What to make of the rumors that some big league teams will soon
Bored with those ultrarealistic video games that let couch
potatoes swing Barry Bonds's bat? Weary of intense fantasy
leagues that let aspiring general managers sit in Brian
Cashman's chair? We offer you baseball's newest parlor game,
Franchise Fiddling, in which the fan with the most outlandish
plan for eliminating a few major league teams wins.
Here's why the game is fun: Anyone can present as credible a
contraction scenario as the commissioner's office has. For more
than a year Bud Selig has intoned that to cure the game's
economic ills, he's considering all options, including
eliminating financially strapped teams. The idea bubbled under
the surface all season until last week's report in Ontario's
Windsor Star citing an anonymous baseball executive who said the
Expos and Marlins would be disbanded after the World Series, a
rumor the teams denied and the commissioner danced around.
In reality Selig has yet to suggest a concrete plan for how teams
might be folded. Would baseball buy out Montreal owner Jeffrey
Loria and Florida owner John Henry? For how much? Where would
that cash come from? How would the affected players be dispersed?
Forget the details. The big picture is still as blurry as a
late-period Monet. That's why Montreal, Florida and the other
supposed contraction candidates have a better chance of winning
the World Series in 2002 than of being disbanded this winter. For
one thing, Selig hasn't demonstrated he has the authority to dump
franchises without cooperation from the players' union. Some
owners insist privately that the players have little say in the
matter. Union chief Donald Fehr disagrees, contending that
contraction would have to be negotiated between owners and
There are also the sticky legal matters of extricating teams from
stadium leases and vendor contracts, and of disbanding minor
league systems. "It's an issue that will be answered in the
courts," says sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. "If baseball
attempts to contract, it will be sued by everybody up the wazoo.
The challenges will be long, varied and very expensive to
Unless the owners and players decide to roll over the current
bargaining agreement for one more year, baseball faces a
potentially long and messy labor fight this off-season. The
topic of contraction will only complicate those negotiations.
Meanwhile, as the rumors swirl, teams like the Expos and the
Marlins sit in limbo. If Selig is serious about contraction, he
should clue everyone in on his plans and explain how they might
be carried out. If this is nothing more than a negotiating ploy,
he should end the charade and concentrate on making the coming
labor negotiations less murky, not more. --Stephen Cannella
The Contraction All-Stars
Lineup culled from the best players on the Marlins and the Expos
(2001 stats; batting numbers are average, HRs and RBIs).
C Charles Johnson Marlins (.259, 18, 75)
1B Derrek Lee Marlins (.282, 21, 75)
2B Jose Vidro Expos (.319, 15, 59)
SS Orlando Cabrera Expos (.276, 14, 95)
3B Mike Lowell Marlins (283, 18, 100)
LF Cliff Floyd Marlins (.317, 31, 103)
CF Preston Wilson Marlins (.274, 23, 71)
RF Vladimir Guerrero Expos (.307, 34, 108)
P Javier Vazquez Expos (16-11, 3.42)
P Ryan Dempster Marlins (15-12, 4.94 ERA)
P A.J. Burnett Marlins (11-12, 4.05)
P Josh Beckett Marlins (2-2, 1.50)
P Antonio Alfonseca Marlins (3.06, 28 saves)
ANTHRAX AND SPORTS
RETURN TO SENDER
Few Americans receive more mail from complete strangers than
athletes. Each day the average professional team gets loads of
envelopes addressed to players--love notes, autograph requests,
baked goods, hate messages. No surprise, then, that the anthrax
scare has sent chills through locker rooms across the country.
Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL and the NHL have all
advised their teams to take basic precautions before handling
mail. A number of clubs, like the 49ers and St. Louis Cardinals,
now have their mail-room workers using gloves and surgical masks.
The New York Giants have gone further, offering players a
biohazard container in which to put mail they think looks
suspicious. In early October the Cardinals held a team meeting at
which the players were asked if they wanted to continue receiving
mail sent to them through the team. Only a handful said yes. "The
rest didn't want to bother anymore," says Joe Walsh, the team's
head of security. "So all fan mail addressed to players is being
returned to sender."
The Lakers, who receive at least 1,000 pieces of mail a day, have
hired consultants to assess the safety of the team's mail
handling. L.A. no longer accepts any envelope that lacks a return
address; for now, those letters are being held in a post office.
Says NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, "You're going to see more teams
using outside services to take care of their mail."
All of which means fans reaching out to their idols by
traditional means probably aren't connecting. "I'm positive
there's mail from kids across the country that's being tossed,"
says Kevin Byrne, spokesman for the Ravens, whose mail is being
checked at the stadium by moonlighting Baltimore firefighters.
Says Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, "Fan mail is important,
and I try to answer as much as I can. At the same time, with all
the things that are going on, you have to take precautions."
Lakers forward Rick Fox is even more careful: "I'm not messing
with it. I haven't touched my mail since September 11."
Clothes may or may not make the man, but in sports, uniforms
definitely make the team. Three NBA squads (Dallas, Detroit and
Seattle) are unveiling new outfits this week, and if recent
history is any guide, the change could be more than cosmetic.
