The way baseball’s Rookies of the Year (ROY) have gone in the ’90s, future winners may demand a recount. There have always been flashes in the pan with the award (Gregg Olson— chosen over Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989— comes to mind), but this decade has certainly contributed more than its share of fool’s gold— the most recent pseudo-nugget being bicoastal flop Hideo Nomo. Herewith, Jockbeat displays a few more:
Among The Thugs
The most infamous man in European soccer is now one of the world’s most wanted war criminals. Last week, the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague announced that it is seeking Zeljko Raznjatovic, a/k/a Arkan— the Serbian warlord and owner of Yugoslav national soccer champions Obilic Belgrade— for crimes against humanity.
Arkan, once the head of Red Star Belgrade’s supporters’ club, bought Obilic two years ago and since then has transformed it from a poor second-rate outfit to Yugoslav champs. His reason for choosing this particular club is obvious. Obilic takes its name from the Serb hero who, in the 1389 battle of Kosovo (the defining moment of Serb nationalism), stabbed to death the sultan of the enemy Turkish army. In building his club, Arkan installed Serbia’s feared Volunteer Guards— also known as the Tigers— as Obilic’s most fervent and fanatical supporters. The Tigers have been accused of committing atrocities and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and most recently in Kosovo. They are equally intimidating on match days. A hard core of shaven-headed Obilic supporters lead chants of “If you score, you’ll never walk out of the stadium alive” and “We’ll break both your legs, you’ll walk on your hands” during games. The ultra-fans back their chants up by drawing guns and pointing them at the opposing players.
Life isn’t much better for Obilic’s own players. After one recent defeat, Arkan stopped the team bus 20 miles from Belgrade and made the team walk home. Nevertheless, Arkan’s methods seem to pay off. Obilic was second in the Yugoslav league when play was suspended last week.
Hideki’s Love Handles
Tracking Hideki Irabu’s status with the Yankees front office is as simple as figuring out which nickname he’s going by these days. Back before he ever set foot in Yankee Stadium, Irabu was known as “the Nolan Ryan of Japan.” He was George Steinbrenner’s special project, and he was going to prove, yet again, what a baseball genius the Man from Tampa really is.
Then reality set in and folks started to notice Irabu’s fat bod more than his fastball. So teammates took to calling him “Bu-Bu”— a play on his name and a reference to the portly little sidekick to Yogi Bear. It became clear that the handle was an affectionate one— particularly when teammates started using it more frequently during Irabu’s stellar start in ’98. Later that season, when he proved no smarter than the average power hitter, the nicknames for Irabu came pouring out of the right-field bleachers— usually starting with “fat” and then ending with one vulgarity or another. So when Steinbrenner called him a “fat . . . toad” last week, it was old hat.
It was also an indication of just how far Irabu has fallen. But has he hit rock bottom? The word left out of most media reports of Irabu’s new Boss-given moniker— starts with p and “rhymes with fussy,” as the Post put it— could be Irabu’s next sobriquet if he fails to live up to Steinbrenner’s manly standards.
George, of course, has gotten softer himself these last few years— around the middle and also around the edges. Hell, he even cried like a baby at the World Series last year. What a pussy.
contributors: Jon Cooper, Matthew Yeomans, Ramona Debs sports editor: Miles D. Seligman