Iron Mike: Heart of Gold?


On assignment in Vegas, Jockbeat once chanced upon the sports media’s ogre of the decade. “Hi, I’m Mike Tyson,” chirped the then champion, smiling and offering his hand. While no further socializing occurred, one simple, unsolicited gesture was microcosmically registered on the plus side of an infamous past. A brief search yielded more substantial morsels of munificence:

“He was very sweet with my son,” said Jose Torres, ex­light heavyweight champ and author of the unflattering Tyson bio Fire and Fear. “He used to take him to the movies. In fact, after many years went by, he recognized him on the street, jumped all over him and kissed him.”

Former Times boxing writer Phil Berger recalled covering a training camp and the presence of journeyman Scott LeDoux, by then a washed-up fighter: “He was really of no use as a sparring partner, but Tyson said, ‘Keep him on,’ knowing LeDoux had financial problems. I remember LeDoux saying, ‘He’s got a bigger heart than most people think.’ ”

Alan Dershowitz, who called his former client “generous to a fault,” told of another attorney who stopped working for Tyson over concerns about getting paid. “When it was over,” said Dershowitz, “Mike paid the guy every penny, whereas other clients wouldn’t have done so. The lawyer was actually surprised to get it.” The Harvard law prof also recalled an imprisoned Tyson using his lawyer phone privileges to insure that a Christmas turkey giveaway was in order: “He said to me, ‘Just ’cause I’m in jail doesn’t mean people who rely on me should suffer.’ He was lovely as could be.”

“Incredibly compassionate” is how Steve Lott described Tyson’s better side. The onetime assistant manager remembered how the champ once passed on a victory celebration to console him. “This woman I cared for had just told me she didn’t want to see me anymore,” said Lott. When Tyson, who’d just beaten Bonecrusher Smith, learned of Lott’s lot, he sent the limo off and stayed behind. “Mike talked to me like he was my father. I remember him saying stuff like, ‘She doesn’t deserve you.’ But that’s the way he was. He’d drop everything when something came up.”

Not to say that all queries into examples of Tyson’s even slightest benevolence were fruitful. A No comment, a “Can’t recall any,” and a grudging “Yeah, he handed out those turkeys, but that’s one of his many faces— and he’s got more of those than Eve times 10” (boxing historian Bert Randolph Sugar) also came in. As Ali biographer Thomas Hauser replied (re: any Tyson goodness), “That’s like asking me to recall an elegant act of statesmanship by Tom DeLay.”

He’s Going, Going— He’s Outta Here!

With all the gnashing of teeth surrounding Tim McCarver’s departure from the Mets’ broadcast booth, you’d think he was part H. L. Mencken and part Albert Einstein. Actually, we’d suggest that Ralph Kiner’s malaprops will have a more enduring impact on Western thought than McCarver’s half-baked literary analogies and tortured puns (“It’s ironic that [Mike] DeJean is now pitching for Colorado, because for Rockies manager Don Baylor, that’s where this game belongs— in ‘da john’!”).

McCarver deserves props not because he’s an egghead, but because he’s a ballplayer’s ballplayer. While a few of his predecessors sprinkled their work with inside-baseball talk, McCarver laid it on like special sauce on a Big Mac. He gave seminars on how to steal signs, how catchers steal strikes by framing pitches, and, of course, why Darryl Strawberry was playing too deep. It was a little like being in the dugout— without the tobacco juice.

McCarver’s God-is-in-the-details approach changed the face of baseball color, and the work of new-school box-jocks like Ken Singleton, Jim Kaat, Joe Morgan, Billy Sample, and Bob Brenly has enabled us couch potatoes to believe we’re watching the game the way a player does. And it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that technical developments like Catcher Cam, Ultra Slo-Mo, and the use of more camera angles than Brian De Palma are an attempt to provide a visual analog to McCarver-style baseball talk. However, we suspect that McCarver won’t be missed quite so much in May. Why? He’s been sharing the same epiphanies game after game for 16 years. Which has left more than one Met fan screaming at his Trinitron, “Okay, okay, we get the point, already!”

Girls Kick Ass

Think the U.S. men’s soccer team came a long way in its 3-0 demolition of Germany last weekend? Well, think about how far Sara Mohamed has come in order to play in Sunday’s Women’s World All-Star Game in California. The match, set up to hype the Women’s World Cup final draw, will pit the U.S. team against 18 players from around the globe, including Mohamed, a 15-year-old Egyptian. A year ago, Mohammed’s national team, known as the Cleopatras, did not exist. Then, once women’s soccer started coming together in her part of the Arab world, a controversey over uniforms— football shorts were called “un-Islamic”— nearly derailed things. But cooler heads prevailed, and long cycling shorts were provided— to be worn under the offending kit. Now Egypt is about to launch a pro women’s league— putting itself way ahead of this country, where plans for such a league have been delayed indefinitely.

contributors: John Stravinsky, Allen St. John, Denise Kiernan
sports editor: Miles D. Seligman