New York’s Cancer Alley

In the wake of Mel Stottlemyre‘s announcement that he has multiple myeloma, part of the sports oncology discussion has centered on a possible Yankee cancer cluster. But consider this: Three of the four Yankee cancer patients (we’ll put third baseman/testicular cancer survivor Mike Lowell aside for a moment)—Stottlemyre, Joe Torre, and Darryl Strawberry—all have a connection to the Mets of the early ’80s. Add ex-Met catcher Ed Hearn, who was stricken with Hodgkin’s disease, and the fact that many cancers caused by environmental factors often have a lengthy latency period between exposure and diagnosis, and someone with a suspicious mind might start pulling an Erin Brockovich and look into Shea Stadium’s water supply.

Or not. “This is not out of the ordinary,” says Dan Klotz of the American Cancer Society. While the statistics vary between different types of cancer, Klotz notes that men have a one in two chance of developing some form of cancer during their lifetimes. “It calls attention to how prevalent cancer is and the urgent need to find a cure.” And indeed, while sportswriters wring their hands and ask, “Why should a starting pitcher make a hundred times as much as a cancer researcher?” at least one big leaguer is doing something to narrow the gap. Mel’s son, Todd Stottlemyre, whose brother Jason died of leukemia in 1981, has quietly donated $1 million of his $32 million contract to cancer research.

The High Cost of Nosebleeds

Baseball fans in Detroit, Houston, and San Francisco got brand-spanking-new stadiums this season, and with them came brand-spanking-new prices on the tickets. According to Team Marketing Report, which issued its yearly Fan Cost Index for baseball last week, the Tigers, Astros, and Giants have already assured themselves the division titles in price hikes: up 50.4% at Houston’s Enron Field (to an average of $20.01), up 75.2% at San Francisco’s Pacific Bell Park (to $21.24), and up a staggering 103% at Detroit’s Comerica Park (to $24.83)

Add in the Seattle Mariners, whose Safeco Field opened last July and who saw a 38.4% increase over last year’s combo of the Safe and the Kingdome, and you have a perfect match between the league’s four newest stadiums and the four largest ticket hikes. In fact, take out the New-Ballpark Four, and average ticket prices across baseball increased by a feeble 2% last year. A similar spread was in evidence in 1994, the last year of multiple ballpark debuts: Cleveland (+38.7%) and Texas (+35.1%) easily outstripped the 7.2% hike averaged by the rest of pro baseball. The huge price increases (nearly doubling across the majors since 1991) and concomitant salary boosts have been driven by one thing and one thing alone: new ballparks.

The reason is simple. Camden Yards was the first to hit upon the magic formula: cut down on cheap seats in favor of corporate suites, reduce seating capacity overall to drive up demand, and hype the thrill of the new until you’re blue in the face. It’s interesting to note that the Devil Rays and White Sox, playing in ballparks built an eternity ago in 1990 and 1991, led a handful of teams that cut ticket prices last year—and, natch, are both hinting at the need for still newer ballparks to restore their competitive edge.

Joining the stadium derby last week were the St. Louis Cardinals, whose owner declared that a replacement for just-refurbished Busch Stadium was necessary “for the Cardinals to be a great franchise.” Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox stepped up the pressure to bulldoze Fenway Park with a four-page advertorial insert in Sunday’s Boston Globe, promising “10,000 additional affordable seats without a single obstructed view” in a new stadium. If history is any guide, that “affordable” would average $42 a pop. Ah, the high cost of demolishing a shrine.

Dressed to Kill

It should be a bizarre scene on Thursday in San Diego, where the Padres are slated to take the field wearing camouflage-patterned jerseys and olive-green caps. This, um, unique approach is supposed to honor the several military bases in the San Diego area (no word on whether the team includes any conscientious objectors), but the militia-themed uniform concept seems flexible enough to apply to other teams. Why not have the Mariners dress up in riot gear for one game, in honor of Seattle’s police effort against the recent WTO protests? As long as Giuliani‘s still in office, the Mets or Yanks could wear Nazi brown shirts. And what better way for the Braves to simultaneously salute their Southern heritage and John Rocker‘s return, than by donning Confederate grays?

As ridiculous as this all sounds, the whole thing would be worth it if the Blue Jays or Expos took the field dressed as Canadian Mounties. Jockbeat hereby offers to kick in for the horses.

Let’s Get Ready to Grumble

Evander Holyfield had gained a measure of good-guy dignity with his victories over Mike Tyson, but he’s spent the past year squandering whatever reserve of class and credibility he’d accumulated. First, Holyfield refused to acknowledge that he’d been whupped during his March 1999 “draw”‘ with Lennox Lewis. Now he’s mouthing off to the press about how Lewis, who finally unified the heavyweight title when he beat Holyfield in their rematch last November, should be stripped of his WBA championship belt for fighting Michael Grant later this month instead of John Ruiz, a Don King-promoted tomato can who has somehow secured the WBA’s No. 1 ranking despite not having beaten a single top contender.

Holyfield, not coincidentally, has a tentative date to fight Ruiz in May and is hoping it will be recognized as a title bout if WBA strips Lewis. But Commander Evander’s comments aren’t just self-serving—they’re disingenuous, even by boxing standards. Holyfield used to give a lot of lip service to the notion that a unified heavyweight title was good for boxing, but apparently it’s only good if he’s the one doing the unifying. If he were really a mensch, he’d give Lewis credit for taking on a tough opponent instead of coasting against a stiff like Ruiz (you can bet that Holyfield wouldn’t fight a young lion like Grant for all the money in Vegas). As for the rankings, a boxing lifer like Holyfield knows better than anyone that it’s all a fraud. He might also recall that he was far from being the top-ranked challenger—more like No. 6—when Tyson gave him a title shot in 1996. Somehow Mr. Real Deal didn’t see any problem with a champion bypassing the No. 1 contender then.

Masters of Their Domain

The Mets may have only played a handful of games at Shea so far, but their first week at home found a significant number of team characters already in mid-season form. True, 39-year-old John Franco has lost his closer role to flamethrowing Armando Benitez (a good thing, seeing as how the two homers he gave up to the Dodgers in one inning last Saturday are one more than he allowed all of last year), but the aging reliever is still the captain of the clubhouse sound system. A switch near his locker controls the volume for the piped-in music, and whenever radio people start wearing out their welcome looking to “get tape” after games, Franco turns it up all the way.

Speaking of captains, if you want to cruise new New Yorker Derek Bell‘s hood, better have some Dramamine ready. The outfielder is spending his first summer here living the life of Howell (Thurston, that is), aboard his yacht at a Midtown pier on the West Side. Bell, by the way, is sharing the back corner of the Mets clubhouse with Rickey Henderson, although it’s doubtful that “I Like Me, You Like Me” Derek influenced disgruntled leadoff worker Rickey into his bizarre declaration that he could “take the Mets to court” for not giving him more money than his contract for this year calls for. Then again, in Rickey court, the presiding magistrate would probably be Pigmeat “Here Come the Judge” Markham.

Contributors: Allen St. John, Neil Demause, Paul Lukas, Billy Altman

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman