DIVORCE, AMERICAN LEAGUE STYLE
Ballplayers' lament: Breaking up is hard to do
Women! Can't live with 'em, can't hit .320, drive in 120 runs or
smack 50 homers without 'em. Old baseball saying, and it's true.
Behind every MVP is a good woman. And just one, usually. How do
we know that? Well, is Bo Belinsky in the Hall of Fame?
More recent proof: Frank Thomas, embroiled in divorce
proceedings this summer, failed to make the All-Star team for
the first time in six years. Living up to his nickname, the Big
Hurt has brooded his way well south of .300, and Chicago White
Sox officials aren't hopeful that a swing adjustment will revive
Thomas's bat. "Extenuating circumstances," sniffs one source.
In baseball a gal just has to stand by her man--or his ERA goes
up in flames. Atlanta Braves reliever Mark Wohlers has lately
had trouble getting anybody out, and reporters think it has more
to do with his wife's filing for divorce this month than it does
with the muscle tear he sustained in May. The financial terms of
a divorce agreement nearly drove Boston Red Sox righthander Bret
Saberhagen from the game earlier this summer; not only was he
pitching badly, but he also claims he was doing it just about
for free. "Being here some days doesn't make a lot of sense,"
said Saberhagen, who was told by his accountant that thanks to
his divorce, he was netting 13 cents on the dollar.
With the divorce rate in the U.S. hovering at 50%, it figures
that many athletes are, at any given time, being delivered their
papers. Of all pro athletes, baseball players seem to sing the
saddest songs. Remember when Mark McGwire was doing a better
impersonation of Bob Uecker than Babe Ruth, hitting just 22 home
runs in 1991 while talking about how much he missed his kid?
Baseball has enough examples of broken hearts and busted
marriages to get yet one more 24-hour cable channel off the
ground. How about ESPN/TNN? My sweetheart went north, and my
swing done gone south.
If players are so dependent upon a stable union (and we don't
mean the one run by Donald Fehr), clubs should invest as much in
marriage counselors as hitting instructors, and not just for the
sake of the players. No, baseball owes us nothing less than
perfectly happily married men, players so confident in their
relationships, so unmindful of doubt that they can't help but
perform at peak levels. Their families must be kept together at
any cost. Do it for the kids. For all of us kids.
The argument over aluminum bats (SCORECARD, Jan. 12) has
escalated beyond a purists-versus-innovators squabble and become
fodder for another great American pastime: litigation. On Aug. 6
the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee recommended that metal bats be
scaled back to perform more like their wooden cousins. A day
later Easton Sports, the largest maker of nonwood bats, filed
suit, charging unlawful restraint of trade and seeking $267
million in damages.
Coaches have long been alarmed by the effect that metal bats
have on the game. These high-tech clubs can rocket balls back at
pitchers at speeds of up to 115 mph, more than 20 mph faster
than wood bats. They have led to a scoring orgy--USC beat
Arizona State 21-14 in the 1998 College World Series
championship game, for example--and a rash of injuries to
If approved by the rest of the NCAA (a vote was to be held on
Aug. 12), the rules committee proposals would mute the power of
metal bats by requiring them to be heavier, with smaller
barrels. The changes, scheduled to take effect next season,
would force manufacturers to quickly retool to meet the demand
of the 900 NCAA baseball schools.
Easton and its main competitors, Worth and Hillerich & Bradsby,
may also be cringing at the effect the new rules would have on
business. Those three companies, which have driven bat prices to
more than $200 in the last year, have dominated the market by
sinking cash into the bat technology race; with that race over,
there would be little to stop smaller firms from getting into
the game. "Prices will fall because there should be more
competition," says Bill Thurston, the NCAA baseball rules
editor. "Plus, they won't have to use those exotic metals
AT LEAST PLAYERS GOT SOME SUN
Two years after a successful Olympic debut, beach volleyball has
come down harder than a Karch Kiraly kill. Two pro tours, the
Women's Professional Volleyball Association and the men's and
women's Bud Light Fours, have folded in the last five months,
while the main men's circuit, the Association of Volleyball
Professionals, has seen its attendance, sponsorship and prize
Poor management is partly responsible for the sport's decline,
but all along the tours have rested on foundations of sand. They
were created not in response to fan interest but for corporate
sponsors as hip marketing vehicles. Soon the truth was clear:
Smacking around a volleyball is a helluva nice way to spend a
summer's day, but like street luge and slo-pitch softball, it's
far more fun for participants than spectators.
We may never know if, as some Texas law-enforcement officials
believe, All-Pro receiver Michael Irvin inflicted a two-inch cut
in guard Everett McIver's neck with barber's scissors. The
episode allegedly occurred on July 29 while several players were
getting haircuts at the Dallas Cowboys' training camp in Wichita
Falls, Texas. According to The Dallas Morning News, Cowboys
owner Jerry Jones brokered a "high six-figure" settlement in
which Irvin paid McIver not to bring criminal charges. Irvin
dismissed the report; Jones denied that any deal was done;
McIver refused to comment.
