TOUCHING THEM ALL
Mark McGwire leaves the game the way he played it--with class
On the night of Sept. 20 Mark McGwire swung one-handed at a
down-and-away 0-and-2 pitch from Pirates pitcher Jimmy Anderson
and somehow still sent it soaring 418 feet for a home run. PNC
Park in Pittsburgh thereby became the 39th ballpark in which
McGwire had homered, giving it baseball's equivalent of the
WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE historical designation. After the game,
though, his Bunyanesque frame folded into a chair in front of his
locker, McGwire sounded as if he knew his time was ending.
"That's not me out there," said McGwire, 38, whose two-year
struggle with patella tendinitis in his right knee had left him
a weakened, one-legged version of his former self. "I know
people expect a certain level of performance from me, and I
can't give it. It's embarrassing. I know I wouldn't even be in
the lineup except for the name on the back of my uniform. I
don't deserve to be in there."
McGwire hit only four more home runs in his career. On Sunday he
left the game via a statement to ESPN, without fanfare and
without a drawn-out farewell tour. He could have stayed on and
still collected $30 million from the Cardinals over the next two
seasons. More significant for baseball fans, he would certainly
have reached the milestone of 600 home runs--he retires with
583--and he would have done it in fewer at bats than the three
sluggers who have gotten there, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie
McGwire, though, chose to call it a career. The same man who
volunteered to take a pay cut after hitting .201 in 1991, who was
embarrassed by his fellow ballplayers' avarice, who didn't bother
with an agent to cut his last deal, who wasn't afraid to cry in
public and who was touched by the little old lady in his St.
Louis condo who baked him cookies, refused to stick around merely
as icon emeritus.
Not since Mickey Mantle has any great player left the game with a
more heart-wrenching what if poignancy. McGwire likely would have
added 100 or more home runs to his total had he not missed the
equivalent of two seasons with injuries to his feet and knees.
Still, like Mantle's, his career attained mythic status.
He and Ruth are the two men most synonymous with the home run,
the most American element of the American pastime. No one ever
blasted home runs more frequently than McGwire (one every 10.6
at bats). No one ever hit the ball farther. No one ever turned
the humdrum routine of batting practice into an attraction unto
itself. The scariest sight in all baseball might have been
McGwire's 34 1/2-inch, 33-ounce Rawlings bat viewed up close:
The barrel is pockmarked with indentations from the stitches of
baseballs. He hit the ball so hard, he scarred his bat.
Despite that ferocity, McGwire's most admirable legacy is his
respect for the game. There's a scene at the close of 61*, the
HBO movie about Roger Maris's 61 home runs in 1961, in which
McGwire, while still in uniform after breaking Maris's record in
1998, offers an eloquent homage to Maris and Maris's family. The
scene isn't re-created. It's news footage from McGwire's postgame
press conference. It's the most touching scene in the film. It
is, like McGwire himself, entirely sincere. --Tom Verducci
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig did something last week that
might go down as his most remarkable achievement: He made people
care about the Expos and the Twins. That's right, the same folks
who used Montreal and Minnesota as examples of what's wrong with
baseball suddenly turned weepy over Youppi, the Expos' mascot,
and were enraptured by the euphony of Mientkiewicz, the Twins'
Selig rallied baseball's owners on Nov. 6 to authorize the
dissolution of two teams. The leading death-row candidates are
Montreal, which was outdrawn by half a dozen minor league teams
this year, and Minnesota, a club with the richest owner in
baseball but the least local revenue this side of the Expos.
A large chunk of the sporting public was aghast at the
announcement, as if the Twins' nice little three-month run this
year or their 1991 World Series title guaranteed them major
league status in perpetuity. Here's a bulletin: Because the
players' union will never accept a salary cap and the owners
will never accept NFL-style revenue sharing, you better play in
a lucrative market or a sweetheart stadium if you want to sit at
the baccarat table that is major league baseball. Minnesotans
can pat themselves on the back for not having given in to
billionaire owner Carl Pohlad's desire for a publicly funded
ballpark, as long as they understand that the stance puts their
club at a competitive disadvantage.
Sound cold? Business is hell. "Fifteen years ago you would have
been talking about [dissolving] the Indians, Mariners and
Braves," says American League player rep Rick Helling. Instead,
new stadiums helped turn those teams into cash cows. Montreal and
Minnesota, however, failed to take advantage of the new-stadium
bubble before it burst. From 1995 to '99 the average team boosted
its local revenue by 75%. Only the Twins (18% decrease) and Expos
(40% decline) saw their local revenue drop significantly.
Selig said he wants contraction done within the next four weeks.
Good luck. The concept, though, is right for these times and for
a sport that overexpanded in the 1990s. Critics have challenged
the owners for years to improve the health of the industry and
the quality of the game. Contraction does just that. It reduces
the number of weak sisters to prop up and of players who don't
belong. No wonder several owners wanted to whack not only two but
also four teams. The logic of contraction is so obvious that even
Scott Strickland, a Montreal pitcher, said last week, "It's good
for the game." --Tom Verducci
Q How are World Series MVPs selected?
