Will Jose's homer binge earn him a ticket to Cooperstown?
Jose Canseco is having another monster season, as home run
aficionados like to say. With a big-league-best 27 dingers
through Sunday, coupled with his 46 homers from '98, the Devil
Rays' DH is putting up numbers that should make Hall of Fame
voters, me included, do a double take. So I wonder: Is a
well-traveled slugger who played lousy defense when he played it
at all, who hit 30 homers seven times and ranks among the game's
alltime top 25 home run hitters--and top 10 strikeout
victims--Cooperstown material? But enough about Dave Kingman.
Kingman and Canseco have their similarities. Kingman retired in
'86 with 442 home runs, 1,210 RBIs and 1,816 strikeouts; Canseco
had 424, 1,275 and 1,700 through Sunday. Kingman hit more homers
than any other eligible player who isn't in the Hall. Will
Canseco relieve him of that dishonor? To be fair, Jose was once
one of the game's best all-around players. In '88, his MVP year,
he became the first to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in the
same season. But he soon grew more interested in being a great
celebrity than a great ballplayer, and he hasn't played the
outfield regularly since 1993--the year he let a fly ball bounce
off the top of his head and over the fence for a home run.
Canseco's Cooperstown candidacy could be a litmus test for this
homer-happy era. Compare him, for instance, with Gil Hodges, a
superb defensive first baseman who had more 100-RBI seasons than
Jose has (seven to six), a nearly identical RBI total (1,274 to
1,275) and a better average (.273 to .268) in an era when the
long ball wasn't as cheap as it is now. Hodges isn't in the
Hall. What's more, Hodges played in seven World Series, while
Canseco's recent monster years haven't helped his teams much.
Last year with Toronto he batted .237 and led the American
League with 159 strikeouts. This season he is hitting above .300
for the last-place Devil Rays, but he's under .200 with runners
in scoring position and again leads the league in punchouts. All
this from a guy who contributes nothing on defense.
So is the other Bash Brother a Hall of Famer? Not yet. But
unlike Kingman and Hodges, Canseco, who turns 35 on July 2,
isn't done. With the DH rule and today's diluted pitching pool,
he'll probably wind up with 500 homers--and cap his career with
a speech in Cooperstown. --Tom Verducci
Tiger's TV Tricks
HAM WITH A SAND WEDGE
Four takes in eight minutes. That's all Tiger Woods needed to
make the 30-second Nike commercial in which he bounces a ball on
the face of his sand wedge 49 times (above), then flips the ball
up and fungoes it nearly 200 yards. "I can assure you there was
no trick photography, no special effects," says Nike marketing
director Chris Zimmerman.
Zimmerman says Woods's bouncing-ball trick, which debuted during
Game 1 of the NBA Finals and aired during Tiger's near miss at
the U.S. Open last weekend, has spurred more talk than any other
Nike golf commercial. Yet it happened by accident. When Chuck
McBride and Hal Curtis of the Portland-based advertising agency
Wieden & Kennedy came to Orange County National Golf Center in
Orlando last month, they brought scripts for five ads touting
Nike's golf apparel and equipment. Only one was to feature
Woods, and it didn't include the bouncing ball. But between
takes the ad guys saw Woods doing wedge tricks.
"We needed him to keep it going for 30 seconds, but each time he
got to 20, Tiger dropped the ball," Zimmerman says. "He finally
got it on the fourth try, then flipped the ball up and just hit
the hell out of it."
POCONO'S THE PITS
For starters, you can't get there. The Pocono Raceway in Long
Pond, Pa., site of last week's Pocono 500, is 25 miles from
Wilkes-Barre and a long race-day crawl even from Tannersville,
which is basically an excuse for an outlet mall. Crowds of
around 100,000 reach the track on roads barely wide enough to
fit a yellow stripe down the middle, and they're funneled into
the infield through a two-lane tunnel where traffic moves about
as fast as Jeff Burton's car did after it crashed on Sunday. Not
even Bobby Labonte, who won Sunday's four-hour dentathon, has
much good to say about the place. "Bobby said it was his
favorite track," said Labonte's crew chief, Jimmy Makar. "He was
Pocono has been the butt of jokes for years. Aside from its
decrepit garage, which was razed and rebuilt for $7 million last
winter, there is the racecourse itself. It's a triangle--"an
oval designed by committee," as one race regular puts it. The
front stretch leads to Turn 1's 14-degree bank, which isn't much
for cars moving at almost 200 mph. (Banking at Talladega, for
instance, gets up to 33 degrees.) Next comes the
eight-degree-banked tunnel turn, one of the toughest in the
sport, and then it's on to Turn 3 with its six degrees of bank.
