Thursday, April 27, 2006

Book Review: 'Clemente' by David Maraniss

Author describes player's transformation

By Regis Behe
Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's a memory that is indelibly etched in the mind of any Pittsburgher who saw a baseball game during 1950s, 1960s or early 1970s.

Roberto Clemente. Striding to home plate, rotating his neck from side to side. Stepping into the batter's box, raising his right hand for time, the bat held aloft in his left hand as he pawed the dirt with his foot. Settling into his stance, the heels of his feet edging up against the white lime, his hands held back, his left leg bent in static energy.

Then, when he got his pitch, the lightning quick reflexes, the resounding crack of wooden bat on leather baseball, a white blur landing in the outfield and sometimes beyond.

Three thousand times during his career, Roberto Clemente lashed baseballs for hits, an extraordinary achievement in a sport in which failure always exceeds achievement. Three-thousand base hits, the stuff of immortality, ensuring enshrinement in baseball's Hall of Fame.

But ultimately, the number 3,000 is insignificant when it comes to describing Roberto Clemente.
He was like football's Gale Sayers or basketball player Julius Erving, says David Maraniss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero" (Simon & Schuster, $26), released today.

Those kind of athletes, Maraniss says, "when they were on the field, you couldn't take your eyes off them. They had just idiosyncratic ways, unlike any other players in the way they played the game. ... Statistically, they were winners, but you wouldn't put them as the best. Yet to so many, they were the best. I grew up in Madison, Wis., and he was my guy because of something I couldn't describe, what I guess I call the beautiful fury that he played with."

Clemente still evokes the kind of passion reserved for larger-than-life figures, the John Waynes, John F. Kennedys or John Lennons. The new book makes no case for canonization. Maraniss relates the icon's failures, including his often mercurial relations with the press, a temperamental and inexcusable episode in which he punched a fan in Philadelphia, and, before his marriage, the intimation that he never lacked for the company of attractive women, especially on road trips.

But Maraniss also found that Clemente was the rare athlete who not only did not suffer an erosion of skills as he aged, but one who became a better human being.

"I think he was growing, and I think you see that in the final three years of his life," Maraniss says. "A lot athletes as they grow older sort of diminish and get sour. Clemente started out with a chip on his shoulder, and he grew into a larger figure year by year, over those 18 years (of his career). In the final three or four years, he was talking in English, his second language, of giving motivational speeches about the need to serve others. ... When you see growth like that, particularly in an athlete, that's a real mark of character."

Clemente's stature might have been diminished if not for two crucial episodes in the last years of his life. The first was his amazing performance, at the age of 37, in the 1971 World Series. In the 1960 series, which the Pirates also won, Clemente had performed well, but sat alone in the dressing room after Game 7, apart from his teammates and ignored by the media.

Eleven years later, after batting .414 and being typically superb in the field, he was named the Most Valuable Player. Instead of being forgotten, he was feted by his teammates and reporters, finally earning the respect and adulation he craved.

"It was really the only time he was on the national stage as a ballplayer, aside from all-star games, where he shared the stage with (Hank) Aaron, (Willie) Mays and some of the other greats," Maraniss says. "The Pirates couldn't have won it without (pitcher) Steve Blass. Every Pittsburgh fan knows that. But nonetheless, the whole series was Clemente. It was his stage, and he seized it in an incredible way."

The second episode that contributed to the apotheosis of Clemente also was his final act: The ill-fated of mission of mercy to Nicaragua, which had been struck by an earthquake, on New Year's Eve 1972. On a plane laden with relief supplies, Clemente disappeared off the coast of his native Puerto Rico into the Atlantic Ocean, one item of clothing washed ashore as the only surviving remnant of the man.

"One sock, that's all, the rest to sharks and gods," Maraniss writes.

If he had lived, Clemente's athletic feats still would be appreciated. His early death, and dying as he was attempting to help the less fortunate, took him into another realm.

"He wouldn't be the mythological, saint-like creature that he is because he would still be a human being," Maraniss says. "The nature of his death exponentially enhanced the nature of his life, which was good enough. ... I know the term hero is overused, but it is in my title because it's the classic definition: somebody who dies in the service of others."

Tidbits from the book

The statistics of Roberto Clemente are a matter of record. The late Pirates outfielder, enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1973, is one of 26 players to collect 3,000 hits, and he earned 12 consecutive Gold Gloves for fielding.

In David Maraniss' new book "Clemente: The Passion of Grace of Baseball's Last Hero," the Pulitzer Prize-winning author looks beyond the numbers to the essence of the athlete who remains a legend in Pittsburgh and his homeland of Puerto Rico. Here are some interesting tidbits from the book:

* Clemente's nickname was Momen, short for "momentito," roughly translated as "give me a second." From an early age, Clemente had a habit of saying momentito when he was interrupted or asked to do something.

* During his career, much was made of Clemente's habit of expounding on his physical problems. Those ailments were not figments of his imagination, but stemmed from wrenching his neck and spine in a car accident in 1954. Aches and pains in these areas would dog him the rest of his career, but Clemente still holds the record for games played in a Pirates uniform, numbering 2,433.

* Clemente was part of the first all-black and Latin lineup in Major League Baseball history. On Sept. 1, 1971, in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Pirates fielded a lineup of Clemente in rightfield, Gene Clines in centerfield, Willie Stargell in leftfield, first basemen Al Oliver, second basemen Rennie Stennett, Jackie Hernandez at shortstop, Dave Cash at third base, catcher Manny Sanguillen and pitcher Doc Ellis.

* Before every game, Clemente took a spoonful of honey to relax.

* Clemente had his greatest success as a hitter using a bat designed for an anonymous player.
After using Stan Musial and Vern Stephens models at the beginning of his career, in 1961 Clemente switched to a U1 model made for Bernard Bartholomew "Frenchy" Uhalt, who played a mere 57 games for the Chicago White Sox in 1934. Uhalt had 40 career hits, but Clemente had his greatest success with the bats, measuring 36 inches long and weighing 34 to 35 ounces.
Another unusual feature of the U1s: They didn't have a knob. Instead, they tapered out at the bottom.

