Liberty’s Labour’s Lost

The New York Liberty bounded into the 2000 season full of vengeful vigor. “Once again all the commentators are putting us at the bottom,” complained flashy forward Vickie Johnson just as the dissing season-opener stories came out. “That only makes us play harder. They said the same thing last year, and we ended up going to the finals.”

But two weeks later, the Liberty’s we’ll-show-them braggadocio has yet to find its legs. The team is 3-4, and the losses have been ugly. On Friday, with sharpshooter Crystal Robinson benched with a sprained left ankle, New York shot just 28.6 percent (18 for 63) against the Sacramento Monarchs, in what coach Richie Adubato called the squad’s “worst game ever,” going down 77-56. Struggling to catch up with the Monarchs’ repeated fast breaks, the Liberty deflated before the eyes of a meager crowd of 12,800 as if some prankster had snuck in before gametime and let the air out of them all. Only Tari Phillips—the two-time ABL all-star who was traded from the Portland Fire to the Liberty for injured Carolyn Jones-Young, to fill the post position vacated by Kym Hampton‘s retirement—showed some life, knocking down 25 points.

What’s not yet clear is whether Phillips can fill the emotional void Hampton left in this famously bonded team, which has come unglued since the center-singer left for good on May 26. On the other hand, only a day after the embarrassing pummeling by Sacramento, the Liberty pulled out a victory in Indianapolis, besting the Fever 70-62. Chalk it up to Robinson, who returned to shoot 13 for 28. “She’s our Reggie Miller,” said Adubato.

Expos Woes, Pt. 1

Quick quiz: By next year, the suddenly-in-contention Montreal Expos will be: (1) in Washington, D.C.; (2) in Charlotte, N.C.; (3) in the Meadowlands; (4) defunct; (5) still waiting for Hideki Irabu to live up to his potential.

Don’t put your money on (1) through (4) just yet. With new managing partner Jeffrey Loria facing a mutiny from fellow owners tired of financing his every whim—in addition to throwing hefty contracts at ex-Yankees Irabu and Graeme Lloyd, he now wants his partners to kick in $70 million for a retractable roof on the ‘Spos’ proposed new ballpark—the baseball media has been all aflutter at the prospect of the first franchise shift since 1972. But with everybody and Tampa Bay’s grandmother now sporting a team, the pickings are getting mighty thin: Charlotte has a fired-up stadium lobbyist but no major league ballpark, or enthusiasm for building one, and would be the league’s fourth-smallest media market to boot. As for the Meadowlands, a site floated by the Montreal Gazette‘s resident rumormonger Jack Todd last month, there’s again the problem of where they’d play—besides which, George Steinbrenner and Fred Wilpon are unlikely to take kindly to an upstart team parking itself within their 75-mile territorial limits.

Which leaves D.C. and its Virginia suburbs. This would be ironically appropriate, if nothing else—the Washington Senators were the last team to relocate, departing for Texas in 1972, and Washington remains by far the largest city without an MLB team. But D.C. is also within the Orioles’ territorial limit, and owner-lawyer Peter Angelos would likely file suit to try to block a team’s entry there. And there would be problems at the Montreal end as well: While Loria, a New Yorker, has long been rumored to want to relocate to the States, his partners control three-quarters of the club—and team bylaws require 70 percent control to move the franchise.

Which means the most likely scenario may be a protracted ownership struggle, and yet another fire sale by year’s end. (Do we hear Dustin Hermanson for Alfonso Soriano?) Like Kansas City A’s fans used to say: Old contending teams don’t fade away—they get traded to the Yankees for Norm Siebern and Marv Throneberry.

Expos Woes, Pt. 2

As The Score tangentially noted in last week’s story on the Devils, the city of Montreal is in such a state of mourning over the death of hockey legend Maurice Richard that even the ‘Spos are wearing Richard’s number 9 on their sleeves in his memory—the first such instance of a Major League Baseball team honoring a player from another sport, and a potent reminder that baseball will always be a distant second to hockey in the city’s affections. Even more intriguing, however, are the culture-clash questions raised by this move: Nearly a third of the ‘Spos roster—including the team’s three best players, Vlad Guerrero, Jose Vidro, and Ugueth Urbina—hails from countries where hockey isn’t even played. How meaningful can it really be for these players to wear Richard’s number on their sleeves?

When Jockbeat called the Expos to ask this question, an uncomfortable-sounding spokesperson stuck to the script. “The team has accepted wearing Maurice Richard’s number,” he said, “and the players know what he meant to Montreal.” Yes, but did any of the team’s Latin American players even know who Richard was prior to his death? “I’m not going to get into that,” said the flack. A telling quote, however, came from Expos manager Felipe Alou—himself a Dominican native—on the day the sleeve-number plan was announced. Carefully toeing the party line, Alou gave one of those tactful, all-purpose eulogies: “I had the chance to meet Maurice Richard. He was a proud and respectful man. He was also humble.” Spoken like a true hockey fan, Felipe.

Phed Up in Philly

New Philadelphia mayor John Street‘s plan to build a Phillies stadium in that city’s Chinatown was met with a mass protest on Thursday, as neighborhood businesses staged a two-hour shutdown and thousands marched on City Hall. Hundreds of high school students staged a walkout to form a children’s march that kicked off the action, criticizing the mayor for pushing a $600 million stadium even as his schools chancellor resigned to protest the city’s feeble commitment to education funding. “Chinatown, like all Chinatowns across the country, has been targeted for downtown development projects that have no intention of building a residential neighborhood community,” says Helen Gym, president of Asian Americans United and a protest leader. Her neighborhood, she notes, has already been walled in by an expressway, a convention center, and two malls, and narrowly fought off a proposed federal prison. “So when stuff like this comes up, we know. We’ve got 30 years of knowing.”

Contributors: Alisa Solomon, Neil Demause, Paul Lukas

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman