On Sunday it was widely reported that negotiators for the major league owners and the Players Association are close to an agreement that would pay the players $280 million in damages for collusion committed by the owners in 1985, '86 and '87. In addition, 16 players who were free agents after the '87 season would become "new-look" free agents. If there were such a settlement, commissioner Fay Vincent told Murray Chass of The New York Times, it "would be a very important development to have that miserable chapter over."
That chapter was in large part written by former commissioner Peter Ueberroth. When he left office in the spring of 1989, following the signing of lucrative TV contracts with CBS and ESPN, Ueberroth was almost universally hailed as the financial savior of baseball. Much of the reason for the improved bottom line was that Ueberroth had cajoled the owners into keeping players' salaries down and ignoring free agents. But by doing that, the owners were practicing collusion, in violation of baseball's labor agreement.
Ironically, the staggering award could adversely affect the bargaining power of this year's free agents. Each club would have to pay $10.77 million, and that would significantly deplete the coffers of lower-income franchises and thus reduce the number of free-agent bidders.
The time has come for the owners to pay the piper. The time has also come to reassess the Ueberroth era. He was, in many ways, the Teflon commissioner.
Kathryn Fuller, president of the World Wildlife Fund, was working at her desk in Washington, D.C., one day in the summer of 1989 when she noticed three light brown ants scurrying around her telephone. Most people would have squashed the little critters, but since Fuller's line of work is protecting wildlife, she left the ants alone and continued doing her work.
Over the ensuing weeks Fuller saw lots of ants in her office, and although she wondered occasionally where they were coming from—her desk is free of crumbs—she wasn't able to solve the mystery until a board of directors meeting last October. One of the directors of the World Wildlife Fund is E.O. Wilson, a distinguished Harvard biologist and the world's leading authority on ants. After the meeting Fuller invited Wilson to view her specimens. "He walked over," recalls Fuller, "and the ants were obligingly out and about. Suddenly his eyebrows shot up, and he said, 'My goodness, these are genus Pheidole.' "
Wilson told Fuller that he was fairly certain her ants were of a new species. He collected a few to take back to Harvard for further study and urged her to round up another bunch. At the next board meeting in April, Fuller gave Wilson some more specimens. "They are more than likely a new species," says Wilson, "but they are in a difficult part of that genus. That's why I'm not 100 percent sure." If they are indeed a new species, the ants may be named after their discoverer—Pheidole fulleri.
Although she still isn't sure how they got to her office, Fuller did discover that the ants were making their home in a potted plant in the office. So now she dutifully feeds her ants sugar water and cookies. In return, they are giving Fuller inspiration. "They are," she says, "a daily reminder of the abundant diversity of life on this planet."
A MAN FOR ONE SEASON
Great Britain, which brought us ski jumper "Eddie the Eagle" Edwards, has another Olympic hero in the making. He's bobsled driver Colin Snowball.
Bob Kullen, the University of New Hampshire's hockey coach, died of an apparent heart attack on Saturday at 41. SI's Alexander Wolff, who knew Kullen, writes:
They will recite the 23rd Psalm in a little white clapboard church in Durham, N.H., at the funeral service for Bob Kullen. The 23rd Psalm was his mantra: "The Lord is my shepherd...." It had given him succor over the summer of 1987, when he learned that he had a rare heart disorder. He had recited it to himself during the most perilous moments after his heart transplant operation. And he had read it aloud in that same church just before Christmas three years ago, when he pledged that new heart to his luminous bride, Cathy.
Doctors may have been surprised when Kullen returned to coach the Wildcats two seasons ago, but those who had watched him as an undersized but game defenseman—he was an All-America at Bowdoin and a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic team—knew him as someone who routinely surpassed expectations.
The last time I saw him was in February, in New Hampshire's Lundholm Gym, where we had both come to watch a basketball game. It was one of the few sports that Kully knew little about. But nothing in life was now exempt from his curiosity. He remarked at how fastidiously its coaches controlled play. It must have seemed so futile to him, such a preoccupation with every little thing.
