Winners Take All

The Seventh Annual Village Voice Sportswriters Poll

 They say that sports year 1998 was the best ever. Was it? Below, some views from the Voice on the year gone by.


Chicken Soup for the Sporting Soul

Call it the Year of the Happy Ending. Not Walt Disney, not Frank Capra, not even Steven-Fucking-Spielberg and the whole rest of DreamWorks could have scripted a more relentlessly upbeat sports year than we had in 1998. Take baseball's home run race. It was as perfectly choreographed as a very special episode of 7th Heaven. One guy gets the record. The other cops the MVP and, despite Brant Brown's best efforts, a trip to the playoffs. Then everyone shakes hands, smiles for the camera, and riffs on a 20-year-old Saturday Night Live routine. No stress-induced baldness . . . nothing. And even McGwire's Milwaukee non-homer became a trivia question, rather than the Botch Heard 'Round the World. Need further evidence that Allah is a baseball fan?

And how about those Yankees. Forget that a 700-pound piece of the Stadium fell and didn't squish anyone. Or that David Wells pitched a perfect game for every lawsuit he settled. Or that Chuck Knoblauch/Tino Martinez/Andy Pettitte each atoned for his playoff Bucknerism with a moment of World Series heroics. Or that they won— count 'em— 125 games. Just remember this as the year that Derek Jeter dumped Mariah Carey. It's the very definition of a happy ending.

Bill Parcells celebrated the year of the Teletubbie by pulling off his own miracle— building the best Jets team since Jimmy Hoffa took up permanent residence in the Meadowlands. While Leon Hess is still around to see it. And let's not forget Michael Jordan, sport's ultimate purveyor of happy endings. The Steal. The Shot. The Sweat on Jerry Krause's brow. It was way more entertaining than Space Jam.

Where exactly does happy end and psychotically cheerful begin? When even career-threatening knee-injury stories end with a smile. Remember Nykesha Sales, the UConnbasketball star? Blew out her knee, a point shy of the school scoring record. No problem. Her coach huddles up with his buddy on the other bench, Nykesha gets the opening tip-off, sinks an uncontested layup, and hobbles off with the record. And then there's Picabo Street, who managed to squeeze one great run between 1997's torn ACL and 1998's shattered femur, and turned it into Olympic gold. Surgery. Rehab. And a big shot of insulin.

Even the year's down moments came complete with silver linings. The Giants reclaimed their self-respect, if not a playoff spot, by out-Elwaying the then unbeaten Broncos. The Knicks were bounced by Reggie Miller and the hated Pacers, but they haven't lost a game since. Thanks to childhood pal and fellow cancer victim, Eric Davis, Darryl Strawberry should have a cameo in his own TV movie. And last rites notwithstanding, the ailing Joe DiMaggio decided that he too wants to party like it's 1999.

1998. If it wasn't the best sports year ever, it sure was the sunniest. Now if you'll excuse us while we go finish reading the Starr Report.

—Allen St. John


Presidential Jocularity

How tired are locker-room phone calls from the president? Let's hear it for Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, who knows how to do it the right way. When the Czechs beat Russia and won the Olympic hockey gold medal and all of Prague turned out to celebrate, Havel— one of whose first official acts as Czech president was to invite Lou Reed to perform at a state function— invited the team to his villa in the capital. There, Havel, who was recovering from intestinal surgery, and the Czech players spent much of the day getting tipsy on champagne, cigarettes, and who knows what else. Meanwhile, American columnists were still whining about how the U.S. hockey team had trashed an Olympic village room the week before. Ah well, we just don't get it. Maybe someday our jock culture might be as cool as Czech jock culture, but I doubt it. As Dominik Hasek said recently after an easy time shutting down the Rangers yet again: "The first period I could have had a cigar and a glass of wine." Hard to picture Bill Parcells saying something like that. . . . —Mark Winopol


