Pssst, Buddy

Hey you. Wanna Hall of Famer? Cheap. Real cheap.

Last week’s Ken Griffey Jr. trade is only the most recent example of a bizarre baseball trend: superstars trading teams for, well, nothing. Since 1995, a virtual All-Star team has been put on the trading block, and all the dealing teams got in return were a couple of midlevel prospects and a used Gatorade cooler. Consider: on the one side Mike Piazza, Mark McGwire, Chuck Knoblauch, Matt Williams, Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and coming soon, Alex Rodriguez. On the other side Preston Wilson, Eric Milton, Brett Tomko, Justin Thompson, et cetera.

Griffey, of course, is a special case, with his better-Red-than-dead ultimatum. But what gives with the rest of these deals? The common thread, of course, is approaching free agency. That explains a measure of desperation on the part of trading teams. Still, why aren’t bidding teams driving up prices? In the face of all this “trade” evidence, you don’t have to be Alan Greenspan to figure out that there is simply less demand than you’d think for a superstar. Two words conveniently explain this phenomenon. Need a hint? How did Stephon Marbury end up as a Net? Need another hint? Can you say salary cap? We knew you could.

While cynics may claim collusion, it might be that after decades of crying poverty, teams have come up against a de facto salary cap—call it a budget. When Brian Cashman is considering offers for Ramiro Mendoza to keep the team’s payroll under $100 million, it’s clear that baseball economics ain’t what they used to be. And unless you’re a Montreal Expos fan, that ain’t necessarily bad. In this climate a team can get good in a hurry. You could even foresee a small-market team like the Pirates riding a couple of rent-a-studs to the World Series. And no matter what, this new age of fiscal restraint promises to provoke some interesting hot-stove league discussions—like which cap A-Rod will wear to his Cooperstown induction.

Looks Can Kill, Redux

The March issue of Women’s Sports and Fitness just hit Jockbeat‘s mailbox, and it took us a minute to weed it out from the stack of fashion mags. Yes, that brunette sitting there smiling at the camera is Mia Hamm (styled by Kristina Ferrante; makeup by Ana Marie, hair by Frank Rizzieri). And, of course, just seeing the cover story, “Make Your Abs Fab,” made us suck in our gut. But these features also made us wonder whether the new trim-those-troublesome-thighs marketing of athleticism to women might have something to do with an alarming study mentioned in the latest Amateur Athletic Foundation Sportsletter: Women athletes are showing higher rates of eating disorders than women in general.

The study of 1445 Division I female athletes found that 13 percent show signs of anorexia and/or bulimia (compared to 10 percent of all high school and college students) and another 36 percent were at risk for developing an eating disorder. Do the math: That’s virtually half of the athletes surveyed. Experts have long pointed out that as people driven by perfection and bodily control, athletes are prime candidates for eating disorders. Add to that such practices as group weigh-ins, or sports like gymnastics, in which appearance is inseparable from performance, and you’ve got an epidemic in the making. Since 1992, specialists have noted a disturbing “female-athlete triad”—a combo of disordered eating, osteoporosis, and amenorrhea.

But these new numbers, which parallel increases in girls generally, sound an ever more urgent warning. “The new opportunities in sports have not been enough to tamp the long-standing imperative for conformity to a certain body type,” says Joan Jacobs Brumberg, author of The Body Project. “For girls today, the bar has been set higher. They are trying to be athletic and pretty in the conventional way.” They are focused, that is, not on trying to play like Hamm, but on trying to look like her.

Press Events We’re Glad We Missed

Last Thursday, Newark mayor Sharpe James declared his dreams of luring the Nets to Newark still alive, then, er, “danced with a basketball as a make-believe broadcast of the 2002 NBA Finals between the Nets and the Lakers appeared on overhead projectors,” as the Newark Star-Ledger put it. Later, Sharpe announced a February 15 public hearing on the arena deal, even though the hearing had been already been called off by the city council.

“The city’s in total disarray over this,” says Hal Laessig, whose Sumei Arts Center is in the path of the proposed hoops palace, which was pulled off the table after a pair of citizen lawsuits last month. Laessig notes that the owner of the supposedly “blighted” property where the arena would go is eager to build office buildings and parking structures there, leading superior court judge Philip M. Freedman to say of the targeted neighborhood, “It’s in need of redevelopment by the city like I’m in need of gaining weight.” All of which leads us to wonder why Newark would want the Nets in the first place—the city’s already got a pair of perfectly good comedy acts.

Contributors: Alisa Solomon, Allen st. John, Neil Demause Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman Sports Amanuensis: Andrew Hsiao