OLD UNIFORMS Suffered through 14 straight losing seasons wearing
garish orange-and-white outfits. MAKEOVER Switched to red,
pewter and black unis before the 1997 season and made playoffs
in '97, '99 and '00.
OLD UNIFORMS Simple red, white and blue design suited a decent
team that couldn't get over the hump. MAKEOVER Adopted blue,
black and gold outfits in 1995 and two years later made first
trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
OLD UNIFORMS Experienced years of playoff disappointments while
sporting purple-and-yellow threads. MAKEOVER Changed to
purple-and-turquoise scheme before '96-97 season and reached NBA
Finals for the first time.
OLD UNIFORMS Lost four Super Bowls while wearing loud
orange-and-light-blue. MAKEOVER Donned dark-blue jerseys with
new logo in 1997 and won back-to-back Super Bowls the next two
WHERE YOU'VE SEEN HIM Soaring in for pregame ceremonies at
numerous sporting events, most notably postseason games at Yankee
Stadium. The bald eagle was scheduled for a fly-in at each of
this week's World Series games in New York, his fourth Series
WHY YOU'VE PAID ATTENTION In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks,
the sight of America's national symbol has sent a patriotic
charge through TV viewers and fans at stadiums. "Faces light up,"
says Challenger's trainer, Al Cecere, president of the American
Eagle Foundation (AEF). "He has a way of putting a ray of
sunshine in their hearts."
RESUME Blown out of his nest in southern Louisiana during a storm
when he was an eaglet, Challenger, named in honor of the doomed
space shuttle, was rescued and eventually taken to Dollywood,
Dolly Parton's theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where the AEF
cares for him and some 70 other birds. Because of the constant
human contact, Challenger, now 13, can't be released into the
wild. "Physically, he's perfect," says Cecere, "but he thinks
he's a person."
Challenger's first big sports event was the Bass Masters Classic
in Greensboro, N.C., in 1994. Since then he has performed at
baseball and NFL games, the '96 Paralympics in Atlanta and the
'99 Fiesta Bowl. After the September attacks, he dropped in to
see New York City firefighters, police and rescue workers, as
well as children displaced by the tragedy, and he has turned up
on Live with Regis and Kelly and Good Morning America. He'll
appear at the Daytona 500 in February.
CREDO "Challenger's main purpose," says Cecere, "is to educate
the public and raise awareness of the need to protect America's
symbol of living free for future generations."
Track and Field
In 1983, after watching Carl Lewis blow out the field in the 100
meters at the world championships, I cut my white man's Afro into
the sprinter's signature flattop. The hairstyle didn't help me
win any medals with the ladies, but it did put me in the proper
mind-set to master my favorite event: the 100-meter dash in the
kinetic video game Track and Field.
A revelation in Reagan-era arcades, Track and Field was one of
the first video games with a realistic sports theme. You competed
against the machine or up to three pals in six events: the 100,
the 110 hurdles, the high and long jumps and the hammer and
javelin throws. To control the figures, you worked two run
buttons, which had to be pushed in rapid succession, and a
jump/throw button. Most players looked like bongo-playing monkeys
as they bashed the run buttons to make their man move. I adopted
a more graceful technique: I flicked three fingers from each hand
over the buttons, enabling my dude to whoosh down the track
faster than a spooked mule. My talents at the virtual sport were
obvious. I'm not bragging when I say my character could have
owned Lewis in the 100. My record was a hair under eight seconds;
King Carl's best was 9.86.
The game's other events didn't jibe as nicely with my 12-year-old
sprinter's mentality. Still, I'd occasionally claim the top step
at the medals ceremony, where I was serenaded by a Casio version
of the Chariots of Fire theme. My attention soon turned to other
virtual pursuits, but my Track and Field days lived on with that
stupid haircut. --John Sellers
Michael D. Copeland, of Hampton, Ga., through the front gate of
boxer Evander Holyfield's Fairburn, Ga., estate in his Chrysler
LHS. Copeland, a postal worker, told police that he was taking
Cipro as a precaution against anthrax and that he got
disoriented when he felt a burning sensation on his skin.
Copeland was treated for minor injuries at an area hospital;
Holyfield is pressing charges of criminal damage to property.
The Yankees' claim that outfielder Paul O'Neill is a direct
descendent of Mark Twain. According to O'Neill's website, his
great-grandmother, nee Mary Clemens, was a cousin of Twain's. A
San Francisco Chronicle reader pointed out that if that's true,
O'Neill isn't descended from Twain but is a distant relative.
Drug-free athletes, by IOC president Jacques Rogge, to blow the
whistle on competitors whom they suspect of using banned
performance enhancers. "There has to be an effort by the clean
athletes to point their fingers at the ones who cheat and tell
them, 'We don't want you,'" Rogge told the BBC. "We will only
succeed if the clean athletes want to fight with us against
Ken Aston, 86, the British soccer referee who introduced yellow
(caution) and red (ejection) cards. Aston hit on the idea while
sitting at a traffic light after watching a 1966 World Cup match
in which several players hadn't been aware that they'd been
penalized. The cards debuted in the '70 World Cup.
