A New Direction
The Indy 500, along with all of open-wheel racing, has
been skidding for years. Here's how it can get back on track
In its heyday in the 1970s, the Indianapolis 500 was contested
during the day but not shown on television until prime time,
meaning racing fans spent Sunday afternoon strenuously avoiding
a TV or radio, lest their enjoyment of the broadcast be ruined.
And, man, was that broadcast enjoyable: Since there was no
school the next day, Memorial Day, you could stay up to watch
A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears battle all the way to the checkered
flag, your regular bedtime be damned.
Today you can still watch Foyt and Mears rub tires over the
holiday weekend, but you've got to do it in North Carolina.
Larry Foyt (A.J.'s son) and Casey Mears (Rick's nephew) will
race in the NASCAR Busch series in Charlotte this Saturday. As
for the action at the Brickyard? Well, people will still avoid
Sunday's race results, but that's because they just don't care
In the past 10 years television ratings for the Indy 500 have
dropped by nearly half, while viewership for NASCAR's marquee
event, the Daytona 500, has steadily risen. In that time NASCAR
has developed a galaxy of stars: Jeff Gordon pulls in some $10
million a year in endorsements; Dale Earnhardt Jr. has published
a New York Times best-seller. Open-wheel hasn't produced a
celebrity in decades. While overflow crowds attend most NASCAR
races, the Indy 500 is the only tough ticket among the 25 CART
and IRL races in the U.S. each year. "As NASCAR was getting its
legs underneath it, open-wheel racing went into dismay," says
driver John Andretti, who left CART for NASCAR in 1994.
The "dismay" Andretti is speaking of stems from the Great Schism
of 1996, when Indianapolis Motor Speedway chairman Tony George
broke from CART to start the rival IRL. The split makes an easy
scapegoat, but blaming that alone is simplistic. The divide
didn't have to be as damaging as it was. "There was room for
both," says Andretti. "But the perception that was placed out
there was that it created two lesser series."
That perception came largely from the organizations' sniping,
but in fact it's not each other the open-wheelers should be
keeping an eye on--it's the folks at NASCAR. Here are a few tips
that could go a long way to getting the Indy cars back in gear.
DEFINE YOURSELVES The IRL races only on ovals, while CART is
becoming, in the words of car owner Bobby Rahal, "a de facto
road-racing series." To help strengthen each series' identity,
CART should stick to the roads and only come onto the oval for
the Indy 500.
HYPE, HYPE, HYPE THE SPLIT A slew of top-rated CART drivers will
be in Sunday's Indy 500, yet you wouldn't know it from watching
ads for the race, which inanely focus on the grandeur of the
event, not the guys driving in it. If NASCAR were handling the
race, we'd be hit with commercials in which an IRL driver
threatens to open a can of whup ass on any CART boy who tries to
take over his turf. That's the kind of plot line fans respond to.
PROMOTE THE DRIVERS Open-wheelers cling to the quaint belief
that they'll attract fans because the racing is more exciting
than NASCAR's. The racing is better, but if no one cares who's
driving the cars, no one's going to watch. All those NASCAR fans
in Earnhardt Jr. shirts don't love the way his Chevy runs; they
love the guy behind the wheel. Meanwhile, CART and IRL have
never built an ad campaign around a driver. Why not consider
CART's charismatic Kenny Brack, who won Indy in 1999 and is also
a smoking guitar player?
Gentlemen, start your p.r. machines. --Mark Bechtel
Kicking It Up
Female soccer players consider how far they'll go to sell their
Naked publicity gambit or a simple case of crossed signals?
That's the question that soccer observers were asking last week
after officials at WUSA, the struggling women's professional
soccer league, strongly denied reports that they were
encouraging their players to pose nude for Playboy.
The brouhaha began after a May 5 Atlanta Journal-Constitution
story quoted WUSA president Lynn Morgan as saying that if
Playboy "wanted to do a [center]fold, we wouldn't be opposed to
something that would show off our players." That was followed by
a May 11 piece on SportsTicker.com that reported the league had
sent glamour shots of WUSA stars such as Mia Hamm and Lorrie
Fair to Playboy.com. In recent years the men's-magazine site has
run polls asking participants which female sports figures they'd
most like to see nude. The winners--which have included Anna
Kournikova (of course) and Fox Sports's Jill Arrington--are then
invited to pose for the magazine, but so far none have accepted.
