Mariners at Sea
Baseball may not let Nintendo save the Seattle franchise
The Seattle Mariners seemed destined to sail away. Owner Jeff Smulyan had said that if he was unable to find someone willing to spend $100 million for the club by March 27, he would have to look elsewhere for a buyer, most likely in the Tampa Bay area. For the second time since 1970, Seattle appeared to be losing a major league franchise.
But then last week a partnership brought together by U.S. Senator Slade Gorton (R., Wash.) announced that it is willing to meet Smulyan's asking price. The group, called the Baseball Club of Seattle, has the backing of executives from such important local companies as Boeing, Microsoft and Puget Sound Power & Light, and, more significantly, $125 million in cash to cover the purchase price and the costs of reorganization. It also has a would-be chairman of the board, a 15-year resident of the state with an advanced degree from MIT who runs a company that employs 1,400 people in nearby Redmond, Wash. "The whole thing came together on Christmas Eve," says Gorton. "It was like a present under the tree."
Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent doesn't see it that way, however. The prospective chairman of the group is Minoru Arakawa, the 45-year-old president of Nintendo of America Inc., the video-game maker (Mario Bros., Super Mario Land, etc.), and 60% of the capital would come from his father-in-law, Hiroshi Yamauchi, head of Nintendo Co. Ltd. of Kyoto, Japan. In a statement issued last Thursday, Vincent said, "Baseball has addressed the issue of ownership of its franchises and has developed a strong policy against approving investors from outside the United States and Canada. It is unlikely foreign investors would receive the requisite baseball approvals."
The commissioner's disapproval put a damper on Seattle's baseball faithful. The Mariners sold 50 season tickets the day after the group was introduced, or 20 more than they sold the day after the team traded for slugger Kevin Mitchell in December. One 10-year-old boy called up the commissioner's office in New York to plead for the group's approval. Both Seattle daily newspapers attacked Vincent's stance in editorials last Friday.
Indeed, Vincent's statement was precipitous, and even in the current climate of Japan-bashing, it seemed unusually xenophobic. Would the commissioner have expressed such firm opposition if the foreign investor were from Great Britain, for instance? Baseball has long paid lip service to the idea that local ownership ensures franchise stability, yet here is a group with strong local representation that would keep the Mariners in Seattle and that has the wherewithal to keep them competitive.
On Friday baseball's ownership committee agreed not to consider the proposal until Smulyan reaches a tentative agreement with the group. But Smulyan may have no real interest in selling the club to a local group; the franchise would command a higher price if it were located in St. Petersburg. (Ironically, most of the money behind Tampa Bay's new NHL franchise is from Japanese investors.)
As Gorton sees it, the ownership committee has little to debate. He says, "There is no justification for this offer being turned down." Certainly there is no justification for dismissing the offer just because some of the money comes from Japan.
She Knew the Drill
A dentist leads U.S. women marathoners to Barcelona
In the mathematics of choosing the U.S. Olympic track and field team, four is the cruelest number. The top three competitors in each event go to the Games; finish fourth in the trials, and you might as well have finished last. Seldom has the process of determining the unfortunate fourth been as heart-wrenching as it was on Sunday at the women's marathon trials in Houston.
Exhaustion peeled one runner after another off the lead pack until at the 19-mile mark only four were left: Cathy O'Brien, Janis Klecker, Francie Larrieu Smith and Lisa Weidenbach.
The sentimental favorites were Larrieu Smith and Weidenbach. Larrieu Smith, 39, made her first Olympic team 20 years ago, at 1,500 meters, and hoped in Houston to become the second person to make five U.S. Olympic track teams (long jumper Willye White was the first). Weidenbach, 30, had finished fourth in each of the two previous marathon trials. "In '84 and '88 I felt I had another chance," she said before the race, "but I'm getting a little older and plucking gray hairs."
Impatient with the steady 5:45 pace. O'Brien covered the 21st mile in 5:29, and she suddenly had 40 yards on Klecker and Larrieu Smith, and even more on Weidenbach. Despite being an Olympic veteran—she placed 40th in Seoul—O'Brien, 24, was the youngest runner in Sunday's race. Her coach, Bob Sevene, says that her short, low stride reminds him of another of his runners. 1984 Olympic champion Joan Samuelson.
But O'Brien's hamstrings tightened in the last two miles, and Klecker swept by her, hitting the tape in 2:30:12. O'Brien finished second, in 2:30:26, and Larrieu Smith third, 13 seconds behind O'Brien.
After the race the 31-year-old Klecker, who's a dentist from Minnetonka, Minn., was a beaming advertisement for her profession. Her sunburst smile was in sharp contrast to Weidenbach's glum expression. Weidenbach had hung on to finish fourth—yet again. As she made her way from the finish line, head bowed, she said, "I wouldn't wish this on anyone."
A tribute to Lyle Alzado is canceled at the last minute
"Lyle, This One's for You" read the elaborate invitations for the scheduled Jan. 11 tribute in Beverly Hills, Calif., to Lyle Alzado, the former NFL defensive lineman stricken with brain cancer. They listed the humanitarian awards Alzado had been given and the dozens of charities he had worked with during his colorful 15-year career. "I had an incredible tribute planned," says Alzado's business manager and longtime friend, Greg Campbell.
