DEFECTOR, DEFECTIVE, DEFEATED
The World Series MVP shouldn’t have been Troy Glaus, much though we love his bovine air of general befuddlement. No, the most valuable player for the Angels was the Giants’ Livan Hernandez, whose pair of atrocious starts (5.2 innings total, 14.29 ERA) allowed Anaheim to reign supreme. Everyone expected the porky Cuban, with his 6-0 post-season history, to excel on this stage, despite an uninspiring 16 losses during the season (tied for most in the league). Even after blowing Game 3, he insisted, “It won’t happen again.” Alas for the tiny, bawling Darren Baker last Sunday, it did.
Earning $6 a month as the Cuban national team’s ace, the young Eisler (his first name) Livan smuggled ladies’ underwear into the country, selling it on the black market to supplement his income. In 1995 (long before his half-brother, El Duque, would flee on a Spam-laden sailboat), Livan defected and signed a four-year, $4.5 million contract with the Marlins. At 24, the rookie led his wild-card club to the 1997 world championship, along the way tying the playoff single-game record of 15 strikeouts, and becoming World Series and NLCS MVP. But it was all downhill after that. Weight trouble: a fatal weakness for burgers and fries. Female trouble: plea-bargaining his way out of an ex-girlfriend’s battery charge by agreeing to seek counseling. (“I’m Livan,” he protested. “They want to make me look bad.”) And trouble on the field: Bereft of his earlier velocity, yet unable to locate on the corners (except when certain generous—the Braves would say blind—umpires are around), Hernandez has grown lackluster. His tetchy attitude and increasing use of the third person don’t bode well, either. “It’s [always] Livan’s fault,” he griped as the Giants were slipping this August. “Why me?” Three years ago, when he obtained Hernandez from Florida, GM Brian Sabean told reporters, “This was too good to pass up.” We doubt he thinks so anymore. —J.Y. Yeh
PRODIGAL SON OF A . . .
Jeff Kent may be a lousy motorcyclist and an even lousier liar (wash any cars lately, Jeff?), but here’s a little something to chew on: The oft belligerent second baseman has put together a career that’s beginning to look Cooperstown-worthy. Consider: six consecutive 100-RBI seasons (unprecedented for a second-sacker), an MVP award, three homers and seven RBIs in his first World Series, and a career batting average that, if he continues on his pace of recent seasons, should soon reach .300. If he plays five more years—a reasonable projection, given that he’s currently 34—he’ll finish with about 2500 hits.
All of which must be particularly galling to the Mets, who had Kent for four seasons but never got any significant production out of him. They traded David Cone to get Kent in ’92, then dealt him for Carlos Baerga in ’96, which means they blew it on both ends of Kent’s New York tenure. But it’s not too late to make amends: With Kent’s contract up and the Giants reportedly too strapped to keep him, he’ll probably be testing the free-agency waters this winter. The party line is that Kent hated being in New York (an assessment perpetuated, not coincidentally, by writers who couldn’t stand him and were happy to see him go), but don’t be so sure about that. Few people remember this now, but Kent nearly wept when the Mets traded him to the Indians, and he actually said his loyalties would be with the Mets if the two teams met in the World Series that year.
OK, so that’s a really stupid thing to have said, on several different levels, but so what? Kent says stupid things all the time, but he gets big hits even more frequently, and the Mets would be wise to see if they can lure him back to Shea. Not only would it bolster their anemic offense, but it would also provide them with a great bartering chip, in the form of that other Hall of Fame second baseman they’ve got—the one who by all accounts really does hate New York. —Paul Lukas
OUT OF SIGHT
Marla Runyan is legally blind because of macular degeneration, but that didn’t prevent her from setting an American indoor 5000-meter record of 15:07.33 at the Armory Track & Field Center in upper Manhattan in 2001, in an assertive run that one scribe called “the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen.” Runyan, a five-time Paralympics gold medalist and first Paralympian ever to qualify for the Olympics, can make out the inside curb of a symmetric oval 200-meter track. But the innumerable elevation changes, terrain variations, bridges, and irregular turns in Sunday’s New York City Marathon present unprecedented challenges to the Oregonian, who has enough to cope with just running 26.2 miles through five boroughs. Runyan, who looks down at the running surface ahead of her, figures the course’s light-blue painted line is “really going to be a savior for me,” but she’ll also be accompanied by a cyclist riding behind and to the side of her, pointing out obstacles and warning her of upcoming water stations. “This person is not giving me coaching instructions, she’s not riding in front,” explains Runyan. The cyclist is “just a visual backup to try and make an even playing field, to take my vision out of the equation as much as possible.”
For the first time ever in New York City, 40 “elite” women will start 35 minutes before the rest of the 30,000 runners, which may be why none of Runyan’s rivals has complained about her two-wheeled accompanist; there will be plenty of room on the road for both of them. Runyan won the last two national 5000-meter titles and is a virtual lock for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team if she literally stays on track. —Peter Gambaccini