FOUR TITLES AND OUT
Larry Dierker discovers that when you lose the players, your job
As soon as the Braves swept the Astros out of the National
League Division Series, talk began in the Houston clubhouse
about manager Larry Dierker. This season Dierker became the
first skipper to win four division titles in his first five
years, and the Astros' 93 wins tied them with the Cardinals for
the most in the league. Dierker's .553 career winning percentage
is the best in franchise history. So the postgame speculation
centered on how long a contract extension he'd get, right? Not
exactly. "Whatever happens," second baseman Craig Biggio said
that day, "it's not going to be fair."
Fair? No. But it was hardly surprising when Dierker lost his job
last week. (Though technically he resigned, he clearly got a firm
shove from the front office.) With wild cards and new divisional
alignments allowing twice as many teams to make the postseason as
a decade ago, getting there is no longer enough. Winning a round
is a must, especially when, like Dierker, you managed what many
observers considered the most talented team in the National
League this season. Dierker didn't come close to doing that. The
Astros were 2-12 in the playoffs under him.
Dierker's case illustrates another plight of the modern manager:
Success on the field means nothing without support in the
clubhouse. Casey Stengel said the key to managing was keeping
the 10 players who hated you away from the rest of the club, but
that rule no longer applies. These days the ones who hate you
win out every time. Quirky and iconoclastic, Dierker infuriated
many Astros with his media candor (including criticizing
players) and his unconventional strategic moves (as when he
broke his seasonlong pattern and brought in Mike Jackson instead
of Octavio Dotel against Atlanta late in Game 1). It was no
secret around league batting cages that the Astros were less
than fond of their manager--most people assumed he'd be axed
after last season, when Houston finished fourth in its
division--and last week Dierker acknowledged he had lost his
team. "I wasn't able to get the players to do some of the things
I wanted them to do," he said. "Mostly because they said, 'I
don't think that's the right thing to do, and I'm not going to
do it.' They didn't say it to my face, but that's the way they
October 29, 2001
Of course, it's the players' actions on the field that have led
to the Astros' futility, and that's the trap for a skipper these
days: You're at the mercy of your players. As Dierker said at his
farewell press conference, "I think fans believe the manager has
more power than he really does." --Stephen Cannella
Managers with the best records* never to reach the World Series
Astros, 1997-2001, 448-362 (.553) Despite seven trips to
playoffs--four with Dierker--Houston has never won a postseason
Senators and Indians, 1929-35, 529-432 (.550) Hall of Famer
never got closer than second (Washington in '30) as skipper.
Pirates and Cubs, seven seasons between 1920 and '34, 413-344
(.546) Couldn't take Bucs squads led by Hall of Fame third
baseman Pie Traynor to big dance.
Blue Jays and Red Sox, 1986-89, 1997-2001, 695-593 (.540) Four
trips to the Fall Classic as assistant to Atlanta's Bobby Cox
have yet to pay dividends.
Giants and Cubs, 1965-68, 1977-79, 605-521 (.537) His San
Francisco teams were bridesmaids four straight seasons.
*Minimum 750 regular season games.
PLAYOFFS ON TV
Curt Schilling may be unhittable, but in the first round of the
playoffs he failed to retire a single Fox prime-time show.
Despite the network's $2.5 billion deal for exclusive rights to
playoff games through 2006, viewers tuning in to Fox for Game 1
of the St. Louis-Arizona division series found themselves staring
at the soapy reality series Love Cruise. Schilling's three-hit
shutout over St. Louis, like seven other playoff games, was on
the Fox Family Channel--an odd marriage between playoff baseball
and a channel that later this month serves up an Olsen twins
"It's strange from the perspective of thinking about playoff
games on a kids' channel," says sports marketing analyst Dean
Bonham, "but it's not so strange when you consider that it's a
channel that's important to Fox. This is a trend you'll continue
One of three Fox cable channels (along with FX and Fox Sports
Net), Fox Family reaches 83.8 million households, slightly fewer
than ESPN (85.2 million) but more than Fox Sports Net (77.0
million). Because of contractual obligations to air college
football and the NHL, Fox Sports Net wasn't available for
division series games. Fox officials say Fox Family was the
better option anyhow. "It wasn't a hard decision to put games on
our most widely distributed cable channel," says Fox Sports
spokesman Lou D'Ermilio. "We trust that with the aid of the
remote control, viewers could find the games."
It's safe to say baseball brought plenty of first-time visitors
to Fox Family. When Bob Costas dropped by the booth during the
Cardinals-Diamondbacks series, he wondered aloud if Suzanne
Somers's Thighmaster infomercial was part of the net's
programming. Still, Fox Family division series ratings were down
only slightly from games on ESPN last year, and the playoffs
attracted nearly three times as many viewers as the average Fox
Family show. Those newcomers better keep the clickers handy,
though. Disney, parent of ABC and ESPN, is close to acquiring
Fox Family, and with it the cable portion of the playoff
package. --Albert Chen
Sport? Not a Sport?
This week: Long-drive competitions
SPORT "It's amazing and it's tough. Let's see you try to hit that
son of a bitch 500 yards." --Brad Miller, Bulls center
NOT A SPORT "How could anything where you stand in place be a
sport?" --Chester McGlockton, Broncos defensive tackle
SPORT "Some guys think you just have to hit the ball as hard as
you can. You have to have skill and technique." --Ricky Davis,
NOT A SPORT "You're taking something from a game and trying to
isolate it as a separate sport. It's like asking who can dunk the
best. That's not a sport." --Grant Long, Grizzlies forward
SPORT "It's not just hitting it far, it's hitting it far and
straight, and that takes talent. I hit it long, but not
straight." --Dave Andreychuk, Lightnings left wing
NOT A SPORT "If you execute well enough, you can drive the ball
a long way, but you don't see those guys on the PGA Tour."
--Derrick McKey, Pacers forward
NOT A SPORT "If a guy just grips it and rips it and gets lucky,
that's not a sport. That takes more luck than skill." --Tom Izzo,
Michigan State basketball coach
SPORT "It takes hand-eye coordination, and it requires strength,
flexibility, technique and skill. But I wouldn't pay to see it."
--Rick Fox, Lakers forward
Paging Mr. Plankton...
Sports stars attempting to avoid autograph hounds at hotels know
that John Doe just won't do, especially when a sneaky pseudonym
is available. For proof, just ask Homer Simpson (a.k.a. Charles
Barkley) or Redd Foxx (Deion Sanders). Some other aliases:
Michael Jordan Leroy Smith (the player chosen instead of MJ for
Jordan's high school varsity hoops team)
Shaquille O'Neal Vladimir Mondingo
Isiah Thomas Raquel Welch
Alex Rodriguez Pat Riley
Pat Riley Mr. Patrick
Jose Lima Jim Carrey
Alonzo Mourning Batman
Terrell Davis He DaMan
Sam Mitchell Denzel Washington
Shawn Bradley Smokey Robinson
Terry Porter Tiger Woods
Greg Vaughn Corey Genay (names of his son and daughter,
Julie Foudy Julia Gulia (Drew Barrymore's character in The
Dan Majerle Dirk Diggler (the porn star played by Mark
Wahlberg in Boogie Nights)
Robert Horry Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage's character in
Sam Perkins Sheepdog Plankton (picked at random from a phone
Halloween is around the corner, which means brightly colored
masks are in season. The NHL enlisted a number of Hollywood
celebrities to design and autograph hockey goalie masks, which
will be auctioned online, with the proceeds going to Hockey
Fights Cancer. Among the stars who participated were Drew
Barrymore and Tom Green, Pierce Brosnan, Calista Flockhart,
James Gandolfini, Mel Gibson and Ricky Martin. Here are examples
of other celebrities' work.
Grizzlies guard Jason Williams, for damage allegedly done to the
$1 million house he rented in Granite Bay, Calif., while playing
for the Kings. Owner Don Glover claims that carpets were ripped,
stained and torn, floors were damaged and fixtures were broken,
amounting to between $35,000 and $40,000 in damages. "It's worse
than if a bunch of fraternity kids had an extended party,"
Glover's lawyer, Frank Watson, told The Sacramento Bee. John
Virga, Williams's lawyer, said his client caused only "normal
wear and tear" to the house and deemed the dispute "a tempest in
James Storm, of his victory in the Rio Vista (Calif.) Bass
Festival, after he failed a lie detector test. Organizers of the
54-year-old tournament, who decided to use a polygraph to test
the champion this year, say there was a discrepancy regarding the
time Storm caught the winning fish, a 40.65-pound striped bass.
Storm, who forfeited his prize, a $19,000 fishing boat, denies
lying and has hired a lawyer to challenge his disqualification.
The shot of Michael Jordan on his 2001-02 Topps Stadium Club
card. Topps altered a 1998 shot of Jordan dunking to put him in a
Wizards uniform. MJ had yet to dunk as a Wizard when the cards
By the NHL, fireworks and other pyrotechnics, which had been a
part of pregame ceremonies for such teams as the Maple Leafs and
the Oilers. The league cited the threat to air quality and
spectators and potential damage to the ice surface.
Brittany Spears, as a member of the Sonics' dance squad. That's
Brittany, not Britney.
Do You Know Me?
