WHO'S GOT THE GREEN?
With the death of owner Leon Hess, the Jets will fly off the
The sports world lost one of the last men to live by the
handshake deal when Jets owner Leon Hess died last Friday at 85,
and his passing may shake up the NFL. In life Hess was known for
caring more about his players and coaches than about the bottom
line. In death he might be responsible for sending the cost of
NFL franchises spiraling out of control.
The Jets' worth was estimated at $259 million last year, a
reasonable figure given that they don't own their stadium and
are in the lower half of the NFL in ancillary revenue. Yet when
the Hess family puts the team up for sale, as is widely
expected, the Jets will fetch more than $500 million, perhaps
from one of the owner wannabes who crawled out of their
boardrooms for the Browns' and Redskins' auctions. As one league
official says, "This will be an emotional buy for someone who'll
pay between $600 million and $750 million--or more."
For a team with one division title in the 29 years since the
AFL-NFL merger? A team chained to tenancy in its rival's venue,
Giants Stadium, through 2008? Sure, the Jets are in the nation's
top TV market, but could they really fetch such a price?
They could and they will, for three reasons. First, the Jets
have always been undersold. While the Cowboys rake in about $60
million a season from stadium, local broadcasting and licensing
fees, the Jets make less than $15 million. A savvy owner could
quickly double that figure. Second, with revenue-sharing,
guaranteed labor peace through 2004 and a TV cut that averages
$70 million per team, the NFL is the gold standard of sports
investments. Finally, Wall Street's boom has created a ton of
new millionaires. "With so many guys making millions in the
stock market, you've got a new group of potential owners," says
Bills owner Ralph Wilson, "and they'll pay much more than what
others think is reasonable."
Jets employees get choked up recalling Hess's vigils at the bed
of Dennis Byrd, partially paralyzed in a '92 game. In business,
says Ravens owner Art Modell, "his handshake was his bond." But
Hess, who parlayed a one-truck fuel distributorship into a $720
million fortune, was no football genius. He was too patient with
ineffective executives and coaches--until he hired Bill Parcells
from the Patriots in '97.
This will probably be Parcells's last year as Jets coach, and
while he could surely find moneymen to help him buy the Jets--a
hot rumor last week--friends say he's disillusioned with the
crass business side of the game and would rather buy a minor
league baseball team. Still, a successor is in place: assistant
head coach Bill Belichick, who can take over when Parcells
quits. Whoever buys the Jets, for whatever ridiculous price,
would be wise to be as hands-off as Hess was after he finally
hired the right football men. --Peter King
College Beanball Shocker
A PURPOSE PITCH
As he warmed up to work the top of the first inning of an April
23 game, Wichita State pitcher Ben Christensen threw a ball at
Evansville leadoff man Anthony Molina while Molina was still
about 30 feet from the plate. The ball hit Molina in his left
eye, fracturing the socket in three places and leaving his
baseball future in doubt.
Christensen, a junior fireballer for the nationally ranked
Shockers, had a chilling explanation. He said he thought Molina
was trying to time his pitches. So Christensen threw at him--a
tactic he says pitching coach Brent Kemnitz taught the team's
hurlers. According to The Wichita Eagle, Kemnitz viewed the
matter as a routine part of the game. "If the on-deck hitter is
standing too close to home plate, you brush him back," he told
Molina, who wasn't looking at Christensen when the ball was
thrown, was rushed to Wichita's Wesley Medical Center, where he
received 23 stitches to close a one-inch gash. He filed assault
charges against the pitcher. On April 30 the Missouri Valley
Conference suspended Christensen and Kemnitz for the rest of the
season. Christensen was also suspended from postseason play. He
appealed the suspension, but last Friday the conference's
executive committee upheld it, effectively ending his college
career. Christensen has a 21-1 career record and is expected to
be a first- or second-round pick in next month's major league
His future is brighter than Molina's. The junior catcher had
hoped to take part in Friday's appeal hearing but instead he was
in Iowa City, where doctors examined his damaged eye. After four
days during which his eye was swollen shut, Molina has regained
some vision. "But there are still a lot of ifs," he says. If
five different eyedrops and a daily pill fail to lower the
pressure in his eye, Molina will need laser surgery. His doctors
have told him to avoid strenuous activities and warned that even
a strong sneeze or cough could be dangerous. "All I can do is
watch TV," he says, noting that even that isn't easy with the
vision in his left eye reduced from 20/10 before the beaning to
One echo of the incident might survive as the dumb quote of the
year. "Nobody intentionally hit someone else," said Wichita
State coach Gene Stephenson, who went on to say of losing his
star pitcher, "Hey, we're the ones who got hurt out of the deal."
Sydney Olympic Stink
BATTLER HEADED FOR A WIPEOUT
Phil Coles broke down and wept last week while defending himself
from a furious campaign waged against him in the Australian
media. Coles, 67, one of two Australian IOC members, is under
fire for allegedly helping Atlanta beat out Melbourne for the
1996 Summer Games. He's also being asked about dossiers he
helped prepare on fellow IOC members. On Monday, Australia's
sports minister, Jackie Kelly, called for Coles to step down.
JUST WALK AWAY, PHIL read a recent headline in the Sydney
Morning Herald. As of Monday night, though, Coles was standing
firm, leaving organizers of the 2000 Sydney Olympics to wonder
how they'll calm sponsors' nerves and raise the $106 million
more they need to stage the Games.
Coles's woes began in February when he was accused of accepting
$40,000 in clothing and lodging during four visits to Salt Lake
City between 1993 and '98. He denied any wrongdoing, but the IOC
issued what it called "the most serious of warnings" and
threatened that further trouble could get him expelled.
In March, Coles denied receiving diamond jewelry worth $6,700
from a lobbyist for Athens's 1996 bid committee. His former
wife, Georgina, however, contradicted him, and photos in Aussie
newspapers showed her wearing what appeared to be the baubles.
Then came last week's claims that Coles and an associate had
drawn up crib sheets on IOC members' tastes (a Japanese delegate
loved shoes, for example, and his wife fancied opals) to help
Sydney's bid for the 2000 Games. Those crib sheets somehow made
their way to Utah. (Coles denies giving such information to Salt
Lake City bidders.) Backers of Melbourne's losing bid for the
'96 Summer Games have also cast a skeptical eye on the 44 phone
calls Coles made to Atlanta before that city was awarded the '96
Games and the letter discovered last week in which Atlanta
Olympic organizers thanked him "for your time and your advice."
(Other IOC members also received thank-you notes from Atlanta.)
Coles, an Olympic kayaker and surfing champ who was dubbed the
Bondi Battler for the way he attacked huge waves off Sydney's
Bondi Beach, says he'll fight every accusation. "I am not going
to walk away until I look my accusers in the face and say, 'You
were wrong,'" he vowed last week. The next few weeks will tell
whether the Battler's tears and bluster will help keep him afloat.
NO MORE MR. NICE GUY
SI senior writer Jack McCallum looks back on Joe Dumars's career.
The Pistons of the late 1980s and early '90s featured what you
might call a three-top attack. When Detroit was in dire need of
points, coach Chuck Daly would clear the lane and order one of
the tops in the three-guard offense he sometimes used to start
spinning. Isiah Thomas was the flashy top, Vinnie Johnson the
fierce one. Sometimes the third top went unnoticed, but that was
fine with him. Never flashy or ferocious, he was just coolly
After 14 seasons with Detroit, Joe Dumars, the last of the tops,
the last of the Pistons' Bad Boys (how ridiculous that label
sounds applied to him), will soon shoot his final
ceiling-scraping NBA jumper. He'll be missed. Dumars isn't just
the nicest athlete around but also one of the nicest people.
A six-time All-Star who's headed for the Hall of Fame, Dumars is
warm, smart and funny. In an MVP pool for media members before
the 1993 All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, I drew Dumars--not a
fortuitous pick, since he wasn't even a starter. As the teams
warmed up, I said, "Joe, I got you in the MVP draw. So when you
get in, just shoot that thing."
"You got me?" he said. "That's a bad pick."
"Jack it up, Joe," I said. "Gotta get points."
He checked in early in the game and quickly launched an
off-balance 22-footer that missed badly. He smiled at me as he
ran back on defense. A minute later, same shot, same result.
Same smile. He finished with five points.
Dumars will be remembered for many things: stabilizing a
talented but tempestuous Pistons team that won back-to-back
titles in 1989 and '90, earning Finals MVP in the first of those
championship years, and keeping a frustrated Michael Jordan
under lock and key in the playoffs before Jordan finally broke
out in '91. But I'll remember Dumars trotting past me at the '93
All-Star Game with that grin on his face.
In-flight Baseball Fight
Country singer Kenny Rogers may know when to hold 'em and when
to fold 'em, but A's pitcher Kenny Rogers isn't such a five-card
stud. On the night of May 3, aboard the A's customized DC-10
with its built-in card tables, Rogers scuffled with outfielder
Jason McDonald, reportedly over table talk during a poker game.