The Nixed Home Opener

Was it the awesome Marcus Camby smashing the boards for his first New York Knick rebound? Was it Charlie Ward flying into the lap of that derivatives trader, crushing his cell phone into pieces the size of cats' toes? Was it the pageantry of the Knick City Dancers high-stepping to Black Sabbath's "War Pigs"? Was it that look Soon-yi gave Woody— a glance that meant "Maybe you should spend a little more time on your next movie"? Was it the smoky ghosts of DeBusschere and Auerbach and Russell and Reed from Boston battles past? No. Our vote for the most memorable moment from the Knicks' 1998-99 home opener could only go to coach Jeff Van Gundy. "Maugham," he said, flapping a tattered Penguin against his palm during the postgame interview. "Of Human Bondage— it's all here." Then how he turned away, anguish rolling from his pores like sweat, a hunch in his shoulders that even in victory seemed to say, "You cannot love me more than I hate myself." —Brian Parks


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.


Female Sports Figure of 1998

Chamique Holdsclaw. She just doesn't lose. Especially at the end of the season. At Christ the King High School in Queens, she led her team to four straight city and state titles. At Tennessee, she's brought home the NCAA championship in each of her three years there. Now she's gunning for a fourth. And every basketball fan in the tristate area is crossing their fingers that she'll be playing in a Liberty uniform come spring. Chamique Holdsclaw is quickly becoming the Michael Jordan of the women's game— let's hope she has a few more qualms about doing endorsements for sweatshop-supporting firms.

Runners-Up:

Cammi Granato. Combining the excitement of the Women's Dream Team basketball team in Atlanta and some of the underdog spirit of the Miracle on Ice team from Lake Placid, the U.S. women's hockey team took the gold in Nagano last February. And Granato led the way— with both a bushel of goals and articulate spokesmanship. Her class act was in clear contrast with the underachieving, juvenile-delinquent, Olympic Village–trashing U.S. men's hockey squad.

Se Ri Pak. She prevailed in one of the year's most thrilling contests, the U.S. Women's Open, after a 20-hole playoff. The next week she set an LPGA record with a round of 61. Before all that she won another major, the LPGA Championship. Two other victories sealed her year as one of the best ever. And Pak, from South Korea, is only 21 years old.


Team of 1998

New York Yankees. Best ever? Doesn't matter. They gave us a hell of a debate to go along with that awesome ride. But 125 wins is good fodder for their side of the argument. Throw in a perfect game, a batting champ, a World Series sweep, and not one, but two human dramas ("El Duque" Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry), and you've got a good case for myth of the year, if not team of the year. The only thing the Bombers haven't beaten is the immovable force that wants to yank them out of the Bronx.

Runners-Up:

France. Early on Zinedine Zidane and his multiculti teammates caught catcalls from French neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen and indifference from the rest of France. But by the time the Algerian-born Zidane headed home the game winners in a stunning World Cup upset of mighty Brazil, indifference had been turned into amour fou— prompting the biggest party on the Champs-Elysee since World War II.

Czech Republic. With that break-dancing Gumby, Dominik Hasek, stopping everything in sight, the Czech hockey team brought home the gold. Along the way, the Czechs stopped the U.S., Canadian, and Russian teams, each of which was stocked with topflight NHL players. No matter, the Czechs had the Dominator. His sprawling, twisting, blind save of an Eric Lindros penalty shot in the game-deciding shoot-out with Canada was the tournament's signature moment.


Worst Sports Figure of 1998

David Stern and the NBA Owners. It was a lockout, after all, not a strike. The owners claim that some teams are losing money. Well, if they can't make it on 43 percent of $2 billion, what they've got is a revenue distribution problem, not a salary problem. Besides, who says the owners should even get 43 percent? The players bring in all the money. No one pays to see Stern or Knicks owner Chuck Dolan or any other short, fat rich guys run up and down the court.

Runners-Up:

Rudy Giuliani. He's got great seats anytime he wants, he gets to go in the clubhouse on a moment's notice, and his office houses the last two Yankee World Series trophies. So what's the world's most infamous Yankee fan got to gain by building a new stadium for the Bombers? (Real estate contributions for a future campaign, perhaps?) Either way, bleacher seats are sure to be a lot more than $7 in Giuliani Field at Trump Park.

Patrick Ewing. Someone take away his cell phone, please. And while you're at it, take away his eight-figure salary and all his savings and let Patrick see what it's like to "survive." Ewing, when not mucking up the Knicks playoff run with a postseason "comeback," was demonstrating a considerable lack of tact as president of the NBAPA. His fellow players may deserve a fairer shake from the billionaire owners, but with Ewing at the helm, somehow even a 10-day contract, minimum-salary guy ended up looking like a greedy bastard.


1998 Village Voice Sportswriters Poll Results

Here are the vote totals for the Seventh Annual Sportswriters Poll. Everyone who contributed to the Voice sports section in 1998 was asked to vote for a first-, second-, and third-place finisher in each of the poll's four categories (57 contributors responded). A first-place vote was worth four points, a second-place vote two points, and a third-place vote one point. Below, the vote getters, preceded by the number of points they received.

Female Sports Figure of 1998

56 Chamique Holdsclaw, basketball
50 Cammi Granato, hockey
49 Se Ri Pak, golf
43 Marion Jones, track
29 Cynthia Cooper, basketball
26 Lindsay Davenport, tennis
20 Picabo Street, skiing
15 Venus Williams, tennis
10 Ila Borders, baseball
10 Martina Hingis, tennis
10 Pat Summitt, basketball coaching
8 Teresa Edwards, basketball
8 Florence Griffith Joyner, track legend
8 Teresa Weatherspoon, basketball
6 Jackie Joyner-Kersee, track
6 Sang Lan, gymnastics/injury survivor
6 Billie Jean King, tennis/activism
5 Franca Fiacconi, marathon
5 Dominique Moceanu, gymnastics*
5 Nykesha Sales, basketball
4 Pasha Grishuk, ice dancing
4 Mia Hamm, soccer
4 Ann Trason, ultra marathon
4 Hayley Wickenheiser, hockey
2 Kisha Ford, basketball
2 Yolanda Griffith, basketball
2 Michelle Kwan, figure skating
2 Tegla Loroupe, marathon
2 Lucia Rijker, boxing
2 Katja Seizinger, skiing
2 Serena Williams, tennis
1 Svetlana Abrosimova, basketball
1 Jenny Chuasiriporn, golf
1 Julie Foudy, soccer/broadcasting
1 Anna Kournikova, tennis*
1 Lisa Leslie, basketball
1 Shannon Strong, lumberjill
1 Sarah Tueting, hockey

*Also received votes for Worst Sports Figure

Male Sports Figure of 1998

77.5 Sammy Sosa, baseball
67.5 Mark McGwire, baseball*
40 Casey Martin, golf/activism
39 Dominik Hasek, hockey
22 Ricky Williams, football
22 Joe Torre, baseball managing
21 Zinedine Zidane, soccer
12 Doug Flutie, football
8 Michael Jordan, basketball*
8 Hermann Maier, skiing
7 Randall Cunningham, football
6.5 Bill Parcells, football coaching*
6 Orlando Hernandez, baseball
5 Jeff Gordon, auto racing
5 David Wells, baseball
4.5 Vinny Testaverde, football
4 Stone Cold Steve Austin, pro wrestling
4 Goldberg, pro wrestling
4 Patrick Ewing, basketball*
4 Hicham El Guerrouj, track
4 Roger Maris, baseball legend
4 Randy Moss, football
4 John Sterling, baseball broadcasting*
3 Joe DiMaggio, baseball/survivor
2 Muhammad Ali, boxing/statesman
2 Lance Armstrong, cycling/cancer survivor
2 John Cullen, hockey/cancer survivor
2 Terrell Davis, football
2 John Elway, football
2 Haile Gebrselassie, track
2 Billy Hunter, basketball union leader*
2 "Sugar" Shane Mosley, boxing
2 Christopher Reeve, sports-injury survivor
2 Booger Smith, basketball
2 Tubby Smith, basketball coaching
2 Jayson Williams, basketball
1 Fabien Barthez, soccer
1 Scotty Bowman, hockey coaching
1 Scott Brosius, baseball
1 Allen Iverson, basketball
1 Josey LaRocco, bowling
1 Robert Lipsyte, sportswriting
1 Earl "The Goat" Manigault, playground legend
1 Ross Rebagliatti, snowboarding/toking
1 Mark Taylor, cricket