The WUSA acknowledged sending out a collage that featured sexy
images of their players but noted that it was simply part of a
press packet that went to more than 300 media outlets. As for
Morgan's quote, she says the reporter misunderstood her and that
she had said the word poll rather than fold. (The
Journal-Constitution has acknowledged the error.) Says WUSA
publicist Paul Dodson, "I don't think it would be a bad thing
for these players to participate in a poll--publicity is
publicity--but in no way are we encouraging our athletes to bare
Still, WUSA, whose average attendance this year is down 13.5%
from last year, is clearly looking to change its image. In
addition to the collage the league sent out, several players,
including Fair and her teammate Heather Mitts, posed for model
cards that were sent out to the press and Hollywood producers.
("We're still professional soccer players," says Fair. "But we
can be feminine and look good when we want to.") "We're very
fortunate to have world-class athletes who also happen to be
very fit and attractive women," says WUSA vice president of
communications Dan Courtemanche. "If the benefit is that we draw
more fans--male or female--then it certainly is positive for the
Consecutive games in which Arizona State's baseball team has
scored at least one run, an NCAA record.
Amount that a limited edition Pacific Trading card of Thrashers
forward and likely NHL Rookie of the Year Ilya Kovalchuk sold
for on eBay, believed to be a record for a current-year rookie
card in any sport.
Total value of 18 Roberto Clemente baseball cards stolen from a
McKees Rocks, Pa., memorabilia store; the armed burglar demanded
only those cards and no cash.
Wins, out of 25 for the Twins this season, that have come
against teams with a winning record.
Consecutive managers hired by the Royals who had no previous big
league managerial experience: John Wathan, Hal McRae, Bob Boone,
Tony Muser and, last Wednesday, Tony Pena.
FIFA rankings of the world's two lowest-rated soccer teams,
Bhutan and Montserrat, who will face off in a specially
organized match on June 30 in Thimphu, Bhutan, hours before the
World Cup final in Japan.
Games, out of 21 played at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, in which it
has rained, causing delays of 11 hours and 49 minutes.
In the 1950s, Indians G.M. Hank Greenberg decided the best way to
speed up ball games was to drive relievers in from the bullpen.
Cleveland used a variety of cars, including a Nash Rambler that
Greenberg once tried to give to pitcher Bob Lemon as a contract
bonus. "Nah, I don't want that piece of junk," Lemon said.
That sentiment was echoed by pitchers in the 1970s and '80s when
almost every team tried, often in vain, to motor in relievers.
Back then some Cleveland pitchers would jog in while a coach
drove the passengerless car (loaned by a sponsor) along the
sidelines. In Seattle, embarrassed Mariners raced ahead of a
tugboat-shaped cart--the brainchild of owner George Argyros. At
least Argyros didn't go through with his idea of bringing
pitchers in on a fire truck. (Get it? They're firemen.)
Many teams favored the eye-catching big-cap carts. "Those carts
were good," says Angels manager Mike Scioscia, "because if a guy
had a big head you'd say, 'Hey, they used your helmet for the
top of the cart.'" In the 1970s you could see Mets closer Tug
McGraw come bouncing out of a big-cap cart at Shea Stadium--and
Yankees closer Goose Gossage exiting Toyotas onto the infield
grass across town. In Gossage's fiercest years, the word was
that when you heard the door slam, the game was over.
Bullpen transportation ended at Yankee Stadium when rats kept
chewing through engine cables and fans pelted the car with
trash. Elsewhere the vehicles just faded away. "They died out
for different reasons in different cities," says Baseball Hall
of Fame historian Russell Wolinsky, "but it was mainly because
the players hated them."
Hurts So Weird
Strange Injuries of the Week
Jesse Orosco, the Dodgers' ancient reliever, hasn't had an
official at bat in nine years, and yet he was placed on the DL
last week after pulling a muscle...during batting practice.
Funny thing is, that wasn't even the strangest injury to befall
a jock recently. See if you can spot which of the following
wacky mishaps didn't actually occur.
Yankees pitcher Randy Keisler was bitten on the left pinkie by a
rattlesnake while cleaning the patio at his Tampa home. He can't
pick up a ball for a month.
Santiago Canizares, Spain's national-team goalkeeper, dropped a
bottle of aftershave on his right foot and sliced a tendon in
the big toe. He can't play for six weeks and will miss the World
Bears defensive end Bryan Robinson tripped over his dog and fell
down stairs in his home in Lake Forest, Ill., breaking both
wrists. The left wrist required surgery.
Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson needed 11 stitches in his left
buttock after a fishing hook got stuck in his rear while he was
casting during a recent camping trip. He's on the 15-day
Royals catcher Brent Mayne wrenched his back while walking
across a parking lot in Detroit; he turned to check for
approaching cars, and his back went into severe spasms. He's on
the 15-day DL.
Johnson is actually on the DL because he broke his right middle
finger. His hand hit the ground while he was practicing his
windup...without a ball.
Bad fads never die; they just wait to be rediscovered by
succeeding generations. So it is that streaking, the favored
activity of '70s-era exhibitionists, is making a comeback. In
the last month naked men have burst onto the scene at: the World
Snooker Championships in Sheffield, England, an A's-Red Sox game
in Oakland, a Giants-Expos game in Montreal and the Champions
League soccer final in Glasgow, Scotland. Once again these
people have brought new meaning to the phrase getting behind in
your sports watching.
Trying to explain the resurgence of streaking is as pointless as
the activity itself. None of the flashers were pressing an
agenda--not a PETA activist or political protester in the
bunch--nor did any offer a compelling reason for the
clothes-free romps. Mark Roberts, who treated the crowd at the
Champions League game to an eyeful, simply said, "It gives me a
buzz, the crowd laughs, and if you can make people laugh, it
gives you a rush."
Not everyone is laughing. Roberts was fined $535 for going
starkers. Brando Vail, who went au naturel in Oakland, was
charged with three misdemeanors and ordered to stay away from
Network Associates Coliseum for a year. And the Expos fan who
exposed himself (and whose name is being withheld) got a
misdemeanor for indecent exposure. Guess not everyone is a
Of cancer, paleontologist, biologist, author, Harvard professor
and Yankees fan Stephen Jay Gould. Gould, 60, was renowned for
his theories of evolution and statistical deviation, which he
used to explain: the declining chances of a big leaguer's
hitting .400; the improbability of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game
hitting streak; and why, after being told in 1982 that he had
eight months to live due to a rare and incurable form of stomach
cancer, he liked his odds.
--Of prostate cancer, former major league pitcher Joe Black, 78,
the first African-American to win a World Series game. Black
broke in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1952 and was named Rookie
of the Year after going 15-4 primarily as a reliever. Manager
Charlie Dressen started Black in Game 1 of the World Series
against the Yankees, and Black threw a complete game to win 4-2.
Black, who refined a pitch we now know as the slider, went 30-12
in six years.
A bill to outlaw use of Native American team names and mascots,
in the California Assembly. The legislation would force about
100 public schools, universities and community colleges to drop
nicknames such as Apaches, Braves, Chiefs, Indians and Redskins.
California would be the first state to pass such a bill.
Leather basketballs, in favor of synthetic ones, at all NCAA
championships, partly in response to protests from People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals. According to PETA, the hide of
one cow is needed to make four leather balls. Synthetic
balls--which players and coaches prefer for performance
reasons--are already used at most major schools.
To pull up their pant legs, Yankees Jason Giambi, Rondell White
and Enrique Wilson, by baseball's head of discipline, Bob
Watson. Those players, following fashion, removed the elastic
from their pant cuffs so that they drop down to their cleats,
obscuring their socks. Watson warned each player that the Yanks
would be fined if the player didn't adjust his uniform.
The Killing Season
To combat an awful illness, deer hunters are wiping out herds
Even for the most seasoned hunters in the quiet Wisconsin
township of Vermont, 24 miles west of Madison, the echo of
gunfire has become a chilling sound. "I can't bring myself to
hunt," says Don Wenger, 45, a Vermont native who has hunted
since age 12. "It's just not fun pulling the trigger in these
In Wenger's hometown it has indeed been a morbid spring. This
month, hunters in Wisconsin began systematically destroying
15,000 whitetail deer, following a directive from the state's
Department of Natural Resources. The killings are part of an
effort to rid the area of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a
deadly neurological illness that has been found in 14 Wisconsin
deer since February. In essence officials have asked hunters to
wipe out all deer in a nine-mile radius of Vermont.
CWD, which is related to mad cow disease, attacks the brains of
deer and elk and causes the animals to become mysteriously
emaciated, lose their bearings and, within weeks, die. CWD had
for years been confined to isolated areas of Colorado and
Wyoming, but in recent months the disease has been found in
Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and in very high
concentrations in Wisconsin. "This is the most significant
crisis to visit our wildlife in history," says Bob Manwell of
the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "If we don't act
now, within 10 years the deer population will crash
That would cripple the state's deer hunting industry, which
generates about $1 billion annually. The fear also exists that
like mad cow disease, CWD could jump to humans. Although the
World Health Organization reports that no one has ever been
infected with CWD, officials in several states are advising
hunters not to eat meat of deer or elk that come from areas
where CWD has been found.
