The List: Worst cases of foot-in-mouth disease
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 columnist

There's an epidemic spreading throughout the sports world. Within the past couple of months, Heat coach Pat Riley went into a tirade, claiming NBA refs are conspiring to get him, umpire Bruce Froemming hurled what MLB called "an anti-Semitic epithet" against an administrator, and Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt dissed Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy and just about every other teammate. All have paid some price (though perhaps not the full price) already: the NBA hit Riley with a $50K fine, MLB barred Froemming from the season opener in Tokyo, and Vanderjagt -- well, we'll see.

The long-term prognosis: grim, though very good news for Page 2. As long as athletes, umps, refs, coaches and owners talk (and sportswriters spill ink), foot-in-mouth will always be out there. Fortunately (though sadly for Page 2), the recent cases haven't been as severe as past outbreaks.

1. The mistake that defined him forevermore
On April 6, 1987, "Nightline" devoted its half hour to the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's major league debut. Who better to discuss the topic than L.A. Dodger VP and GM Al Campanis, who'd been part of the Dodger organization since 1943 and Robinson's teammate on the Montreal Royals in 1946?

In retrospect, the real question should have been, who worse? This is how part of the exchange went between "Nightline" host Ted Koppel and Campanis:

KOPPEL: Mr. Campanis ... you're an old friend of Jackie Robinson's, but it's a tough question for you. You're still in baseball. Why is it that there are no black managers, no black general managers, no black owners?

CAMPANIS: Well, Mr. Koppel, there have been some black managers, but I really can't answer that question directly. The only thing I can say is that you have to pay your dues when you become a manager. Generally, you have to go to the minor leagues. There's not very much pay involved, and some of the better known black players have been able to get into other fields and make a pretty good living in that way.

KOPPEL: Yeah, but you know in your heart of hearts ... you know that that's a lot of baloney. I mean, there are a lot of black players, there are a lot of great black baseball men who would dearly love to be in managerial positions, and I guess what I'm really asking you is to, you know, peel it away a little bit. Just tell me, why you think it is. Is there still that much prejudice in baseball today?

CAMPANIS: No, I don't believe it's prejudice. I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager.

KOPPEL: Do you really believe that?

CAMPANIS: Well, I don't say that all of them, but they certainly are short. How many quarterbacks do you have? How many pitchers do you have that are black?

Two days later, the Dodgers fired Campanis.

So went the worst case of "foot in mouth" in sports history -- a terrible interview destroying a long, impressive career in which Campanis did more to advance minorities in baseball than most baseball execs.

"I don't believe Campanis has a prejudiced bone in his body," Don Newcombe told the L.A. Times long after the "Nightline" appearance. "If Jackie were around today, I don't think he would appreciate what has happened to Al, because Al helped him and befriended him. He would tell Al, 'You just messed up and you've got to apologize,' and Al did apologize."

Shortly after Campanis died in 1998, Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News wrote, "Al Campanis was a very nice man, even a sweet man, but also a flawed man who made one colossal mistake in his 81 years on earth -- a mistake that would come to define him forevermore."

2. Relax and enjoy it
Where to begin with Bobby Knight? You know the long, sordid story, so we'll just point you to ESPN's Knight timeline and remind you of a lowlight, when, during a 1988 television interview with Connie Chung, he said, "If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it."

3. Nazi's and other "N" words: no offense intended
It's a shame that Marge Schott, the most idiotic owner in Major League history (quite a distinction), was ever let out of the house. In 1992, a former employee testified that Schott called former Reds Eric Davis and Dave Parker "million-dollar niggers." He also said she owned a swastika arm band.

Marge Schott
Marge is a big fan of the Cincinnati Reds ... and Hitler.
Schott responded with a press release saying that she didn't mean to offend anyone by using the word "nigger" and by owning Nazi memorabilia.

It didn't stop there. She went on to say she thought Hitler was good for Germany and that she didn't see anything wrong with the word "Jap." Despite her multiple apologies, she was fined and suspended for nine months by MLB.