It all makes for the flattest, funkiest, most treacherous venue
on the otherwise streamlined Winston Cup circuit.
There's talk that Donald Trump and NASCAR president Bill
France's International Speedway Corporation will steal Pocono's
thunder with a new track closer to New York City, or that some
other big wheel will buy Pocono from Joe Mattioli, the retired
dentist who owns it. But the 74-year-old Mattioli plans to buck
the Winston Cup trend and keep his property out of corporate
hands. "I have no intention of selling," he said on Sunday
morning, sitting under a pocono sign near his track's new
garage. "If they came down the walkway here with a wheelbarrow
and $1 billion, it wouldn't matter. I don't need money."
On Sunday, Labonte took the checkered flag six car lengths ahead
of Jeff Gordon, who has finished second three weeks in a row.
Labonte wasn't griping after earning $151,110, but he did notice
something very Pocono about the new garage. Unlike similar
structures at other tracks, it has no garage doors.
A Trainer's Finals
FIXING THE KNICKS' NICKS
Mike Saunders spent last week hustling to keep New York's
walking wounded on their feet. During the playoffs the Knicks'
trainer has tended to Patrick Ewing's partially torn left
Achilles tendon and swingman David Wingate's torn right
quadriceps tendon; applied ice and low-dosage ultrasound to
Larry Johnson's strained right knee (starting at dawn one day);
iced, wrapped and stretched Marcus Camby's bruised left
quadriceps; used an electric stimulator to reduce the swelling
in Chris Dudley's right elbow; and iced and electrically
stimulated Chris Childs's tender right knee. The trainer has
been waking every morning at 5:30 to plan his day. In San
Antonio he'd meet with each injured Knick, either in the
player's room at the Plaza Hotel or in Saunders's makeshift
office in room 653. Along with team doctor Norman Scott, he
executed a medical game plan that had every ailing Knick but
Ewing ready for action. Thanks in part to the ultrasound
treatments and daily pool work prescribed by Saunders, Johnson
made it back for Game 1 against the Spurs only four days after
spraining his knee in the Eastern Conference clincher against
"Trainers keep busy," says Saunders, who's in his 21st season
with the Knicks. "There might be more pressure because it's the
Finals, but it's still the same job." How hard did he work last
week? "Let's just say I'd like to have the ice concession at our
Minnesota Scandal (cont.)
GOLDEN GOPHER PARACHUTE
The axe began falling at Minnesota last week. In the wake of an
academic fraud scandal in the Golden Gophers' basketball program
(SI, June 14), the university fired former academic counselor
Alonzo Newby, the alleged bagman for a $3,000 cash payment that
tutor turned ghostwriter Jan Gangelhoff says was approved by
coach Clem Haskins. Newby, who had been on a stress-related
leave since the story broke in March, had wanted more than the
$30,000 buyout the school was offering. He got nothing.
Unlike Newby, Haskins will land softly. Minnesota president Mark
Yudof has asked the school's general counsel to begin
discussions on buying out Haskins's $700,000-a-year contract.
Under the terms of a deal signed in 1994, the coach gets $1.2
million plus benefits if the school dumps him without just
cause. If he's fired with just cause he still receives $423,000.
Expect the settlement to be closer to the higher figure.
In the language of Haskins's contract, "just cause" includes
felony conviction, commission of a major NCAA violation or "a
substantial failure to perform his duties due to gross
negligence or willful misconduct." Haskins is probably safe on
the third condition, since firing him on that ground might
trigger a prolonged court fight. And while the Gophers'
basketball program under Haskins may be found guilty of
violations ranging from a lack of institutional control to
cheating to keep players eligible, the NCAA probably won't
finish an investigation soon enough for Yudof, who wants Haskins
gone before the season starts. That gives the coach's lawyers
plenty of leverage in buyout talks.
