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Original Issue


For Pete's Sake

Pete Sampras said last week that he expected to "get some flak" for choosing not to travel to Melbourne next month to help the U.S. defend the Davis Cup in a first-round tie against Australia. Well, here's some flak.

Sampras, the No. 2 player in the world, and Wimbledon champion Andre Agassi, who also begged off this time around, delivered a lot of patriotic rhetoric last year as they, along with Jim Courier and John McEnroe, won the Cup for the U.S. (McEnroe is now semiretired, and the top-ranked Courier does not wrap himself in the flag.) After the victory over Switzerland in December, Sampras and Agassi told a national TV audience that nothing in their careers could top helping the U.S. win the Cup.

Now, with the TV cameras off, they say that going to Australia and playing on grass, right after a U.S. hard-court tournament and just before Europe's clay-court season, would make things too tough for them. So No. 24 Brad Gilbert and No. 48 David Wheaton will play in their stead.

By way of further explanation, Sampras said, "I have a chance to become Number One in the world right now." There it is, the big "I." The next time Sampras and Agassi play Davis Cup on American soil in front of those endorsement-producing cameras, don't believe them when they say it's for the good old U.S. of A.

Royal Rush

Once upon a time Rush H. Limbaugh III worked for the Kansas City Royals. Yes, the rotund best-selling author, star of radio and television and the voice of the hard right in America handled group ticket sales and special events for the Royals from 1979 to '83. He was between radio gigs at the time and was brought to the Royals by his friend Bryan Burns, then K.C director of marketing and broadcasting. "I often tell people that I was in charge of national anthem singers," says Limbaugh, whose The Way Things Ought to Be has topped The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list for 20 weeks and whose radio show from WABC in New York is carried by 560 stations. "But I actually did a lot of things: stadium music, scoreboard advertising, group sales. The only bad time came when the Yankees were in town, and everybody wanted seats. 'People,' I would tell them, 'I cannot eat paper and have it come out the other end as tickets.' In all seriousness, it was a great experience, and I still have a lot of friends from those days—I was at George Brett's baby shower the other day. The only time my politics got me in trouble was when I engaged Hal McRae and Amos Otis in a debate about the players 'union."

Limbaugh says the highlight of his baseball career was an Olathe (Kans.) Night at Royals Stadium. "I must have had 3,000 Olatheans at the game, and they were lined up around the infield. I walked out to the mound with the guy who was throwing out the first ball and said, 'Go ahead.' He said, 'I don't have a ball.' So I got on the mike and asked if somebody could throw a ball onto the field. The next thing I knew, 200 balls were coming out of the Royals dugout, as well as bats and gloves. The crowd loved it, but management wasn't too happy."

A Hunger for Justice

In early January when Charles Grantham, director of the NBA players association, assembled a group of civil rights leaders for a conference-on racism in sports, several participants expressed doubts that pro athletes would take a stand in support of controversial causes. Filmmaker Spike Lee said no athlete would "stick his neck out, jeopardize a contract or a sneaker deal."

Olden Polynice would—and did. Last week Polynice, the starting center for the Detroit Pistons, went on a hunger strike to protest the U.S. government's refusal to grant Haitians entry into this country. Particularly troubling to Polynice is the fact that more than 250 Haitians have been detained for more than 15 months at the U.S. naval base at Guantànamo Bay in Cuba under conditions that have been described by a human rights observer as "something out of Dante's Inferno." Many of the refugees have been on a hunger strike since Jan. 29.

In explaining why he joined the strikers, Polynice, a native of Haiti, says, "I don't know any of these people, but they're from my country and they're suffering." During his weeklong fast, which ended last Saturday, the 7-foot, 250-pound Polynice ate only on the Pistons' two game days. He says he ended the strike, during which he lost 10 pounds, because he was feeling weak and did not want to adversely affect his game. "I know it's only because of my high-profile career that I have a platform," says Polynice, who took time after the Pistons' Feb. 17 game against the Heat in Miami to visit Haitians who were being held in a Dade County refugee center. "I didn't want to jeopardize that."

