SWALLOW THIS PILL
Big Mac's super-sizing supplements shouldn't taint his super
In the relentless search for an asterisk, sportswriters have
come upon a bottle of pills that your Uncle Barney can buy
without a prescription, pills that Mark McGwire keeps in plain
view of America, which these days means on a shelf in his locker
stall. Get this straight: McGwire's use of androstenedione,
which he may not have advertised but didn't try to hide, should
not taint his achievement if he breaks Roger Maris's
single-season home run record (page 28). For one thing,
androstenedione, classified by the FDA as a nutritional dietary
supplement, is legal, not just in the real world, where McGwire
lives for five months of the year, but also in the baseball
world, where he lives for the other seven. For another, it's not
as if McGwire's home run prowess is purely a product of
androstenedione, which he says he began taking last year. As a
relatively skinny rookie in 1987 he hit 49 dingers. Two years
ago he clouted 52.
Brute strength isn't the only factor in hitting home runs. Last
Thursday night McGwire laid off five straight tempting sliders
from New York Mets pitcher Rick Reed to work the count full. Then
he hit the sixth pitch off the foul pole in left for number 51.
At week's end he was batting .292 and led the majors in walks.
Androstenedione had nothing to do with those stats. Finally, it's
not as if McGwire is alone. He says at least nine or ten St.
Louis Cardinals teammates use andro (as it's known to
muscleheads), and Houston Astros star Jeff Bagwell told The
Houston Chronicle, two weeks before the McGwire storm erupted,
that he had taken it. Logic says that at least a few other major
leaguers have it in their lockers.
A caveat: Andro is banned by, among others, the NFL, the NCAA
and the International Olympic Committee. Its classification as a
supplement rather than an anabolic steroid is largely semantics.
The body metabolizes androstenedione into testosterone, so it's
often referred to as a "precursor to an anabolic steroid."
Experts say that androstenedione may, like many hormones, have
deleterious side effects, among them disruptions in heart and
liver function. That's a big reason that some organizations have
banned it--and that Big Mac-mad youngsters should not try to buy
a baseball career in a bottle.
But McGwire is an adult who, as far as we know, is playing within
the rules. If baseball were to ban androstenedione, then he could
be faulted if he kept on using it. To hold McGwire to a higher
standard than his sport does is unfair. --J.M.
Randy Johnson's Move
HE GOT HIS GROOVE BACK
Randy Johnson had the Chicago Cubs flailing away last Saturday,
giving up only two hits in seven innings as the Houston Astros
all but iced the National League Central race. The win was
Johnson's fourth, against one loss, since his arrival in Houston
three weeks before from the Seattle Mariners. With his history
of back problems there is the question of how much longer he can
remain a consistent power pitcher, but the 34-year-old
lefthander has appeared as indomitable as ever in an Astros
It's hard not to like someone who looks like the product of an
unholy union between Medusa and Big Bird, but Johnson's
resurgence must be considered in juxtaposition with the first
four months of the season, the end of his mostly brilliant 9
1/2-year career as a Mariner. In the last year of a four-year,
$20 million contract, Johnson was upset that Seattle management
would not commit to another long-term deal, at nearly double his
current salary. Though he spun a couple of gems, including an
11-strikeout one-hitter against the Twins on July 16, he
sometimes looked indifferent on the mound and sometimes sulked
off it. His record reflected his funk: 9-10, 4.33 ERA in 23
Lee Pelekoudas, the Mariners' vice president of baseball
administration, last week raised an eyebrow over Johnson's
success in Houston. "It's amazing to see that someone's
performance can turn around so abruptly as Randy's has. It makes
you wish he had shown the same intensity and drive when he was
with us that he is showing now."
Pelekoudas stopped short of saying Johnson dogged it in Latte
Land. A more valid theory is that Johnson let his emotional
volatility keep him from performing up to his overpowering
standards. He felt that Mariners management did not appreciate
how much of himself he had given up during his 1995 Cy Young
season in which, arguably, he was responsible for generating the
fan enthusiasm that kept what had been an undersupported
franchise in Seattle.
Well, enjoy yourself in September, Randy, and perhaps even well
into October. Your old fans back in Seattle must relish seeing
you go after hitters again the way you did in 1995. They just
wish they had seen a little more of it in '98.
Baseball and TV
OUT OF THE LINEUP
Never mind that little home run thing going on between McGwire
and Sammy Sosa. The hottest battle these days is between Major
League Baseball and ESPN. They are at odds over three
Sunday-night games (San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers
on Sept. 6, St. Louis Cardinals at Houston Astros on Sept. 13
and New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 20) that the
network summarily moved from ESPN to ESPN2 to make way for three
NFL games. Infuriated, baseball yanked the games from the Deuce
(which reaches only 60 million households compared with ESPN's
74 million) and gave the rights back to the teams to sell
locally, a move that ESPN is contesting.
There's a clause in ESPN's five-year, $455 million deal with
baseball allowing it to preempt up to 10 games per season for
events of "significant viewer interest." ESPN points to the fact
that NFL games, even early season ho-hummers, routinely fetch
higher ratings than baseball games. In four head-to-head Sunday
nights last year, for example, NFL games on TNT drew a 9.1 while
baseball games on ESPN drew a 1.7. "Anyone would say those
ratings constitute 'significant viewer interest,'" says Mike
Soltys, ESPN's director of communications.
Baseball argues that its contract with ESPN gives it the power
to reject the proposed preemption of any game. ESPN hangs its
argument on another clause that says preemption approval can't
be "unreasonably withheld." Above all, baseball feels abandoned
and insulted by a partner. "We've worked long and hard to
rebuild the game," says Paul Beeston, baseball's chief operating
officer. "We think September and October is our time, baseball
at its best. It hurts that ESPN thinks otherwise."
One also wonders whether the network made the right decision
journalistically. Sure, it has a new eight-year, $4.8 billion
deal with the NFL. But will the Sept. 13 baseball game be the one
in which McGwire hammers No. 62? Will the Sept. 20 game be the
one in which the Yankees pick up record win No. 117?
If the games aren't shown on ESPN2, there's still a chance that
a national audience will see them. Under their contracts with
baseball, first Fox, then NBC, have the option to broadcast
games of national significance. A more interesting question is,
If Big Mac is standing at the plate with 61 home runs, will
baseball allow ESPN to cut away from its football telecast and
pick up live coverage of the Cardinals? "ESPN is still a partner
and has a large audience," says Beeston. "But it's something
we'll be talking about."
REAL-LIFE AGGIE JOKE
Texas A&M ticket manager Jim Kotch processes thousands of
requests a year. The standard form he sends out includes spaces
for the applicant's name, address and phone number, the last
divided into two blanks, one marked H: and the other W:.
Every year, says Kotch, the same applicant (a retired university
employee who shall remain nameless) sends back the form
carefully completed as follows:
"H: 5'6" W: 160."
Major League Soccer
GALAXY PAYS A HOUSE CALL
If ever a fan letter seemed destined for the circular file, it
would be the one sent a few months ago by 11-year-old Danny
Richards of Sharon, Mass., to Major League Soccer's Los Angeles
Galaxy. "I'd like to have the team over for a cookout," wrote
the Galaxy's self-proclaimed No. 1 fan to team chairman Marc
Rapaport. "If you could please come, my mom and dad said they
would cook whatever the team wants." Sure, kid. Throw a few
burgers on the grill, but don't hold your breath.
Well, if you happened to have been strolling by the Richards
house last Friday afternoon, you might have seen several Galaxy
players dumping goalkeeper Kevin Hartman into the Richards's
backyard swimming pool. Or you might have heard Carlos
Hermosillo, Mexico's alltime leading scorer, politely asking to
use the Richards's bathroom. Or you might've gotten a glimpse of
Cobi Jones, Danny's favorite player, heading balls back and
forth with the starry-eyed kid on the front lawn.
Yes, the Galaxy, in town to play the New England Revolution,
showed up to picnic with Danny and his parents, Dan and Denise,
and his twin siblings, Keith and Kimberly, who live about five
miles from Foxboro Stadium. "We're trying to relate to people
and give people a chance to relate to us," said Jones, who gave
Danny one of his Galaxy jerseys. "It's great for us because you
get to see a kid's dream come true."
The food wasn't bad, either. The players stayed for more than an
hour, munching on hot dogs, barbecued chicken and corn on the
cob. "This is amazing," said Dan. "I can't imagine any other
professional team that would do something like this."
Who knows, it might become an annual ritual. The next day the
Galaxy hammered the Revolution 5-1.
Woody Stephens (1913-1998)
THE KING OF BELMONT PARK
The stately old pleasure dome on Long Island had never witnessed
a spectacle quite like it. Moments after an 8-1 shot named
Danzig Connection swept to victory in the 1986 Belmont Stakes,
the colt's 72-year-old trainer, Woody Stephens, floated, on
mounting waves of sound, toward the winner's circle at Belmont
Park. Stephens had just won an unprecedented fifth straight
Belmont, and as he made his way past the blue bloods in the box
seats, you could hear the tribute building among the blue
collars in the grandstand below, a murmur and then a chant
rising louder and louder: "Wood-dee! Wood-dee!" Of all the
cherished memories from more than 30 years at Belmont, my
warmest is of that June afternoon, of the inimitable Woody
moving with that swagger through the crowds. Woodford Cefis
Stephens had earned the ultimate benediction--the unequivocal
adulation of the New York player.
Stephens, 84, died last Saturday of complications stemming from
chronic emphysema, and horse racing thus lost one of its most
beloved and colorful characters. After leaving a hardscrabble
boyhood in the hills of eastern Kentucky, he rose to become one
of America's preeminent horsemen, an artful raconteur, horse
whisperer and Hall of Famer who spun tales of his life as
magically as he conditioned horses to run hard and long. He
trained two Kentucky Derby winners, Cannonade (1974) and Swale
('84), and some of the finest horses ever to race in the U.S.:
Traffic Judge, Bald Eagle, Never Bend, Smart Angle, Conquistador
Cielo and Devil's Bag among them.
Eleven years after his triumphant moment, Woody was back at
Belmont for the 1997 Stakes, holding court in the stable area,
sniffing oxygen from a tank, paying the price for a lifetime of
unfiltered cigarettes. But he was still crowing. "That record
will stand long after I've said good night," he said. Right
again. Good night, Woody. And thanks. --William Nack
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY FRED HARPER [Drawing of Mark McGwire hitting androstenedione capsule with bat]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Payoff pitcher Did Johnson let emotions affect his work in Seattle? [Randy Johnson pitching]
COLOR PHOTO: BUZZ MAGNUSON/ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS [Ila Borders pitching]
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [Ricky Williams of University of Texas in game]
COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN DUNN/ALLSPORT [Ricky Williams of Texas Tech in game]
--That gridiron pundits postpone declaring a winner in the
Leaf-Manning derby at least until the rookies have taken a
--That other pro teams take a cue from the Portland Trail
Blazers and cut ticket prices by an average of 14%.
--That diminutive golfer Willie Wood, fresh off a second at the
Sprint International, start calling himself Tiger.
Names on the waiting list for season tickets to Packers home
Packers season tickets that became available this year.
Average world ranking of Leander Paes, Byron Black, Guillaume
Raoux and Bohdan Ulihrach on Aug. 20 when they beat,
respectively, Pete Sampras, Marcelo Rios, Pat Rafter and Petr
Korda, the world's top four players.
Tickets left at the Angels' Edison Field for friends and family
on Aug. 19 by Tigers third baseman--and California
resident--Gabe Alvarez, who was making his Anaheim debut.
Calories in McDonald's new Boselli Burger, a three-patty behemoth
named after the Jaguars' 329-pound tackle Tony Boselli.
Days before tickets for the Sept. 19 Evander Holyfield-Vaughn
Bean bout went on sale that promoter Don King announced ticket
sales were "moving briskly."
Length, in feet, of Griff, Merv Griffin's yacht, which blocked
the view of spectators, including those in an area for the
disabled, at the Victoria (B.C.) Dragon Boat Festival.
Is Pitcher Ila Borders More Than a Novelty Act?