There's one other reason for Minnesota to act now: If Haskins,
the 1997 national coach of the year, is still with the Golden
Gophers on July 1, the school must pay him an extra $74,299 in
MIDLIFE LANE CHANGE
Microsoft vice president Chris Peters headed the team that
developed the Excel spreadsheet program. He made millions off
the company's stock. But when he turned 40 two years ago, Peters
found himself doing some soul-searching. "You start worrying
about dying, and not in a Woody Allen kind of way," Peters says.
So rather than kvetch, he took a leave of absence from his job,
hired a personal trainer and threw himself into prepping for a
surprising second career. He wants to be a pro bowler.
Peters admits it's an odd ambition for a millionaire who had
broken 100 only once. "Imagine a 40-year-old computer nerd who
hardly ever lifted anything heavier than a pencil," he says. But
after working with bowling coach Don Boggs for a year, peppering
Seattle-area pros with questions and bowling 20 games a week, he
has raised his average to 170. Peters pummeled the pins at the
Sun Villa Lanes in Bellevue, Wash., for a 278 game in March and
won $250 for finishing third at a tournament in Seattle. That's
a far cry from the $4 billion in revenue his 400-worker division
generated for Microsoft, but he swears it's just as satisfying.
Peters must average 200 for two years to qualify for the PBA
Tour. "If I work incredibly hard--and that's bowling 50 games a
week for three or four years--I could probably get to the level
of those guys you've never heard of who always come in 100th,"
he says. But even if he flops and winds up in the gutter, he
figures his struggle to kegle will be worth the effort. "Sixteen
years of computer programming is 16 anti-bowling years," he
says. "Bowling is Zen-like. It's all about being in the moment.
That's anti-everything I've learned in my life, and that's
what's so good about it."
NBA Heckler for Congress
THE SENATOR FROM HELL?
Robin Ficker relinquished his seat at Washington NBA games in
1997. Now the NBA's Heckler from Hell, who for 12 seasons howled
at opponents of the Bullets' (now Wizards) from behind the
visitors' bench, wants a seat in the U.S. Senate. Ficker is the
sole Republican vying to run against Maryland's four-term
senator, Democrat Paul Sarbanes. "At his first Senate hearing,"
says Kelly Tripucka, a favorite Ficker target during his playing
days, "NBA players should be allowed to hassle him and heckle
him and call him names and do all the things he did to us."
Ficker retired from NBA haranguing when Washington moved from
USAir Arena into the MCI Center and club officials relocated his
seats from behind the visitors' bench to a spot behind one of
the baskets. A lawyer who specializes in drunken-driving cases,
Ficker served in Maryland's House of Delegates from 1978 to '82.
Yet his own behavior hasn't been above reproach. In '93 his
wife, Annette--a former nun--accused him of "abusive and
threatening behavior," and a judge temporarily barred Ficker
from contact with his teenage daughter and from the family's
home. (The parents reconciled within days, but divorced a year
later.) In '96 he was charged with battery and malicious
destruction of property after an altercation with a pregnant
motorist. (Neither charge stuck.) Last year Maryland's Court of
Appeals briefly suspended his law license; the court opinion
said Ficker ran his practice "like a taxicab company."
Ficker insists he's perfectly suited for the Senate, where he
can filibust as well as ball-bust. He should have plenty of hot
air in reserve. Since giving up his Wizards tickets, he has had
to confine his sports taunting to the high school wrestling
matches of his 213-pound son, Flynn (Buttkicker) Ficker.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY FRED HARPER
THREE COLOR PHOTOS: COURTESY OF NIKE
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY RICHARD P. CLARK
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: GRAHAM CHADWICK/ALLSPORT
--That Phil Mickelson comes back to win the Open on Father's Day
--That the Dominator could have one more chance to stop Brett
(Creased Lightning) Hull.
--That Texas would stop beating up on poor, helpless New York.
Minimum bid for a Pope John Paul II-autographed baseball to be
auctioned off in Atlanta.