That wasn't even close to the end of it, and this summary only captures a small sampling of the offensive things Schott said and did. In 1996, she repeated her public admiration for Hitler, saying he "was good in the beginning, but went too far." She apologized again, but was again suspended by MLB, and finally sold the Reds in 1999.

4. Good thing they had an 11-foot pole
During the point-shaving scandals of the late 1940s, famed University of Kentucky hoops coach Adolph Rupp assured the public that his players, under his strict watch, were clean. ''The gamblers couldn't touch my boys with a 10-foot pole," he proclaimed.

Adolph Rupp
Rupp's team, has the dubious honor of becoming the first college basketball team to get the "death penalty" -- barred from play in 1952-53.
He had reason to be confident. His "Fabulous Five" teams won back-to-back NCAA titles in 1948 and 1949, and his starters won Olympic gold in the 1948 Games. But in 1951, five of his players -- including budding NBA stars Ralph Beard and Alex Groza -- admitted being involved in the scandals and were banned from basketball for life.

Rupp's team, which had won the 1951 NCAA title, had the dubious honor of becoming the first college basketball team to get the "death penalty," barred from play in 1952-53, a season in which the Wildcats probably would have again won the NCAA championship.

5. Bad for the rednecks
It was, in retrospect, a remarkable feat: John Rocker managed to tarnish the image of rednecks. We don't have room to recap everything Rocker's said, and done, since his 1999 feud with Mets fans (and just about everyone else), which reached a peak with the Dec. 1999 SI article in which his anti-New York, xenophobic remarks ("I'm not a very big fan of foreigners.") became national news.

John Rocker
Even Twisted Sister offered their condemnation of Mr. Mouth, John Rocker.
But here's some of the fallout: After the public outcry came some quarter-hearted apologies and a suspension by MLB. Rocker suffered a very rare kind of public condemnation by Twisted Sister, which asked the Braves to stop playing their hit "I Wanna Rock" when he entered the game.

And he was shunned by his teammates. Chipper Jones, being as diplomatic as possible, said the circus surrounding Rocker was "a pain in the butt for the other 24 guys." Brian Jordan added, "You've got one guy being a cancer time and time again. Eventually, it's going to have an effect."

In 1999, before the full extent of Rocker's informed opinions became well-known, he recorded 38 saves and a 2.49 ERA. Since then, he's been pretty much the same talker, but not the same pitcher. The Braves traded him to Cleveland in mid-2001, and the Indians dumped him off to Texas, where, in 2002, he pitched 24.3 innings, recorded only one save, and racked up a 6.66 ERA.

6. But he didn't predict that he'd lose his job
Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder made a living first as a Las Vegas oddsmaker then, beginning in 1976, as a personality on the CBS pregame show, "The NFL Today," predicting winners and losers. But in a televised interview he gave on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday in 1988, Snyder said, "The black is a better athlete to begin with, because he has been bred to be that way. This goes all the way back to the Civil War, when the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid, see."

For good measure, Snyder added his own creative argument against affirmative action, saying that if more blacks became coaches, "there's not going to be anything left for the white people."

A day later, CBS Sports fired Snyder. Brent Musberger, "The NFL Today" host, said, "I told him he had to be careful what he said on TV. Did he hold those stupid, outrageous beliefs? Well, he said them."

7. We should all have twilights like this
Red Sox GM Dan Duquette, 1996: Roger Clemens is "in the twilight of his career." Duquette let Clemens, a free agent, go, and on he went to Toronto, where he started the season by winning 11 straight. He finished the 1997 season with a 21-7 record, 2.05 ERA, 292 strikeouts, and his fourth Cy Young Award. And in the six years since leaving Boston, he's gone 97-40, won three Cy Youngs, two pitching triple crowns and two World Series rings. Duquette was fired by the Red Sox before the start of the 2002 season -- so maybe he was thinking about himself when he made that "twilight" comment.