How the disease is transmitted is still unknown, but as CWD
continues to spread, other states have considered following
Wisconsin's lead on intensive hunts. "We want to snuff out the
disease as quickly as we can," says Todd Malmsbury of the
Colorado Division of Wildlife. "No one knows that this method
will work, but there's no better option now."
Still, some say the hunts could do more harm than good. Charles
Southwick, professor of environmental biology at the University
of Colorado, says that "mass culling causes mass dispersal by
the deer, which would make the disease more likely to spread."
Meanwhile, Citizens Against Irrational Deer Slaughter (CAIDS), a
Wisconsin group formed to oppose the hunts, is pursuing legal
action to stop the killings.
Until that happens, the deer massacres will continue. On
Saturday, Wisconsin passed a law that gives the DNR authority to
use sharpshooters in helicopters to kill deer--including on
private property with landowner permission. "I can understand
people looking at this problem and saying that we need to do
whatever possible to get rid of CWD," says CAIDS cofounder Mark
Sherven. "But wait until they find it in your neighborhood and
come in with the helicopters." --Albert Chen
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
MAY 24--MAY 30
FRIDAY 5/24 NBC 9 PM Kings at Lakers
The NBA Western Conference finals move to L.A.'s Staples Center
for Game 3. Who'll get more air time: Jack Nicholson or Hedo
SATURDAY 5/25 ABC 3 PM Red Wings at Avalanche
In hockey's best playoff rivalry you've got Dominik Hasek on one
end, Patrick Roy on the other and a glut of Hall of Fame talent
in between. Oh, yeah, they'll probably beat the bejesus out of
each other too.
SUNDAY 5/26 ABC 11 AM Indianapolis 500
Watch out for the boys from Brazil, especially pole sitter Bruno
Junqueira, who's coming off a win in Japan. Brazilians have four
of the first five spots in the race.
SUNDAY 5/26 CBS 2 PM The Memorial, Final Round
Just call him Mr. Ohio: Tiger Woods has won the last six golf
tournaments he has played in the Buckeye State, including three
straight at the Memorial.
WEDNESDAY 5/29 ESPN Classic 12 PM-8 PM Scripps Howard
National Spelling Bee Want some E-X-C-I-T-E-M-E-N-T? Here's
eight hours of spellbinding replays of past Bees. Then tune in
to ESPN on Thursday for this year's final rounds.
THURSDAY 5/30 HBO 10:30 PM On the Record with Bob Costas
For all you teenage girls out there, heartthrob alert: Costas's
guests include Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and actor Ben
SATURDAY 5/25 NBC 3 PM
Liberty at Sparks
The last time New York and L.A. played--an 82-69 home win for the
Liberty last June--there was an ejection, a flagrant foul, five
technicals and a near brawl. No wonder the WNBA chose these teams
for its sixth season opener.
Tennis Fans Snubbed
A Boxing Match?
--lle scuse. That's what ESPN owes viewers who tuned in to
Saturday's Italian Open semifinal between Jennifer Capriati and
Serena Williams. In an exasperating insult to tennis fans, ESPN
skipped games in every set so that it could squeeze the
tape-delayed match--a 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, two-hour-and-15-minute
Williams win--into an 8:00 p.m.-9:30 p.m. time slot. If this were
the first round of the No-Name Open, fine. But two of the WTA's
top stars slugging it out in the semifinals of one of the most
important events outside the majors should be shown in its
entirety. Couldn't ESPN have started Baseball Tonight--and a
stretch of 5 1/2 hours of sports highlights--45 minutes later?
--HBO and Showtime boasted last week of their Solomonic
appointment of a split team to broadcast the June 8 Lennox
Lewis-Mike Tyson fight on pay-per-view. It's the rival networks'
first joint venture, but forgive us if we're not nominating them
for a Nobel Peace Prize. Jim Lampley (HBO) and Bobby Czyz
(Showtime) will call the fight from ringside, while HBO's James
Brown will be the studio host and Showtime's Jim Gray will do
on-site reporting. The announcers are all strong, but it would
have been smarter for the networks to pair regular partners.
With viewers plunking down $54.95 for what could be a short
fight, the team better click immediately.
--Ratings for NBC's Kentucky Derby broadcast dropped 12% from last
year's, but Saturday's Preakness generated a 6.5 overnight
rating, the highest for the race in 12 years. Let's hope the
Peacock sent War Emblem--whose Triple Crown bid will mean big
ratings for the Belmont--a gift basket of soft grass and sugar
cubes. --Richard Deitsch
comeback." --TREND WATCH, PAGE 26