* Clemente's name adorns two hospitals, 40 public schools and more than 200 ball fields in the United States, Puerto Rico and Europe. Japanese baseball gives an award named after Clemente for distinguished community service.

* After Pirates pitcher Bob Veale rubbed Clemente's shoulder before a contest in the mid-1960s, he went on a hitting streak. Every game thereafter, Clemente sought out Veale and his touch. "Where's Bob?" became a common refrain in the Pirates clubhouse.

Fans remember famous outfielder

PNC Park usher Tony DelVecchiohas seen all the baseball greats from Pie Traynor to Willie Stargell.

As a kid, collecting soda bottles in metal buckets at Forbes Field, DelVecchio saw Babe Ruth hit his last three home runs. He remembers when a Pirates bench coach named Honus Wagner hit ground balls on hot days for infield practice.

Even after 68 years as a Pirates usher, there's still one player who stands above the rest. Mention Roberto Clemente, and the 86-year-old DelVecchio gives you a nod and that knowing look.

"Ah yeah, he was the best all-around," DelVecchio says from his current assignment in the right-center field seats at PNC Park. "Clemente had an arm, a golden arm. When he threw the ball from right field, it landed in the third baseman's glove. It never hit the ground.
"Man, he could go after a ball."

Many more memories of Clemente are expected to surround the publication of a new book by David Maraniss titled "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero."

DelVecchio wasn't the only one impressed forever by Clemente, who died on New Year's Eve 1972. He was killed in a plane crash while attempting to deliver food and medical supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake.

Irene DeLong, 83, Munhall

"I've been watching the Pirates since 1948, and I'll never forget the time I saw Clemente throw a ball all the way to home without it hitting the ground. Dave Parker could really throw the ball, too, but not like Clemente."

Don Soldano, 68, Lawrenceville

"If you remember the first-base line at Forbes Field, the box seats stuck out, and then it went back to the wall where you could lose track of a ball. I remember Clemente running into that cutoff where you couldn't see him. He caught the ball back there and threw a peg to home plate. It was a perfect strike to, I think it was, (catcher Jim) Pagliaroni, and he got the runner out at home plate."

Al Rowe, 76, Jefferson Hills

"Clemente used to get those hits between the outfielders -- those betweeners before there was artificial turf -- and he'd go for triples. And he used to throw out runners trying to go from first to third on a single. When the umpire called him out, the runner would just look out at right field. How could it happen? Boy, he threw a lot of runners out."

Manny Sanguillen, former Pirates catcher

"I never saw a better ball player than Roberto Clemente in my life. He was a special person and my close brother. You see the players now, and nobody gets close to him. Maybe they hit more home runs, but they're using things that he never used."

Al Sid, Stubenville, Ohio

"Clemente was terrific. He was a great man, and it was a great loss when he died, because he contributed so much all the way around."

Regis Behe can be reached at or (412)320-7990.

John Mehno: Where's GM's Advise Coming From?

Beaver County Times

Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh recently produced an hour-long documentary about the Pittsburgh Pirates' preparations for the 2006 season.

At least one of the behind-the-scenes looks in "Under The Lights: The Making of a Season" was revelatory.

General Manager Dave Littlefield was pondering personnel options on Dec. 2, 2005, as his staff prepared for baseball's annual winter meetings.Littlefield discussed a couple of players and solicited staff feedback. At one point, a voice is heard saying, "I like the idea of getting a right-handed bat..."

The speaker was Larry Silverman, the Pirates' vice president and general counsel. The in-house lawyer. According to his official Pirates biography, Silverman "assists in contract negotiations, arbitration cases and other player-related matters."

Silverman spent 21 years with a Pittsburgh law firm before joining the Pirates. He got his law degree from Duquesne.

Having an attorney on staff certainly makes sense, given the complexities of contracts and the amounts of money involved.

Just navigating baseball's complicated waiver procedures is a challenge, as former GM Larry Doughty showed several regimes ago.

There's no reason to believe that Silverman doesn't possess a sharp legal mind and isn't a valuable asset to the Pirates.

But how much does he know about baseball? While Littlefield may trust him implicitly on contract details, does the GM have any reason to hold just as much faith in a lawyer's thoughts on the need for a right-handed bat?

This is, after all, a little bigger than the average fantasy league.


By the way, the rest of the "Under The Lights" special was reasonably entertaining.

It's interesting to see how much corporate hot air was pumped into creating the trivial "We Will" positioning statement. It must be a challenge to work in an environment that zealously manufactures importance for the inconsequential. There's a scene where the prospective 2006 bobbleheads are placed on a conference table for final approval. Looks like something out of NBC's "The Office."


Craig Patrick took the fall for the Pittsburgh Penguins' dismal failure last week, as expected.

Patrick wasn't the only person in the organization who badly misread the new NHL landscape.

Sports Illustrated's Oct. 3, 2005, issue quotes Mario Lemieux as saying the Penguins are one of "five or six teams with a chance to win the Stanley Cup."

Some of those failed free agent signings bore Lemieux's fingerprints.


The whole arena/slots issue has led to harsh feelings on both sides.

Spies report that some Grant Streeters who aren't fond of the Penguins' approach have a less-than-flattering nickname for team CEO Ken Sawyer.

Politics is nasty business.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Joe Starkey: Crosby's Feats Obscured

Joe Starkey
Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sidney Crosby, underrated?

Obscured might be a better word for Crosby's phenomenal rookie season, in which he became the youngest player in the NHL's 89-year history to score 100 points.

I'm not sure people comprehend the magnitude of Crosby's achievement.

In fact, I know they don't.

That's a shame, because all he did was produce the most remarkable rookie year in this city's history (yeah, including Big Ben's) and one of the great rookie years in sports history.

We'll defend those points in a moment.

First, the reasons why Crosby often was eclipsed, locally and nationally:

1. The Steelers won the Super Bowl, a fact that would have bumped World War III to the inside pages.

2. Another rookie - the spectacular Alexander Ovechkin - outscored Crosby and likely will win the Calder Trophy.

3. Expectations were so inflated that people might look at Crosby's 102 points and say, "That's all?"

4. The Penguins generated all kinds of other news. If it wasn't Mario Lemieux's health, it was the team's tentative future. Finally, it was Craig Patrick getting canned before Sid's season could be fully digested.

5. The NHL isn't ESPN's baby anymore.

Crosby turned 18 a month before training camp. His tender age is what sets his rookie year apart.

Joe Thornton, this year's NHL scoring champion, had seven points in 55 games as an 18-year-old. Vincent Lecavalier had 28 points in 82 games.

Kobe Bryant averaged 7.6 points when he was 18.

Robin Yount batted .250.

LeBron James put up 20.9 points per game his rookie season, but he turned 19 two months into it.

Locally, the three relevant rookie years are those of Lemieux, Ben Roethlisberger and Franco Harris.

Roethlisberger actually was better than people thought in recording 14 consecutive wins. Many experts claimed he was a function of the "system." They failed to realize that his threatening presence helped to facilitate a devastating running game.

Still, Roethlisberger was 22 - four years older than Crosby -- and his numbers weren't eye-popping (17 touchdowns, 11 interceptions). He also wasn't expected to do anything but carry a clipboard that year.

Crosby was expected to save the sport of ice hockey.

Lemieux scored 100 points as a 19-year-old rookie, two fewer than Crosby in eight fewer games. But, he played in a far more wide-open league. Twelve of the NHL's 21 teams scored more than 300 goals in 1984-85; two of 30 this season.

Harris also had an incredible debut season with 1,055 yards rushing, sixth in the NFL. He averaged a career-best 5.6 per carry, scored 11 touchdowns, caught 21 passes and famously snatched a deflected ball in the playoffs to beat Oakland (isn't there a name for that play?).

Of course, he also had an outstanding supporting cast, unlike Crosby.

As for Ovechkin, he's two years older than Crosby and played in a relatively pressure-free environment. Crosby had to deal with the retirement of two linemates, a coaching change, a system change, a position change (Eddie Olczyk had him playing left wing), a terrible team, the immense weight of being named an alternate captain and the ridiculous pressure of being hailed the savior of his sport and his franchise.

Seriously, has any professional athlete debuted under more scrutiny? How ironic that as Crosby busily exceeded the hype, the scrutiny lessened.

Sid was hid, in plain sight.

Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year: Jerome Bettis

Sunday, April 23, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Several years ago, Jerome Bettis watched Emmitt Smith leave the Dallas Cowboys to sign with the historically pathetic Arizona Cardinals and predicted it would not go well.

"Before he even lines up," Bettis said, "he doesn't have a chance. I wouldn't do that. I'm not looking to just being a punching bag."

Instead of trying to squeeze the last dime out of football, Bettis took two consecutive and steep salary cuts to remain with the Steelers in a different role, first as a backup to Duce Staley and then to Willie Parker.

It paid off in more ways than money.

No athlete's career ended quite the way it did for Bettis, a fairy-tale finish except that this was real.

Many athletes, coaches and managers went out as champions, most notably Denver quarterback John Elway, who retired after winning consecutive Super Bowls. No one with Hall of Fame credentials had bowed out by kissing the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the floor of the Super Bowl in his hometown after a weeklong party celebrating his accomplishments -- until the Bus stopped in his native Detroit.

It is that marvelous 13-year career, 10 of them in Pittsburgh, and the joyful ending that brought Jerome Bettis his only Super Bowl ring and the Steelers their first Lombardi Trophy in 26 years that the Dapper Dan will celebrate next Sunday when they present the Bus as Sportsman of the Year.

Bettis, the NFL's fifth-leading career rusher, takes his place among Pittsburgh's long list of pro sports icons, from Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell to Mario Lemieux and a slew of Super Steelers before him.

"It's been an incredible ride," Bettis said after the Steelers beat Seattle, 21-10, Feb. 5. "I decided to come back to win a championship and mission accomplished. So with that I have to bid farewell."

He won't fade from public view. NBC-TV hired Bettis as one of three studio hosts for the network's Sunday night NFL games. He will be on that job in Heinz Field when the Steelers kick off the NFL season Sept. 7 against the Miami Dolphins.

Bettis also will join his teammates on a visit to the White House early in June and receive his Super Bowl ring shortly thereafter.

"It means everything," Bettis said of the ring. "That's why I play this game. That's why I started years and years ago on this quest to win a championship."

He achieved personal success long ago as the most prolific big back in NFL history, at 5 feet 11, 255 pounds. A fullback at Notre Dame, he became the Battering Ram his rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams, rushing for 1,429 yards in 1993. The Rams traded him to the Steelers in 1996 and, rejuvenated as The Bus, he rushed for more than 3,000 yards in his first two seasons in Pittsburgh. He would hold the Steelers' single-season rushing record if he had not rested in the 1997 regular-season finale before the playoffs. He finished with 1,665 yards, 25 fewer than Barry Foster's 1992 total.

Bettis ended with 13,662 yards, 10,571 with the Steelers. He will be a strong candidate to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he first becomes eligible in five years.

"He's big and he's strong and he can take that pounding," longtime Steelers backs coach Dick Hoak said. "A lot of guys wouldn't be able to do that."

It also is appropriate that the Dapper Dan, the charity arm of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, honors Bettis because his work through his Bus Stops Here foundation has been tireless. He earned the 2001 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for his community service.

