
city officials have sent out a plea requesting that famous faces
keep away. Says Richard Sheirer, director of the New York City
Mayor's Office of Emergency Management, "They think they're
helping, but in some instances you should not be distracting
these people." That hasn't stopped stars from pulling whatever
strings they can to get a close-up view of the devastation. Lance
Armstrong arrived via helicopter with Bill Clinton. Don King
somehow gained access and took a tour. Reggie Jackson was at
first stymied in his attempts to visit, but a quick call to New
York governor George Pataki's office fixed that. Then again, not
everyone could muster enough pull to get downtown: The Amazing
Kreskin was turned away.... At a benefit roast of Washington Post
sportswriter Tony Kornheiser last week, the columnist turned to
Hillary Clinton and gushed about his feelings for her. "I've had
a crush on Senator Clinton (above) for a long time," said
Kornheiser. "She's smart and sexy." For her part, Clinton
recalled that when she was asked to participate in the roast,
which raised $400,000 for spina bifida research, her initial
response was, "Who the heck is Tony Kornheiser?"... New York
Giants center Dusty Zeigler is a popular guy these days, and it
has nothing to do with his play. His cousin April Zeigler, a
senior at Georgia, appears in the October issue of Playboy in the
"Girls of the SEC" feature. ("April, a health promotion major,
enjoys skiing on water or snow.") Says Dusty, "I'm big-time now.
All [my teammates] want to come to my family reunion--even the
Cost to attend the Wizards' intrasquad scrimmage on Oct.
9--attendees had to purchase a season ticket to home basketball
games of UNC-Wilmington, where Michael Jordan and his teammates
were holding preseason camp.
Amount Ray Lewis, Shannon Sharpe, Tony Siragusa and Rod Woodson
were each paid by NFL Films to make themselves available to be
interviewed by HBO for its documentary series Hard Knocks on the
Ravens' training camp.
Years that Helen Robinson served as the Red Sox' telephone
operator until she died last week at age 85.
Position of Miami in MIT astrophysicist Wes Colley's college
football computer ranking, one of eight used in the BCS
formula; he has the Hurricanes four spots behind Middle
Tennessee State and 23 below their AP rank.
"You've got tickets, you don't throw them in the garbage."
They Said It
Middleweight champ, asking his agent to get him more body ads for
future fights like the temporary tattoo for an online casino he
had on his back during his Sept. 29 bout with Felix Trinidad: "I
want you to do me like NASCAR."