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Original Issue


"I played against Shaq in high school and college, and I admire the way he has handled the hoopla of pro sports and remained down-to-earth."

In a time when it has become fashionable to Shaq-bash—for everything from his questionable rapport with NBA officials to his lack of an outside game—it's refreshing to see an article that steps inside 22-year-old superstar Shaquille O'Neal (Sugar Shaq, April 25). Unlike previous NBA icons, Shaq has really done nothing to warrant the spotlight thrust upon him. As talented as he was, Michael Jordan didn't become a superstar until he won a championship. The same is true of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. So before we anoint him as the savior of the NBA, let's allow him to be Shaquille.
KURTIS KEALA, Hayward, Calif.

Your fluff job on Shaquille O'Neal was in-depth reporting at its finest. You say Shaq rode Universal Studios' Back to the Future ride 12 times, breaking Michael Jackson's record? What boundless talent! You say he likes to surprise his friends with late-night prank phone calls? How cute! And what's this, O'Neal relaxes by playing video games and watching action movies? Tell me more! The headline on the piece, Sugar Shaq, couldn't have been more appropriate.
JOHN D. ANDERSON, Austin, Texas

The articles in your April 25 issue on Shaquille O'Neal and Sandy Koufax (Sugar Shaq and The Very Best Act in Town) provide a startling contrast between athletes, and sports in general, over a 30-year period. The megabucks showered on monosyllabic, superficial and immature kids, and the public's adulation of them, are ruining athletics. One supposes that over the next 30 years the kids pulling down rims, probably without having to expend the energy to jump, will be eight feet tall. Who cares? It will all be forgotten, and what will endure are the timeless accomplishments, modesty and class of a Koufax.
GENE ANDERSON, Sheboygan, Wis.

Pitiful Pitching
The article in the April 25 issue about the decline of major league pitching (Whiplash) should have given more attention to the No. 1 reason for the avalanche of runs and home runs: the souped-up ball. So a Rawlings spokesman said the balls are made to the same specifications as before. Well, what else is he going to say? "O.K., you got us. Commissioner Selig and our chief executive met under a bridge in the dead of night after the 1993 season and agreed to juice up the ball."
TED SLOAN, Frankfort, Ky.

Pitchers have no choice with the current size of the strike zone. Every pitch is either a ball or a watermelon wearing a HIT ME sign. This leads to more walks, more hits, more pickoff throws to try to eliminate base runners, and inflated ERAs and batting averages. Do you think Bob Gibson would have had a 1.12 ERA if the current strike zone had been in effect in 1968? And how many more home runs would Aaron, Ruth, Mantle, Mays et al. have hit if they had enjoyed the luxury of being able to take a pitch that wasn't quite right? You can't compare players from different eras because the game is no longer the same—no matter what the rule book says.
BOB MCDONALD, Pennsylvania Furnace, Pa.

Yes, the strike zone should be expanded, and managers and pitching coaches should do what White Sox manager Eddie Stanky did in 1967—store the baseballs in a dank cellar. The moisture that collects inside the balls would make them heavier and unable to travel as far or as fast as today's balls.

Hurlers Who Hit
In INSIDE BASEBALL (April 25), Kansas City player turned pitcher David Howard asked the question "How many American League pitchers have gotten a hit since the DH rule was instituted in 1973?" Granted, Howard is not a true pitcher, but I'll bite. How many?

•Eight true pitchers, all of whom have one hit apiece. They are Catfish Hunter, Oakland, 1973; Ed Rodriguez, Milwaukee, '73; Ferguson Jenkins, Texas, '74; Tom Murphy, Milwaukee, '74; Ken Brett, Chicago, '76; Tim Lollar, Boston, '86; Mike Jeffcoat, Texas, '91; and Matt Maysey, Milwaukee, '93.—ED.

Dunston's Back
Having played against the Cubs' Shawon Dunston at Brooklyn's Parade Grounds in Youth Service League games in the late '70s, and now, as a chiropractor, helping people recover from back pain, I feel confident that Dunston was not, as suggested in your story, "dogging it" during his rehabilitation (Look Who's Back, May 2). Anyone recovering from extensive disk surgery would be satisfied to return to normal life and activity without pain, to say nothing of competing as a major league shortstop.
Brookline Village, Mass.

Cub general manager Larry Himes can praise his shortstop all he wants, but if the new cost-conscious Cubs could have dealt Dunston and saved $3 million a year, they would have.
CARY HEINZ, Bridgman, Mich.

Remembering Jones
As I read the article about Bobby Jones (The Emperor Jones, April 11), my thoughts went back to an exhibition I saw in the summer of 1943 in Wilmington, N.C., featuring Gene Sarazen. Sarazen and two other golfers, whose names I don't recall, were joined on the 10th hole by a golfer wearing dark glasses and a fedora. This man was driving the ball at least as far as Sarazen, but I figured he was some local hotshot playing over his head, trying to show up Sarazen and the others. Only about a hundred fans were watching the exhibition, and I never heard a word to suggest that the mystery man was anyone but a local golfer.

Not until the next morning did I learn from the local newspaper that the latecomer was Major Robert T Jones. Because of his work as an intelligence officer, he was not announced as a participant in the exhibition. One thing nobody had to tell me was that the Emperor Jones could still play.
Saratoga Springs, N. Y.

Gene Sarazen recently shared a story with me. After winning the 1922 U.S. Open in Skokie, Ill., over Bob Jones and John Black by one stroke, Sarazen, carrying his trophy, was on a train with Jones. Admittedly a fresh kid in those days, Sarazen looked at Jones and said something to the effect of "I bet you'd like to play me for this now." Jones replied, "No, Gene, I already played you for it, and you won it fair and square. You keep it." Jones was a considerate champion and a gracious, if infrequent, loser.
SIDNEY L. MATTHEW, Tallahassee, Fla.

Unwanted Ward
The recent NFL draft left me in dismay (PRO FOOTBALL, May 2). How can a draft take place without mentioning Charlie Ward? How could the first round end without him being drafted? Is there a quota on black quarterbacks in the NFL?
JIM SAPP, Fayetteville, N.C.

Role Model
Thanks for the article on New York Ranger left wing Adam Graves, the ultimate role model (Adam's Apple, April 11). In 1992, when Graves won the team's Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award (which is named in honor of a New York City policeman who was disabled in the line of duty), he did not go out and get speeding tickets in the sports car that went with the award. He gave the car to his mother. When he won the award in 1993, he gave the car to his dad.

Graves gives more credit to his teammates than he takes for himself. He gives as much of his free time as possible to charities, and he wants to honor his contract. I hope Graves and the Rangers win the Stanley Cup. It won't change him.
PAUL BRODERICK, New Rochelle, N.Y.

Worst Trades
In INSIDE BASEBALL (May 2) you cite the Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps trade as one of the worst of the 1980s. You should have a contest to decide the worst baseball trade in history. My choice dates back to 1971, when the Mets dealt a somewhat wild fastball pitcher named Nolan Ryan (top), along with three other players, to the Angels for Jim Fregosi (bottom), who they thought would solve their third base woes for the foreseeable future. He didn't, and Ryan went on to a Hall of Fame career.
PETER E. SPOWART, Fort Pierce, Fla.



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