Nothing more vividly epitomizes the contempt that many baseball players have for their fans than the lighted firecracker that New York Met leftfielder Vince Coleman threw out the window of a car in the players' parking lot at Dodger Stadium last Saturday afternoon. Three people, including an 11-year-old boy and a one-year-old girl, suffered minor injuries when the firecracker exploded. The three were in a crowd of several hundred fans who were hoping to get autographs from, or at least catch a glimpse of, their ball-playing heroes. Coleman's response was to fling a firecracker.
Dodger leftfielder Eric Davis, who was driving, tried to play down the incident, saying that Coleman didn't mean to hurt anybody. "It's not like it was something out of the ordinary," said Davis, and sadly, he is right. Two weeks earlier an unidentified Met tossed a lighted firecracker behind reporters in the team's locker room. Nobody was injured on that occasion, but the three people hurt by Coleman's action weren't so lucky.
The Los Angeles Fire Department's arson unit was investigating, but one didn't have to wait for the results to condemn Coleman for stupidity and arrogance. It's bad enough that some ballplayers won't sign autographs at the park, preferring to sell them at card shows. It's worse if autograph seekers have to worry about being greeted by exploding firecrackers.
NBA commissioner David Stern's investigation into Michael Jordan's gambling debts to erstwhile golfing pal Richard Esquinas is a charade. So says Jordan himself, who laughed at a similar NBA probe last year into his gambling losses to convicted cocaine dealer Slim Bouler (SCORECARD, June 21). Now snickers from Jordan are audible once again.
"Stern's just doing what he's got to do, making it seem like he's doing his job," Jordan told the Chicago Sun-Times's Jay Mariotti. "Their [investigation] is just a formality, no big deal. It doesn't concern me. It'll be taken care of, and it will go away."
Here's a question for Stern: If Jordan doesn't take your investigation seriously, why should anyone else?
The Old Squeeze Play
The New York Yankees' George Steinbrenner, whom Steve Wulf excoriates in POINT AFTER (page 70) for trying to exact concessions from New York City and New York State by threatening to move his club to New Jersey, isn't the first owner to play that shabby game. As two insightful new books make clear, many others have worked similar squeeze plays. And, as is the case with Steinbrenner's machinations in New York, politicians are only too willing to be squeezed.
In Ballpark, a book about Oriole Park at Camden Yards, journalist Peter Richmond notes that for all its charms, that facility became a reality only after Edward Bennett Williams, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles at the time, threatened to move the team to Washington. The Orioles, Richmond says, received what amounted to a public subsidy, "a quarter-of-a-billion dollar gift of a stadium, designed to help a private enterprise meet its payroll." And in Playing the Field, Charles C. Euchner, an assistant professor of political science at Holy Cross, details how owners like the Phoenix Cardinals' Bill Bidwell and the Chicago White Sox's Jerry Reinsdorf—who, as Wulf notes, is a friend of Steinbrenner's—have shamelessly played cities against one another to get sweetheart stadium deals for their teams.
Euchner shoots down the notion, seldom questioned by the politicians who accede to the owners' blackmail, that stadiums are catalysts for redevelopment and the creation of jobs. He cites evidence that sports facilities actually may impede economic growth by diminishing spending on other urban activities. So what if a new restaurant opens across from the ballpark? An established eatery across town might close as a consequence. In fact, writes Euchner, "Money spent on game tickets, parking, and so on might instead be spent somewhere else in the city if there were no local team."
To justify the state's stake in the financing of Camden Yards—$216 million in bonds and four annual lotteries to pay them off—Maryland officials point to supposed economic benefits, but Richmond and Euchner aren't buying it. Neither is Stanford economist Roger Noll, who recently told the Los Angeles Times, "With 200 million, you could go out and build an industrial park and generate 10 to 100 times as much taxes and jobs."
