Since January, when 17-year-old Jennifer Capriati announced she was leaving the women's tennis tour to finish high school, her status has been the subject of speculation and rumor. SI's Kelly Whiteside caught up with the elusive Capriati last week at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where Capriati says she is taking an SAT preparation course.
"I'm chillin', just having fun," Jennifer Capriati says. She is smiling, but it seems to be a reflexive smile since at this moment she is hardly happy. Like the nimble-footed baseliner she is—or was—Capriati has so far been able to dodge the questions and avoid confronting the rumors surrounding her absence from the tour. "I'm not ready to open up," she says. "I haven't figured things out for myself yet." She says that she has a lot of friends and that she's happy. She is asked if she is thinking of rejoining the tour. "I can't say," she answers.
Capriati, who turned 18 on March 29, is living with friends in Boca after moving out of her parents' house in Wesley Chapel, Fla., near Tampa. "It's better here than up where I was living," she says. Except for the thin silver hoop through her nose, she looks much the same as ever, if decidedly more grunge, in her baggy blue shorts, loose fitting shorts and blue suede Birkenstocks. The last time she was seen playing tennis was about three weeks ago on the Florida Atlantic courts with a friend's boyfriend.
Capriati was a celebrity at age 13. At 14 she won her first pro tournament; at 15 she reached the semifinals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open; and at 16 she won an Olympic gold medal. At 17, however, she had a series of double faults.
She spent most of 1993 battling bone chips in her right elbow, which contributed to her first-round exit from the U.S. Open last summer. She has not played a match since. In December the Tampa police department issued her a citation for shoplifting an inexpensive ring at a suburban Tampa mall, an incident that she called an accident. Since she was a juvenile, the official record of the incident is confidential, but the story was leaked and reported all over the world.
Rumors about her continue to circulate, some of them in supermarket tabloids. She has purple hair, says one report. (Not true right now, anyway; her hair is her normal color of brown.) She has gained a ton of weight, says another. (Not true, though she appears to be at least 20 pounds over her last listed playing weight of 135.) "I don't care what [the tabloids] write," she says. "It's all lies. I don't read that——." Then she apologizes. "Excuse my language."
She is not ready to talk. And until she does, who knows if she will ever play again. Jennifer Capriati says goodbye and heads down the stairs to the parking lot. It is an overcast day, threatening rain, but the top of her hunter-green Miata convertible is down. She drives away without looking back, leaving more questions than answers.
After scouring Make the Right Call!, a recently-released 217-page volume from Triumph Books that outlines every major league baseball rule and highlights some of the more obscure and confusing ones, we theorized that it was impossible for an umpire to be cognizant of every rule. We selected several of the strangest situations described in the book and asked retired National League umpire Dutch Rennert, a consultant on the book, if we could quiz him.
With some trepidation, Rennert agreed and offered his rulings on the spot. See if you can duplicate Rennert's absolutely flawless performance. Here are a few of the posers we presented him. (Dutch's interpretations are on page 16.)
1) Frank Thomas of the White Sox is at the plate with two outs and a man on third. He hits a hard grounder up the middle that on the third bounce nails the pitching rubber and rebounds directly over Blue Jay catcher Pat Borders's head. Borders recovers the ball but not before the runner has scored. Carter has rounded first, but Borders throws him out at second. Does the run count?
2) With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the bases loaded and the score tied, Barry Bonds of the Giants hits a monstrous home run and, per custom, stands at home admiring his blast. As Todd Ben-zinger steps on the plate from third, he urges Bonds to round the bases. Bonds gets to first and then passes Darren Lewis, who is also admiring the shot. Bonds is called out for passing Lewis. Does the game go into extra innings?
3) With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Benzinger on third and Lewis on first and the Giants down by one, Bonds hits one out. Benzinger touches home. But after Lewis passes second, he cuts across the diamond thinking that the homer wins the game. Bonds continues circling the bases and touches home. Is the game over?
4) The bases are loaded for the Mariners' Eric Anthony. On a 2-1 count, Oriole reliever Lee Smith snaps off a curve that bounces in the dirt, hits catcher Chris Hoiles in the chest protector and bounces away. Rich Amaral, the runner at third, breaks for home. Hoiles, who has ripped off his mask and is holding it in his right hand, rakes in the ball with the mask. Amaral slides, but before he touches home, Hoiles traps the ball against Amaral's body with the mask. Is Amaral a dead duck?
Any Day Now
The quest to settle one of the biggest issues in college sports is off to a flying start. According to a recent news release, at the first meeting of the "NCAA Special Committee To Study a Division I-A Football Championship" held last week in Kansas City, "the committee decided to form three subcommittees that will report back to the full committee at a June meeting."
Now we're getting somewhere.
The new NCAA rule that allows an underclassman to enter the NBA draft but return to school within 30 days if he doesn't like how the draft turns out opens up a Pandora's box-and-one for athletes, coaches and NCAA enforcers.