Cubs fans arrested on disorderly conduct charges for throwing Oh
Henry! bars on the field after a Henry Rodriguez home run.
Amount that Australian Rules footballer Garry Hocking will get
from Whiskas cat food for legally changing his name to Whiskas.
Beer kegs it took to make the catamaran that Japanese daredevil
Kenichi Horie is sailing across the Pacific.
Amount Don King's wife, Henrietta, paid for the Palm Beach, Fla.,
jai alai fronton.
Attendance at the U.S. women's 1999 World Cup opener at Giants
Stadium, a 3-0 victory over Denmark.
Attendance at the U.S. women's last World Cup game, a 1-0 loss
to Norway in the 1995 semifinals in Vasteras, Sweden.
Hours after the Stars won the Stanley Cup that they traded
backup goalie Roman Turek to the Blues.
San Antonio Powers
George Gervin was no man of mystery. Opponents knew the Iceman
would do it 20 times a night--shoot the ball, that is. In
Gervin's ABA heyday the ball was red, white and blue and the
run-and-gun Spurs scored like Austin Powers wishes he could. But
the franchise has been de-Iced, and this year's Spurs seek world
domination through steady efficiency (page 48). Do they lack
mojo? You decide, baby.
Ice Age Nice Age
Stars George (Iceman) Gervin David (the Admiral)
and Larry (Special K) Robinson and Tim (the
Kenon Admirable) Duncan
Style Bass break--coach Bob Glass break--coach Gregg
Bass's transition game Popovich's inside game
Result 115.5 ppg in '75-76, 92.8 ppg, one title
no titles pending
Top Salary Gervin's $150,000 Robinson's $14.8 million
Tall Tale Complete '73 purchase Win '97 lottery for right
of 6'11" Swen Nater at to draft 7-foot Duncan at
2 a.m. in a Manhattan 5 p.m. in Secaucus, N.J.
League When ABA commish tries When critics doubt NBA
Relations to nix '74 deal for spin during '98 lockout,
Gervin, Spurs owner Spurs owners opened their
fires off a telegram: books to bolster the
"F--- you" league's position
Cubicle Right Guard, Polo cologne,
Contents eight-tracks, PlayStation, Rolex, Wall
love beads, Playboy Street Journal
Favorite Sheen Afro Martin
Home Fans The Baseline Bums Suits and ties
at HemisFair Arena at the Alamodome
Larry Brown's Spurs fans pelt Armani-clad ex-Spurs
Role overalls-clad Nuggets coach gets $5 million a
coach with guacamole year in Philly
Giveaway 1975 All-Star Game Robinson gives inner-city
hosts give MVP Freddie cultural center $5
Lewis a horse million
Mind-blower 2001: A Space Odyssey 2001: A threepeat
This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is Upon Us
Brandon Bender, a 6' 9 1/2" Kentucky schoolboy star, says he may
skip his senior year of high school to enter the 2000 NBA draft.
With the 86th Tour de France set to begin on July 3, road racing
is switching into high gear. Break away to these sites and catch
up with the latest news in the cycling world.
Pedal through the tour's official site to study each day's
rugged racing routes, get the skinny on the toughest stages or,
in the section on legendary tours, steep yourself in spoke lore.
Reports on the 23-day, 20-stage race will include live audio
broadcasts in English and French.
Armstrong, the captain of the U.S. Postal Service team that will
be competing in the tour, is on the comeback trail after
battling testicular cancer. The best thing about this site is
the journal by his wife, Kristin, which provides an intimate
look at life with a top road racer.
A cycling cyber-rag run by North American road racers and fans
interested in hard-core European cycling news, this site offers
daily tidbits on subjects from the latest doping travails to
riders' fitness woes and injuries, as well as behind-the-scenes
gossip. Fans can E-mail retired rider and Tour de France veteran
sites we'd like to see
Site featuring video highlights of recent altercations involving
the Knights, Ray and Bobby.
Chat room for pro golfers to air their gripes about the greens at
this year's U.S. Open course.
They Said It
Celtics coach, after hearing that point guard Kenny Anderson has
hired a track coach to improve his speed and conditioning:
"Who's he going to hire to run for him?"