A Sporting Chance

The good, the bad and the very ugly of athletics in 2000.

First, the good news.

This was the year Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open, the British Open, the PGA and seven other tournaments with the ease of a golfing god, then graciously praised the efforts of his merely mortal opponents. It was the year that Rulon Gardner, an unknown Greco-Roman wrestler from tiny Afton, Wyoming, vanquished a Russian Olympic behemoth who had not lost a match in thirteen years. In 2000, former cancer victim Lance Armstrong pedaled 2,550 miles to his second Tour de France victory, and former cancer victim Andres Galarraga made a heartening comeback with the Atlanta Braves. Denver's own Metropolitan State College won the NCAA Division II basketball championship, and Todd Helton thrilled otherwise down-in-the-mouth Colorado Rockies fans by toying all season with the magical .400. Tennis star Pete Sampras won a record thirteenth Grand Slam, U.S. sprinter Marion Jones bagged five medals (three golds) in Sydney, and an eight-year-old racehorse with the ill-fitting handle Zippy Chippy kept right on running -- despite losing for the 87th straight time.

On June 3, a pitcher for the London (Ontario) Werewolves, Brett Gray, struck out 25 batters in a regular nine-inning game against the Chillicothe Paints. Said the astonished Frontier League hurler: "People probably see it and think it's a misprint. I did."

Unfortunately, many of the major sports stories of 2000 also looked like misprints -- or the handiwork of demons bent on destroying our remaining faith in humankind. We've seen plenty of misbehavior on and off the playing fields through the years, but this year produced a bumper crop of morons, miscreants and malfeasants. A scattershot selection of prizewinners:

O.J. Simpson Award for Domestic Policy: The verdict from Charlotte is not yet in, but the preponderance of testimony makes it a good bet that former Colorado Buffalo and Carolina Panther Rae Carruth had something to do with the November 1999 murder of his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams. Co-defendant and confessed triggerman Van Brett Watkins has testified against Carruth, claiming the former wide receiver plotted the crime to avoid paying child support. Earlier in the year, Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens was acquitted of murder charges in the deaths of two men outside an Atlanta club on the night of the 2000 Super Bowl, and veteran Packers tight end Mark Chmura was accused of raping a high school girl. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue must be having nightmares about the people some of his players choose to hang with. Here in Denver, Dishonorable Mentions in this category go to Rockies pitchers Bobby Chouinard, who will serve a one-year term (in the off-season, wouldn't you know) for aggravated assault after holding a loaded gun to his wife's head, and Pedro Astacio, who, for now, has avoided deportation to the Dominican Republic in the wake of charges of assault and domestic violence against his wife. As for Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy -- Saint Patrick, to his fans -- he was led from his Greenwood Village home in handcuffs on a domestic-violence complaint just four days after setting the NHL record for wins by a goaltender: 448.

Albert Belle Sportsmanship Trophy: Boston Bruins enforcer Marty McSorley, third all-time in NHL penalty minutes, shocked even fellow hockey thugs when he clubbed the Canucks' Donald Brashear with his stick, knocking him unconscious on the ice. Suspended for the last 23 games of the 1999-2000 season, McSorley was later convicted in a Vancouver court of assault with a weapon. Runner-up Roger Clemens lost only in the court of public opinion. In a July inter-league game, the five-time Cy Young winner obviously beaned the Mets' Mike Piazza (who was batting about .450 against him), knocking Piazza out of action for a week; in game two of the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium, Clemens flung a jagged shard of Piazza's shattered bat at the catcher as he ran toward first base. The Rocket's excuse? He thought it was the ball. Dishonorable mentions: All nineteen Los Angeles Dodgers suspended for a brawl at Wrigley Field during which some players went after fans in the stands; sixteen assorted Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox -- including both managers -- suspended for their April punchup; local Olympic swimming star Amy Van Dyken, who at the Sydney games spit into the lane of Dutch gold medalist Inge de Brujn and later carped, "I could swim like that if I were a man"; explosive Croat tennis star Goran Ivanisevic, who had to default a November match in Brighton, England, after smashing all his rackets.

The Caligula Cup: Clearly, the owners of professional sports teams can be a cruel, despotic and self-absorbed bunch (see Steinbrenner, George). But most of them looked like guardian angels in 2000 compared to Daniel Snyder, the petulant and intrusive majordomo of the Washington Redskins. One of Snyder's first moves was to fire more than a dozen employees without severance, and after a loss, he lambasted head coach Norv Turner in the team training room. Last summer Snyder charged fans $10 to visit the Skins' training camp, and when his $100 million team -- the most expensive in NFL history -- suffered its fourth loss in five games two weeks ago, Snyder abruptly fired Turner. Meanwhile, ex-starting quarterback Brad Johnson complains that his demotion came straight from the executive office. And you thought the Bush-Gore wrangle was big news in the nation's capitol.

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