Winners Take All

The Seventh Annual Village Voice Sportswriters Poll

The Call Heard 'Round the World

"Thuh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh Yankees Win!"

Bomber broadcaster John Sterling has been carving and buffing this, his audio totem, for years. In 1998, it was a true barometer of the Yankees Long March: hoarse and sincere in April, sometimes forced or theatrical in June, flat and dull by August, and then finally regaining its childlike enthusiasm as El Duque dodged the Indian bullets of October. Those of another generation will always have Russ Hodges's four "The Giants win the pennant!"s, while Yankee fans can etch 125 of Sterling permutations onto their mental headstones.

Of course, in our class-riven society, the baseball park, with major sports' cheapest seats, is fast losing its aura of democracy. Don Delillo envisioned Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, G-man Hoover, and bar-keep Toots Scor all rubbin' shoulders with Kramden/Norton–esque Gothamites, cheering and jeering their beloved squads. Lawyers and garbage men, doctors and plumbers, moguls and poets all passing hot dogs, beer, and change among each other, deeply joined by tribal passions and hatreds. But to hear Sterling and Michael Kay shill endlessly (on the local Disney affiliate, natch) for the Boss's needs (new stadium, new sky boxes, new parking) and lecturing us that it's not about grace, speed, skill, strength, or mystery— that it's not even about profit, it's about how much profit— is to wish for the heyday of the Scooter's serendipitous poetry all over again. And certainly, anyone who's ever paid an exorbitant amount to sit in tacky luxury at the Jake or Camden Yards, knows that the sky boxes serve only to segregate the crowd as effectively as gated developments do our communities. —Bob Baker

Wasting Away in Mediaville

It doesn't matter where you turned in 1998, it was the year of the media conglomerate as sports owner, programmer, and profiteer. Will professional sports ever be the same? Was it ever?

The year began with Major League Baseball approving Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers and ended with his bottomless-purse signing of Kevin Brown. It was the year the Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Cubs and part-owner of the WB Network, announced it would reduce the number of Cubs games broadcast locally in order to make room for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was the year we all learned that the teams we shed blood, sweat, and tears over are considered little more than mere "programming" by its owner.

Perhaps you read about Kevin Brown's new contract in the New York Post— one of the many newspapers owned by News Corp. Or maybe you saw it first on Fox Sports News— a joint venture of said News Corp. and Cablevision. Cablevision? Isn't that the media giant flirting with the New York Yankees?

It was a year that had sports fans and journalists turning to the past with blindingly rose-colored glasses. But now is not the time to wax nostalgic about the supposed gentleman owners of yesteryear. Charles Comiskey was a tight-fisted tyrant, after all, and it was that sweet O'Malley family business that yanked the Dodgers out of Brooklyn. Still, the nostalgia reached a fever pitch in Yankee town this year. Do we really need to remind the media that George Steinbrenner is a bully and a crook— a man hardly worthy of the rebirth and lionization he received in 1998?

But perhaps the New York press ought to be given some slack. In their bottom-line decision making and emotional distance from our beloved teams, the new breed of owners is a particularly chilling one. Murdoch had never even been to a game before snatching up the Dodgers and Charles Dolan shows less interest than Patrick Ewing in the Knicks' passing game. Facing an unknown future of pay-per-view games and out-of-control salaries, New York journalists were inclined to cling desperately to the devil they know, embodying an infamous FDR quote in the process. "Steinbrenner may be a son of a bitch," they all seemed to be saying in the year of Murdoch, "but he's our son of a bitch." —Joanna Cagan

Male Sports Figure of 1998

Sammy Sosa. With "Sosa 66" soaped onto every other car window in the city, we knew that Sammy's swats resonated a little differently than Mark McGwire's. They meant more, somehow; certainly in a baseball sense— Sosa's Cubs saw the postseason— but also in a human sense. The pride of Dominican America fulfilled crossover dreams and softened an increasingly cranky McGwire late in the home run chase. Finally, Sosa's hurricane-relief efforts, as much as his fantástico season, recalled Roberto Clemente's heroics— and that's pretty good company.

Runners-Up: Mark Mcgwire. See what a little therapy can do? McGwire gave baseball fans a thrilling ride, made TV schedulers crazy, and had every person seeing a shrink bursting with pride. He was larger- than-life and down-to-earth-sincere at the same time. He turned from surly during the chase to awkwardly classy at the end. He obliterated baseball's favorite record— and that's enough to put him at the top of any poll.

Casey Martin. The young golfer went up against the likes of Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer— and won. For Martin, who suffers from Klippel- Trenaunay- Weber Syndrome, walking is a difficult, painful process. So he requested the use of a golf cart during PGA Tour events— an act that sent the golf establishment into a rage. With few allies besides the Americans With Disabilities Act, Martin fought golf's overlords in court and prevailed. His courage injected a little decency into what is still one of the sports world's most stupidly elitist realms.

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