8. Brooklyn and New York: neighbors, but not friends
Two statements made 17 years apart are so remarkably similar, both in content and in what later followed, that they really belong together. In 1934, New York Giants player-manager Bill Terry was asked if he thought the Dodgers had a chance to capture the NL flag. Terry responded, "Is Brooklyn still in the league?" The Dodgers didn't forget the insult. With the Giants and Cards battling it out for the pennant, the Dodgers beat the Giants in the season's final two games -- knocking New York out of the race.

In August 1951, with the Giants way out of the running, Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen said, "The Giants is dead." Unfortunately for Dressen, they came back to life, erasing a 13 1/2 game deficit to tie the Dodgers and force a playoff for the NL pennant. Nobody heard what Dressen had to say after Bobby Thomson's shot buried the Dodgers.

9. And there are Knicks getting persecuted by empty seats
Charlie Ward, 2001: "Jews are stubborn."
"There are Christians getting persecuted by Jews every day."

"They had blood on their hands."

Those statements, made in a Bible study group, ended up in the New York Times Magazine, and set off a storm of criticism, from the likes of editorial writers, sportswriters and the Anti-Defamation League. Nobody keeps such stats, but Jewish people make up a large percentage of the Knicks fan base and paying MSG customers. And they're repaying Ward (7.7 ppg) and the rest of the crummy Knicks by showing up as empty seats.

10. "Whoop-de-damn-do"
Shortly after Kenny Anderson, the Nets All-Star guard, went AWOL for a day in Dec. 1994 and missed a Nets practice, Derrick Coleman, his teammate, responded to reporters' questions about the incident:

"Where were all you guys when Dwayne Schintzius missed practice? Everyone misses practice. Dwayne Schintzius misses practice. Jayson Williams misses practice. I miss practice. Even the coaches miss practice sometimes."

Then Coleman was reminded that Anderson, a team leader, might want to set a better example. "Whoop-de-damn-do," said Coleman "I didn't feel he owed anybody an apology." The Nets finished the 1994-95 season 30-52. Coleman, who missed practice more than anyone, was traded to the Sixers for Shawn Bradley shortly after the 1995-96 season began. Coleman averaged about 20 points and 10 rebounds a game for the Nets during his first five NBA seasons, on his way to becoming one of the league's best players. It wasn't to be. He did, however, achieve the distinction of being voted Page 2's second worst cancer in NBA history.

Also Receiving Votes:

Mr. May
In 1981, Dave Winfield's first year as a Yankee, he had a lousy postseason, hitting .355 in the ALDS vs. Milwaukee, but then sliding to .154 in the ALCS and sinking to .045 in New York's six-game losing effort against the Dodgers in the World Series. George Steinbrenner, who had signed Winfield to a 10-year, $23 million free agent deal, didn't hesitate to blame the World Series loss on the slugger, calling him "Mr. May."

The Yankee owner didn't let up for years. But Winfield, an All-Star in every full season he played in New York, excelled nonetheless. And while many fans favored Don Mattingly, Winfield, who suffered lots of criticism, also had his admirers.

"One benefit of being a bleacher fan in New York was proximity to Dave Winfield," wrote Tim Morris at SportsJones.com. "Whenever Mr. Steinbrenner disrespected Winfield, which was every few weeks, it seemed, Winfield's stock rose ever higher in the bleachers. We cheered when he took the field. We went nuts when he leaned over and picked up some grass. We started a riot when he caught a fly ball."

Steinbrenner didn't like Winfield, but he couldn't get rid of him. Winfield used the no-trade clause in his contract to refuse a deal that would have sent him to Texas in 1984, and used it again to balk at a trade to the Angels in 1990 (he eventually relented). Then, in 1992, with the Blue Jays, Winfield proved the "Mr. May" title entirely undeserved, first leading Toronto into the World Series, then winning it by doubling in the 11th inning of Game 6 to drive in the game and Series-winning runs.

When Winfield was elected to the Hall of Fame, he chose to go in as a San Diego Padre. Take that, George.

Stay tuned to The Weather Channel
Before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Aussie long jumper Jai Taurima said that, with cool weather likely during the Games, "you can pretty much knock out all the dark athletes," because they couldn't jump well in those conditions.

A few days after Taurima made those remarks, African-American Savante Stringfellow beat him in a pre-Olympics meet, and said, "I know we don't jump well in this kind of weather. I wish it had been a little colder."

In the Games, the comment also came back to haunt Taurima. He was leading the competition, on his way to gold after five of six long jump rounds. In the sixth round, Cuban Ivan Pedroso, who happens to have dark skin, outjumped Taurima to snatch the gold.

"Ignorance is the basis of hatred," said IOC VP Anita Defrantz after learning of Taurima's comments. "I certainly pity this sort of ignorance. In the U.S., we have a saying that the mind is a terrible thing to waste. In that case, the mind is a terrible thing to see."

I mean, these Hall of Famers better get on the ball
The San Francisco Giants went 90-72 in 1964, but that wasn't good enough for their skipper, Alvin Dark, who commented, "We have trouble because we have so many Negro and Spanish-speaking ballplayers on this team. They are just not able to perform up to the white ballplayers when it comes to mental alertness."

Four of the black and Spanish-speaking ballplayers who played for Dark that season made the Hall of Fame: Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichel. Dark's managing career was, with the exception of a couple of years with the Oakland A's during their 1970s dynasty, pretty much a bust after he left SF. Although he did get to be the answer of a trivia question: Who, in 1978, became only the second manager in baseball history to be fired during spring training?

"Idiot kicker"
"I'm not a real big Colts fan right now, unfortunately. I just don't see us getting better," Mike Vanderjagt said on a Toronto cable program last month. "Coach Dungy, he's just a mild-mannered guy. He doesn't get too excited, he doesn't get too down and I don't think that works either."

Vanderjagt has heard it from both Dungy and Peyton Manning, who he also criticized. The kicker's still a Colt, but probably not for long.

The whiner within
After Miami lost to New York in December 2002, Miami Heat coach Pat Riley blew up and blamed the refs. "I've had it. The officials' hatred for me is absolutely unjust for what it does to my players. I think a lot of it, simply, is their dislike for me, over the years. I saw one thing -- yes, I saw (the Knicks) playing well -- but I saw my team getting screwed, and it breaks their heart."

"It all started, I think, last year," Riley explained later. Steve Javie "came to my face after we were having a discussion and said, 'It's giving us absolute delight to watch you and your team die.' I think it's absolutely spread throughout the league."

Riley was fined $50,000 by the NBA.

Dissing Mickey
One of sports most notable victims of recent decades, Kerrigan won silver in women's figure skating at the 1994 Winter Olympics, and had millions of dollars of endorsements lined up, including a megadeal with Disney.

Then she visited Disney World, appearing, as per her contract, in a Main Street parade. "This is so corny," she said, sitting next to Mickey. The microphones caught every word. "This is so dumb. I hate it. This is the most corny thing I've ever done."

Kerrigan's star started to dim almost immediately.

Con job
Shortly before a Bulls-Knicks game in January 1997, New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy called Michael Jordan a "con man," among other things. "He really doesn't care about [young players].... He sucks them into thinking he wants to see them develop. He

talks about young players, invites people to be in his movies -- and it's all a con. His way is to befriend them, soften them up, try to make them feel like he cares about them. Then he goes out there and tries to destroy them. The first step as a player is to realize that and don't go for it."

Van Gundy said he meant it as a compliment, but Jordan didn't take it that way. The payback? After hearing what Van Gundy said, MJ scored 51 points to lead to the Bulls to an 88-87 win over the Knicks.

They didn't call him "The Louisville Lip" for nothing
Before the "Fight of the Century" in 1971, Ali called heavyweight champ Joe Frazier an "Uncle Tom," saying that Frazier was the favorite of white fans. It was a low blow, a great insult to Frazier, and he took it that way, pounding Ali to the canvas in the 15th round of their bout at the Garden and scoring a decisive victory.





THE LIST

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Jeff Merron Archive

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