Sports

I AM NOT THIRD

Drew Henson is respectful, intelligent, thoughtful, and wants very badly to be a major-league baseball player. He gave up the starting quarterback job at the University of Michigan and near-certain status as an NFL No. 1 draft pick to pursue his dream. He certainly looks good in uniform, a strapping six-foot-five, 222 pounds in pinstripes, all jawbone and sinew like something out of a Chip Hilton book.

There's just one problem: Drew Henson can't play baseball.

Henson is currently making his second trip through the Arizona Fall League, where one year ago he set scouts' hearts a-twitter by hitting .314 with a .407 on-base percentage and a .570 slugging average. That performance was a mirage. Henson hit a meager .240 at Triple-A Columbus this year, with a .301 OBP and a .435 SLG. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, a good indicator of a hitter's aptitude at the plate, was an awful 151-37. He's at .193/.299/.339 in this AFL stint, with 28 strikeouts in 109 at-bats and a whopping 11 errors in 16 games in the field. Henson isn't a top Yankee prospect; he's Hensley Meulens with a better backstory.

It's not just the lousy numbers. Henson has a long swing and problems with pitch recognition, a combination that produces a ton of strikeouts. He's a terrible third baseman, awkward and indecisive, with the footwork of Gerald Ford. His best attribute, a strong arm, is negated by his scattershot aim.

However, he's still a top NFL prospect, and has plenty of time to make up the developmental time he lost playing baseball. Chad Hutchinson, a quarterback inferior to Henson, is starting for the Dallas Cowboys just one year after washing out of baseball. Henson has a career ahead of him, just not the one he envisioned. —Joe Sheehan


CUTTING DOWN THE NETS?

Because they're the Nets, out in the swamp, where all those bad things happened all those years, well, even if you're hardcore, there's still a pinch-me-it-must-have-been-a-dream quality to last season. Like any other self-respecting New York basketball fan who digs the team game, we fell in love with them, too. After years of not being able to see Jason Kidd because he was out West, having the best point guard come into our own backyard and absolutely kick ass? And finding out that he had that Michael Jordan-Larry Bird-Magic Johnson you're-going-to-have-to-rip-my-motherfucking-heart-out-before-you-beat-me thing about winning?

But can Kidd prevent the Cinderella Nets' carriage from reverting to a pumpkin? Hoary a cliché as it is, chemistry really does matter in basketball, especially when you really do (or are supposed to) play a team game. Go ahead and make fun of big, slow Todd MacCulloch, but Kidd loved him, especially his hands, his feel for the game, his ability to fit in. His replacement, Dikembe Mutumbo, is much closer to being an AARP member than an All-Star. What's more, the team is highly vulnerable at shooting guard, Richard Jefferson still has to prove he's consistent enough to be a valuable starter, and Kenyon Martin that he's nothing less than an All-Star. And both Jefferson and Martin have to prove they can guard Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill in the playoffs.

And how's this for a spring scenario? The Sixers continue to play well, and a double-teamed Allen Iverson passes to Keith Van Horn for a game-winning three. And if he misses, maybe MacCulloch tips it in over an exhausted Mutumbo. Now that's a Meadowlands nightmare a real Net fan can appreciate. —Charles Paikert


BELCHES FROM THE HOT STOVE LEAGUE

Should the 2002 World Series have been played at Minute Maid Park and Tropicana Field? The ball may have been juiced for the fall classic. After game one, David Eckstein and several pitchers claimed that the Series balls were smaller and harder than usual. This would make them livelier.

MLB's second-in-command, Sandy Alderson, countered by saying that 500 dozen WS balls were manufactured in Costa Rica between September 1 and 14, then tested and shipped to Missouri, and finally sent to Anaheim and San Francisco. He said the only difference between those and regular-season balls was a World Series stamp applied at the Rawlings headquarters. But Alderson addressed insignificant issues. Who tested the balls, for what, and how? How many passed, and how many flunked? Surely 6000 balls weren't given a resiliency test. Where are the detailed results? Let's ponder deeds and verified outcomes, rather than words:

The World Series HR record of 17 was broken by 24 percent. That's like breaking the season record by hitting 81 HR. This wasn't all Barry Bonds's doing—remove him and the top sluggers in the three 17-HR series, and 2002 still comes out ahead by anywhere from 13 to 42 percent.

The teams totaled over 12 runs per game—20 percent more than in the regular season. They batted .296, compared to .275. They slugged .481, compared to .437. Their 4.4 HRs per game was 40 percent higher than in the regular season.

All this was done in cooler-than-regular-season weather, versus well-above-average pitching staffs—each was second in its league in ERA. These factors should have produced lower than regular season offense.

None of this "proves" anything. Of necessity, it's circumstantial, but it supports what the players said at the start, rather than MLB's claims. —Otto Borchert

 
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