A Rank Ranking System
The annual player rankings released by Major League Baseball
last week present puzzling questions for fans huddled around the
hot stove. Cleveland Indians third baseman Travis Fryman, who
last season hit .287 with 28 home runs, is rated as a better
infielder than Seattle Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez (.310
average, 42 taters)? Cleveland's 41-year-old setup man, Doug
Jones (13 saves in 22 chances), rates higher than New York
Yankees fireballer Mariano Rivera, who was 36 for 41 in the
saves department? Sammy Sosa is only 13th-best in the National
League among the group category that includes first basemen,
outfielders and designated hitters?
The number-crunching that determines the ratings is performed by
the Elias Sports Bureau using a formula that was concocted by
players and owners in their 1981 strike settlement. Well, what
formula could possibly determine that Jones deserves to be
ranked higher than Rivera? This one uses myriad stats--different
for each position--from the preceding two seasons: For example,
batting average, homers, RBIs, plate appearances and on-base
percentage are the numbers cobbled together in mysterious ways
to rate outfielders. We'd like to tell you more, but Elias and
baseball guard the formulas the way the Pentagon guards launch
The rating system was established to put players (divided into
starting pitchers; relievers; outfielders, first basemen and
DHs; catchers; and infielders) into three tiers. The top 30% in
each group gets an A rating, the next 20% a B and the next 10% a
C. The groupings are then used to determine compensation for
franchises that lose free agents. A team that lures an A-rated
star like the Yankees' Bernie Williams--tops in the American
League among the outfielder-first baseman-DH group--would
surrender its first or second pick in next June's draft to that
player's former club. Teams that sign B or C players lose
Baseball execs say that determining the groups is the raison
d'etre for the ranking system and, further, that individual
rankings don't figure into contract negotiations. Still, the
fact that ballplayers of such varying abilities are classified
together (e.g., Orel Hershiser, 20th among National League
pitchers, would cost the same in compensation as top-ranked
Kevin Brown of San Diego) has an impact beyond next year's
draft. Until last week Philadelphia had been planning to pursue
free agents Hershiser and Mark Gardner--each of whom last
pitched for the San Francisco Giants. But when both starters
received an A rating, the Phillies, leery of losing high draft
picks, decided to look elsewhere for pitching help.
As for the assertion that ratings don't figure in negotiations,
we say bunk. Marvin Miller, who was head of the players' union
when the ranking system was created, says agents and general
managers use the rankings to bolster their cases in salary
arbitration hearings. It's hard to fathom that the asking price
of, say, free-agent first baseman Mo Vaughn won't leap into the
Piazzasphere after he was ranked second in his American League
group, just behind Williams. "The only way the ranking system
means something is if you're in the top four or five," says
agent Scott Boras, who represents, among others, Williams. Hmmm,
sounds like Williams's price just climbed a bit.
NBA and the Law
Sprewell: Court Jester
Regardless of the denouement of the NBA lockout, Latrell
Sprewell is likely to have a strong court presence this winter.
After serving a 68-game suspension for choking his Golden State
Warriors coach, P.J. Carlesimo, Sprewell sued the league twice
last summer, alleging civil rights and antitrust violations. On
Oct. 23 Sprewell brought legal action against his agent, Arn
Tellem, on the grounds that Tellem was negligent in failing to
negotiate a personal-conduct salary-protection clause into the
four-year, $32 million contract Sprewell signed with the
Warriors in 1996.
Some would say these suits are frivolous, which is exactly what
Vaughn Walker, a federal district judge in San Francisco,
suggested when he threw out Sprewell's first suit against the
NBA. But we say, Hey, why not go on a lawsuit spree, Spre? Here
are a few comparably meritorious claims the league's leading
litigant might consider:
--Defendant: New Jersey Nets' forward, Kendall Gill, who held
Sprewell to his season-low four points last year. Cause of
action: interference with use and enjoyment of land, intrusion
upon solitude, false imprisonment. Given that battery is defined
in California, in part, as "an unconsented touching," Gill might
also be liable for the foul he committed during the game.
--Defendants: Assorted Warriors teammates who failed to pass the
ball to Sprewell while he was open underneath. Cause of action:
tortious nonfeasance, interference with right to earn a living,
interference of advantageous economic relations.
--Defendant: Sprewell's Bay Area manicurist. Cause of action:
products liability (failure to warn), rendering plaintiff's
nails into hazardous instrumentalities, resulting in the
inadvertent collection of coach's epidermis.
--Defendants: Heckling fans. Cause of action: defamation of
character, intentional infliction of emotional distress.
--Defendant: P. J. Carlesimo. Cause of action: battery, with a
No Optical Illusions
When its season opens this Saturday, the Florida basketball team
will test the maxim that a good point guard needs to be able to
see the whole floor. Senior captain Eddie Shannon, a starter in
the Gators' backcourt for the past three seasons, had surgery in
September to remove his right eye and two weeks ago was fitted
with a prosthesis.
While losing an eye would sound the death knell for the careers
of many athletes, Shannon says he expects his loss to have
little bearing on his ability to run the Florida offense and
make a run at the Gators' career steals record. "I'm mature
enough to deal with it, and I want to move on," says Shannon,
who will wear protective goggles this season.
Since Shannon was accidentally struck in the right eye by a rock
as a seventh-grader, his vision had deteriorated. By the end of
last season, he had no sight in the eye. He finally decided to
undergo cosmetic surgery after learning that the eye was full of
blood and had developed glaucoma. Gerald Hazouri, Shannon's
Gainesville ophthalmologist, says that Shannon has lost only
some peripheral vision and that any lack of depth perception has
been eased by adjustments Shannon has made during the past eight
years. "It's not something that happened overnight," says
Shannon, who last season averaged 11.6 points per game and shot
41.3% from the floor. "I've been playing like this for most of
my basketball career, so I can't let it bother me now."
And at the Mike, Wolf Blitzer!
We howled when we heard this one: There's a soccer team in
Germany's elite Bundesliga from the town of Wolfsburg. And it's
coached by--we're not making this up--Wolfgang Wolf.
A Deal Sealed In Blood
The Bible says, "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger,
lest they be discouraged." (The First Epistle of Paul to the
Thessalonians 1:3.) That warning comes too late for one father,
Colorado Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix, who last week
traded the son, 27-year-old left wing Eric Lacroix, to the Los
Angeles Kings. "Everybody made me understand when we did the
trade that I could not be the dad," said Pierre. "I had to be
Pierre should have thought of that before he acquired Eric from
the Kings in a trade two years ago. A disruption of the
Avalanche's harmony was almost inevitable. It happened early
this season when punchless Colorado, the Stanley Cup champion
just two seasons ago, got off to a 1-5-1 start.
Reports that Eric was a disconcerting presence in the dressing
room began to appear in the media. Worse, so did the implication
that he was a snitch for his father. Were Eric an all-star
performer, perhaps his presence and his $700,000 salary
($400,000 below the NHL average) would have gone unscrutinized.
But he isn't and never has been. While he's a bulldog of a
player who missed only one game with the Avalanche, Lacroix
didn't have even one assist in seven games in 1998, extending
his streak of pointless games from last season's playoffs to 14.
Several Colorado players--including captain Joe Sakic ("Eric's a
great guy") and backup goalie Craig Billington ("Eric was one of
the greatest team players I've ever played with, and I'm not
kissing ass when I say that")--spoke in Eric's defense.
Certainly it was never proved that he was reporting back to his
father. But whatever advantage Eric could give the Avalanche on
the ice was not worth the liability he was off the ice.
Sir Donald Bradman was the Babe Ruth of cricket. One of
Australia's most revered sportsmen, Bradman set a world record
of 334 runs in a match against England in 1930. Only six players
have surpassed Sir Donald's total, and it still stood as the
Australian record when Aussie captain Mark Taylor took up the
bat in a Test against Pakistan on Oct. 16.
Taylor, 34, a national hero known as Tubsie, had endured a
horrendous slump that had some observers whispering "has-been"
before he rounded back into form earlier this year. Against
Pakistan he completed his comeback spectacularly. Taylor scored
334 runs, tying Bradman's Australian record. Then he did
something really astounding. He declared the innings closed,
foregoing any chance at the world record of 375, set by Brian
Lara of the West Indies in 1994, and walked off the field.
Picture Mark McGwire sitting out the rest of the season after
tying Roger Maris with his 61st home run. Picture Michael Jordan
scoring 100 to tie Wilt Chamberlain's single-game NBA record and
then--with minutes on the clock--taking to the bench. As
London's Mail on Sunday put it, "Not a soul who has ever played,
watched or generally loved the game would have demurred had
Taylor opted to resume his innings."