*Also received votes for Worst Sports Figure

Team of 1998

102 New York Yankees, World Series champions
56 France, World Cup champions
47 Czech Republic, Olympic men's hockey champions
45 U.S.A., Olympic women's hockey champions
42 Denver Broncos, Super Bowl champions
38 Detroit Red Wings, Stanley Cup champions
23 University of Tennessee, NCAA women's basketball champions
11 Chicago Bulls, NBA champions
4 ABL, basketball
4 Minnesota Vikings, football
4 USA, women's soccer
3 Arsenal, FA Cup champions
3 Iran, World Cup soccer
3 New York Jets, football
2 Montreal Expos, baseball
2 New York City Marathon runners
2 New York Knicks, basketball
2 Run-D-Crew, double dutch champions
2 Team McLaren/Mercedes, auto racing
1 Canada, Olympic snowboarding
1 Houston Comets, WNBA champions
1 NBA players*
1 Northeastern University Center for the Study of Sport in Society
1 NWO Red and Black, pro wrestling
1 Prairie View A&M, college football
1 Prairie View A&M, marching band
1 Gordy Sheer/Chris Thorpe, Olympic luge doubles silver medalists
1 Tom's River, Little League WS champions

*Also received votes for Worst Sports Figure

Worst Sports Figure of 1998

61 David Stern–NBA owners, capitalist pigs
45 Rudy Giuliani, mayor/Steinbrenner lackey
38 Patrick Ewing, basketball/season wrecker
36 USA Olympic men's hockey team, boors
22 Rupert Murdoch, sports owner/evil emperor
21 Billy Hunter–NBA Players Association, capitalist stooges
20 Reggie White, football/bigot
19 Steve Sampson–U.S. Soccer, World Cup bunglers
18 NBA, the whole greedy lot
18 Bill Parcells, football coach/Giuliani clone
14 David Falk–NBA agents, capitalist running dogs
8 Dan Duquette, baseball GM/Red Sox ruiner
7 Bob Kraft, football owner/Patriots absconder
5 George Steinbrenner, baseball owner/ ransomer of public funds
5 Mark McGwire, baseball/cranky slugger
4 Gary Bettman, NHL commish/ignoramous
4 Tara Lipinski, figure skating/perky irritant
4 Tito Wooten, football/domestic abuser
4 TV networks, ABL murderers
4 John Sterling, baseball broadcaster/blowhard
4 Met boobirds, anti-Piazza philistines
4 Phil Knight, Nike CEO/sweatshop king
4 Canadian NHL teams, corporate welfare bums
3 NFL officials, imbeciles
3 Wayne Huizenga, baseball owner/ used-car salesman
2 Juan Antonio Samaranch, IOC chair/drug apologist
2 Don Cherry, hockey broadcaster/ multichinned vulgarian
2 Roger Clemens, baseball/extortionist
2 Chris Collinsworth, football broadcaster/dweeb
2 John Elway, football/ ransomer of public funds
2 Steven Gluckstern–Howard Milstein, hockey owners/Islanders cheapskates
2 Naseem Hamed, boxing/narcissist
2 IOC, graft takers
2 Michael Jordan, basketball/human billboard
2 Peter J. Maceroni, custody judge/idiotic sexist
2 Dominique Moceanu, gymnastics/ prima donna
2 Latrell Sprewell, basketball/litigant
1 Albert Belle, baseball/surly jerk
1 Scott Boras, baseball agent/parasite
1 Carolina Hurricanes, hockey/ botched Sunbelt experiment
1 The college football bowl system, travesty of justice
1 Cecil Collins, football/SOB
1 Joe DiMaggio's doctor, MD/quack
1 Alan Eagleson, player agent/felon
1 Fran Frascilla, basketball coach/despot
1 Don King, boxing promoter/scoundrel
1 Anna Kournikova, tennis/navel exposer
1 Martinsville, Indiana, high school boys basketball team, race baiters
1 John Moores–Larry Lucchino, baseball owners/ ransomers of public funds
1 New York Islanders, losers
1 Dennis Rodman, basketball/tired sideshow
1 J.C. Watts, football/Republican

Past winners

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