His foundation has raised and distributed money for poor children. He issues the Jerome Bettis Friends Forever Scholarship and established the Joseph Gilbert Scholarship Fund at his alma mater, Detroit's McKenzie High School. He started Save Children Opportunity Recreation Education (SCORE) to refurbish inner city parks and playgrounds. He conducts an annual football camp in Detroit free for kids. An asthmatic since his teens, he has worked to help find a cure.

Bettis nearly missed the spectacular ending to his career because he considered bowing out one year earlier after the Steelers went 15-1 and lost to New England in the AFC championship to close their 2004 season. He weighed his decision for weeks before opting to give it one more try for what had been an elusive Super Bowl appearance.

"I struggled with it for a while," Bettis said the night the Steelers won the Super Bowl. "Even after I told coach I wanted to come back, it was tough for me. I went out to St. Louis and was training with Bob Kersee, the track coach, and there were some days I said to myself, 'What am I doing out here? I don't know if I want to keep doing this.'

"The love of the game kept pushing me around the track. The commitment was there, and the resolve was great for me to be here."

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878. )

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ward spins biracial roots into blessing

Posted 4/9/2006 10:53 PM

By Paul Wiseman, USA TODAY

SEOUL — At school, they taunted him for his looks — half-black, half-Asian. "Jackie Chan!" they'd say. "Bruce Lee-roy!" At home, he didn't understand why his mother struggled with English, couldn't help him with his homework and made him take his shoes off before he walked in the door.

"I was a lost child," Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward says. "I wasn't accepted in the black community because I was Korean, and I wasn't accepted in the Korean community because I was black." He blamed his Korean mother for the teasing he got on the playground in suburban Atlanta. "I was ashamed of the person who instilled everything in me. I let the kids get the better of me."

How different things are now. Ward, 30, describes his childhood while relaxing in the $6,300-a-night Royal Suite in Seoul's Lotte Hotel. His mother, Kim Young-hee, sits proudly beside him on an overstuffed couch, sunlight streaming through a window that offers a glorious view of the Seoul skyline and the mountains behind it.

Ward made it through adolescence, through the University of Georgia and into the NFL. He's a four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and MVP of Super Bowl XL. His five catches for 123 yards and a touchdown led the Steelers to a 21-10 championship victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit on Feb. 5.

Last week, he and the divorced mother who worked three jobs to support him returned in triumph to the country where he was born. He credits her for his transformation from confused, angry adolescent to confident NFL star. "She gave up so much," he says. "It's a great success story."

His mom still works at a high school cafeteria in suburban Atlanta; she tried retirement but gave up after two months.

Ward and his mother have been welcomed as heroes in South Korea, where kids like him — children of Korean women and American GIs — have been treated as pariahs, shunned, ridiculed and locked out of the best jobs and schools.

On this trip, Ward has met the president, thrown out the first pitch at a baseball game and endured camera crews hounding his every step as he tries to tour the city of his birth. At a news conference at the Lotte Hotel last Tuesday, 200 reporters and photographers filled a meeting hall with a capacity for 130, yelling at each other and jostling for position.

Ward even canceled some planned stops to escape. "It's been wild," he says. "I knew it was going to be crazy. But it's pandemonium crazy. I didn't know that."

The adulation is a little awkward. Ward knows if he'd grown up as a half-black child in South Korea he likely would have been relegated to a second-class existence. His Korean mother knows it too. She chose a tough, lonely life in the USA to spare him the ordeal.

"I enjoy the Korean community support," Ward says. "My mom is still leery: 'Is it because he's MVP, or do you really accept him?' "

Ward has teamed with Pearl S. Buck International, a Bucks County, Pa., organization, to support mixed-race children in South Korea. He's hoping his story will encourage South Koreans to show more tolerance. "They didn't have a choice to come into this world as a biracial kid," he says. "If you can welcome me — a guy who doesn't speak the language — you can do it for them."

South Korea's 5,000 Amerasian children born since the Korean War have struggled to fit into a society that takes prickly pride in its 99%-plus ethnic homogeneity.

Teased and bullied, 9.4% of Amerasian children drop out of elementary school; another 17.5% quit middle school, according to Pearl S. Buck International. As adults, more than 45% are unemployed or work odd jobs to get by, the Buck organization says.

Seven-year-old Ahn Arum, daughter of a Seoul woman and an absentee American father, refuses to study Korean at school. "She doesn't know why she should read Korean. She doesn't feel Korean," says her mother, Ahn Jin-hee, 29. "The boys tease her. They say she has curly hair; she is black; she is smelly. (Even) my parents didn't want to take their granddaughter outside because it was disgraceful."

Kim Su-bin, 20, says she goes to the salon every three months to straighten her curly hair, evidence that her absentee father is black. Just in case, she wears an Adidas cap: "I want to hide my frizzy hair."

For outcasts such as Ahn Arum and Kim Su-bin, Ward's celebrity is a godsend. Suddenly, their neighbors and classmates are rethinking their attitudes. "This Hines Ward phenomenon is very positive," says Seoul resident Jung Young-ja, 72. "We've been proud of our homogenous society. It's time to change."

South Korea has little choice: Already more than 10% of South Koreans marry foreigners — mostly brides imported from poorer Asian countries. The country has 35,000 "Kosians," offspring of a Korean and a parent from elsewhere in Asia; they are expected to emerge as a voting bloc over the next two decades, says Song Young-sun, a South Korean legislator.

So Ward is helping prepare South Korea for its multicultural future: "That guy has no idea how much good he's doing," says Janet Mintzer, president of Pearl S. Buck International.

Ward was born March 8, 1976. A year later, his American GI father took his Korean bride and his young son back to the USA. But the marriage quickly disintegrated. A court, convinced Kim Young-hee didn't have the language or job skills to support a child, gave custody to Ward's father.

