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Monday, March 10, 2003
Updated: January 5, 2:50 PM ET
You can't handle the truth!

Page 2 staff

Finally, after 14 years, Pete Rose has admitted he deserved the honor we gave him last year when we first unveiled this list: he topped the biggest lies in sports history, for fibbing to friends, fans, and foes about betting on baseball.

That's a long time to raft the river of denial, which is why he's still No. 1, at least in our book -- uh, no pun intended.

Pete Rose
Would Pete admit he's been lying all these years to get back in baseball?

1. Pete Rose: "I never bet on baseball"
If you think that the revelation that Rose bet on baseball and Reds games is news, you're mistaken. The Dowd Report laid out the overwhelming evidence against him in May, 1989.

2. Steinbrenner: "I'll stick to building ships"
George made his millions in shipbuilding, and when his company bought the Yankees, he said it would be a hands-off experience. "We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees is concerned. We're not going to pretend we're something we aren't. I'll stick to building ships."

3. Avery Brundage: Nazis don't discriminate, embody "spirit of Olympics"
Brundage, the president of the American Olympic Committee, opposed a boycott of the 1936 "Nazi Olympics," asserting, against all evidence, that the Nazis would treat Jews fairly in trying to qualify for the German Olympic team.

Brundage shamelessly said, "I have not heard of anything to indicate discrimination of any race or religion" in Germany. He warned that "certain Jews must now understand that they cannot use these Games as a weapon in their boycott against the Nazis," alleged a conspiracy of Communists and Jews to organize a boycott and, even after the Games, said the Nazi showcase had contributed to "international peace and harmony."

In the meantime, the Nazis were already building (and filling) concentration camps, prohibiting Jews from competing in sports (two token Jews were named to the Olympic team), planning to use the 1936 Games as an elaborate display of Aryan superiority, and plotting their takeover of Europe.

Avery Brundage: dupe or liar? Both, and an anti-Semite, too: in an apparent effort to please the Nazis, who'd already been humiliated by Jesse Owens and Co. in the prestigious track and field events, he dropped Jews Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman from the 400-meter relay team.

4. Bill Clements: "We're cleaning up the program"
Clements, the chairman of SMU's Board of Governors from 1983 to 1986, told NCAA investigators in the mid-1980s that SMU was cleaning up its systematic program of illegal payments to players. Meanwhile, SMU, with Clements' knowledge and approval, continued to make payments even as the program was under sanction for doing so.

After the NCAA blasted SMU with the "death penalty," Clements blamed the NCAA. "I am convinced in my mind they knew exactly what I was talking about," he said, implying that the NCAA should have read between the lines of his incomplete account during questioning. "This wasn't like an inaugural day," Clements added. "There wasn't a Bible present."

Clements said he told the NCAA, "'We are cleaning up the program.' So that is an absolute true statement. We were cleaning up the program. And I defy you or anyone else to ever give a quote wherein I ever said this program is now clean."

In April 1985, Clements told the NCAA, "We will not tolerate any misbehavior whatsoever in the future." That, said NCAA enforcement director David Berst, was also clearly a lie.

"If he's typical of people who are in charge at the highest level, then there really isn't any hope for integrity in collegiate athletics," added Berst.

Danny Almonte
Yeah, Danny Almonte sure was dominating. He was also 14, playing against 12-year-olds.

5. Danny Almonte's father: "He's 12"
Long before Almonte, an ace pitcher with a 70-plus mph fastball, was pitching the Bronx Rolando Paulino team to third place in the Little League World Series, opposing coaches were suspicious about his age -- he seemed older than the 11- and 12-year olds he opposed.

And he was: Almonte had two birth certificates, and his father was charged in his home country, the Dominican Republic, for falsifying a birth certificate. Almonte was 14.

6. George O'Leary: I have a master's degree from NYU and three varsity letters in football
When Notre Dame introduced O'Leary as its new head football coach in December 2001, it touted his credentials: in addition to being a proven winner as a coach, he had a master's degree from NYU and had earned three varsity letters playing fullback at the University of New Hampshire.

All of this information had been supplied by O'Leary, lies originally told to Syracuse University for its 1980 media guide.

O'Leary's fake bio couldn't make it past the glare of the national media attention following his appointment, and he resigned just five days after he was hired. But he continued to evade, saying that his assertions had been "misstatements" made "many years ago" that had "resurfaced," when in fact he'd allowed his false credentials to be published throughout his career at Syracuse, with the San Diego Chargers, and then at Georgia Tech.

7. Wilt Chamberlain: I had sex with "twenty thousand different ladies"
Chamberlain, who devoted an entire chapter of his autobiography, "A View from Above," to sex, arrived at the 20,000 figure by looking back at a few months from his datebook and multiplying. Then he divided: "At my age, that equals out to having sex with 1.2 women a day, every day since I was 15 years old," wrote Wilt.

Wilt Chamberlain
No matter the truth of his claim, Wilt apparently didn't face the same defense from women as he did from Bill Russell.

