Great Pretenders

June 04, 2007
June 04, 2007

Table of Contents
June 4, 2007

SI Bonus Section: Golf Plus
Pro Football
Stanley Cup
  • A DUI arrest. A pitcher's death. A horrendous start to the season. Only seven months after a World Series triumph that sealed his place among the greats, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is calling on all his smarts to cope with crises on and off the field


Great Pretenders

Busy? Bored? Send in a ringer

WELTERWEIGHT Zab Judah's conference call with reporters last week sounded like a standard prefight presser. "You are going to see blood, guts and sweat," Judah (right) thundered, describing the damage he plans to inflict upon WBA belt holder Miguel Cotto on June 9. "You are going to see somebody hit the floor." How do you really feel, Zab?

This is an article from the June 4, 2007 issue Original Layout

Actually no one can say because, unbeknownst to the media, the "Judah" on the other end of the line was a stand in: the fighter's father, Yoel. (When several writers said afterward that they thought his voice sounded strange, the promoter promised to do another call.) The stunt sparked more classic trash talk—"I've been saying all along that Judah was a fraud," Cotto said—and was a reminder of other athletes who weren't the real deal.

Thoroughbred trainer Tom Smith, who takes pleasure in foiling press attempts to cover his horses, buys a claimer named Grog. The attraction? Grog bears a striking resemblance to his media darling Seabiscuit (below). Smith logs in Seabiscuit as Grog on workout schedules and hoodwinks photographers at Seabiscuit's stable. Several times Smith grandly tells a groom to "bring the old Biscuit out," and unsuspecting newspapers publish photos of Grog.

Not yet a household name—or face—speedy Angels outfielder and future Gold Glove winner Gary Pettis pulls a fast one on a Topps photographer: His 14-year-old brother, Lynn, poses for his trading card (below). The shot makes it into Topps's '85 set; "It's one of those practical jokes ballplayers have been playing for years," explains a company spokesman. It's also an Angels tradition. Topps's 1969 card for third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez is actually a picture of batboy Leonard Garcia.

Senior forward J.R. Rider, the nation's second-leading scorer, is suspended for UNLV's first-round NIT loss after it's discovered that a tutor wrote several of his papers for an English course. The tip-off, aside from the unusual quality of the work? On three of the papers Rider's first name, Isaiah, is spelled ISIAH. "I've got a better question," Rider responds when asked by a reporter if he did the work himself. "Why don't you write about all my 30 point games?"

During a 76ers-Wizards game, ESPN reporter Jim Gray tells a national audience that he just called malcontented Philly guard Allen Iverson, who is sitting at home, and was told Iverson wants to be traded to the Timberwolves. It's a scoop—and a scam. Later that night Gray goes back on TV to say the person he spoke to wasn't Iverson. "I thought I was talking to him," Gray says later. "I feel badly, but I don't feel like I did anything wrong."


What's the Deal with ...

The NBA's Synthetic Balls

IT WAS David Stern's New Coke moment: Last fall the NBA replaced its traditional leather ball with a synthetic model that was supposed to wick away moisture and be easier to grip. Alas, most players hated it—Miami's Shaquille O'Neal (above) said it felt like a cheap toy; Phoenix's Steve Nash complained that it chafed his fingers—and by New Year's the old leather ball was back in use.

So what happened to the roughly 900 synthetic rocks Spalding produced for the NBA? Some were mothballed: The league told teams to store balls so they could be used for research. (Leather will be used next season, but Stern hasn't ruled out a return to synthetic in the future.) But roughly 700 were sent back to the league office, and officials have distributed them to charities and youth leagues around the country. The biggest ball beneficiary has been Mike Lane, a 55-year-old former NBA reporter for the Associated Press who works for World Vision, a Christian relief organization that gives sports equipment to impoverished children. When Stern announced that the NBA was going back to leather, Lane called the league to say he knew some ballers who wouldn't be as picky as the pros. The NBA sent him 200 balls, and they're now bouncing on playgrounds and rec league courts in the Bronx and Philippi, W.Va. Says Lane, "I think having the NBA name on them is a special thrill for kids."

Cox Countdown: 2

Braves manager Bobby Cox, 66, has been tossed 130 times in his 26-year career. He needs just two more ejections to break the record set by Hall of Famer John McGraw. How close is the volcanic veteran to his next eruption? SI's Coxometer tells all.

AS HIS team's play took a turn for the worse (the Braves have dropped eight of 13), so did Cox's mood. The skipper argued a call at first on May 23 against the Mets but not vehemently enough to get tossed. Apparently he was just saving it up for the weekend. Cox had to manage the late innings on both last Friday and Saturday against the Phillies from the tunnel: On Friday he was run for arguing balls and strikes; on Saturday a fair/foul call did him in. That left him one tantrum from tying McGraw. "I don't want to talk about the record," he grumbled. But with a series against the first-place Brewers coming up, he might not have a choice.