Although the Pistons declined to comment on his strike, Polynice makes it clear that it would not have mattered had they done so: "If they had said, 'No, we don't want you to do it,' I would have done it anyway." He hopes to enlist more people in his cause. "It's just like on a basketball team," he says. "One player cannot do it all by himself."

The Big Dipper

Two weeks ago Wilt Chamberlain's Restaurants Inc. made its initial public stock offering, selling 1.4 million shares at $7 each on the NASDAQ exchange. The two-year-old company, of which Chamberlain owns 45%, so far operates only a single 242-seat restaurant in Boca Raton, Fla. It went public in the hope of raising $8.2 million for expansion. Wilt the Stock, however, proved to be something of a stiff, crashing to $4,625 by the end of its first week of trading. And for the Stilt, who holds the NBA career record for rebounds, there would be no rebound off the NASDAQ board. In a highly unusual move approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the stock was withdrawn and all trades were rendered void.

Clearly, in the increasingly competitive restaurant business, a sports star's name is not a guarantee of success, no matter the magnitude of the star. On the other hand, only a mile up the road from Chamberlain's is another eating establishment carrying the name of a sports legend. Pete Rose's Ballpark Cafe is doing just fine, thank you.

Off the Canvas

Don't look now, but another former heavyweight champion may be returning to the ring. Thirty-six-year-old Michael Spinks, who hasn't fought since getting knocked out by Mike Tyson in 91 seconds on June 27, 1988, is working out at Joe Frazier's gym in Philadelphia and plotting a possible comeback with manager Butch Lewis. Like George Foreman and Larry Holmes before him, Spinks has been emboldened by the vacuum in the heavyweight division. However, he offers another reason for coming back that might strike a responsive chord with the 45-year-old Foreman and the 43-year-old Holmes, as well as with other retired athletes—Bjorn Borg, Mark Spitz and Jim Palmer dodder to mind—who have tried to return to action. Says Spinks, "I just don't seem to be able to fill my life with something else."

Athletes aren't the only ones who sing the retirement blues, of course. Maury Elvekrog, a consulting psychologist in Birmingham, Mich., who helps former business executives deal with retirement, says, "I have seen people retire to enjoy their success, only to buy their old businesses back. It's all they knew; it's what they were."

But the frustration can be particularly keen in athletes, who are accustomed to the limelight and usually retire young. As Elvekrog says, "There is the stereotype of the athlete who is great in his field, retires, buys a bar and then spends the rest of his life talking about his days of glory. That's very sad. Meaning in life comes from going ahead."

Someone tell that to Spinks before he gets hurt.



Once he left the Royals in '83 (inset), Limbaugh became a big star.



[See caption above.]



Has Spinks forgotten what Tyson did to him?



To the Nines

Atlanta Brave bullpen coach Ned Yost (left) took some ribbing from his players last season after they found out he dressed by the numbers, using a computerized list to match his ties with his shirts with his suits, etc. Yost, though, may get the last laugh. He has gone into business with Mac McLemore of The Gentry Shop in Stone Mountain, Ga. For $249, McLemore will number your garments, provide you with a list of matches and recommend items to fill the holes in your wardrobe. The Yost system may cause some confusion for Atlanta batterymates, however. Does three fingers mean fastball, curveball or the double-breasted blue blazer with the gray slacks?

All's Right That...

The other day on heavily traveled Interstate 71 in Cincinnati, the door of a horse trailer bound for Keeneland, Ky., flew open, and a 3-year-old colt fell out. Fortunately, some passing motorists stopped and pulled the dazed horse off the superhighway. Miraculously, he suffered only minor cuts. His name? Ends Right. He's out of I'm Alright.

They Wrote It

•Mai Florence, in the Los Angeles Times, after Oregon basketball coach Jerry Green appeared on crutches at a game against UCLA: "Does that make him a lame Duck coach?"

They Asked It

•Peter Schwartz of Sports Phone to New York Islander left wing Steve Thomas after his shot hit the helmet of Boston Bruin goalie John Blue: "What were you trying to do, shoot until you got Blue in the face?"

They Said It

•Heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe, on the highlight of his current international tour: "I'm gonna be hangin' with the Pope."