How should, say, Michigan coach Steve Fisher plan for next year considering that two of his juniors, Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose, have announced they will enter the June 29 draft? Should he hold their scholarships open in case they decide to return or make the grants available to two more recruits to avoid the possibility of having to play shorthanded in 1994-95? Fisher has decided on the latter course since Howard and Rose are good enough that both will probably be drafted fairly early and sign lucrative contracts to play in the NBA next season, but what if he is wrong? Had the rule been in effect four years ago, when Sean Higgins came out after his junior year, Fisher would have probably guessed that Higgins would return, and he would not have offered that scholarship to another player. And he would have been wrong.
The new rule was actually designed to save the players like Higgins—waived by the San Antonio Spurs early in his second season and now playing for a pro team in Greece—from themselves. He was one of the starry-eyed ones who overestimated his value. Indeed, of the 19 players who applied for early entry in last year's draft, only seven are in the NBA today. And of the 28 who came out early in 1991 and '92 combined, only nine are still in the league. The risk is great, yet the new rule may entice a player to test the market. That is what NBA officials have against the rule: When more players are encouraged to dip their toes in the water, league director of operations Rod Thorn believes, more will end up taking the plunge.
So far, probable underclass stars like Rose and Purdue's Glenn Robinson have registered for this year's draft, but so have lesser lights like Charles Claxton, a junior center from Georgia, who surprised his coach, Hugh Durham, by declaring for the draft. "We didn't even recruit a center," says Durham. "If Charles wants to come back, we'd take him."
Then, too, the new rule authorizes players to retain an adviser but not an agent; the difference is that an adviser offers legal counsel to the player but doesn't attempt to secure a professional contract. Does anybody really believe the overworked NCAA enforcement staff can police all the glad-handers working on these underclassmen? "Keeping agents away from these kids is like trying to keep flies away from a picnic," says Lee Rose, vice president of player personnel for the Milwaukee Bucks. Even if an underclassman adheres to the letter of the rule, no doubt his "adviser" will remain in contact with him during the year. What if the adviser doesn't like the way, say, Rick Pitino is using the adviser's player at Kentucky? Isn't there enormous potential for him to poison the relationship between player and coach?
In addition, the NBA team that selects a player now has an investment to protect because, under league rules, that team retains the rights to the player for a year after his class graduates. So who will the player be more interested in pleasing, his college coach or the NBA team that drafted him?
Several coaches who voted for the measure are having second thoughts. It will be better assessed a month after the draft, when players have to make their final decisions, but it most certainly is not, as North Carolina coach Dean Smith proclaimed, "a major breakthrough for the student-athlete."
Get the Picture
When you've played on the lossing team in four straight Super Bowls, as Buffalo Bill quarterback Jim Kelly has, revenge is never far from your mind. Recently, Kelly was one of the celebrity guests at a charity auction of sports memorabilia in Charleston, S.C., when an autographed photo of the once dynamic Dallas Cowboy duo of owner Jerry Jones and coach Jimmy Johnson went on the block. Kelly, whose Bills have lost to the Cowboys in the last two Super Bowls, knew what he had to do.
"I couldn't let a Dallas fan have it," said Kelly, who claimed the picture for $500. He promptly tore it into pieces.
"It was worth every penny," said Kelly.
Here are Rennert's responses to the questions on page 14.
1) "The run obviously doesn't count, because it's a foul ball and Thomas comes back to the plate. Foul territory is defined by the bases, which are 90 feet from home, while the mound is only 60 feet, 6 inches. So the situation is just like when a ball is rolling down the first base line and veers into foul territory. Believe it or not, I saw that happen once. I made the call right away. It's an easy one."
2) "No, it doesn't go into extra innings. Bonds is declared out for passing the runner. I once saw Tim McCarver lose a home run because he passed Garry Maddox. But the winning run scores because it came across before the base-running error. I know this: Bonds would be a little upset because he lost a homer."
3) "No, it's a tie game. Benzinger scores, but the base runner is out because he can't just stop running between bases. And Bonds's run doesn't count because that was the third out. I wasn't umping then, but I remember that's the famous play that occurred in Harvey Haddix's perfect game against the Braves."
Rennert is correct. On May 26, 1959, Pittsburgh Pirate lefthander Harvey Haddix retired 36 Milwaukee Braves in a row. In the 13th, Felix Mantilla reached first on an error and was sacrificed to second by Eddie Mathews. Hank Aaron was walked intentionally, and Haddix then served up a home run ball to Joe Adcock. However, Aaron cut across the diamond after Mantilla stepped on home and Adcock passed Aaron. The only run that counted was Mantilla's, and the official score of the game was 1-0.
4) "No, he's not out. Just like you can't throw your glove at the ball, you can't use part of the equipment. All the runners advance one base."
Rennert is correct. However, if a fielder uses his cap, mask or any other part of his equipment after coming up with a thrown ball (as opposed to a pitched ball), then the runners are entitled to two bases.
The decision of Claxton (with ball) to test the draft puts the squeeze on his Georgia coach.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The 3M National Advertising Co., concerned about the visibility of several of its billboards in center-city Atlanta, lopped the tops off 22 sugar maples, elms and Savannah hollies planted two years ago by a civic group to beautify the downtown area for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
They Said It
Minnesota Twin pitcher on ignoring baseball tradition and changing his seat in the dugout during teammate Scott Erickson's recent no-hitter: "I think everybody gets caught up in superstitions. But I don't put much stock in them—knock on wood."