Without a complaint from McIver, no charges can be pressed, and
McIver can't be compelled to testify in court as a hostile
witness. Says a member of the Dallas County district attorney's
office who is frustrated because the office can't begin a probe,
"There are many ways to obstruct justice in Texas, but paying a
person off is not one of them."
We do know that after the incident--which coach Chan Gailey
called "horseplay," but which may have been assault with a
deadly weapon--McIver was squirreled away to his home in Dallas
and Cowboys players were told not to talk about how McIver had
suffered his wound, which required stitches. We know that Jones
met with McIver's agent, Stephen Hayes, twice last week. We also
know that if Irvin was found to have maliciously stabbed McIver
he would be in violation of the four-year probation he was put
on as part of his 1996 sentence for felony cocaine possession.
He then could face a prison term of as much as 20 years for the
Last year, hoping to crack down on his renegade troops, Jones
started a counseling program for Cowboys players, installed
surveillance cameras in their training-camp dorm and forbade
them to visit a popular bar. For the first time since the 1994
season the team didn't have a player arrested or suspended by
the NFL. That record isn't likely to be tarnished by the McIver
incident--even though there is enough smoke to have the Dallas
County D.A.'s office searching for some way to investigate
Irvin's alleged involvement.
JUST WAIT 'TIL NEXT YEAR
En route to winning four races in the 85- to 89-year-old
division at the U.S. Track & Field Masters Championships in
Orono, Maine, Ivy Granstrom of Vancouver set age-group world
records in the 400 (2:22.93) and 100 (32.28) and established
herself as the fastest 86-year-old woman on earth. Granstrom,
who is blind, might have been even swifter in her events if she
hadn't had to rely on her roommate, Paul Hoeberigs, 70, to lead
her around the track. "He sometimes gets out of breath,"
Granstrom complained after closing out an impressive win in the
5,000, "and we have to slow down."
SCHOOLIN' ON THE SIDE
Blue-chip high school basketball players who don't have the ACT
or SAT scores to get into an NCAA Division I school, as well as
those who would simply rather work more on their games than
their college grades, will have another option next year: the
Collegiate Professional Basketball League. Expected to launch in
eight U.S. cities in the fall of 1999, the CPBL will offer
players age 17 to 22 a $9,000 annual salary, a $5,000 signing
bonus, room and board, and full tuition if they choose to go to
school. (The league hopes to raise money by selling team naming
rights to corporations.) There will also be a $2,500 to $10,000
bonus for any player who gets his degree within eight years.
While the CPBL is set up to allow players to concentrate on
their hoop dreams, at least the league offers the time and
wherewithal for them to pursue an education. Under the current
system, once a student-athlete's eligibility expires, so too
does the financial support of his school. "Playing Division I
basketball is a full-time job," says CPBL founder Paul McMann,
an accounting professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.
"By giving them eight years to finish their education, we're not
taking advantage of these kids."
Yet another option, one likely to attract more experienced
players, is the International Basketball League, a rival to the
CBA, that on Aug. 11 was to announce its 1999 start-up date. The
league will feature at least one international player per team
and plans to launch in eight U.S. cities. The IBL intends to
offer higher salaries than the CBA and provide the chance to
play in larger markets, such as Baltimore, Cincinnati and Las
Vegas. Like the CPBL, the IBL will offer extra money to players
for attending college.
Making education an incentive rather than an obligation is a
worthy goal. For years Division I schools have been forced to
waste precious classroom space on athletes who have little or no
interest in learning. And for years, some players have attended
college because they believed it was their only shot at the
pros. With the CPBL and IBL, these athletes will no longer be
forced to be hypocritical about their priorities.
IT IS A FAR, FAR BETTOR PLACE
Martin Panza, Hollywood Park's 34-year-old racing secretary,
probably never had a better idea in his life. While eating
dinner with two other track executives last December, Panza
marveled at the excitement generated by that day's paltry
$73,755 carry-over on the pick six, a wager on the winners of
six successive races. If railbirds got that worked up over such
a shallow pool, he thought, what would they do if the water were
After six months of aggressive promotion, Hollywood Park
guaranteed a $1 million pick-six payout on June 14. That day a
track-record $3.3 million was wagered on the pick six, and the
card's total handle was more than $18.5 million, the largest at
Hollywood Park for an event other than a Breeders' Cup or a day
that included a simulcast of a Triple Crown race. When Hollywood
guaranteed a $1.5 million pool on July 18, the handle rose to
$3.8 million for the pick six and nearly $19 million for the
day. "It was like sharks feeding," says Hollywood marketing
director Keith Chamblin. "All we had to do was throw more chum
in the water."
At a time when race tracks all over the country are trying to
bolster slipping attendance, Hollywood's experiment is a
reminder that the prospect of a mammoth payoff is a powerful
lure even for regular gamblers. Call it the Powerball
phenomenon: Unlike giveaways of T-shirts or Beanie Babies, this
promotion draws the hard-core fans who are more likely to return
to the track. "The pick six is a cerebral bet," says William
Nadler, director of promotions for the New York Racing
Association. "People will spend hours and hours trying to put
together a winning ticket."
No one suggests, however, that mental stimulation is the main
draw. Says Washington Post racing columnist Andrew Beyer, "I
don't think there are many things that can excite the
imagination quite like a million dollars."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY FRED HARPER [Drawing of Frank Thomas, Mark Wohlers and Bret Saberhagen emptying pockets and tossing away wedding ring]
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Ping! Upset by injuries and double-digit scores, the NCAA is putting the wood to metal bats. [College baseball player at bat]
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [Mighty Ducks of Anaheim player]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: MATTHEW MARTIN [Drawing of swimmer toasting bartender with test tube of urine]
--That David Stern shave.
--That Darryl Strawberry knew 10 years ago what he knows now.
--That five-year-old Matthew Stuart, the youngest golfer to hit
a hole in one, quit while he's ahead.
--That college football come up with a ranking system that
doesn't require 512 MB of RAM.
At bats without hitting into a double play, a major league
record, by Pirates second baseman Tony Womack.
At bats after his streak ended that Womack hit into another
Fine, in dollars, assessed by a Maryland state commission
against the Class A Hagerstown Suns after the team committed
religious discrimination by giving admission discounts to fans
who brought church bulletins to Sunday games.
Salary, in dollars, of Yankees batting practice pitcher Dale
Sveum, who was earning that figure when he was cut from New
York's roster last month.
Price, in dollars, of a 10-pound "collector's tin" of Pebble
Beach grass seed.
Tins sold in 1998.
Pounds of ice the Cowboys will use for treating injuries and
cooling drinks during preseason camp.
Violent prison incidents involving Daniel Green, who 30 months
ago began serving life for the murder of Michael Jordan's father
and says he's the target of inmates who are Bulls fans.
IS DISNEY GOOFY TO BID $600 MILLION FOR NHL TV RIGHTS?
Sure, NHL ratings are dismal, but that's more an aberration than
a trend. Hockey remains a strong lure for 18- to 34-year-old
men, a group advertisers drool over, and ratings were undercut
by a lack of good big-market teams. Disney could cross-promote
on ABC and ESPN, and also pump up its franchise: Anaheim Ducks
Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne will emerge as the NHL's most
televisible stars if Disney lands this five-year deal. --K.K.
What better time to almost triple the current TV contracts than
right after another ratings drop, shortly before the retirement
of lone NHL icon Wayne Gretzky and in the face of a three-year
expansion wave that will introduce four more tedious, trapping
teams? Even the viewership among those 18- to 34-year-old guys
has dropped 41% in the last three years. Disney, thirsting for
live programming, will obviously settle for comatose. --H.H.
After hitting his 46th home run on Aug. 8, Mark McGwire snapped
to reporters that people should "worry about their families" and
not his pursuit of Roger Maris's record. Unfortunately, tickets
for upcoming Cardinals games must be bought now, so fans have to
do some planning. For those anticipating McGwire's 62nd, here's
our fearless projection of where to be--and when not to get up
and go for a beer. We analyzed the dingers Big Mac has hit this
year and throughout his career, and we assumed he will play
every day. Sorry, souvenir seekers. The lucky seat has already
.37 HRs per game in August, .44 in September
1 and 1
Sept. 22 vs. Astros, Busch Stadium, section 284, row 13, seat 14
On Aug. 6, Irish swimmer Michelle Smith, who won three gold
medals at the 1996 Olympics, was banned for four years for
tampering with a urine sample she had submitted for a random
drug test. Over the years athletes trying to mask illegal drugs
have used vinegar, cleaning fluid and detergent; Smith's sample
was spiked with what one investigator termed "a lethal
concentration of alcohol," perhaps whiskey. Here's a sample of
other methods of circumventing drug tests.
1998: Massive ingestion of diuretics helps four Chinese women
swimmers pass performance enhancers through their systems more
1994: British shot-putter Paul Edwards tests positive for drugs,
including clenbuterol, a masking agent commonly used to fatten
1980s: Soviet athletes from various sports popularize use of
catheters through which clean urine could be injected into their
1978: Belgian cyclist Michel Pollentier of Belgium straps a bag
of clean urine to his armpit and uses a tube to drip the urine
from under his shorts into the collection cup.
[1998:] The diuretics show up in test at worlds in Perth;
swimmers suspended. Days earlier another Chinese swimmer, Yuan
Yuan, had been sniffed out by airport dog named Dinky and found
with 13 vials of human growth hormone in her bag.
[1994:] Edwards hospitalized for stomach ailment. Doctors
discover he had tried to flush his system by consuming water and
[1980s:] The catheter has to be coated with antibiotics, to cut
high risk of infection, and with a local anesthetic, to cut the
100% chance of excruciating pain.
[1978:] Tour de France officials become suspicious during
collection of sample when Pollentier begins pumping his elbow in
and out as if playing bagpipes.
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
An Irish boxing organization has offered 40-year-old Lord of the
Dance star Michael Flatley, who was an amateur fighter two
decades ago, $1.65 million to shed his tights and climb into the
They Said It
Philadelphia Phillies manager, on San Francisco Giants
outfielder Marvin Benard, who was 12 for 18 against the Phils in
a recent series: "If he goes to arbitration, he should take us