“The fans were our sixth man,” said game hero Sue Wicks just after the Liberty upset the two-time WNBA champion Houston Comets in a fiery 74-71 finish on Sunday. “They really pushed us up over the top.”
But as they absorbed the energy from the crowd of 19,563, could the players feel any of the special enthusiasm of lesbian fans, who pulled off a “visibility” action on Sunday? “We definitely know the fans are out there,” said backup guard Coquese Washington, who came off the bench to spark the Liberty with two big steals in her two minutes of play. “But you see them kind of like you see a crowd of people on the beach— you can’t really distinguish anything specific.” Giggling appreciatively upon seeing one of the stickers organizers of the action had distributed to some 6000 spectators— “WNBA: Lesbian fans are filling your stands”— Washington added, “We’re just glad to have people come. Their race, color, sexual orientation doesn’t matter. I’m just happy we have fans.”
But for the dozen or so organizers of the action— “a celebration, really” according to activist Jess Dobkin— the WNBA goes out of its way to make lesbian fans invisible (not to mention how it slams the closet door on lesbian players). “The league’s marketing is completely focused on the straight family experience and never acknowledges the queer fan base,” she says. “We didn’t want to disrupt anything. Liberty games are such a positive place for us. We just wanted our support of the Liberty to be recognized along with everyone else’s. We wanted to see our faces and our signs on the video screens for once.”
Dobkin and colleagues held a “Lesbians for Liberty” banner outside the Garden before the game and managed to unfurl it repeatedly inside the arena despite several confrontations with censorious ushers. But the video cameras never took it in. That hardly matters in the end, said fans who were surprised and happy to see the banner. “The kids are sitting next to us in the stands,” explained Chris, a season-ticket holder from Long Island, as she slapped a “Lesbians for Liberty” sticker onto her shirt. “They see us holding hands, being together. I’ve never had anything other than a positive experience with the families next to us. That’s more important than the cameras.”
Besides, “everyone knows lesbians are a majority of our fans,” said Wicks, still smarting from the elbows Comet forward Tina Thompson dished out, and noting how charged she gets when she walks around the Village and sees women wearing her number. “But not every place is Manhattan and this is a business. The league doesn’t want basketball to be seen as something that just has a cult following. Maybe they do overlook the lesbians when it comes to marketing. But they know the lesbians will be there anyway.”
Back in the days before double knits, the 500 homer club was harder to get into than Moomba— only Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, and Mel Ott had reached that hurdle before 1965— while 3000 hits was tough, but not unattainable, rather like a reservation at Jean-Georges, let’s say.
But that’s about to change. Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, and Cal Ripken (once he gets there) will have get used to being junior members of the 3000 hit club. It’ll be at least five years before another player joins them. The leading contenders for 3000 hits (according to numbers crunched by Stats, Inc. from a formula devised by Bill James)— Ken Griffey, Jr. (38%), Roberto Alomar (32%), Rafael Palmeiro (26%), and Craig Biggio (25%)— are all almost 1000 hits away, while Alex Rodriguez (35%) is more than 2000 hits shy.
Mark McGwire, on the other hand, had better like crowds. There are no fewer than nine players— Barry Bonds (93%), Griffey (92%), Jose Canseco (92%), Sammy Sosa (88%), Juan Gonzalez (87%), Albert Belle (81%), Rafael Palmiero (48%), Frank Thomas (42%), and Rodriguez (38%)— who have at least the same chance of getting to 500 taters as Griffey does of getting to 3000 base knocks. In fact, Griffey, McGwire, and Sosa, have a legitimate shot— 45%, 34%, and 21% respectively— at breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record. That lofty mark, according to James, is essentially “dead in the water.” Let the countdown begin. . . .
Say It Ain’t So
Joe Girardi belted his biannual home run last week in the Yankees’ 3-1 loss to Toronto. It just didn’t seem fair; when Joe hits a dinger, the Yanks just gotta win— it happens so rarely. In 11 seasons, Girardi has 25 career home runs; the most he’s hit for the Bombers is three, which came during last year’s magical run. But it’s a good thing his teams aren’t waiting around for Joe to go yard— they hold a combined 11-14 record when he does (3-4 in the Bronx). By way of contrast, consider the Cardinals, who boast a 64-55 record when slugger Mark McGwire homers, though they’re only 18-25 in ’99. But also consider these numbers: 172 and 0 for McGwire and the Cards; 5 and 2 for Girardi and the Yanks. That’s the number of home runs and rings each has in the past three years. Which would you take?
Contributors: Alisa Solomon, Allen St. John, Joshua D. Gaynor
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman