Sports

HECKLE AND JEKYLL

Last week, pint-sized pugilist Rocco Graziosa was convicted of a misdemeanor charge for assaulting Yankee David Wells on September 7. The highlights: Around 5 a.m., the paunchy pitcher (who testified he'd drunk only three tequila shots—sure) entered a diner with his personal trainer. When the weight-watching Wells ordered an egg-white omelet, fellow customer Graziosa allegedly recommended "a fucking cheeseburger, you fat fuck." Though he denied heckling Wells (or, indeed, the poor cheeseburger), the 5-7, 170-pound Graziosa admitted to punching him, as security video proved. Wells, apparently channeling Yogi Berra, then called 911 and announced, "I just got offended." Asked to name the borough he was in, he answered, "Yes."

The silver-tongued southpaw has always been a creature of nocturnal habit. "When the sun goes down and the fangs come out," he once exulted, "we're ready to roll—night owls, baby!" OK, he was talking about baseball, but he does have a knack for finding trouble. He head-butted manager Davey Johnson (for making a defensive switch in the outfield!). He threatened to "take out" George Steinbrenner (and not to the prom, either). In a 1997 bar brawl, he broke his hand teaching a miscreant not to insult his mother (who'd recently died of cancer). Indians fans often taunt the hefty hurler; in return, he calls them "idiots with no couth." (On the other hand, he also dubbed Bobby Valentine "a loser," so maybe he just likes telling the truth.) The maternal unit in question, fondly known as "Attitude Annie," is memorialized by a tattoo on her son's ample form. While dedicating his perfect game to her in 1998, Wells told reporters, "She was a fighter, like me." Luckily for Graziosa, who supposedly insulted her before socking her boy, that's no longer the case. —J.Y. Yeh


LINDROS LOOKS SMALLER AND SMALLER

Tribal hostilities returned last week when the Rangers traveled to New Jersey on Thursday and then hosted the Islanders Saturday. The perennially contending Devils may not go far without securing a backup goaltender who inspires coach Pat Burns's confidence. Jersey annually exhausts Martin Brodeur, and against the Rangers Brodeur stood in goal for the 17th straight game—every game this season. He allowed four stoppable goals in a roaring 4-4 tie that was among this fall's most entertaining contests. The Islanders survived five meek Ranger power plays Saturday, then smartly rallied in the third to win 3-1. If the Isles players are revolting against coach Peter Laviolette, as reported, they didn't perform that way. Tenacious captain Mike Peca has returned from knee surgery and rubbed off on his teammates, especially the real target of their antagonism, Alexei Yashin, whose desire rarely matches his talent or his lucrative 10-year contract.

The Rangers also have problems with their top players, especially Eric Lindros, who scored in only two of the Rangers' first 22 games. Some believe he has no chemistry with another slumpee, linemate Pavel Bure. Another view holds that both miss a skilled leftwinger, Rem Murray, in place to do their defensive dirty work. And then there's the possibility that Lindros's career arc is in sharp decline, that the guy once touted as a big, tough man with small man's hands and speed has lost the taste for toughness, the hand skills to be productive, and the speed to beat defenders. "He can't get there anymore," one highly esteemed hockey mind told Jockbeat recently, and it sure looked that way last week. Toronto Sun columnist Al Strachan reported Sunday that three teams are trying to trade for Lindros. Sometimes GMs plant these stories to goose a player into improving. Sometimes, the rumors are true. If three teams actually want Lindros, the question is "Why?" —Stu Hackel


TALKING TURKEY WITH AN OLD TOM

Since free agent Tom Glavine has already said that he's waiting until after Thanksgiving before deciding where he wants to pitch next, here's some information Glavine's three suitors—the Phillies, the Mets, and his old club, the Braves—might want to chew on before talking any more turkey with his agent. No one's arguing with the veteran lefty's accomplishments in his 16-year career, which include five 20-win seasons and a lifetime record of 242-143, but after word got out that both New York and Philadelphia had offered the soon-to-be 37-year-old three-year contracts worth $28.5 million and $27 million, respectively, we thought it a bit odd that Glavine was publicly pushing for a four-year deal. "Regardless of where I play," he was quoted as saying, "I want this to be my last contract. . . . I feel like I have an outside chance of winning 300 games, and I don't want to be somewhere three years from now with 290 wins and trying to find a team to play for."

We'll just point out that winning 58 games or more over a four-year period starting at age 37 is something hardly anyone has done in the history of baseball, and certainly not in the past half-century. We came up with a grand total of five—none of whom, by the way, stopped pitching at age 40: knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough, spitballer Gaylord Perry, screwballer Warren Spahn (the only lefty), and, oh yes, Early Wynn, who got number 300 hanging on by a thread at age 43. No wonder the Braves, with their customary common sense, have offered Glavine two years with options for more seasons if he reaches certain marks for innings pitched and starts, while the Mets, with Fred Wilpon running amok now as solo owner, are on the verge of throwing in that fourth year for no reason except desperation. —Billy Altman

 
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