BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG HEAD
With barely a dozen catchers in the entire history of baseball enshrined in Cooperstown, Gary Carter‘s career numbers are fairly inarguable: The former Expo and Met holds the National League record for games caught (more than 2000) and the major league record for all-time putouts and total chances by a catcher, and he’s the only backstop besides the already beplaqued Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, and Carlton Fisk to top 2000 hits, 1000 runs scored, 300 homers and 1200 runs batted in. (To put those accomplishments in perspective, it’s going to take 34-year-old Mike Piazza probably at least three more full years to reach all those totals—and as grueling a position as catcher is, that’s not a lock.)
Why, then, did it take until this, Carter’s sixth year of eligibility, to get the 49-year-old player known as “Kid” into the Hall of Fame? Outside of the regional myopia of some of the keyboard bangers who pass for baseball writers around the country (one person actually voted for Danny Tartabull this year), it may well have to do with Carter’s personality, which struck more than a few scribes who covered him during his career as being all-too-ingratiatingly long on smiles and all-too-transparently short on sincerity. A National Honor Society graduate of (we kid you not) Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, California, Carter could and would cheerfully talk your ear off without ever really saying anything substantive, leaving the impression that he’d much rather say what people wanted to hear than give a candid answer. He’s also the only ballplayer we can think of who’d pull into second base after hitting a double and turn toward the outfield—all the better to be captured in focus by the TV lens he knew was on him. Then again, that accounts for his other, lesser-known nickname: “Camera.” —Billy Altman
BRINGING SHAME TO WHISTLE-BLOWERS EVERYWHERE
If you think the New York Giants’ defense had it rough this post-season, consider the NFL’s officials. Last week, they blew the pass interference—or was that aggravated assault?—call on the final play of the Giants-Niners game. This week they went one better. In the Steelers-Titans game, they blew game-altering calls on consecutive plays. A very questionable roughing-the-kicker call negated a missed field goal, and on the ensuing play, they failed to recognize a Steeler time-out. And even in the Jets-Raiders blowout, the zebras demonstrated their cluelessness. Late in the fourth quarter, Jet coach Herman Edwards used his last time-out to challenge a call. When the challenge failed, two separate officials announced to the crowd that the Jets “could not challenge a call for the remainder of the game.” While it was unlikely, the Jets could have come back to tie the game, and they would have gotten a new complement of time-outs for the overtime. What the officials meant, of course, was for the duration of regulation, but if you can’t trust the officials to preserve these small but meaningful distinctions, whom can you trust? Since this is the second consecutive post-season that has been tainted by calls that were at least questionable—or downright wrong—isn’t it about time that the NFL consider full-time referees? The league currently has 119 officials, and giving them an average raise of $100,000 a year—on top of the current league scale that tops out at $120,000—would cost the league a little less than $12 million a season. Considering that the league pulls in $2 billion a year—and the illegal sports betting industry tops $350 billion annually in the U.S.—this seems like a small price to pay to cast aside the appearance of incompetence at best and impropriety at worst. —Allen St. John
CROWNED BY THE KINGS
The party line is that the Nets’ humiliating 36-point loss to the Sacramento Kings last week was, hey, just one of those games, everybody has them, it’s a long season, there’s another game tomorrow, blah, blah, blah. The real question is, how aberrant was the defeat?
In the course of kicking the Nets’ asses, the Kings exposed some of New Jersey’s biggest weaknesses and revealed the magnitude of their own considerable strengths.
Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, and Peja Stojakovic are bona fide all-stars—plus, they have a smart center in Vlade Divac and a scrappy, savvy, athletic defensive specialist in Doug Christie, who held his highly touted, but streaky, slashing counterpart, Richard Jefferson, to two baskets. In a pickup game, you definitely take Webber over Kenyon Martin and arguably take Divac over Dikembe Mutombo/Jason Collins and (yes, it’s true) Bibby over Jason Kidd.
The Nets were out-coached as well as out-played. The Kings cut off passing lanes and gave the Nets outside shots that they couldn’t hit. Byron Scott stubbornly stuck to his substitution pattern of taking Kidd out after six minutes, when the game was even. With Kidd and Jefferson out, the momentum quickly changed, but Scott didn’t put them back in until the quarter was over. He also inexplicably took Collins out for the rest of the quarter, even though the smart, steady young center already had made several tough shots and was out-playing Divac. By the time Scott put the starters back in, it was too late—the Kings had raced to a double-digit lead.
For those dreaming of an NBA championship series between these two slick teams, consider this: Bibby thoroughly out-played Kidd, blowing by him at will, while at the other end of the court Kidd’s never feathery jump shot clanged off the rim 12 times in 17 attempts. If Kidd is the Nets’ ace in the hole, the Kings proved they have a trump card. —Charles Paikert