Chamberlain later kind of, sort of, backed off his claim, after many people expressed doubt (and after he was criticized for promiscuity in the wake of the announcement that Magic Johnson had HIV). "You do some things for effect, you understand?" he told SI. "And I knew damn well this was going to have some effect. My gardener went to get some feed for his horses in some small town, 300 miles from L.A., and he heard two old ladies talking: 'Did you hear that Wilt Chamberlain's seen 20,000 women?'"

In other words, Wilt told some tall tales. Joel Achenbach, writing about Chamberlain's 1991 book tour: "He also said yesterday, in discussing how hectic his book tour has been, that he had been interviewed Wednesday by about 36 TV stations, 20 radio stations and six or seven print journalists. The truth is something a bit more modest: nine interviews total, according to his publicist."

8. Tim Johnson: "I saw combat in 'Nam"
Johnson, in his first year as a big-league skipper in 1998, motivated his Blue Jays by telling them stories about his days of combat as a marine in Vietnam.

Johnson first denied charges that he lied, but finally admitted it after it was discovered he'd never served in Vietnam (he was a reservist who did his six-year stint stateside). He also admitted that he'd never been an All-America basketball player in high school, as his official bio indicated.

Toronto fired the former Brewers and Jays infielder (.223 lifetime average) after it became clear he'd been telling tales for decades. "This has been something that's been bothering me for 28 years," Johnson said.

The Mexico City Devil Rays hired Johnson soon after he left the Jays. One agent asked, [Has he been] "telling his players he fought at the Alamo?"

9. David Wells: I was "half-drunk" when I pitched a perfect game
Wells, who now claims he was misquoted in his soon-to-be-released autobiography (the Charles Barkley strategy), has backed off claims about steroid use in MLB and the dubious assertion that he was "half-drunk" during his 1998 perfect game. The only question remaining about Boomer's bio is: Do we look for it under fiction or non-fiction?

10. Peter Ueberroth on collusion: "You can't get 26 owners to agree on anything"
When Ueberroth took over as baseball commish after his triumphant fiscal performance with the 1984 L.A. Olympics, many hailed him as baseball's financial savior. His presence almost immediately paid off for the owners: All of a sudden, the free agent market dried up, driving salaries down and eliminating at least some of the theoretical red ink from baseball's ledgers.

But the jig didn't work. Some charged baseball's owners with colluding to hold down salaries -- a clear violation of the collective bargaining agreement -- as early as 1985. Ueberroth denied anything of the sort, saying, "You can't get 26 owners to agree on anything."

Eventually, the owners were found guilty of collusion. Was it Ueberroth's idea? "Who are the other candidates?" said one AL GM. "I don't think you'd have seen the financial restraint of the last two years without his presence. He's been a pretty central figure."

Total cost to owners for proven collusion between 1985-1988: $280 million.

Also receiving votes
Steinbrenner: "I clocked them"
It's one of the most bizarre stories in the Yankee owner's career, which, as you know, says a lot. It goes like this: George, in L.A. while the Yankees were losing the 1981 World Series to the Dodgers, said he broke his hand while pummeling two Dodger fans in a hotel elevator.

Steinbrenner's account: Two drunk men get into the elevator, recognize who he is, call New Yorkers "animals," and the Yankees "chokers." One hits George on the head with a bottle. George throws three punches, flooring them both: "I clocked them. There are two guys in this town looking for their teeth and two guys who will probably sue me."

The Yankee owner continues to insist that the above incident happened. But there were no witnesses. No charges filed. No lawsuits. Lots of disbelievers.

But one admirer. ''I don't think he was in any kind of scuffle," Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard said in 1982, ''but as soon as I read about it, I said, 'Great! That's exactly what I'd do -- get me a bottle of ketchup and a few teeth from a dental supply place and rev up my team.'"

"He's out playing golf"
That's what Woody Held, Gary Bell's roommate, told Nan, Bell's wife, when she called their room at 4:30 a.m., according to Jim Bouton in "Ball Four."

This particular lie isn't one of the biggest in sports, but we're sure it's just the tip of the lies-to-the-wives iceberg.

By the way, Nan's response? She shrugged her shoulders and said, "Maybe he was."

Bud Selig: Baseball lost $232 million in 2001
Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, the baseball commissioner detailed the game's dire financial situation, specifying that baseball's major league teams had lost a combined $232 million in just one year.

Forbes magazine came up with a different figure: MLB had a $75 million profit in 2001. "Baseball as an industry is in strong financial shape," said Forbes senior editor Mike Ozanian.

Was Selig, who was under oath, lying? Well, perhaps not in the most narrow sense of the term. Explained U. of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson, "There are an enormous number of ways in which a reasonably competent attorney and a good accountant can get in a room and through perfectly legal, ethical ways, make these teams seem unprofitable."

Al Martin: I played football at USC
Trouble is, he didn't. The former major leaguer was also married to two women at once.

"It's not about the money"
Many, many candidates. Pick your favorite!