But Kim didn't give up. She stayed in the USA, working three jobs and saving everything she could. When Ward was 7 or 8 years old, he came to live with her. The change was traumatic: He was moving from an all-black neighborhood to a mixed-race community in suburban Atlanta and into a household where he and his mother could barely communicate.

Ward excelled in athletics but still struggled to find an identity between two cultures. When he was a teenager, Kim recalls, Korean neighbors recruited him to join their basketball team for a tournament and excluded him from the celebration afterward. "They used him," she says. "I cussed them out."

Kim knew nothing about football during Ward's high school career — even when some of the top college coaches came calling, trying to woo the star from Forest Park High School. "Tom Osborne, Lou Holtz, Bobby Bowden were in our living room," Ward says. "My mom didn't know who they were."

Kim may not have known the big names or understood the X's and O's, but her values influenced the way her son played football. "You've got to be humble," she says. Sure enough, Ward won't take running plays off the way some star wide receivers do; he's a ferocious blocker. And his mom better not see him dancing after a touchdown. "I tell him don't do it," she says. "I can't stand it."

Over time, she's become a football fan. "She's like a coach now," Ward sighs. " 'You didn't do this. You dropped the ball. You should have gone for two points.' "

Kim didn't attend the Super Bowl, preferring to watch it at home with friends. She didn't want to miss the replays. When Ward called her after his MVP performance, she was fast asleep. She had to get up at 5 a.m. to go to her job in the school cafeteria.

Crosby could make NHL history

"I'm going to finish off as strong as I can. If it happens, it happens."
Monday, April 10, 2006

By Dave Molinari
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TAMPA -- The Penguins had a long-scheduled day off yesterday, so Sidney Crosby didn't have to skip a game. Or even a practice, for that matter.

He didn't have to do much, really, other than relax, soak up a little Gulf Coast sunshine and get treatments on the unspecified "lower-body injury" he received in the opening period of the Penguins' 1-0 loss to Tampa Saturday night.

Crosby left that game late in the first period and did not return until the third -- who the St. Pete Times Forum statisticians were watching when they decided he skated two shifts during the second is a mystery -- and his status for the Penguins' game in Philadelphia at 7:08 p.m. tomorrow remains uncertain.

Crosby, who said he is treating his condition with ice and anti-inflammatory medication, was warned that his injury would be more painful yesterday than it was Saturday, but he was not available yesterday to elaborate on how he was feeling.

The first indication of how, or whether, he's progressing might come when the Penguins practice in suburban Tampa this morning. It's conceivable, though, that he could be held out of the workout simply as a precaution.

If Crosby's injury forces him to sit out any of the Penguins' final five games -- or even impedes his effectiveness in them -- it could cost him a chance to become the youngest player in NHL history to record 100 points.

He has 91, which means he must average 1.8 points per game to hit triple figures, something only Dale Hawerchuk (103 points in 1981-82) and Mario Lemieux (100 points in 1984-85) have done when entering the league the same year in which they were drafted.

Crosby will be 18 years and 254 days old when the Penguins' season ends April 18 in Toronto; Hawerchuk was about three months older in his rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets.

Crosby doesn't focus much on statistical achievements and, a few hours before the Tampa Bay game, downplayed his motivation to reach 100 points, even as he acknowledged "it would be pretty special" to do so.

"It's something I've never really thought about a whole lot," he said. "I don't want to start thinking about it too much now, but it definitely would be a nice accomplishment. If it comes, it would be great. But I don't think I'm going to base [the assessment of] my season on that."

Based on his comments after Saturday's game, being injured didn't alter his perspective.

"I'm going to finish off as strong as I can," he said. "If it happens, it happens."

The reality is that while Crosby doesn't appear to be overly impressed by the idea of getting 100 points as an 18-year-old, the people who watch -- and work with -- him are. He entered the NHL as perhaps the most-hyped player in league history, and still has managed to exceed all reasonable expectations.

"What this kid has accomplished this year is pretty phenomenal," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "For a rookie like that, to be close [to 100 points] like he is right now is ... looking down the history of the league, there aren't too many guys who have done it. It leaves me speechless to see him that close."

Crosby has scored or assisted on 40.8 percent of the Penguins' goals and leads the team in goals (36) and assists (55). He has more assists than the team's No. 2 scorer, defenseman Sergei Gonchar, has points (52).

Crosby lost a bit of the edge on his game after the Olympic break, but has come on strong in the closing weeks of the season. He has had two or more points in six of the Penguins' past eight games.

"You can pretty much count on him for two points a night, most of the time," said Colby Armstrong, who has settled in on Crosby's right wing.

"That would be great for him if he could get to 100. And I think he's more than capable of doing it, with the way he's playing. When he's playing his game, he's making things happen all the time."

Although Crosby has almost no chance of being the top rookie scorer this season -- he trails Washington's Alexander Ovechkin by seven points -- there is little precedent for a player his age to be so productive.

Ovechkin, for example, was born nearly 23 months before Crosby. Teemu Selanne, who holds the rookie records for goals (76) and points (132), was 22 when he broke in with Winnipeg in 1992. Peter Stastny was 24 when he set the rookie mark of 70 assists with Quebec in 1980-81.
Crosby, conversely, won't turn 19 until Aug. 7, by which time he'll be gearing up for his second pro training camp.

"When I was 18, I was watching this league back in juniors and wishing and hoping," Armstrong said.

"It's pretty amazing to see the talent he has, and what he's done so far."

(Dave Molinari can be reached at 412-263-1144. )

Friday, April 07, 2006

Steelers Schedule has at least 4 prime-time games

Steeler Willie Parker scores in the third quarter of Super Bowl XL on a 75-yard touchdown run.

Team will play four prime-time contests

Friday, April 07, 2006

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The sun might not shine as brightly on the Steelers during the 2006 season as it did on their way to the Super Bowl last season because they might play more night games than any previous time in their history.

2006 Steelers Schedule

Aug. 12 at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.
Aug. 19 Minnesota, 8 p.m.
Aug. 25 at Philadelphia, 8 p.m.
Aug. 31 Carolina, 7:30 p.m.

Regular season

Sept. 7 Miami, 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 18 at Jacksonville, 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 24 Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Oct. 1 Bye
Oct. 8 at San Diego, 8:15 p.m.
Oct. 15 Kansas City, 4:15 p.m.
Oct. 22 at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Oct. 29 at Oakland, 4:15 p.m.
Nov. 5 Denver, 4:15 p.m.
Nov. 12 New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Nov. 19 at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Nov. 26 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Dec. 3 Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Dec. 7 Cleveland, 8 p.m.
Dec. 17 at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Dec. 24 Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Dec. 31 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

The Steelers have a record-tying four prime-time, national television games scheduled, including their first two of the season, with the chance of having one or two more because of the NFL's new flexible schedule for Sunday night games.

The Steelers kick off the NFL schedule on a Thursday night when they play Miami Sept. 7 in Heinz Field and follow that with a Monday night game Sept. 18 at Jacksonville.

The defending Super Bowl champions also play two other night games -- Sunday Oct. 8 at San Diego and Thursday Dec. 7 at home to Cleveland. Those four games match the four they played at night last season, in 2002 and in 1993, and club president Art Rooney hopes they surpass that.

"I think the maximum that you can be on national television is six, so with four already scheduled we potentially could have two more that could be moved," Rooney said. "I would expect that we will have at least one moved."

That would depend on the Steelers being contenders again late in the season. The NFL announced Wednesday that their new flexible schedule will involve weeks 10-15 and week 17. Games now scheduled for Sunday afternoons are subject to be switched to Sunday night as the league tries to provide better matchups for what now is their premier game of the week, which will be shown on NBC.

"We don't mind playing night games," Rooney said. "I guess we would rather not play that many, but in this context, we are obviously hoping that we are in a situation where they want to be moving our games to the evening."

The first and most likely to be moved is a home contest against Denver, the Steelers opponent in the AFC championship game, that is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. Nov. 5. Another is their Dec. 31 game at Cincinnati, scheduled for 1 p.m. If the defending Super Bowl champions and the defending AFC North Division champions are still in contention for playoff spots, the end of that game could ring in the new year.

The Steelers again have an early off weekend, the fourth of the season, and play most of their warm-weather road games in the first half of the season. Five of their final seven games are against division opponents.

"It looks like they are trying to set things up so that the AFC North will go down to the wire with that last game against Cincinnati," Rooney said.

Rooney expects a large contingent of Steelers fans to follow tradition and again find their way in droves to games in opposing stadiums. Some teams have tried to thwart those fans' efforts by refusing to sell tickets to those in area codes 412 and 724 or forced fans to buy tickets to one or two other games if they wanted to buy them for their game against the Steelers. Dan Rooney failed to get a proposal before a vote of NFL owners at their meeting last week that would prevent teams from doing that.

"I guess we will have to go through another year that Steelers fans will have to scramble to try to find tickets," Art Rooney said. "But they have been doing a great job figuring out the system so far. I suppose they will continue to do that."

NOTES -- Kansas City appears in Pittsburgh for the first time in 18 years when the Chiefs play the Steelers Oct. 15. The teams played their past eight games in Kansas City. ... Tampa Bay makes its first appearance here since 1983 and the New Orleans Saints their first since 1993. ... The Steelers signed four-year veteran wide receiver Eugene Baker to a one-year contract. Baker (6-1, 167) spent four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, who drafted him in the fifth round from Kent State in 1999. He spent time on practice squads in Buffalo and St. Louis and played in four games in two years with Carolina. New England cut him before last season.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

David Maraniss- Roberto Clemente: Baseball's Latino Jackie Robinson

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero

by David Maraniss
Pub. Date: April 2006

The Washington Post

It borders on sacrilege to consider another baseball player in the same lofty realm of sociological importance as Jackie Robinson, who broke the major league color line nearly 60 years ago, but if anyone belongs up there with the fearless and incandescent Dodger, it might be Roberto Clemente.

Most athletes fade into oblivion after their playing days, but Clemente's story has grown in the decades after his death. There is even a movement now to have his No. 21 retired from the game and honored at major league ballparks alongside Robinson's No. 42, its proponents arguing that Clemente carries the same legendary status in the Latino world as Robinson does for African-Americans and people of any color shamed by the racism that kept blacks out of America's pastime until 1947. However that debate - the literal application of symbolism - plays out, the larger comparison of Robinson and Clemente is fascinating, especially in light of the recent dominance of Spanish-speaking players and the corresponding decline of black Americans in organized baseball. Clemente was both Latino and black, an intensely proud and passionate man who struggled furiously to succeed amid the crosscurrents of race, language and culture.

Born near the sugar cane fields of Carolina, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 18, 1934, Roberto Clemente Walker played right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates for 18 seasons before dying in a plane crash on New Year's Eve, 1972, while trying to deliver medical aid and food to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake. Like Robinson, he was a stirring athlete whose charismatic style lifted his team and transcended the statistics that define the game.

His totals were exceptional enough (exactly 3,000 hits, the magic number to assure enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, along with a .317 career batting average and 12 Gold Gloves as the league's finest right fielder), but again like Robinson, he was great and inimitable while not the all-time best. And unlike Robinson, Clemente was not the first of his kind. Several Latinos, white-skinned Cubans, had already played in the majors. The first Puerto Rican to make it was Hiram Bithorn, a burly pitcher from Santurce who won 18 games for the Chicago Cubs in 1943. There were also a few black Latino stars preceding Clemente, including the dashing outfielder Minnie Minoso from Cuba and fellow Puerto Rican Vic Power, a balletic first baseman.

Yet Clemente alone has emerged as the seminal figure in the baseball history of Latinos. There is a stadium named for Hiram Bithorn in San Juan, but few know the rest of his story, how he suffered a mental collapse after that one fine year in Chicago and eventually was shot to death, penniless and alone, by a corrupt cop in rural Mexico. Clemente's memory still burns bright in all of Latin America. When the Baltimore Orioles went to Havana in 1999, they learned that Clemente was as honored there as any Cuban. Ozzie Guillen, the Venezuelan who managed the Chicago White Sox to the World Series championship last season, revealed afterward that he kept a shrine at his home for Clemente, whom he admired above all others. In Nicaragua and in Puerto Rico, the island he always came back to, he is regarded with the reverence of a saint, a perspective reflected by a 30-foot-long cenotaph in Carolina where one panel portrays him holding a lamb. Partly this is because of how he died - on a humanitarian mission to help strangers, the plane plunging into the sea, his body never found. And partly it is because of how he lived and played - with the same relentless force, and pride in who he was and where he came from, that fueled Jackie Robinson.

In the Puerto Rico of Roberto Clemente's childhood, there were no legal or overt social barriers separating the races. Years before they integrated the majors, American blacks, led by Josh Gibson, the fearsome slugger of the Negro Leagues, played in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Clemente rooted for the San Juan Senadores, and his idol as a teen-ager was Monte Irvin, a graceful outfielder who was just getting a shot with the New York Giants after starring for 10 seasons with the Newark Eagles. Irvin recalled decades later that young Clemente, shy and without a ticket, would get into the games by carrying Irvin's suit bag to the locker room - a small gesture that captures the longstanding symbiotic relationship of blacks and Latinos in baseball. Puerto Rico also served as the training ground for the first black manager in the majors, Frank Robinson, who got his start with the Santurce Cangrejeros, eventually broke the managerial color barrier with the Cleveland Indians in 1975, and now three decades later is in the dugout for the Washington Nationals.

When Clemente began his baseball migration to the mainland, he followed in Jackie Robinson's footsteps. He was signed by the same Brooklyn Dodgers and like Robinson was sent to play for its AAA club, the Montreal Royals. The following winter, when the Dodgers failed to protect him on its 40-man roster, he was stolen by Pittsburgh in a supplemental draft, and it was for the Pirates in 1955 that he began his major league career. Eight years had passed since Robinson had desegregated the game, and the Pittsburgh Courier, a black newspaper, took note of the gains that had been made by what the paper called "Tan Stars."

By 1955 there were 28 black regulars on major league teams, including future Hall of Famers Robinson, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Willie Mays, along with 13 black rookies. Five years later the Courier reported there were 49 blacks on National League rosters and 15 in the American League. The numbers would increase year by year into the mid-1970s.

From the start of his career, Clemente faced a double barrel of discrimination as a Spanish-speaking black man, and constantly raged against the inequities he faced. During Florida spring training for his first seven years with the Pirates, he was forced to live with a black family in the Dunbar Heights section of Fort Myers while his white teammates enjoyed hotel rooms downtown. When the team held its annual spring golf outing at the local country club, Clemente and his few black teammates were not invited. He found it humiliating to have to stay on the team bus while his white teammates stopped at roadside restaurants on Grapefruit League road trips, and finally forced the Pirates' management to let the black players travel in their own station wagon. Enduring spring training, he once said, was like being in prison.

He was also infuriated by stereotypes. In a Life magazine preview of the 1960 World Series, in which he got a hit in every game of Pittsburgh's stunning upset of the New York Yankees, he was criticized for what was called his "Latin American variety of showboating" - although the example used was of him rounding third base and barreling over his coach on the way toward an inside-the-park home run, a play that might have been seen as an example of grit and determination if he had been a white player.

And he hated being quoted in broken English by sportswriters who did not know a word of Spanish. When he drove in the winning run and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1961 All-Star Game in San Francisco, the headline in the Pittsburgh Press the next day read "I GET HEET" and the wire service account quoted Clemente as saying, "When I come to plate in lass eening ... I 'ope that Weelhelm (Hoyt Wilhelm) peetch me outside. ..."

Late in his career, Clemente got his sweet revenge, and he did so in a way that solidified his reputation as the most revered of Latino ballplayers. The moment came in the locker room after the seventh game of the 1971 World Series. The Pirates had defeated the favored Baltimore Orioles with Clemente playing brilliantly at the plate, on the base paths and in the field - an all-round performance that the pitch-perfect baseball writer Roger Angell described as "something close to the level of absolute perfection."

For all of his career to that point, Clemente had felt misunderstood and underappreciated. Now he had proven himself, and the network microphones and cameras, and the nation's attention, were focused on him alone. And what did Clemente do? He said that before he answered any questions he wanted to say a few words of thanks in Spanish to his aging parents back in Carolina. The symbolic meaning of that moment reverberated throughout the Spanish-speaking world and down through the years.

That same year, 1971, the Pirates broke another barrier by fielding the first all-black and Latino lineup in major league history: Rennie Stennett at second, Gene Clines in center, Clemente in right, Willie Stargell in left, Manny Sanguillen catching, Dave Cash at third, Al Oliver at first, Jackie Hernandez at short and Dock Ellis on the mound. Nearly a quarter century after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, the racial transformation of baseball was so advanced that the moment went virtually unnoticed. It turned out to be not a sign of things to come, but an unlikely turning point.

Over the next three decades, the number of African-Americans in baseball declined steadily, down from more than 23 percent to below 9 percent today. The Houston Astros last year went to the World Series without a single black American on its roster. Basketball, which could be played more easily in urban settings, and football, which offered more speed and action, became more appealing to young black athletes.

