Sports

OUT AT THE 'POST'

What's largely been lost amid the you-can't-quit, you're-fired firestorm over Wally Matthews's column in the Post last week is the fact that, on balance, Matthews was right. "Major League Baseball is not 'ready' to accept an openly gay player," he wrote in the story that cost him his job. Considering that female reporters are still accepted only grudgingly in many locker rooms, and teams are still divided into black and white cliques 50 years after Jackie Robinson, that might be an understatement. Bobby Valentine notwithstanding, the first openly gay player's sexuality won't be, as Mike Piazza predicted, "irrelevant." Not to the God Squad in the clubhouse, not to the leather-lunged homophobes in the bleachers, and certainly not to the scandal-chasing news crews. Of course, that too is irrelevant. Some day, probably sooner rather than later, a professional athlete is going to come out or be outed (not by a gay group, as Matthews suggested, but by some enterprising tabloid, supermarket or otherwise). Then, whether Chad Curtis is ready or not, it'll all hit the fan, from the pre-game press circus that will mark every stop of the Out and Proud U.S. Tour to the teachable moments that might prevent some eight-year-old sports nuts from using the word faggot quite so indiscriminately. And as for Matthews, he'll be missed as a breath of fresh air in the pressroom, a guy who understands that you can take your job seriously without taking yourself too seriously. "There was nothing calculated in this, and nothing heroic," he wrote with typical candor on Sportsjournalists.com. "I am not a victim or a martyr, simply a guy that had had enough of the Post bullshit." —Allen St. John


BOMBER RUN

Over in the Bronx, it was homers rather than homophobes that set tongues wagging last week: The Yankees led the majors with 74 long balls, clubbing 39 in an 18-game stretch. Yet even as their bats heated up, their pitchers went cold. With Andy Pettitte and El Duque shelved by injury, Boomer's lower back iffy, and Mariano Rivera coddling a sore groin, the team looks more vulnerable than Paul O'Neill's watercooler after a called third strike. It doesn't help that the Yanks lock horns two weeks in a row with the Red Sox, who own the best record in baseball and an unexpectedly sharp rotation. We've always had a soft spot for the Bostonians; their no-name jerseys and tasteful color scheme rank second only to the Bombers' for old-school class. New owner John Henry glad-hands fans before games like a cruise-director android, while super starter Derek Lowe—once a byword for ineptitude—is giving Pedro Martinez a run for his money. How good do the Sox feel right now? Just ask Pedro. "There's no rivalry [with New York]," chirped the rejuvenated ace. "I love Bernie Williams. I love Derek Jeter." (Wait till Page Six hears about this.) The Jeter in question, however, was having none of it, swearing, "They hate us. I know they hate me." He meant the Fenway faithful, not the guys on the field, but he's got a point. Love between the Red Sox and the Yankees? That's what we call sick. —J. Yeh


SELIG'S CORPORATE LIFE

You think Bud Selig's a threat only to the existence of the Twins and Expos? What about the Indians? We're talking about the 500 Native American members of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony who live next to a giant proposed cat-litter mine in Nevada.

The car dealer and team owner turned baseball commissioner has been a director since 1969 of Oil-Dri Corporation, the world's largest maker of cat litter. (Ever used Cat's Pride?) And Chicago-based Oil-Dri is fighting Native Americans, environmentalists, and local government officials for the "right" to scoop out a chunk of public land. In March, Washoe County officials rejected Oil-Dri's planned mining and processing plant on 300 acres bordering the Indian land, which is 10 miles north of downtown Reno. Plant opponents say it would cause an air-pollution nightmare, especially for the Indians. Now that Oil-Dri is suing, the controversy could have nationwide ramifications as the latest test case involving a landmark 1872 law, hated by environmentalists, that allows mining of public lands.

Selig's name has not been mentioned in the Nevada dustup—as a member of the board, he won't actually be getting his hands dirty. But he has long been accused of having a conflict of interest in his more public roles as team owner and MLB commissioner. Judging by his Oil-Dri activities, the Twins and Expos don't have a chance of survival—and the players and public don't have a shot at being treated fairly by an owner-commissioner—if Selig watches his fellow team owners' backs as well as he takes care of his Oil-Dri pals. In 1996, for instance, Selig's car-leasing company got $80,608 from Oil-Dri while Bud was the chairman of Oil-Dri's executive-compensation and stock-option committees. In the 2001 fiscal year, Selig got an "annual retainer" of $10,000 from Oil-Dri, not counting thousands in other fees for chairing the compensation and stock-option committees. He also received an option to purchase 10,000 shares of stock—while he helped decide which company officers also got stock options.

Oil-Dri makes out, too: As a result of a recent deal, it now furnishes the soil additives used to groom the diamonds of several MLB teams, including Selig's Milwaukee Brewers. Conflict of interest? What's that? —Ward Harkavy

 
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