Before being shelled for 22 runs in her last three starts for
the Duluth Superior Dukes, the lefthanded Borders, the first
female to pitch in a men's professional league, was 1-1 with a
4.88 ERA, which practically qualified her as an ace in the
Northern League, in which four of the eight franchises have team
ERAs of more than 5.00. She ran off 12 straight shutout innings
at one point and continues to baffle some batters with a tricky
turnover changeup. She isn't big league bound, but she's holding
her own among the boys. --Kostya Kennedy
How can I make this sound like anything but the ravings of a
misogynistic ogre? Borders is great for the game. I'd pay to see
her pitch, and I'd tell my young niece she's a true role model.
But her heater barely registers 80 mph, and at that velocity she
had better have an intimidating sidearm motion, a killer
split-fingered fastball or a Wilhelmesque knuckler. She has none
of those in her repertoire. Borders's own manager said she was
acquired to "add a few people at the turnstiles," and that's
really all she's doing. --J.M.
So spectacular was Tiger Woods's emergence on the PGA Tour in
1996 that his less-than-superhuman performance since then has
some observers suggesting that Tiger is, well, human. A
comparison of Woods's numbers over his first two years on the
Tour with those of the game's greatest champions over the last
four decades suggests that he's more than holding his own so
far. But Tiger's roaring start really doesn't add up to Jack.
Player Wins Wins in Majors Top 10s
Jack Nicklaus 8 3 33
Tiger Woods 7 1 25
Arnold Palmer 3 0 16
Lee Trevino 2 1 17
Gary Player 1 0 15
Tom Watson 0 0 9
Not since I Love Lucy have a Big Ricky and a Little Ricky
garnered so much national attention. O.K., so Big Ricky Williams
of Texas has the NCAA rushing and scoring titles, the All-America
honors and the spotlight. But give fellow running back Little
Ricky Williams of Texas Tech some time--it looks as though he has
what it takes to make a name for himself, too. At any rate, we've
got both Rickys' numbers.
NAME Ricky Williams number 34
YEAR/MAJOR Senior, elementary education
HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6 feet, 225
40 TIME/MAX BENCH PRESS .39/400
RUNNING STYLE Combines power and speed, gains more than half
his yards after contact
RUSHING YARDS AS A FRESHMAN 990, school record
1997 RUSHING STATS 1,893 on 279 carries
TEXAS VS. TECH IN 1997 80 yards, 1 TD in 24-10 loss
NFL POTENTIAL Possible No. 1 pick in 1999
FAVORITE MOVIE Princess Bride
MUSICIAN/GROUP Bob Marley
VIDEO GAME Nintendo GoldenEye 007
HOW DID I SPEND SUMMER? Hit .288 for the Phillies' Class A
AFTER FOOTBALL, I WANT TO... ...teach elementary school
ON THE OTHER RICKY WILLIAMS "He runs hard and attacks the
EVER BEEN MISTAKEN FOR HIM? "No."
[NAME] Ricky Williams number 35
[YEAR/MAJOR] Sophomore, communications
[HEIGHT/WEIGHT] 5'7", 182
[40 TIME/MAX BENCH PRESS] 4.40/340
[RUNNING STYLE] Though small, a tough, inside runner
[RUSHING YARDS AS A FRESHMAN] 894, school record
[1997 RUSHING STATS] 894 on 201 carries
[TEXAS VS. TECH IN 1997] 131 yards in 24-10 win
[NFL POTENTIAL] Could develop into top prospect
[FAVORITE MOVIE] The Negotiator
[FOOD] Anything Mom makes
[VIDEO GAME] PlayStation NCAA GameBreaker '98
[HOW DID I SPEND SUMMER?] Took English, poli sci, acting and
cinema classes in summer school
[AFTER FOOTBALL, I WANT TO...] ...own a nightclub
[ON THE OTHER RICKY WILLIAMS] "He's got good vision on the
field. He's a respectful person."
[EVER BEEN MISTAKEN FOR HIM?] "My friends hear my name on TV,
but they're always talking about him, not me."
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
A 6'3", 275-pound youth baseball coach banned by the Okeeheelee
(Fla.) Athletic Association for twice dropping his drawers
during a game blamed a bad case of "plumber's butt."
They Said It
Cleveland Indians infielder, who has spent most of his 14
professional seasons in the minor leagues, with 10
organizations: "I'm a proven so-so player."