Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent needs help. The owners' Player Relations Committee wants to strip him of his influence in labor negotiations. The Players Association is challenging his lifetime suspension of New York Yankee reliever Steve Howe after Howe's seventh (!) drug offense. When Vincent's office kept Yankee manager Buck Showalter and general manager Gene Michael after school on July 1 for questioning his suspension of Howe, causing them to miss the first inning of a home game with the Kansas City Royals, columnists from three New York newspapers called for his resignation. Now that Vincent has ruled that the Cubs must go West as part of realignment in the National League, all of Chicago may call for his head.
In an interview with ESPN last week, Vincent said, "When I started out, I was an optimist. I'm no longer an optimist. Some of the problems in baseball are serious, and I'm becoming pessimistic about our ability to deal with them." Infighting among the owners, disappointing attendance, a looming labor impasse, the impending return of the suspended George Steinbrenner, ongoing negotiations with disappointed TV networks...baseball has many headaches, and Vincent seems to be suffering from all of them.
He admitted late last week that he had been rash in threatening Showalter, Michael and Yankee vice-president Jack Lawn with disciplinary action and that he had been wrong in keeping them from doing their jobs that day. But given the pressures of his own job, is it any wonder that Vincent would be annoyed that the Yankees would challenge his authority and baseball's drug policy? The blame for the mess rests less with Vincent than with Howe.
Vincent isn't so much shortsighted as he is short-handed. The commissioner's office is basically a four-man administration: Vincent, deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg, general counsel Thomas Ostertag and Vincent's personal attorney, Judge Harold Tyler. Maybe one more adviser would have been able to talk him out of summoning Showalter and Michael. Baseball is a mom-and-pop operation compared with the NBA, which has at least twice as many lawyers and advisers behind commissioner David Stern. Baseball is under far more scrutiny than either the NBA or the NFL—all the more reason the commissioner needs a larger support staff.
The next commissioner, whoever he may be, should make that a condition of accepting the job.
One of the highlights of last baseball season was When It Was a Game, a documentary produced by HBO Sports and Black Canyon Productions featuring never-before-aired footage from home movies. Shown at the time of the 1991 All-Star Game, When It Was a Game lovingly evoked baseball's golden age and achingly recalled the departure for California of the Giants and the Dodgers.
When It Was a Game II will debut on HBO on July 13, the first of five July dates for the documentary. Although the bloom is off the rose, so to speak, there is still plenty to cherish: the young Yogi and the old Babe, Ewell Blackwell's whip and Ernie Lombardi's schnoz, Montreal minor leaguers Chuck Connors and Tommy Lasorda. Peppered with readings by such actors as Ellen Burstyn and Jack Palance and salted with the reminiscences of such players as Enos Slaughter and Mel Harder, the second Game is a worthy successor to the opener. To borrow from the Grantland Rice poem read by Palance, "Can life be stupid, drab or slow/With Dizzy Dean and Schoolboy Rowe?"
G-Man in the Gym
Forgive U.S. weightlifting coach Roger Nielsen if his mind isn't totally focused on the competition when he steps off the plane in Barcelona. Nielsen, you see, is also a 20-year veteran of the FBI who has specialized in counterterrorism for most of his law-enforcement career. "Although nothing has happened recently," he says, "I keep my eyes open whenever I travel overseas."
How can one man lift two such heavy responsibilities? "It is a constant juggling act," says the 44-year-old Nielsen, who trains lifters at Sayre Park Gym in Chicago. "I've been lucky that the FBI has been very helpful and very flexible with my schedule."
When he's not coaching the American weightlifters, an unpaid position he has held for three years, Nielsen teaches FBI agents in Chicago the finer points of physical fitness, survival training, firearms, self-defense and SWAT-like tactics. His lessons are taught from experience.
"There were some pretty hairy situations," says Nielsen of his days in the field. "I was working on domestic terrorism, tracking fugitives and escaped convicts. We had one operation where we rendered some devices harmless. [Here he chuckles at the recollection.] There were bombs that we intercepted and defused, making arrests before anything happened."
Nielsen and his weightlifters would like to defuse the favored Eastern Europeans in Barcelona, but they know that recent history is stacked against them—no U.S. lifter has placed higher than eighth in a major international meet in three years. Says Nielsen, "Based on the current international ranking list, we are fairly optimistic that we will move up a notch. I don't know if we'll win a medal or not, but we are improving."
Even if his charges come home empty-handed, this G-man doesn't think some Olympic success is untouchable.
If the least unexpected qualifier for the Olympic men's basketball tournament came out of Oregon last week, you had to go to Aragon to find the most unexpected. Germany, whose only previous Olympic hoops appearances were the result of other nations' boycotts (in 1980 and '84) or automatic bids for hosting the Games (in '36 and '72), played well enough in the European qualifying tournament in Aragon, a region of northeastern Spain, to earn a berth in the Olympics.
All 12 German players are from what was once West Germany, so the team's success has nothing to do with reunification. The main reason for Germany's qualifying is Indiana Pacer forward Detlef Schrempf, who is playing for his nation's team for the first time in seven years because he wants to increase fan interest in his sport, which is languishing in his homeland. "German basketball is getting better and better, but support for it isn't," says Schrempf. "Our national team is better than France's and Italy's, yet their leagues are stronger because sponsors there go crazy over basketball."
The German team, which could not afford warmup suits, includes such Grand Teutons as the 6'9" Schrempf, 7'1" former NBA journeyman Uwe Blab and Hansi Gnad, a 6'9" Division II All-America who played at Alaska-Anchorage in the mid-1980s. Also helping out is North Carolina senior-to-be Henrik R‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√ádl. "Henrik has all that UNC structure in him, so I always tell him to come back and play some fast-break street ball with us," says Henning Harnisch, the 6'7", 24-year-old forward whose in der Luft style and headband-tamed tresses may be just the things the German team needs to divert some national attention from soccer and tennis.
But it is Schrempf who is hoisting the team to another level. In the NBA, in which he has won the Sixth Man award two years in a row, he's like Greg LeMond in the Tour de France, a foreigner excelling at a sport the host country has always claimed as its own. There is one crucial exception, which Schrempf is quick to point out: "I haven't won a championship yet."
Like everyone else who was in Aragon last week, Schrempf knew exactly who was in Oregon last week—and that his first title is more likely to come in the NBA than with the Fatherland.
An editorial in last Friday's Boston Globe was not about the budget deficit, the Supreme Court or the presidential campaign. Spurred on by Boston radio sports-show host Eddie Andelman, who had recently suggested that the disappointing Red Sox wouldn't do anything to beef up their lineup unless an editorial in the Globe called for it, the newspaper pleaded with the Sox to get a leadoff hitter.
The editorial read: "His qualifications are known to all. He must be able to steal second base...he must be capable of going from first base to third.... And he needs to have the demonic powers required to rob a major-league pitcher of concentration and composure."
Concluded the Globe, "There, we've done our part."
AUDREW C. TIERNAN/NEWSDAY
Vincent called Showalter (left) and Michael onto the carpet.
Nielsen (right) is accustomed to seeing men with their hands up.
Schrempf has set the pace for the German team.
[Thumb Up]To Alonzo Highsmith of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will take over the football camp for underprivileged kids that Jerome Brown, the late Philadelphia Eagle defensive lineman, was running in his hometown of Brooksville, Fla., before he was killed in an auto accident (SI, July 6).
[Thumb Down]To NBC, for misleading its viewers last Friday. The network began its coverage of the Wimbledon men's semifinals at 1 p.m. EDT and told viewers that "Centre Court is ready for the '92 Wimbledon final four." The tournament referee had canceled play at 12:30 p.m. EDT.
They Said It
Roy Foreman, on brother George's next heavyweight fight: "We've been trying to get Elvis. He's been dead long enough now."
Hank Steinbrecher, general manager of the U.S. Soccer Federation, reacting to news that the World Cup '94 flags had been stolen from outside the federation's headquarters: "We do have fans!"
Pat Williams, Orlando Magic general manager, on the possibility that NBA senior vice-president Gary Bettman could become head of the NHL: "I gave Gary a hockey puck once, and he spent the rest of the day trying to open it."