The number of Latinos, by contrast, rose dramatically over the same period. Last year there were 204 Latinos in the majors, about one-fourth of all players. Rodriguez, Martinez, Ramirez, Ortiz, Guerrero, Tejada, Rivera - these are the names of 21st century baseball. And some will end up in Cooperstown, joining the six Latinos already there: Tony Perez of Cuba, Rod Carew of Panama, Luis Aparicio of Venezuela, Juan Marichal of the Dominican Republic, Orlando Cepeda of Puerto Rico and the legend among them, paving the way into the Hall of Fame for others to follow, the only player besides Lou Gehrig enshrined before the normal five-year waiting period - Roberto Clemente.

Baseball certainly will undergo more transformations this century. The sport is already declining in Clemente's Puerto Rico, overtaken by basketball and faster-paced sports, for the same reasons that led black Americans away from baseball. The Dominican Republic and Venezuela far surpass Puerto Rico now in the number of major leaguers. A new wave is coming from Japan and Korea, and perhaps China after that.

But through it all, Clemente's role cannot diminish. The mythic aspects of baseball usually draw on the cliches of the innocent past, the nostalgia for how things were. Fields of green. Fathers and sons. But Clemente's myth, like Jackie Robinson's, arcs the other way, to the future, not the past, to what people hope they can become.

David Maraniss, an associate editor of The Washington Post, is author of "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero," to be released by Simon & Schuster later this month. Author email:

Monday, April 03, 2006

Perception of Cowher Radically Altered

Perception of Cowher undergoes a radical transformation in wake of Super Bowl victory

Saturday, April 01, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

After 14 years as a head coach, Bill Cowher has become an overnight sensation. It's as if the first dirty dozen or so were a work in progress that was hailed in whole when he raised the Lombardi Trophy in Detroit.

From breakfast to meetings to lunch to golf to pool to dinner, Cowher shook countless hands and signed autographs at the annual NFL meetings. A year ago, he had a lounge chair by himself at the pool, occasionally accepting condolences for yet another loss in an AFC championship game.

Life may not be dramatically different for Cowher, but the perception of him certainly is. It's as if all those regular-season wins were validated by one Super Bowl victory.

"Now it happens, and you continue to get congratulations. I guess that's what keeps your mind on it," Cowher said of a crowning achievement that is nearly two months old. "I [want to] get back to being normal. ... But there's a lot more attention. I've had to adjust to that. It's been great, though. It's a lot better than ...'Oh, you guys still had a heck of a year.' "

How many more he will have in Pittsburgh he will not say, other than 2006 will be one of them. He and his wife, Kaye, bought a $2.5 million house in Raleigh, N.C., to go with a summer home they have at the beach in Bald Head Island, N.C. They have said the new home will not change anything, but there are reports their youngest daughter, Lindsay, will move to Raleigh and enroll in a private high school for her sophomore season and that Kaye will join her.

One source said the purchase of the home took most in the Steelers' organization by surprise and that, just as the public wonders about the motivation behind it, so, too, do the people up and down the hallways at their South Side offices.

Cowher said: "It really means nothing. It's irrelevant."

Perhaps it will become clearer as discussions take place on a contract extension for him. Art Rooney, the club's president, said those talks will begin soon. Cowher has two seasons left on his current deal, and the usual procedure would be to extend that by two or three years. But what if Cowher does not want an extension? He will say only that he takes things one year at a time.

"In this business, it's really important that you stay focused on the next year," Cowher said the past week during the NFL meetings that were held here.

Cowher, however, revealed he has adopted a different coaching strategy recently, going against a cliche in his business that you should never coach not to lose. Cowher said that is precisely what he did last season. It's something Terry Bradshaw has said drove him in Super Bowls because he was so afraid to lose.

"I guess the last few years I probably have refused to think about winning," Cowher said. "I probably was more afraid of losing because I've been so close."

In private moments, Cowher has talked about the frustration of losing so many close games in AFC championships, such as those to San Diego and Denver in the 1990s.

He spoke openly in the two weeks before the Feb. 5 Super Bowl about the pain of losing Super Bowl XXX to Dallas.

That pain is now gone. Cowher, who turns 49 years old May 8, has an opportunity to post numbers among the NFL's greatest coaches. He already ranks 14th in regular-season victories with a record of 141-82-1.

"Let's be honest," Cowher said. "Every year you sit back and reflect, and you think, 'How many times are you going to be asked the question: If you don't win the Super Bowl, will your career have been successful?' I've been very consistent in saying no, there'd be a void that would always be there."

He no longer gets those questions. Pats on the back have replaced them.

"A lot of coaches feel good for him," said his mentor, San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer, who, for all his regular-season greatness, still is searching to make his first Super Bowl visit. "He and I were talking the other day, and I said it's harder now to win a championship in the NFL. It's hard, you have to get the stars aligned correctly."

Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls in Washington, outlined the difficulty Cowher's Steelers will face next season.

"No. 1, the season goes a lot longer, and then when you get away to take a break, you probably have given up six weeks on everyone else," Gibbs said.

"And the way everyone looks at you. You are not going to have to tell the team anything if you are playing Pittsburgh, just you are playing Pittsburgh. So I think that is a real problem. And getting everyone settled down after a Super Bowl was one of the hardest things I had to deal with. There is a little bit of turmoil after a Super Bowl year that kind of hurts you."

It would surprise no one if Cowher coached the Steelers another 10 years or if he quit after the next one or two, moved to Raleigh and contemplated his future and possible return with another team. Many others have done it before him, including Schottenheimer and Dick Vermeil, the only two who coached him as a player in the NFL, along with Bill Parcells, Jimmy Johnson and even the great Vince Lombardi.

For now, though, his Steelers are stocked with enough talent to make a repeat run, and the prospect of winning two consecutive Super Bowls drives him.

"Whether we won it or lost it, to me it's about starting back over again and the challenges that go with that," Cowher said. "As long as we recognize it's not going to pick right back up where we left off, there's lot of hard work, sacrifice and a big commitment."

The commitment is there for 2006, perhaps even for 2007. Beyond that is anyone's guess.

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878. )