OWNERSHIP'S ONE-TWO PUNCH
The two men most responsible for the absence of labor peace in
baseball are Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig, the acting
commissioner, and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. For a
deal between owners and players to be made, both of those
back-channel Machiavellians must emerge from the shadows and
take a leading--and open--role in forging management's position.
Last week, at an owners' meeting in Rosemont, Ill., an owner and
another high-ranking baseball executive urged Selig and
Reinsdorf to do that. Only Selig agreed, and he had no choice:
His public credibility had all but vanished, his support from
fellow owners was showing cracks, and he had just embarrassed
himself by repudiating his own negotiator, Randy Levine, even
though Levine had hammered out what seemed to be a workable
agreement. To the astonishment of Levine, the exasperation of
the players' union and the dismay of fans, Selig and 17 other
owners, including Reinsdorf, voted to reject the deal.
At least Selig finally stepped into the batter's box, unlike
Reinsdorf, who the union has long suspected would undermine this
deal. As one of the game's senior owners and most unyielding
hawks, Reinsdorf has an obligation to be at the bargaining
table. But, as one well-placed management source says of
Reinsdorf, "he doesn't want to be out front and in the position
of being second-guessed. He doesn't want his ass on the line."
Predictably, Reinsdorf was not present on Monday afternoon in
New York City when Selig and four other owners met with union
chief Don Fehr in what turned out to be a failed last-ditch
On several occasions over the past year, Selig told Fehr, "When
you're talking to Randy, it's the same as talking to me." That
was blather, which is mostly what Selig has churned out during
his four years in office. Judging from the grumbling of some
owners, they're realizing that Selig's quasicommissionership,
like a moldy loaf of bread, has passed its expiration date.
"He's a spin doctor," says one owner, "and when you keep
spinning and spinning, people will tend not to believe you." Yet
Selig remains so influential that five or six owners would vote
whichever way he wanted them to.
The owners want the players to drop the sixth and final year of
the deal struck between Levine and Fehr because the final year
does not include the luxury tax, a mechanism that would create a
drag on players' salaries in 1997, '98 and '99 by penalizing
teams that exceed a payroll spending limit. But allowing a
luxury tax at all was a substantial concession by the players.
The owners also want all teams exceeding the spending threshold
to pay some tax--not just the five or six clubs with the highest
payrolls, as agreed to by the union. Good luck, for the players
are in no mood to make further concessions, not after the
charade with Levine. As of Monday night, there was a slim hope
the owners would vote again on the Levine-Fehr proposal and
accept it. But if that doesn't happen, Selig and Reinsdorf will
have led baseball into a long, cold winter.
NO NICHOLSON SIGHTINGS
Here's a report on the development of NBA fever in Canada, where
the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors are each in
their second season.
The Province, a daily newspaper in Vancouver, provides readers
with regular updates on the dunks that team mascot Grizz
attempts during timeouts. The "Paw ratings" on the
"Grizz-O-Meter" read: one paw for "Boo Boo," two for "Just Your
Average Bear," three for "Fur-ocious" and four for "Pawsitively
From Toronto come the words of Jamie Nishino, the Raptors'
manager of stadium operations, who brags that the team is
"tight" with the Ontario Film Board and keeps a close watch on
which actors are in town so they might be cajoled into attending
a game. Says Nishino, "Every fan loves to say, 'Wow, I went to a
game last night and I saw David Hasselhoff.'"
Trey Melson doesn't believe in short flings. Melson, a
45-year-old plumber, is the four-time winner of the World
Championship Punkin' Chunkin' Contest, a rite of autumn in the
bayside burg of Lewes in southern Delaware. Each November scores
of pumpkin chunkers assemble with their homemade hurling
machines in a field abutting the Lewes Church of Christ to see
who can propel his or her gourd the farthest. The ingenious
contraptions range from V-8-engine-powered centrifuges to
three-story slingshots. Explosives are prohibited.
Melson, who is from Lewes, is a charter chunker. His jerry-built
catapult won the inaugural event in 1986 with a throw of 102
feet. After victories in '87 and '88, he retired. But like many
contemporary champions, he couldn't stay away. He reappeared in
'94 with a revolutionary 371/2-foot pneumatic cannon he named
Universal Soldier. The first of his three chunks that year
landed 2,508 feet away, more than 1,200 feet beyond the longest
of his nearest competitor.
This year, on Nov. 3, the Soldier and two other air cannons vied
for chunkin' supremacy. The most formidable-looking was the
Aludium Q 36 Pumpkin Modulator used by a team from Morton, Ill.
Named for the weapon of choice of Looney Tunes character Marvin
the Martian, the Modulator shot squash out of a 100-foot barrel.
Its best chunk touched down in the parking lot in front of the
church, a record 2,710 feet from the firing line.
The Soldier's final chunk, meanwhile, was launched in near
darkness, and the pumpkin projectile could not be found. When
searchers came up empty again the next day, the Modulator was
declared the winner. Two days later, however, Melson's
splattered punkin'--identifiable from signatures of team members
and the "To the bat of hell" scrawled on the pumpkin's skin--was
located by chunkers some 200 feet behind the church, which meant
the fruit had flown more than 2,900 feet. "Those chunkers wanted
me to protest the results," Melson says. "I told them to just
let it go. If we had won the appeal, the boys from Illinois
would have thought the contest was rigged. Sure, we got a raw
deal, but that's the way the punkin' busts."