Taylor saw things differently. "It will be nice to be bracketed
with Sir Donald," he said. "It will be my only chance to be
compared with him."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRED HARPER The Ali Shuffle It's only a matter of time before the peripatetic Muhammad goes to the mountain [Cartoon highlighting sample of Muhammad Ali's 1998 travel schedule]
COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN ARMS RACE Only a flawed system would rank Jones (left, before trade) higher than Series stud Rivera. [Doug Jones pitching in game]
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON [See caption above--Mariano Rivera pitching in game]
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [Mark McGwire]
COLOR PHOTO: BEN RADFORD/ALLSPORT RECORD KEEPER By yielding the wicket, Taylor preserved his hero's place in cricket history. [Mark Taylor batting in cricket test]
COLOR PHOTO: DARRELL MIHO [Michael Jordan]
--That MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch pit preening featherweight
champ Prince Naseem Hamed against his own ego in a fight to the
--That Joan Benoit Samuelson, who was 12th woman overall at the
New York City Marathon at age 41, just keeps on running.
--That with the lockout, those cell-toting NBAers can still
afford their roaming charges.
Distance, in feet, that the power alleys at Tropicana Field will
be moved back (from 359 1/2 to 370) after Devil Rays' general
manager Chuck LaMar accurately guessed that they were closer
than the posted distances.
Pages of nude photos of two-time Olympic gold medal figure
skater Katarina Witt that will appear, along with an interview,
in December's Playboy.
Revenue, in dollars, that the NCAA is holding back from Division
I schools as a hedge against having to pay $67 million for
losing the restricted-earnings lawsuit.
Cost, in dollars, of a sleeve of Rolling Stones golf balls
(available bearing "golfing-green, gold and classic-red" Stones
tongues) from a rock-and-roll collectibles catalog.
Pints of beer that Belgian soccer club Genk gave to fans who
made the 50-mile trip to Brussels to watch the team in a
European Cup Winners' Cup game.
Customized Harley-Davidsons given by the manufacturer to Yankees
pitcher David Wells, who, according to the company, "personifies
the spirit" of the Harley aficionado.
Should Major League Baseball Ban Andro?
Let's hope a desire not to tarnish the record set by homer hero
Mark McGwire (above), an androstenedione popper, isn't clouding
the vision of the officials who are investigating grounds for a
ban. Baseball should follow the NCAA and the NFL and outlaw it.
We don't know what long-term side effects andro has, but we do
know that, like anabolic steroids, it jacks up testosterone
levels. Comparing this drug to red meat, as some defenders do,
is not unlike comparing an outboard motor to a sail.
Athletes and millions of others ingest lots of substances on
which no extensive testing has been done, including creatine,
the previous muscle-building flavor of the month. I hope
hero-worshipping kids don't pop the pill, but andro-using adults
have every right to take a legal substance, one that seems to
have little to do with hitting a baseball. Experience shows that
even testing for illegal drugs in sports has never been anything
but a logistical minefield. Testing for legal substances would
be worse. --J.M.
The top four teams in the Bowl Championship Series standings are
undefeated. The lowest-ranked of these is Kansas State, thanks
primarily to the platter of cupcakes it has feasted on. But down
the stretch things get tougher for the Wildcats, and, as long as
they run the table, that will work in their favor because
strength of schedule is weighed so heavily in the Series'
formula. Here's how the November schedules of the top four stack
TITLE HOPEFUL OPPONENTS' W-L, WIN. PCT. OPPONENTS' OPPONENTS'
W-L, WIN. PCT.
Kansas State 15-10, .600 125-85, .595
UCLA 15-11, .577 123-97, .559
Ohio State 13-12, .520 109-97, .529
Tennessee 16-15, .516 125-132, .486
The Jordan Watch
A new MJ sneaker gets U.S. design patent number 400,000; Airness
adopts high profile at NBA talks, sparring with owner Abe
Pollin. Stay tuned....
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The Harriet Carter catalog company sells a $14.98 "toilet
fishing game," complete with 35-inch-diameter vinyl pond,
seven-inch-long plastic "fish" and 14 1/2-inch-long rod, that
"lets you land a whopper while on the hopper."
They Said It
New York Islanders general manager, on Paul Kraus, the agent for
free-agent forward Zigmund Palffy, who has spurned several
Milbury offers: "It's too bad he lives in the city. He's
depriving some small village of a pretty good idiot."