What if other sports take cue from skating?

February 25, 2002|By Alec MacGillis

INSPIRED BY the International Olympic Committee's evenhanded resolution of the Salt Lake City figure skating controversy - giving gold medals to both the Russians and Canadians - other sports authorities are acting to set straight some long-smoldering debates. To wit:

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced he will award the Brooklyn Dodgers the 1951 National League pennant. The reason: recent revelations that the New York Giants were stealing signs and that Bobby Thomson may have been tipped off about the Ralph Branca pitch on which he homered for the Shot Heard 'Round the World.

Mr. Selig did not revoke the pennant awarded the Giants, saying "they were just trying their best." He said they might not have realized it was unsportsmanlike to have someone spy with a telescope behind center field and transmit the signs by electric buzzer to the dugout or bullpen, which then relayed them to the hitter.

"What matters most is that it was a great game," Mr. Selig said. "And you have to admit - that buzzer thing was pretty clever."

National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that a review of Franco Harris' famous "Immaculate Reception" for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972 found that the catch was invalid because the ball had in fact tipped off the hands of Steelers running back John "Frenchy" Fuqua before Harris miraculously snatched it out of the air. But the Steelers would not be stripped of the victory, Mr. Tagliabue said; instead, they would share it in the record books with their opponent that day, the Oakland Raiders.

"The fact remains it was an amazing catch, and we would never want to take that away from the Steelers," said Mr. Tagliabue. That failed to satisfy Pittsburgh fans, who suspected a conspiracy.

"Let's see. We've got the NFL ruling against `Franco' Harris and `Frenchy' Fuqua," said former Steelers quarterback and Fox commentator Terry Bradshaw. "Am I the only one who thinks we're being held responsible for that French skating judge?"

FIFA, the world soccer body, announced that an investigation into the 1999 Women's World Cup had found that the U.S. women's soccer team had cheated in its victory in the final over the Chinese. By her own admission, FIFA found, U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry had deliberately taken an extra step forward, in violation of the rules, in blocking the penalty kick that decided the game for the Americans.

But a FIFA spokesman said the association would not revoke the U.S. women's trophy, saying it would instead just give the Chinese a trophy of their own. Doing otherwise, the spokesman said, could rekindle U.S.-China tensions - not to mention upset the millions of American girls who fell in love with the U.S. team.

"And let's not forget - without that Briana Scurry block, we'd never have gotten that shot of Brandi Chastain stripping off her shirt, and where would soccer be without that?" said the spokesman.

The New York Yankees announced they did not deserve to win the 1999 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox in which umpires made two atrocious calls against Boston, both involving Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. The Yankees said they were so embarrassed about the calls, in which Knoblauch dropped a ball on a force play and failed to tag a runner on another play - only to have the umpires call the Red Sox out on both - that they were giving the pennant to Boston.

"We might have won anyway, but let's face it, the Sox need it more than we do," said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. "I mean, we're like the Russians of figure skating, winning it every year, which is probably why the umps always rule our way."

Baseball record-keepers were unsure how to score the turnaround, since New York went on to win the World Series in 1999. But they eventually decided that since the Red Sox were better than the National League champion Atlanta Braves that year, they should be considered 1999 World Series champions (along with the Yankees, of course.) The decision set off celebrations in Boston, starved of a World Series championship since 1918.

"Sure, we'd rather not have to share it with the Yanks," said a Sox fan. "But, hey, enough of the rivalry. When it comes down to it, aren't we all winners?"

Alex MacGillis is a reporter for The Sun.

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