Juan Is the Loneliest Number

All together now: “Muchas Gracias.” Juan Gonzalez did the Yankees a huge favor by turning down the chance to come Bronxward, thus preventing the team from mortgaging its future. No, we’re not talking about the prospects the Yankees would have given up—young, two-sport phenom Drew Henson will be on the cover of Sports Illustrated some day, but wearing a Lions jersey.

Believe it or not, the Yankees have a budget too, and spending $150 million on a sulky, injury-prone, free-swinging right-handed slugger is the baseball equivalent of hogging the rat stew on Survivor. The Yankee brain trust should apply a Band-Aid to the DH/LF hole (Ellis Burks? B.J. Surhoff? Ron Gant?) and then remind George Steinbrenner that there’ll be better ways to spend $150 million come this winter.

For about the same money that they’d pay Sammy or Juan, the Yanks could add Chipper Jones, who, as hateful as he is in Yankeeland, could end up being the best third baseman in baseball history. Even more tantalizing is the prospect of throwing a little more money at the best player in the game, one Alex Rodriguez, and moving Derek Jeter‘s bud to the hot corner. Or if a bopper is still the Boss’s pleasure, how about homeboy Manny Ramirez? He’s younger, cheaper, and a better hitter than Sosa or Gonzalez. (His career production—slugging + on base—is .979, versus .842 for Sosa and .911 for Juan Gonzalez.) And with any of this troika, George gets the additional satisfaction of taking a player from a hated rival—the Braves, the Indians, or that other New York baseball club, which seems to already be fitting A-Rod for royal blue and black double knits. As Charlie Finley always said, “Act in haste, repent in leisure suits.”

Ranting and Raving

The choice of putting Dennis Miller in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth may have offended the Phil Mushnicks of the world—and brought joy to those who have swallowed whole the entertainment emphasis of televised sports—but we at Jockbeat see the move in a different light. While the honchos at ABC were clearly—and successfully—going for shock value, we feel they’ve stumbled into advancing something that has been slipping away from athletic programming for some time: criticism. Sure, it’s criticism as shtick—and thus, somewhat flimsy—but Miller may prove to be among the only broadcasters capable of speaking bluntly on sports issues (save for those with the courage to go after Rae Carruth and the like). Here’s a little taste of Miller’s take on sports from one of his series of Rants books:

“If we look at society as a huge dysfunctional family, then the relationship we have with our professional athletes resembles one between a codependent spouse and the abuser. In our minds, despite all we’ve accomplished as adults, we’re still the pathetic little twerps who got picked last for all the dodge-ball games, and we’re still so desperate to be accepted by the jocks that we’re willing to let them sit on us during lunch and fart right in our faces. We take their abuse because that way, we’re sure they know we love them.

“And we continue to buy the double-decker tacos and antiperspirant they hawk, and allow ourselves to be gouged ever deeper on ticket prices, and condone the kind of off-the-field misconduct that would get you 86’d from Caligula’s mailing list.

“What does it say about us when we confer hero status on a guy just because he can play a game. Why wasn’t O.J. properly disciplined the first time he ever slapped his wife around? What about the second time or the third? The fortieth or the fiftieth? It’s time to wake up and smell the overpriced peanuts, the fossilized popcorn, and the syrup-needs-adjusting lukewarm soda and realize that the same standards for behaving apply to everyone, and that a wife-beating thug is a wife-beating thug whether he lives in a mobile home full of bowling trophies or a mansion full of Heisman Trophies.”

Swallowing the Pride

As if doing the wave, the crowd swooned almost en masse at the Garden on Sunday as Liberty floor captain Teresa Weatherspoon appeared in a close-up on the video screen over the court and, with a glinting smile and a wink, blew a kiss. Her gesture was directed toward the team’s recently retired and much loved center, but Sunday was not only Kym Hampton day at MSG. It was also, of course, Gay Pride Day, and the rainbow-flag-waving hordes kept on cheering as victory—and the ball—slipped through the Liberty’s fingers as they went down 72-67 to the Los Angeles Sparks.

The Liberty organization did not officially acknowledge the freshly sunburned women streaming into the arena, as though the parade’s lavender line made a right turn on 33rd Street. But in Seattle, in the WNBA’s first-ever recognition of a significant core of the fan base, the Storm will host Gay Pride Night on Friday. “This is truly a team for everyone,” Molly Yanity, media relations manager for the Storm, told the Seattle Times. “I say let’s be part of the celebration.” Whether the Liberty will follow suit any time soon is as questionable as whether the team can pull out of its 5-7 slump. A team spokesperson said that they have no plans to do so any time this season.

Just Call Them the Nyets

From the people who gave you Ed O’Bannon, Dennis Hopson, and Yinka Dare, there will come yet another blown first-round draft pick. No, Rod Thorn won’t do anything spectacularly stupid with the top pick overall—can you say Chris Mihm?—but by drafting Kenyon Martin (in all likelihood), he’ll botch things for this Julius Erving-cursed franchise in a far more conservative way.

Rewind four years: “With the eighth pick in the 1996 NBA draft, the New Jersey Nets take . . . Kerry Kittles.” Now Martin is basically the power-forward equivalent of Kittles: a mature senior with a polished game, a classic safe pick. No doubt that Martin, assuming his leg is healthy, will be a good player—maybe as good as say, Antonio McDyess—and like Kittles before him, would probably help the Nets take a couple of baby steps toward respectability. But remember the player that John Calipari left on the board to tap Kittles? Yup—Kobe Bryant. This time, Martin seems destined to be the guy who gets drafted before high school standout Darius Miles. So, why should the Nets gamble on an 18-year-old this time?

Look at the prepsters drafted in the lottery over the last five years: Two are superstars (Kobe and Kevin Garnett), one is a future All-Star (Tracy McGrady), and the Pacers wouldn’t trade Jonathan Bender for Antonio Davis even today. Add in Seattle sleeper Rashard Lewis (who, by the way, could have been a Knick) and drafting for potential seems like a no-brainer. And Miles is the real deal. Forget Michael Jordan‘s “I’d pick him first” endorsement—Miles, like Jordan, is a David Falk client, and MJ even talked up fellow Falkie Kittles, which helped the Nets guard get his albatross of a contract. Miles is a 6-9 18-year-old who can handle like a point guard, drain the jumper like a two guard, sky like a three, and has the length to guard athletic power forwards like Rasheed Wallace. And he’s four years younger than Martin—that’s roughly the difference between Stephon Marbury, Lincoln High School stud, and Stephon Marbury, All-NBA point guard. And it’s not even Martin or Miles. The Nets could easily swing a deal with Chicago or Orlando and come home from the draft with Miles and, say, Courtney Alexander, a pure scorer who can take up the slack caused by Kittles’s injury. But noooooo. New owners, new prez, (soon-to-be) new coach—but same old Nets.

Contributors: Ramona Debs, Alisa Solomon, Allen St. John

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman

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