By Topps, a 90-card Enduring Freedom set, featuring Osama bin
Laden and other figures in the current conflict. Topps CEO Arthur
Shorin says he expects children to "act out their disdain" for
Bin Laden by tearing up, stomping or burning his card.
Warriors guard Gilbert Arenas may be a rookie in the NBA, but
when it comes to high-priced goodies, he clearly knows his way
around. Two weeks after declaring himself eligible for the draft
last May, Arenas plunked down $55,000 for a Cadillac Escalade,
the ride of choice for jocks today. He then tricked it out with
custom features valued at another $50,000. "It's my first car in
the NBA, and everybody's favorite is his first," says Arenas, who
showed us some of his SUV's unique assets.
SOUND SYSTEM Lifting the rear hatch reveals six 12-inch Rockford
Fosgate speakers and five 1,000-watt amplifiers. Arenas had the
Escalade's third row of seats removed to accommodate the monster
audio components. "I only listen to rap," says Arenas, "and I
like everyone to hear what I'm listening to when I come down the
TVs The car has four: a 13-inch drop-down screen between the
front and rear seats, a flip screen on the dashboard where the
radio would normally be and a screen on each sun visor. "Everyone
in the car can watch," says Arenas. "I get to watch sometimes
too. Haven't gotten into an accident yet."
VIDEO UNITS So what can Arenas and his passengers watch on all
those TVs? Well, they can always take in a movie, thanks to the
six-disc Sony DVD player. Soon they'll be able to face off on the
Sony PlayStation 2 or Microsoft XBox video-game machines that
Arenas is having installed. Or they can simply check out the
outside world by tuning in the video feed from the security
camera mounted on the rear bumper (below).
MISCELLANEOUS Rounding out Arenas's souped-up wheels are 22-inch
Lowenheart rims, beige leather and suede interiors, and tinted
windows--very tinted. "The windows are pitch-black," says Arenas.
"If you have all that stuff inside, you can't have regular
Even by Las Vegas's standards, it was an event-filled week. On
Oct. 22, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf were married at their Vegas
house in a private ceremony. Make that a very private ceremony.
Only five people were in attendance: Agassi, Graf, their mothers
and district judge Michael Cherry, a longtime friend of Agassi's,
who officiated. Even Andre's father, Mike, was in the dark; he
found out after returning from his job as a casino greeter that
night. "So what?" said Mike. "He got married. It's not his first
time." Andre, who was previously hitched to Brooke Shields, had
said as recently as September that he and Graf wouldn't get
married until after the birth of their son, who wasn't due until
November. So why the rush? Part of the reason may have been
Graf's condition. According to Mike, Graf had experienced
discomfort and had been bedridden of late. "Andre rushed back
from a tournament in Europe [four days before the wedding] to be
with her," says Mike. Good thing, too: Four days after getting
married, Graf delivered Jaden Gil, a five-pound, 14-ounce boy.
Though three weeks early, the baby is healthy and went home with
Graf and Agassi last Friday. Looks like a honeymoon's going to
have to wait....There's a reason the music accompanying Fox's
baseball postseason promos sounds so familiar: It's a snippet
from the Smashing Pumpkins' melancholy 1995 ballad Tonight,
Tonight. "It has a very dramatic feel to it," says Neal Tiles,
Fox Sports executive vice president of marketing, "and it's
instantly recognizable if you're young and male." How did Fox get
the alt-rockers to sign off on the use of the song? Turns out
Virgin, the Pumpkins' label, was promoting an upcoming best-of
album and offered Fox the band's tracks. After Tiles asked for
Tonight, Tonight, Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan, a big
baseball fan, agreed to the deal. Says Tiles, "We're trying to
get younger viewers to baseball, and this was a way to appeal to
Price of a Kris Draper bobble-head doll in Detroit, $13 more than
the Red Wings paid the Winnipeg Jets for center Draper in 1993.
Speed reached by U.S. luger Tony Benshoof in a practice run on
the Salt Lake City Olympic track, breaking the 19-year-old world
mark of 85.4 mph.
Capacity of the Devil Rays' Tropicana Field for most games next
season, when Tampa Bay will close the upper deck.
Punting average of John (Boomer) Stufflebeem at Navy from 1972 to
'74, sixth best in Annapolis history. Rear Admiral Stufflebeem
can now be seen conducting regular Pentagon press briefings on
the war in Afghanistan.
World lap-speed record for a Super Boat, held by the team of Tim
Ciasulli and Jason Priestley, former inhabitant of Beverly Hills
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
The Arizona Republic published several baseball primers in which
readers learned what a batting average is, when a reliever should
be brought in and that the home team shouldn't be booed.
Ravens tight end, on why he avoids blocking: "You don't make any
money if you block. They call you a servant if you block. You
make minimum plus tips."