Polluted Beach

Tiger Woods‘s victory in the U.S. Open was so dominant that the secondary stories ignored the rest of the field and focused instead on the course: the hallowed Pebble Beach Golf Links. Too bad the sport doesn’t treat the place with the same reverence that golfers and media use to describe it.

As if hackers don’t already hit enough nonbiodegradable golf balls into the waters of the planet, here were the PGA Tourboys in choreographed unison, bashing Titleists into the Pacific. The curious “21-gun salute” (actually, 40 golfers) was offered up as part of a memorial tribute to Payne Stewart, the 1999 U.S. Open champion, who died in a plane crash last October. Nothing against Stewart, but golf’s sanctimonious side has so few bounds that even those who report on the game don’t mind gushing along.

“Tiger should know he’s gotta be there,” moaned the heading over Mark Canizzaro‘s June 12 Post column, a piece that castigated Tiger Woods for passing on the ceremony in favor of the practice tee. The column also included the following line: “God couldn’t have created a more utterly fitting setting than He did for yesterday’s moving tribute . . . greenside at Pebble Beach’s 18th.”

Not according to Mark Massara, who monitors California’s endangered shoreline for the Sierra Club. “It isn’t the sort of thing you want to encourage,” he said of the 40-golf-ball splashdown. “You need a permit to put anything in the water. It likely would have been denied, but there has to be better ways to honor a golfer’s memory.” Massara, who regularly battles Pebble Beach’s indifference to environmental concerns—such as the current plan to develop a new “forest” course at the expense of some 35,000 Monterey pines—sees such arrogance as typical of those responsible for unmeasured fertilizer runoff into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, home (for now) to harbor seals, sea otters, salmon, and the like. “Pebble Beach is not what it seems,” said Massara. “It’s not all pretty.”

At a podium framed by the storied, however polluted, Pebble oceanfront, Paul Azinger eulogized Stewart in somber tones: “If golf is art, then Payne Stewart was the color.” Whoa now. Stewart’s garish knickers aside, that’s a bit of a shank. If golf is art—a big if—El Tigre’s just about been the entire spectrum for some time now—any way you want to go. Keep it real, ‘Zinger, and let’s keep those balls out of the drink.

Sosa vs. Death Valley

Given George Steinbrenner‘s patience or lack thereof, coupled with the Yankees’ recent skid, it seems inevitable that Sammy Sosa is headed Bronxward. Sure, he’ll trigger the biggest Latin explosion this side of Ricky Martin (or Manny Ramirez), but will he help the team?

The first thing to understand is that unlike his partner in crime, Mark McGwire, Sosa has enjoyed a home-field advantage that goes well beyond the ivy-covered walls and the Vienna Beef hot dogs with the Astroturf-colored relish. Over the last three seasons, Sosa has hit 93 of his 165 homers in the Friendly Confines. And over that same period, Wrigley has been—Coors Field aside—the friendliest park to righty home-run hitters: a whopping 21 percent better than the league average. By comparison, Yankee Stadium is—just ask Dave Winfield—like Kryptonite for righty power, the House allowing 11 percent fewer dingers than the average AL park.

Still, despite all of that rounding down, Sammy could very well become the first Yankee hitter since Roger Maris to crank 50. But unless he wants to channel Babe Ruth in another way—and take the mound every fifth day—Sammy’s not the answer. Since June 1, the Yanks are hitting .306 and have brought their on-base percentage up to .377, a figure that the free-swinging Sosa (.328 career OBP) seems destined to drag down.

The real reason behind the team’s June swoon is a horrendous 6.31 ERA, and the total collapse of what had been the deepest rotation in baseball. Indeed, the Yanks have never needed Sosa-bait swingman Ramiro Mendoza more. With luck, he could keep the rotation afloat until Clemens, Cone, and El Duque get right, and then slot back into the bullpen for the stretch run. Where’s Hideki Irabu when you need him? In a rational universe, a smaller deal, sending Derek Jeter understudy Alfonso Soriano to Minnesota for starter Brad Radke, would be a no-brainer for GM Brian Cashman. But we all know who’s really pulling the strings. So if Sammy’s wearing pinstripes in September, don’t be surprised if he and the rest of the Yankees are watching from their La-Z-Boys come October.

Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot

The running debate over who should fill Monday Night Football‘s broadcast booth is winding down, with ABC expected to make the decision of who should team up with Al Michaels any day now. USA Today released the results of a survey on the matter on Monday, and football windbag-wannabe Rush Limbaugh was the runaway winner with nearly 60 percent of the take. Ugh. Limbaugh, who auditioned for the job a few months ago and wants the job badly, has promised not to bring politics into the booth with him should he win the position. Well, Rush doesn’t talk sports too much on the air, but when he does, it’s hardly free of politics, though it does seem to be somewhat light on the facts. Here he is sounding off on tennis recently:

“There is a young, attractive tennis player. ‘A young, attractive tennis player—Rush, are you saying there’s only one?’ Well, no, judging by the reaction of most of the other women on the professional circuit, there is only one. Her name is Anna Kournikova. What is she, 18? And she is a looker. And so several professional tennis players, women professional tennis players, are on the warpath. They’re upset she’s getting all this endorsement money but hasn’t won anything.

“Well, you know, the same thing can be said of Andre Agassi. Andre Agassi led the men’s circuit in endorsement money; he never won anything either. It was ’cause he was sexy, he was a renegade, he was an outlaw, he didn’t follow conventional wisdom in any way. Longhaired, maggot-infested-type-looking guy. And Nike and all these other people signed him up even though he’d not won anything.

“Did the men complain and moan and groan? No, they just beat him on the court. Did you ever see Pete Sampras writing pieces about how unfair the world was because he was getting fewer endorsement dollars than Andre Agassi? No, he just went out and beat Agassi. Well, all these other teen-uhh . . . fem-uhh . . . women tennis pros are now dumping all over Anna Kournikova. The latest to join the parade is Martina Navratilova. And some French tennis player also dumped on Chrissy Evert: ‘She wore her short little skirts to show her panties to the referees so she’d get good calls on the line. She just used her sex appeal.’

“Now, what’s this all about? Can I tell you what it’s all about? What do you think it’s all about? Let me refresh your memory. Feminists—well, Undeniable Truth of Life #24: Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society. Got me in trouble when I wrote it, gets me in trouble every time I remind you of it.

“But it is being borne out as true even now on the women’s professional tennis tour. They’re upset with Anna Kournikova because she’s good-looking. Period.”

Contributors: John Stravinsky, Allen St. John, Ramona Debs, Peter Hart

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman