Publish date:

Laying off the Pitch

Tigers pitcher C.J. Nitkowski had come to a forkball in the
road. Since September 1997 his self-generated Web site,
www.CJBaseball.com, had been among the funkiest and most candid
jock addresses on the Internet. Now Rivals.com, one of the
leading producers of athletes' Web pages, was asking the lefty
to join its team--with several thousand dollars and stock
options as probable inducements. Would he sign or remain master
of his domain name? Nitkowski left it up to a vote of his site's
visitors. "Sixty-eight percent voted against Rivals, so I'm
remaining independent," he says.

That verdict was as welcome as the news of pitchers and catchers
reporting to spring training last week. Nitkowski's approach is
refreshingly personal. The site has a gallery of baseball
photos, but Nitkowski posts no portraits of himself. Although he
was a business major at St. John's, he hawks no personal
wares--no C.J. Nitkowski jerseys, caps or key rings may be added
to your cart on CJBaseball.com--nor does he accept money for
ads, which are posted free for friends, family and business
associates. "I never wanted to use this site to put money in my
pocket," says Nitkowski, who will earn $950,000 in 2000.

On the site Nitkowski, who'll be 27 on March 9, is equal
measures self-deprecating and devilish. His "Quote of the Week,"
posted on Feb.15, came from a fan who said of Nitkowski and his
11-18 career record, "You pitch like a retarted [sic] cow." In a
recent poll in which he asked fans what they thought of the
Tigers' acquiring slugging outfielder Juan Gonzalez, he listed
among the possible answers, "I wish we traded you." It was the
second-most-popular reply.

The imp within Nitkowski inspired him last season to post the
correspondence between him and American League president Gene
Budig. After Nitkowski, following an umpire's warning, hurled a
pitch too close to Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton, Budig wrote
to inform him that he'd been suspended for two games and fined
$500. Nitkowski posted Budig's letter, plus his response to
Budig, which was courteous but unrepentant. Then he posted
Budig's follow-up: "In appreciation of the spirit in which you
accepted your discipline, I am returning herewith the $500.00
fine. I look forward to meeting you soon."

The site also features Nitkowski's editorials on various
baseball matters and his restaurant and golf course reviews for
baseball cities. That last feature may suffer this season;
Detroit's front office has told players they no longer can tote
their clubs on road trips. "I don't understand that," said
Nitkowski in an interview last week. "The Braves pitching
staff"--acknowledged to be tops--"has the best golfers in the
majors."

Nitkowski estimates that he spends about 10 hours a week working
on the site. Given that, why did he refuse Rivals.com's offer of
help? "Most athlete sites are cookie-cutter style," he answers.
"I wanted to give baseball fans an inside look at things from a
player's perspective."

Certainly, from one player who has not lost his perspective.

--John Walters

COLOR PHOTO: MLB PHOTOS Proud of his Internet independence, Nitkowski passed on Rivals.com's bid

SIDELINE SUCK-UP
We need a TO, babeee! from TV's incessant fawning over college
basketball coaches

In a game televised last Sunday by ABC, the No. 15 Temple
Chaneys defeated the top-ranked Cincinnati Hugginses 77-69.
Immediately after the upset, play-by-play man Brent Musburger
turned to his broadcast partner, Dick Vitale, and--mindful of
the upcoming NCAA tournament--said, "I've got to tell you
something, my friend, we cannot look past John Chaney."

Yes, and his players aren't half bad, either. All last weekend
ABC treated coaches as if they were institutions, as opposed to
mere employees of them. On Saturday, Musburger and Vitale,
working Duke-North Carolina State, eulogized Georgia Tech's
about-to-retire Bobby Cremins as if he'd died in a ramblin'
wreck, not coached one.

On Sunday, ABC violated the country's screens with something
called Coach Comparison. The game telecast was shrunk to
half-size to show dual shots of the dueling coaches standing on
the sideline looking dyspeptic. This feature should be renamed
Who Wants an Angioplasty.

Here's the deal: Dickie V., I'll listen every time you tell me
that Chaney belongs in the Hall of Fame if you also tell me how
preposterous it was for St. John's coach Mike Jarvis to compare
the NCAA's suspension of guard Erick Barkley to rape. I'll
listen when you say, as you did on Sunday, "[Oklahoma State
coach] Eddie Sutton is just one of those guys who knows how to
win," provided that even once you tell me about one of those
guys who just doesn't know how to win.

--J.W.

Upcoming

The relaunch of NHL.com

In mid-March, after a thorough Zamboni-ing the NHL's official
Web site will be enhanced with what the league promises will be
a much greater search capacity and a larger statistical
database. Moreover, to address a complaint of NHL cyberfans,
the site's pages will be "lighter"--meaning, they'll load faster.