"This," he had said of life with a new heart, "is gravy." As much as Bob Kullen will be missed, his example will persist. To so many people in Durham, indeed in the Northeast, his heart took.
BANNED IN STANFORD
It's not exactly 2 Live Crew, but the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band has fallen victim to censorship. The Stanford band, which is known and even beloved for its sophomoric wit and dubious taste, had to sit out Saturday's home game against Washington State because of something it did the week before at the University of Oregon.
And what did the band do? Well, it made fun of the controversy over the spotted owl, a threatened species whose presence in Northwest forests has put a crimp in the logging industry. At one point the crowd in Eugene heard the band announcer say, "Mr. Spotted Owl! Mr. Spotted Owl! Your environment has been destroyed; your home is now a roll of Brawny; and your family has flown the coop. What are you going to do? Me, I'm going to Disneyland." The band also formed the shape of a large chainsaw while playing Monty Python's The Lumberjack Song.
Last week Stanford's acting (but not laughing) athletic director, Alan Cummings, announced that the band would not perform that week and that the scripts for upcoming away games would have to be approved by his department—the scripts already have to be okayed for home games. The band, said Cummings, "displayed an insensitivity and disrespect to the Oregon community. The department of athletics will not be embarrassed again by the band."
The most surprising aspect of the disciplinary action is that the Stanford band has done far more offensive routines in the past without repercussions. (Those who saw the band's recreation of the linkup between the Soyuz and Apollo spacecrafts 15 years ago won't soon forget it.) It's probably none of our business, but it does seem that sophomoric humor is the divine right of sophomores, not to mention freshmen, juniors and seniors, and that Cummings should maybe lighten up a bit.
TOUCHING HOME AWAY FROM HOME
When a Burly, well-dressed foreigner approached the front desk of a Tokyo hotel one day last week, a Japanese onlooker asked his companion who the gaijin was. Told he was a major league baseball player, the man expressed his amazement. "He looks like a sumo wrestler," he said.
During his return visit to Japan, Cecil Fielder was bigger than any sumo wrestler, figuratively if not literally. Fielder, who played for the Hanshin Tigers in 1989 and the Detroit Tigers this year, was the centerpiece of major league baseball's all-star tour of Japan, and not just because he broke the 50-homer barrier. He was, after all, a rising star returning to the Land of the Rising Sun.
When Fielder hit his 50th and 51st home runs on the last day of the season, he caused more of a stir in Japan than he did in the U.S. Interest in Fielder was so great for this tour that requests for interviews had to pass through a six-man chain of command. For a five-minute TV spot, Fielder received 200,000 yen ($1,560), and for every magazine interview, he got 50,000 yen ($390). The slugger was even asked his opinions on the Middle East crisis.
Fielder's popularity in Japan stems both from his power—he belted 38 home runs in 106 games for Hanshin—and from his respect for the culture, which he demonstrated when he and Oakland A's pitcher Dave Stewart joined two Japanese players for a ceremonial opening of the sake barrel that launched the U.S.-Japan series.
Many American players have bad-mouthed baseball in Japan. Fielder, to the contrary, says Japanese baseball taught him to be patient at the plate. When he first came to the Hanshin Tigers, Fielder was such a free swinger that he was dubbed ogata senpuki, "the big electric fan."
Batters on the American team resembled an entire shipment of ogata senpukis last week, losing the first two games of the eight-game series 4-1 and 4-3 in the Tokyo Dome. When Fielder grounded into a double play with runners on first and second and none out in the ninth inning of the second game, Japanese fans were truly torn. They were about to win the game, but they had just lost face. It is important to them that Fielder does well. Says Masaaki Nagino, an official of the Central League, "The best way is that the Japanese team beats the major league team, but Fielder hits one or two home runs a game."
Fielder (right) and Stewart sock it to the sake barrel.
THEY SAID IT
•Jose Rijo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher and MVP of the World Series, when asked if he was a Democrat or a Republican: "I'm a Dominican."