THE BALLS AND STRIKES OF '95

In golf, CBS loudmouth Ben Wright carped that the women's game is being damaged by lesbians, then added that women's breasts impede their swings. But another Ben--Crenshaw--bailed out the game's image by winning his second Masters just a week after his long-time mentor, Harvey Penick, died at age ninety. On the 18th green, Crenshaw wept.

Lenny Wilkins surpassed Red Auerbach in NBA wins, and at Grambling State, ageless football coach Eddie Robinson chalked up his record 400th victory. Powerful Nebraska, winner of its first national championship early in the year, was pointed toward a second one pending the outcome of the Fiesta Bowl test against Florida. The best 1995 story in college sports, though, was traditional Big Ten doormat Northwestern, a Cinderella that went 10-1 and is headed for the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1949.

While L.A. Dodgers ace Hideo Nomo thrilled all of Japan and most of America, Dallas Cowboys chieftain Jerry Jones signed defiant deals with Nike and Pepsi that prompted a $300 million suit by the NFL--just slightly less than Jones is paying overrated defensive back Deion Sanders. German Axel Schultz got screwed by the judges in his fight with Big George Foreman, but George wants no part of a senior citizen whose comeback is even more bewildering than his own: Denver's Ron Lyle, who decked Foreman during the Ford administration, is 53.

In tennis, Americans Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras cooked up the game's hottest rivalry since McEnroe v. Borg, but the weirdest stroke of the year came from Benedicte Tarango, the wife of journeyman Jeff Tarango, who smacked an umpire after her husband stormed off the court at Wimbledon.

Canadian Jacques Villeneuve won the Indy 500 after Scott Goodyear was ticketed for streaking past the pace car ten laps from the finish, and Sterling Martin won his second straight Daytona following a two-hour rain delay. On softer tracks, the great thoroughbred Holy Bull broke down in February, robbing an ailing sport of its only star, and a New Jersey claimer named Gussie Mae barely failed to set a new record for futility when he got the first win of his career after 85 straight losses.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas swept racing's Triple Crown--with two different horses. But the horse story centered on a great Equine-American named Cigar. A mediocre grass runner earlier on, the five-year-old won twelve straight dirt races in 1995, including seven Grade I stakes and the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic. And let's not forget greyhound Unruly Thomas, still competing out at Mile High Kennel Club. He's won fourteen straight.

In 1995 the New Jersey Devils (who used to be those other Colorado Rockies) won their first Stanley Cup. Popular Don Zimmer, a Rockies coach, quietly retired in the middle of a game against St. Louis after 47 years in the game. Upstart New Zealand won the America's Cup; ousted Rockies principal Mickey Monus got twenty years for fraud; and in the end, Johnnie Cochran not only got O.J. off, but the ex-running back demanded that the cops return his fake mustache and beard, his gun and his Hooters VIP card. Maybe Mark Fuhrman can drop the stuff by Simpson's place.

While he waits, the racehorse Cigar and the Homo sapiens Cal Ripken Jr. finish in a dead heat in the race for sports hero of the year. But it's hard to ignore the Friends of Matt Berlin.

On April 13, Berlin was visiting Oswego, N.Y., when he decided to go bowling. Amazingly, he had rolled eleven straight strikes in his second game, one short of perfection, when the power suddenly failed. For more than an hour, Berlin waited in the dark and was about to leave the building, unfinished and unfulfilled, because he had a plane to catch. But his fellow bowlers in Oswego wouldn't hear of it. Out to their cars they went to fetch flashlights and cigarette lighters, and in that shadowy dimness their new friend at last got to try for his 300, his perfect game.

So, did Matt Berlin roll strike number twelve? Of course he did! And with that, may we banish for a moment the shame on the playing fields and the scorn in the locker rooms.

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