A Unlike baseball's regular-season awards, which are voted on by
media representatives from every major league city, postseason
honors are decided by a small electorate. Make that very small.
Only five ballots were handed out for this year's World Series
MVP voting: One vote each went to Fox TV, ESPN Radio, Major
League Baseball International, USA Today and the series' trio of
official scorers. Each year Major League Baseball chooses who
votes, and although the number of voters may differ from year to
year, it is always a tiny group--a necessity, given the desire to
announce the MVP quickly after the final out. Says MLB spokesman
Richard Levin, "We try to pick five disparate voters who aren't
connected so that we get five points of view."
The small number of votes helps explain ties such as the deadlock
that made Diamondbacks aces Randy Johnson (far left) and Curt
Schilling co-MVPs. The final tally was two votes for Johnson, two
for Schilling and one for Arizona shortstop Tony Womack. (Major
League Baseball doesn't reveal who cast which votes.) The only
other time there was a tie: 1981, when the Dodgers' Ron Cey,
Pedro Guerrero and Steve Yeager split the honor.
ROOTS FOR THE HOME TEAM
Ever wonder what Olympic athletes are thinking about when they
march in the Parade of Nations at Opening Ceremonies? World
peace? The fraternity of sportsmen? Their place in history? Not
exactly. It's more like: How come those damn Canadians, with
their red-and-white polar-fleece jackets and snappy berets, look
so much better than we do?
Turns out the Canadian team's snazzy outfits at the 1998 Winter
Games caused serious uniform envy among the Americans. In fact,
the Canadian gear was among the most in demand on the informal
barter market among international athletes. Which is why, when it
came time to design the U.S. team's threads for Salt Lake, the
USOC contracted Toronto-based outfitter Roots, manufacturer of
the Canadian uniforms. Some U.S. athletes, including 1998
gold-medal-winning aerialist Nikki Stone, even trekked up to the
Roots offices to offer design tips and ideas. "We won't be
wearing costumes any more," says Stone (below). "It won't be the
typical cowboy hat and long pelt coat. We're walking in something
you'd see in a magazine."
It's no wonder, then, that the new American outfits, featuring
polar-fleece jackets and blue berets, seem strikingly similar to
the Canadian uniforms from the Nagano Games. Stone admits to a
certain keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality in the new look.
"Everyone envied the Canadian team," says Stone, "and we want to
be that team this time."
Word for Word
Mark Cuban finally has a soapbox: Each Saturday night this
season, Dallas's UPN station is airing The Mark Cuban Show, a
half-hour variety show hosted by the Mavericks' owner. Here are
excerpts from the Nov. 3 debut episode.
On Diamondbacks and Suns owner Jerry Colangelo's contention that
the World Series is a better sporting event than the NBA Finals:
"No, no, no! Our [event] kicks the butt of the World Series all
over the place! The NBA is the best game on the planet. Jerry
Colangelo is cutting down the game we love. Why is it he gets
named chairman of the [NBA's] Board of Governors, and I get
On requests for money: "Do not beg. I get requests for the most
amazing things--pay off the mortgage, buy a new car, get me breast
implants. The best way to get my money: Come up with a good idea.
Don't hit me with an idea like, 'The best way to block a shot is
for Shawn Bradley to put an Afro wig on to make him six feet
taller, so buy 500 wigs from me!' Be sweet, be simple, come up
with a good idea. You might get a call from me, and I might have
a check in my hand."
Predictions for this season: "Number 1, I will get fined this
year. Some people might think I'm a bad guy when I get fined, but
I match the amount for charity, and the NBA takes my money and
gives it to charity. Number 2, I will get fined more than last
year because records are made to be broken. Number 3, a goal last
year I was unable to accomplish was, I really wanted to get a
technical foul in a game. I will this year."
Trevor Harvey, 34, of Sarasota, Fla., for battery, after
punching a referee during his seven-year-old son's flag football
game. Harvey is president of the local chapter of MAD DADS, a
national organization of fathers that offers young people
alternatives to crime and violence. Said Harvey of his behavior,
"That's not supposed to be the way you channel your anger."
Kyle Busch, from driving in the Nov. 3 Craftsman Truck Series
race at California Speedway in Fontana. Officials from race
sponsor Marlboro said allowing the 16-year-old Busch to take part
in the race would violate the terms of the federal tobacco
settlement, which bans marketing cigarettes to consumers under
By the Oxford, Miss., Board of Aldermen, a resolution declaring
that the Nov. 3 Arkansas-Mississippi game--which the Razorbacks
won 58-56 in a record seven overtimes--was a tie. The city fathers
wanted to even the score with Arkansas over a 1914 game that Ole
Miss considers a 13-7 victory but Arkansas counts as a tie
because of an ineligible Mississippi player in the game.
On the road, CART driver Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs above
the knees as the result of a horrific crash in a Sept. 15 race in
Germany. Zanardi drove a road car fitted with hand controls from
his home in Monte Carlo to his doctor's office in Imola, Italy,
221 miles away. Zanardi, 35, who has been fitted with prosthetic
legs and is beginning rehab, says he wants to return to auto
racing some day.