According to a source who was on board, Rogers annoyed McDonald
by repeatedly predicting what each player had in his hand. The
two fought briefly before being separated, and their tempers
were still sky-high that night. Rogers encountered McDonald in
an elevator in the A's hotel in Toronto, and instead of punching
his floor punched his teammate in the face. McDonald came out of
the elevator scrap with a cut on his mouth. Rogers emerged with
a scrape on his nose and two scratches on his pitching
hand--which didn't keep him from tossing an 8-2 complete-game
win over the Blue Jays two days later.
McDonald and Rogers made up last week. "Everything's resolved,"
says manager Art Howe. Not exactly everything--the A's still
want to know the identity of the snitch who called Jim Rome's
nationally syndicated radio show and spilled the beans about the
brawl. "Hopefully we'll find out how that happened," says
catcher Mike McFarlane ominously, "and deal with it."
WNB-AYS in Concert
"I like my burger with cheese/And if you like victories/You'll
like my Phoenix mmm-mmm-Mercury." With amps, Afros and two-tone
outfits worthy of a '71 Camaro, basketball's best half-minute
band made New York City's Webster Hall its turf last week. The
one-night gig was both live show and TV commercial shoot for
lead singer Justice X and his six bandmates--the WNB-AYS,
created last year by the ad firm Wieden & Kennedy for the soul
purpose of making 30-second spots promoting ESPN's WNBA telecasts.
These guys are no rookies. Guitarist Gabriel Gordon toured with
Natalie Merchant; bassist Jerry Barnes worked with Roberta
Flack; keyboard man Lamar Mitchell recorded with Heavy D;
trumpeter Wayne Dumain played in the orchestra for the Broadway
musical Titanic; and drummer Sterling Campbell kept the beat for
David Bowie. At Webster Hall the group got a surprise visit from
Fred Schneider of the B-52's, who joined the "Listen Referee"
chorus of Minnesota Lynx. Dancing in ref's stripes and
skin-tight orange satin pants, Schneider looked almost as sharp
as the band.
TWO COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRED HARPER
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JEFF TUTTLE/THE WICHITA EAGLE (2) Takeout order Christensen (left) says he was only following team policy when he threw at Molina.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER
COLOR PHOTO: AFP/MARIO TAMA
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO
COLOR PHOTO: OTTO GREULE/ALLSPORT
COLOR PHOTO: AP/J. PAT CARTER
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS USHER
--That next season's NBA exhibition schedule isn't 50 games
--That ESPN and Fox curb the baseball graphics before they
completely crowd out the players.
--That Cuttino Mobley has a Hall of Fame career, to justify his
taking Houston's last shot on Sunday as Barkley, Pippen and
Home runs by Bill Clayton of Chatham Glenwood High in
Taylorville, Ill., during the second inning of a 27-2 win over
Taylorville High in which he also pitched a no-hitter.
Consecutive home runs by Florida State's Marshall McDougall in a
26-2 rout of Maryland in which he went 7 for 7 with 16 RBIs.
Pinfall of Just-Us Tree Service in Toledo's Shammy Burt bowling
tournament, breaking the sport's alltime five-player, three-game
series record of 3,868.
Recycled shoes used to surface a new 400-meter track at Nike
headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.
Games, out of 50, in which Jason Kidd led the Suns in assists
Yards that Texas Tech's Ricky Williams needs to average over the
next two seasons to break the NCAA career rushing record set last
year by Texas's Ricky Williams.
Voter turnout in Dallas's May 1 mayoral election.
Attendance at that day's Indians-Rangers game at the Ballpark in
After a decade of nonstop chatter, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
wouldn't come to the phone last week to discuss Deion Sanders.
Laryngitis? No. Jones is suffering from a badly impacted salary
cap. Sanders, 31, has missed 15 games in the last four seasons.
He just had delicate toe surgery, and doctors don't know when
he'll be able to return. His guaranteed five-year, $25 million
deal expires after next season, and Sanders had been angling for
a contract extension. Jones must wonder about the wisdom of
cutting such a deal. Another move--cutting Sanders--might make
more sense. Dallas can't waive Sanders without his O.K. until he
passes a physical, which he won't be able to do until this
summer at the earliest. Under cap rules, the Cowboys would save
$4.8 million on their '99 cap if they cut Sanders after June
1--money they could use to sign free agent cornerbacks Ashley
Ambrose and Ryan McNeil, plus the pass rusher the Cowboys
desperately need. Can Dallas do without Prime Time? Stay tuned.
Cuban umpire Cesar Valdez's takedown of an anti-Castro protester
was a highlight of last week's exhibition between the Orioles
and Cuba's national team at Camden Yards. It was also a pretty
fair demonstration of freestyle wrestling. "That guy has
definitely done some wrestling," says former Iowa coach and 1972
Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable. "Only wrestlers know how to do
that particular series of actions. It was basically a double-leg
takedown on which he got extended a little bit. But then he got
his hips under and popped them up in the air. It was a good
three-point move. Very impressive." Valdez's machismo impressed
another wrestling legend, too. "When a guy comes in the ring,
he's fair game," says WCW champ Goldberg. "You've got to take
take him out." Still, Goldberg opts for raw power over technical
purity. "I would have imprinted my eyebrows on his chest," he
Heart-stopping starts don't often add up to much in October, but
that doesn't keep baseball pundits from saying that Boston's
Pedro Martinez is on pace to go 32-5 this year. (Right, and the
Giants' Barry Bonds is on pace to blow out five elbows.) Here
are seven early leaders and their stats through Sunday.
THE NUMBER 41 runs batted in
THE PACE 221 RBIs, surpassing Hack Wilson's record of 190
THE BET Hack's uncatchable--Tribe's cleanup Manny settles for a
club-record 163 plates
[THE NUMBER] 34 strikeouts
[THE PACE] 190 Ks, topping Bobby Bonds's alltime mark of 189 in
[THE BET] Fannin' Sammy gets within whiffing distance of Barry's
dad but homers in his final AB
[THE NUMBER] Five wins in 12 innings pitched
[THE PACE] 26 wins, effacing Elroy Face's relief record of 18
[THE BET] Lefty specialist splits vulture role with Armando
Benitez and Turk Wendell and finishes 10-4
[THE NUMBER] 13 home runs allowed
[THE PACE] 68 gopher balls, far outdistancing Bert Blyleven's
mark of 50
[THE BET] Sprains his neck spinning to watch Fassballs depart;
DL stint keeps him from becoming the anti-McGwire
[THE NUMBER] Two steals against him in 11 tries
[THE PACE] A league-best 47 runners thrown out
[THE BET] Runners' fear of Pudgy cannon limits his stats, but he
guns down record 65% of would-be thieves
[THE NUMBER] 26 steals against him in 29 tries
[THE PACE] A scary 136 steals allowed, and only 16 guys thrown out
[THE BET] Rag-armed rehabber gets literally run out of town and
goes to American League to DH
[THE NUMBER] 12 wins in 30 games
[THE PACE] A 65-97 finish, meaning he paid his Orioles $1.2
million per win
[THE BET] Meddling mogul brags that he made Uh-O's a .500
team--against a Cuba-and sells the club to Cal
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
The WCW and a firm called Perfumania are teaming up to make
Nitro, a fragrance designed to capture the essence of pro
Uninspired by the prospect of a Yevgeny Kafelnikov-Sebastien
Grosjean 1999 French Open final? While boring matchups and
early-round flameouts have plagued men's tennis of late, the WTA
tour is flush with passionate rivalries and riveting
personalities. Tool around these sites to learn more about your
favorite femmes as they light up the Parisian spring.
Zoom in to snap action shots of tennis divas with your virtual
Slam Cam, or chat them up between matches on the French Open's
official site (in English and in French), which is packed with
courtside news, stats, Open history and point-by-point real-time
The tour's official site, which provides the Web's most detailed
player profiles of more than 300 women, will serve up a redesign
in time for Roland Garros. You'll be able to scour video clips
and photo galleries of Martina and her rivals and even exchange
E-mail with them.
Check out the myriad fan sites, including this unofficial homage
to defending French Open champ Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. You'll
learn that the Catalonian speaks six languages, has two brothers
who played on the ATP tour and a pair of canine companions,
Roland and Garros, named for the first two of her three Paris
If you insist, the men's tour official site offers the chance to
compare any two players in head-to-head competition. You can
match your favorite player against a Top 10 rival, or analyze his
match strategy on color-coded maps that plot court positions.
sites we'd like to see
Tips for the last-place Orioles from Fidel Castro on how better
to invest the $78 million squandered on players' salaries.
On-line fund-raiser to assist Mario Lemieux in his bid to rescue
the Penguins from insolvency.
They Said It
Reds leftfielder, on a defensive gem that wasn't: "I fought the
wall, and the wall won."