CUT OUT FOR THE JOB
After guiding Tampa Bay to the best record (20-12) in Major
League Soccer, Thomas Rongen was named coach of the year. So it
was surprising that he left the team last week to coach the New
England franchise. Then again, maybe the move makes sense. The
team Rongen abandoned is nicknamed the Mutiny. The team he
joined? The Revolution.
THE HOME TEAM
Some eyebrows were raised last month when a list of the NBA's
top 50 alltime players (as selected by a national panel of
broadcasters, journalists and former players) included 12 former
Boston Celtics. But in Boston, where pride in the Celtics, who
have won 16 NBA championships, runs deep, the nearly one-fourth
representation was deemed to be just about right--or maybe too
low. The Boston Globe asked its readers to rate the 50 honored
players (they weren't ranked by the national panel) in order of
their ability, and let's just say the 1,932 responses received
as of Monday had a parochial flavor.
Fans had the sense to place Michael Jordan first, albeit tied
with Celtic Bill Russell. Boston's Larry Bird came in second
(according to the Globe's ranking system) with non-Celtics Magic
Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain tied for third. But then things got
a little green. Boston's Bob Cousy was ranked sixth, ahead of
both Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Celtic John Havlicek was
eighth (too high but not horribly so), and Boston's Kevin McHale
(10), Sam Jones (11) and Dave Cowens (13) were way too high.
Bill Sharman, Cousy's backcourt mate, who some felt shouldn't
have even been on the list, was tied with Moses Malone for 17th.
Finally, Nate Archibald (a too-high 18) and Pete Maravich (a
too-high 20) were regarded with undue favor because, one must
conclude, they played with the Celtics late in their careers.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT GROSSMAN Spoiled babies Selig (left) and Reinsdorf are the most irksome owners. [Drawing of Bud Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf and crying babies in playpen shaped like baseball stadium]
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES [Tonya Harding]
THREE COLOR PHOTOS: ANDREW MCCLOSKEY [Card featuring photograph of Troy Davis; watch with photograph of Marcus Harris in dial; refrigerator magnet featuring name "PACE"]
COLOR PHOTO: RICK LABRANCHE/ESPN [Jon Miller]
B/W PHOTO: HERB SCHARFMAN Bostonians boosted Sharman (left) and Jones far above their deserved NBA rank. [Bill Sharman]
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. [See caption above--Sam Jones]
Fans at sold-out Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan for the
winter league debut of Roberto Alomar, whom they greeted with a
Suitcases packed with drugs and used needles that East German
sports officials dumped into the St. Lawrence River during the
1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, according to documents released
by the German government.
6, 500 and 27,000
Months in jail, community service hours and restitution dollars
to be paid by former NBA star Alvin Robertson, sentenced last
week for burglarizing the apartment of a former girlfriend.
Dollars charged by Nike for a pair of CWebb sneakers, a price so
high it was denounced by Washington Bullets forward Chris
Webber, for whom the shoe is named.
Dollars in opening bid set by an Illinois collectibles firm for
the Nov. 21 auction of the skates and purple sequined outfit
that Tonya Harding wore in the 1994 Olympics.
Some colleges send out Heisman hokum to boost candidates, but
all Florida does for favorite Danny Wuerffel is mail out his
Iowa State hopes voters flip for the 6,680 Troy Davis trading
cards it sent.
Wyoming had time to ship 1,600 Marcus Harris paper watches.
Ohio State cooked up 500 Orlando Pace refrigerator magnets.
Oriole Songbird Flies Off
The first big free-agent signing of the baseball off-season
involved a broadcaster. Jon Miller, the superb radio voice of
the Baltimore Orioles for the last 14 years--and a fixture on
ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball for the last seven--signed a
five-year, $2.5 million deal to be the lead radio announcer for
the San Francisco Giants. As with many free-agent signings, this
one was steeped in acrimony and left some loyal fans feeling
Miller's agent, Ron Shapiro, says Miller (left) wanted to stay
in Baltimore but departed primarily because owner Peter Angelos
disapproved of Miller's on-air criticism of his club. "He's not
much of an advocate," says Angelos. "He should bleed
orange-and-black once in a while."
No, he shouldn't. Miller (who is on vacation and couldn't be
reached) shouldn't do anything but call things as he sees them.
Endearing homers like Harry Caray and Phil Rizzuto
notwithstanding, broadcasters have a responsibility to be
honest. The Orioles played badly for three months of last season
and deserved to be criticized. Miller, an exception in this age
of shameless shilling by broadcasters, was not one to compromise.
Miller, 45, is not blameless. He demanded a contract proposal by
Nov. 1--"This is an employee, mind you, issuing a deadline to
the employer," huffed Angelos--and when one didn't come, he
engaged in brief dalliances with the San Diego Padres and the
New York Yankees before accepting the Giants' offer. "He was
here part-time [referring to the fact that the Orioles let
Miller off to do the ESPN games], earning close to $500,000 a
year," Angelos says. "I would never have given him [a contract
for] five years, not for 115 games a year. If people don't like
it, they will see that I made the right decision."
Many among the Orioles faithful have reacted angrily. For as
Miller takes his mellifluous voice, his knowledge of the game
and his hilarious on-air impersonations back to the Bay Area,
where he grew up, Baltimore fans know the radio days of summer
won't be the same.
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Foamation, Inc. of Milwaukee is suing a company in Menomonee
Falls, Wis., for distributing what Foamation says is a
counterfeit version of the Foamation-made cheesehead hats worn
by sports fans in Wisconsin.
THEY SAID IT
Oakland Raiders tackle, on his decision not to vote last week:
"I was going to write myself in, but I was afraid I'd get shot."