Tiger Woods may be one of the most recognizable athletes in the
world, but he can still get carded. Last week Woods and Mark
O'Meara were headed to the Walt Disney World's Magnolia Course in
Lake Buena Vista, Fla., for a practice round before the National
Car Rental Classic when two guards stopped Tiger and asked for
his I.D. When Woods couldn't produce any, O'Meara said, "I think
he's won this tournament a couple of times." The guards let him
pass. It wasn't the first time a sports figure had had trouble
establishing his identity.
IDENTITY CRISIS Two weeks ago Redskins defensive back Green
arrived for a game against the Chiefs at Washington's FedEx Field
but wasn't allowed into the stadium by security because he didn't
have any I.D. Green is in his 19th season with the Skins, the
third-longest stint by a player with one team in NFL history.
That didn't matter to the guards; Green had to go back to his car
to retrieve some identification.
IDENTITY CRISIS While Sampras was on his way to a practice
session at the 1997 U.S. Open, security guard Naomi Chambers
demanded to see his identification. When Sampras ignored her and
continued walking to the court, Chambers called out again, to
which Sampras said, "I am the I.D." When told she'd tried to stop
the best player in the world, Chambers replied, "As far as I'm
concerned, the best player is dead. Arthur Ashe."
IDENTITY CRISIS In April 1999, on his way to a start against
Boston, the White Sox lefty was stopped by a Fenway Park gate
attendant because Parque's major league player I.D. had expired.
"I told him I was starting, but it didn't do any good," said
Parque. "When he said he was going to call his chief, I just
charged right in." Parque should have stayed outside: He ended up
taking the loss as Chicago fell to Boston 6-0.
IDENTITY CRISIS A new security guard at the CNN Center during the
1996 Atlanta Olympics refused to let Turner, the founder of CNN,
into the building for lack of an I.D. badge. "The guard was
performing his duty as he had been instructed to," said a Turner
spokesman. Turner, who owned the Braves and the Hawks, took the
snub in stride. He found a guard who recognized him and let him
Anthrax and sports: On Oct. 2, New York governor George Pataki
held a press conference to announce the launch of the $40 million
"I Love New York II" ad campaign. Famous faces at the event
included Robert De Niro, Liza Minnelli, Sigourney Weaver, and
sports figures Al Leiter, John McEnroe and Bobby Valentine. Two
weeks after the conference, which was held in the governor's
38th-floor midtown Manhattan offices, anthrax was detected in a
room on the 39th floor. Pataki and his staff are being treated
with antibiotics. Leiter and Valentine were reportedly to be
tested for exposure, but a spokesman for the Mets says it's a
"personal matter" and declined to say anything further. McEnroe
was unreachable for comment....
Chris Kattan will star in an as-yet-untitled feature in which
he'll play a figure skater who gets recruited to teach agility
and grace to a down-and-out NHL team. The producer of the movie
will be Robert Simonds, who produced those arthouse films Happy
Gilmore and The Waterboy. "Chris's strength is that he plays
emotionally vulnerable characters," says Simonds. "The idea is
to stick him with the most hostile, emotionally shut down,
ruthless brutes on the planet--NHL players." Wonder if they can
get Marty McSorley to costar....
Sharp-eyed sports fans watching the Game Show Network earlier
this month might have noticed a familiar face on a rerun of
Match Game PM. There, chatting with host Gene Rayburn on a show
taped on Oct. 16, 1977, was Brian Billick, now the Ravens'
coach. Then a soft-spoken 23-year-old assistant at the
University of Redlands (Calif.), Billick (above) gamely tried to
keep up with the wisecracking celeb panel--which included
Richard Dawson, Dick Martin and Charles Nelson Reilly--but
failed miserably, scoring no matches. (Typical question:
"Hillary said, 'I don't trust that new doctor, he painted
temperature marks on his blank and tried to use it as a
thermometer.'" Billick's answer: tongue.) "It was fun," says
Billick of his matchless experience, "but it was the first time
I ever got shut out."
Amount Flames enforcer Denis Gauthier will donate to the Calgary
Special Olympics for every hit he lays on an opponent this season.
Combined age of Arizona pitcher Mike Morgan (42) and Atlanta
first baseman Julio Franco (43) when they faced each other on
Oct. 17--the oldest postseason pitcher-batter combo ever.
Major league seasons in which the ratio of strikeouts to walks
exceeded 2 to 1: the pitching-dominant years from 1966 to '68,
Teams that reached the World Series one season after replacing
Buck Showalter as manager: the 1996 Yankees and Arizona this
Position of Division II Grand Valley State of Allendale, Mich.,
in statistician David Rothman's college football rankings, one
of eight used in the BCS formula.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
CooperVision has created contact lenses that turn the wearer's
eyes the colors of his favorite NFL team.
"It's strange to think of playoff games on a kids' channel."
They Said It
Timberwolves backup forward, on being cheered by a preseason
crowd in Toronto each time he touched the ball: "Maybe they
thought I was one of the Three Stooges."