As chairman of the Italian syndicate that raced Il Mow di Venezia, which lost to America in the finals of last year's America's Cup, in San Diego, industrialist Raul Gardini was an elegant figure who, paradoxically, was relentless in accusing rivals of dirty tricks. In the Cup challenger series finals against New Zealand, Gardini repeatedly and angrily accused the Kiwi boat of using its bowsprit in an improper manner, and, indeed, New Zealand eventually was penalized. Gardini also alleged—again with some justification—that operatives from Bill Koch's America syndicate spied on Il Mow di Venezia.
Gardini's quickness to point fingers at others came to mind after he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot in his Milan apartment last week. The suicide occurred amid allegations that Gardini had bribed politicians and falsified balance sheets of the family-owned Ferruzzi conglomerate, a financial colossus that he headed until he was ousted in 1991. But Gardini remained courtly to the end. Next to his body, police found a business card on which he had written the first names of family members and the word grazie—thank you.
A race last week on Istanbul's Bosporus Strait left crews from Oxford and Cambridge sputtering. The two English eights started the 3.75-mile event as heavy favorites over a crew from Bosporus University, but when Cambridge jumped to an early lead, a Turkish Coast Guard cutter buzzed by, sending up a wave that forced the Light Blues to stop and bail. Oxford then forged ahead only to be Hooded and sunk by the same cutter. Bosporus U went on to win.
Members of the British crews stopped short of suggesting that the swampings were intentional. However, The Times of London pointedly noted that the race finished in front of "the castle of Rumeli where, in the 15th century, the Turks fired specially forged cannons to prevent foreign ships [from] reaching the city."
After Dale Murphy retired earlier this season, trivialists noted that he is one of nine big league players who have won back-to-back MVP titles and that the nine constitute a perfectly arrayed team:
1B—Jimmie Foxx (1932 and '33)
2B—Joe Morgan ('75 and '76)
3B—Mike Schmidt ('80 and '81)
SS—Ernie Banks ('58 and '59)
OF—Mickey Mantle ('56 and '57)
OF—Roger Maris ('60 and '61)
OF—Murphy ('82 and '83)
C—Yogi Berra ('54 and '55)
P—Hal Newhouser ('44 and '45)
O.K., but what happens to this pat lineup if, as appears likely, Barry Bonds, last year's National League MVP, makes it two in a row (and three of four)? Easy. You make Bonds the DH, thereby taking the bat out of the hands of Newhouser, a lifetime .201 hitter.
Camden Yards: a gift to the Orioles?
Pardon the Expression
Sports lingo, like language in general, continually evolves, but why are the new expressions often so cumbersome? Blame it on growing specialization and a desire to make things sound more technical. For every current term that's more economical than the one it replaced—for example, triple jump (now) and hop, step and pimp (then)—there are dozens that are longer, more unwieldy and/or more stilted.
They Wrote It
•Tim Brown, in the Los Angeles Daily News, noting that oft-disciplined Cleveland Indian leftfielder Albert Belle is a year away from earning a degree in accounting from Cleveland State: "Then he'll be able to budget his fine money."
San Francisco Giant pitcher John Burkett is still reeling after his appearance for the National League in the All-Star Game, in which he was charged with the loss after American League batters racked him for four hits and three runs in two thirds of an inning. "That's a tough lineup," Burkett says. "It's like you were facing All-Stars out there."
Backward and Forward
Rushing to fill the sports palindrome gap (SCORECARD, June 7), reader Don Casa-lone of St. Louis suggests that after Alabama's 1993 Sugar Bowl win, Tide coach Gene Stallings can boast, "Miami did I maim!" And Brad Herzog of Chicago offers these: An alley-oop pass to the Philadelphia 76ers' Manute Bol is a "Bol lob"; athletes who endorse a certain shoe are "Nike kin"; a headline about a tennis player's overly meddlesome parent could read TENNIS DAD'S IN NET; and, as a retort to the slogan "NBA on NBC," a rival network might trumpet "CBA not on ABC."
They Said It
•David Feherty, Irish golfer, after being paired with John Daly (above) in the first round of the British Open: "He hits his divots farther than I hit my drives."
•Joe Torre, St. Louis Cardinal manager: "When we lose, I can't sleep. When we win, I can't sleep. But when you win, you wake up feeling better."