But two days before the $500-a-plate dinner, a major donor withdrew its support, leaving only Alzado's most recent team, the Los Angeles Raiders, which donated $75,000, and Occidental Petroleum ($25,000) as sponsors of the dinner. Organizers had budgeted $400,000 for the event. While scrambling to come up with the rest of the money the day before the dinner, Campbell suffered a mild heart attack and was rushed to Century City Hospital, where he spent the next five days.
On the morning of Jan. 11, the fete had to be called off, and employees of Campbell's company began calling the invited guests. Not all of them were reached in time, and about a dozen showed up that evening.
Alzado also learned of the cancellation that morning. He had already arranged for a tuxedo and a limousine, as well as hotel accommodations for relatives. Friends hastily arranged a small dinner party to take the place of the gala.
Campbell, now recovering at his Beverly Hills home, says he still doesn't know why the sponsor—whom he declined to name—withdrew and why there was so little corporate interest in the event. "It could be the economy," he says. "It could be a lot of things."
Campbell, who lost about $100,000 of his own money because of the cancellation, says all ticket money has been refunded. He is working now to reschedule the dinner for mid-March. "I will get this done for Lyle if it's the last thing I do," he says.
His sense of urgency is understandable. A few weeks ago Alzado was told that his cancer, which he believes was caused by his long-term abuse of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (SI, July 8, 1991), is no longer in remission.
Let the Times Roll
Horse racing needs the endangered "Racing Times"
The Daily Racing Form's monopoly in thoroughbred racing came to an end last April when Robert Maxwell, the British publishing mogul, started up a competing paper named The Racing Times (Scorecard, May 6,1991). Almost a year later the Form is still the paper of choice for most racing aficionados, but the Times, with its outstanding columnists and the speed figures of popular racing writer Andrew Beyer, has been making a horse race of it.
Nevertheless, as the Times nears its first anniversary, its future doesn't look like such a good bet. After Maxwell's death in early November, his empire was so rocked by scandal and controversy that the Times's parent company. Mirror Group Newspapers, hired a media broker, Martin Maleska, and told him to field offers for The Racing Times. By the end of last week, there were at least two bidders. According to a source at the Times, one suitor is Peter Callahan, owner of several publications, including The National Enquirer. The other bid, for about $2 million, comes from K-III, a holding company that owns, among other assets, The Daily Racing Form.
The Racing Form's parent company apparently wants to buy The Racing Times for the purpose of closing it down, thus regaining the monopoly it long enjoyed. "The big fish can't buy the only other fish in the market if there are other high offers," says Times editor Steven Crist, objecting to the possible sale of his publication to the company that owns its rival. "That's why we have antitrust laws in this country." Both Maleska and the K-III executives declined to comment.
It would be in racing's best interest to have the paper sold to someone, anyone, who would keep it going. The competition already has forced the Racing Form to shed its traditional boosterism and become aggressive. Indeed, with all the problems besetting it, horse racing needs this more independent voice.
Nintendo, the maker of Mario, has leaped to save the struggling Mariners.
Klecker (4), O'Brien (3) and Larrieu Smith (2) finished 1-2-3 in the trials.
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Soon, railbirds and touts may not have two papers to choose from.
[Thumbs up] To Mike Schenian of Maplewood, Minn., a football fan, for giving his two $150 Super Bowl tickets to the Children's Hospital of St. Paul so that one of its patients (and an escort) could go to the game.
[Thumbs up] To Lincoln (R.I) Greyhound Park, for its innovative Greyhound Pet Therapy Program, which sends retired greyhounds on visits to various nursing homes and schools for the disabled.
[Thumbs down] To the NCAA, for not making an exception from its rules to grant Texas Tech tennis player Matt Jackson an extra year of eligibility. Jackson's senior season was cut short because of surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his lower abdomen.
University of Florida football coach Steve Spurrier called Fort Lauderdale Westminster High quarterback Dan Kanell last week to congratulate him after Kanell spurned the Gators' scholarship offer and made a verbal commitment to archrival Florida State. Said Spurrier, "I hope you win all your games except one."
THEY SAID IT
Gary Clark, Washington Redskins wide receiver, when asked before the Super Bowl what was the one question he hated the most: "That one."
25 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
Green Bay backup receiver Max McGee was on the Jan. 23, 1967, cover after he caught seven passes in the first Super Bowl to help the NFL's Packers rout the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. Boston Red Sox manager Dick Williams was also a surprising hero that week, becoming the first grand champion on The Hollywood Squares and earning $2,500, a stereo, a movie camera, a motorcycle, a silver fox cape and trips to Paris and Las Vegas.
THEY SAID IT
Lenny Dykstra, Philadelphia Phillie outfielder, when told that his team had dealt unproductive outfielder Von Hayes to the California Angels: "Great trade! Who did we get?"
Johnson & Johnson
Last Tuesday at about 8 p.m., Phoenix Sun guard Kevin Johnson heaved a 75-foot shot through the basket at Chicago Stadium just before the end of the first quarter of a game against the Bulls. Fifteen minutes later and 175 miles away, another Kevin Johnson, this one of Grand Ledge High near Lansing, Mich., hit a shot from nearly the same spot on the floor, at Grand Ledge. Neither shot affected the outcome, as Grand Ledge lost to Holt High 50-49 and the Bulls beat the Suns 108-102.