At the Metrodome in Minneapolis, pocket-sized Twins schedules
for the 2002 season. On the back is printed the message GET 'EM
BEFORE THEY'RE GONE.
Hollywood is getting extreme. While traditional sports subjects
continue to be movie staples, filmmakers have also started to
mine the world of skateboarding, snowboarding and BMX. In their
rush to get rad, however, producers have plunged ahead with some
concepts that are, shall we say, extreme. See if you can spot the
movie project that is not for real.
1. After an evil developer (Lee Majors) buys a snowboarding haven
and tries to turn it into an espresso-and-tofu ski resort, four
snowboarding pals team up with his sexy and rebellious daughters
to keep the mountain yuppie-free.
2. A hockey-playing chimp is chased out of a pro league by
jealous human rivals and ends up on the streets, where a homeless
boy teaches him how to skateboard. The duo goes on to wow the
judges at a national skateboarding competition.
3. A Mafia hit man (Joe Pesci) enters the witness protection
program, which places him in a California beach community
dominated by skateboarders and BMX bikers. To fit in, the mobster
must learn to skate and ride.
4. A popular extreme sports star (Vin Diesel) is drafted by the
U.S. government to become a secret agent and infiltrate a crime
5. Four college buddies set out on an extreme-sports-themed road
trip. Along the way they pick up girls, joke about flatulence and
learn Christian values.
6. A hard-core surfer (Sean Penn) sells his home so he can trek
through the Central American underworld in search of his best
friend, a fellow surfer named Captain Zero.
Answer: 3) is the fake. 1) is Out Cold, opening in theaters on
Nov. 21; 2) is MVP2: Most Vertical Primate, due in theaters in
January; 4) is Triple X, scheduled for summer 2002; 5) is Extreme
Days, in theaters now; 6) is In Search of Captain Zero: A
Surfer's Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, which was recently
optioned by Radar Pictures.
At the beginning of CBS's Nov. 4 Emmy Awards telecast, host
Ellen DeGeneres quipped, "For those of you who chose to watch us
[instead of Game 7 of the World Series], wise decision. Because
in addition to what we're doing, we're going to...let you know
what's going on with the game. Don't think they're going to
break in and let you know who just won for best supporting
actress." Fox Sports head David Hill heard the joke and ordered
Emmy updates during the game. Since the awards are tape-delayed
for West Coast audiences, CBS execs fumed over the decision. "It
was a pretty no-class thing to do," says CBS publicist Gil
Schwartz. "To play the role of national party pooper is
disappointing." Responds Fox Sports spokesman Dan Bell: "It
wasn't our intention to offend anyone. We were just providing a
service to our viewers." Although that's a bit disingenuous
given that the telecasts occurred during November sweeps, a
programming exec at a network outside the fray says CBS should
have known better: "It was dirty pool, but it was CBS and the
Academy's fault for betting against Game 7 of the World Series."
For the record, Game 7 (39.1 million viewers) trounced the Emmys
(17.1 million viewers), and DeGeneres offered only one
Lesson in p.r. number 9: When on TV, don't invite fans to help
fix your sagging love life. Appearing on The Tonight Show last
month, Dale Earnhardt Jr. told Jay Leno he was still single and
asked women to contact him and attend a race as his guest. Since
then, Earnhardt (above), 27, has been inundated with letters,
flowers and calls. "We're not sure we can keep up with the
demand," says the driver's publicist, Jade Gurss. "I don't think
he knew the impact of what he was saying."...
Turns out tennis has more than one pretty face. James Blake, the
African-American player at the center of the Lleyton Hewitt
racial brouhaha at this year's U.S. Open, has signed with IMG
Models, joining the likes of Tyra Banks and Gisele Bundchen.
Also, orthopedic surgeon and U.S. Davis Cup team doctor David
Altchek is featured in a new Polo print campaign. Ralph Lauren,
a patient of Altchek's, got the doctor to agree to model after
Lauren made a donation to the Institute for Sports Medicine
Research, which Altchek founded.
Career goals through Sunday for the Red Wings' line of Luc
Robitaille, Steve Yzerman and Brett Hull, more than the total for
each of seven NHL teams--Blue Jackets, Lightning, Mighty Ducks,
Panthers, Predators, Thrashers and Wild--since their inception.
Price for an upper-deck ticket to Sunday's Pistons-Trail Blazers
game in Auburn Hills for any fan who turned in an old piece of
teal or maroon Pistons gear.
Pennies paid out by Colts running back Edgerrin James to
teammates to whom he lost a $600 World Series bet.
Three-pointers made in four attempts by the Heat in a 90-75 loss
to Sacramento last Saturday, ending Miami's NBA-record streak of
594 straight games with at least one trey.
Revelers struck by cars and killed in Ecuador during celebrations
after the country earned its first World Cup berth.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
As a result of a sponsorship deal with the National Pork Board,
this Saturday's ARCA stock car race at Atlanta Motor Speedway is
the Pork the Other White Meat 400.
Swedish fashion designer, on the appeal of his flamboyant
countryman Jesper Parnevik: "He is the Madonna of golf."