Mark Starr

Stories by Mark Starr

  • Echoes of ’88

    The 1988 presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis made more than its fair share of missteps. Still, it is not a stretch to say that the Dukakis dream died the day Vice President George H.W. Bush first mentioned the name Willie Horton.Two years earlier, Horton, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, had assaulted a Maryland couple. He knifed and beat the man and raped his fiancée while on a weekend furlough program from a Massachusetts prison. By the end of the ’88 presidential campaign, Republicans had made good on the pledge of Lee Atwater, Bush’s campaign manager, to make Horton a household name. The GOP ad campaigns featuring Horton’s black “thug”-shot became a symbol of soft-on-crime Democrats—and an effective exercise in campaign fear mongering.Now the GOP is at it again in Massachusetts. Democrat Deval Patrick, the black former chief of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Clinton,...
  • A ‘Wild’ Future for the Yankees

    In the final home game of the 2003 regular season, the Boston Red Sox clinched the wildcard spot in the playoffs, setting off an exuberant celebration on the Fenway field.A few of us Red Sox diehards, while thinking how lovely it was to be back in the postseason fray for the first time in four years, found the whole thing a little déclassé. Maybe we were just snobs, but it seemed a little too much excitement over finishing second once again, six full games behind Boston’s deplored rival, the New York Yankees.I now confess that not only was I wrong—party hearty whenever you have an excuse—but that the Yankees might actually have something to learn from that moment. Unlike that signal conveyed by the Boston players and team management, which must have countenanced the wild on-field romp, the unmistakable message from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is that the real meaning of a wildcard entry is that the team lost the division title. Ultimately the Yankees may have to decide: do...
  • Faithful to ‘Fidelity?’

    When the public-relations man says of a Broadway-bound musical, “The third time’s the charm,” it suggests nightmarish memories of past—and possibly even epic—failures.But the challenge facing the new musical “High Fidelity,” now in previews in Boston and scheduled to open on Broadway Nov. 20, is quite the opposite, though perhaps equally daunting: how to follow a book and a movie that were both awash in charm, and, if not megahits, at the very least cult classics.The original book was a deft comic turn by pop bard Nick Hornby, a meditation about loves lost, and lost again, by the commitmentphobic proprietor of a record store—vinyl, not remotely CD—in a dreary London suburb. In the movie, the store was moved to a seedy neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side where John Cusack was at his Cusackian best as the “I won’t grow up” narrator, Rob. It also featured Jack Black in his breakout role as Barry, the manic, resident bully and self-proclaimed arbiter of rock-and-roll taste.“I loved the...
  • Dumping Damon

    It grieved me, as it did all Red Sox fans, to watch Johnny Damon open the Yankees’ playoff season with a hustle infield hit that led to a three-run rally that essentially sealed the game one victory over the Detroit Tigers. And I felt even worse when he blasted a three-run homer to get the Yankees on the board in game two.If there is a symbol of two teams, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, that have spent the last several seasons in virtual lockstep but are now headed in opposite directions, it is Damon, Boston’s once-beloved idiot, now beardless, well groomed and in pinstripes. Last December Damon jumped teams and towns in what for him was essentially a no-brainer, after the Yankees offered him $3 million a year more than the Red Sox. Now October finds the Yankees favored to win the World Series and the Red Sox unhappily out of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.Damon has proved to be more than even the Yankees could have hoped. He provided a spark at the top of the...
  • America: A Paper Tiger?

    One of the treasured American sports clichés is that “there is no ‘I’ in ‘T-E-A-M.’” But I am more concerned these days about whether there is any T-E-A-M at all in U.S.A. Our most famous and feted male athletes no longer seem capable of winning a world championship—even in the sports we invented.This year may have been the most wretched ever for the red, white and blue—or at least for our men’s teams that wear it. The flops began at the Winter Olympics in Italy, where the U.S. hockey squad played six teams and beat only Kazakhstan. At the inaugural World Baseball Classic this spring, a superstar American lineup lost back-to-back games to South Korea and Mexico and didn’t even reach the semifinals. In June, our soccer team, ranked fifth in the world entering the World Cup, failed to win a single game in Germany (and is now ranked a more appropriate 29th). And earlier this month our latest NBA “Dream Team” lost in the semifinals of the world championships—torched for 101 points by an...
  • 'We’re Number One!'

    Recently I was driving through Ohio along the construction site formerly known as Interstate 70, grooving to some Tom T. Hall and Johnny Paycheck tapes—yes, grooving, and, yes, tapes—I had made 30 years ago. In other words, I was in my usual full retro mode. So inevitably, as I motored past the football capital, Columbus, my thoughts turned to the late Ohio State coaching legend Woody Hayes.Hayes presided over the Buckeye football empire for 28 seasons and was viewed by many as the nation’s archetypal coach. With his run, run and run again offensive philosophy, immortalized as “three yards and a cloud of dust,” Hayes was never regarded as a coaching genius, despite his two national championships and eight Rose Bowl appearances. Nor, outside of Ohio, did Hayes appear to be a particularly engaging man. He evoked military metaphors and President Nixon liked him, which not everyone saw as a sterling recommendation. In his toughness and stoicism, Hayes made the University of Alabama’s...
  • Ready for Some Football

    When it comes to preseason predictions, pro football is impossibly oblique. Sure, I’ll go on the record and take my best shot at column’s end for the pleasure of your ultimate ridicule. But these picks are, well, strictly for sport. The magic of the NFL is its ultimate unpredictability. Tonight’s opener—the champion Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the Miami Dolphins—embodies that as well as any game could. Having survived a potentially fatal motorcycle accident, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been felled by the mundane peril of appendicitis, and Pittsburgh’s repeat hopes rest on how well Big Ben emerges from his twin traumas. The Dolphins, with hot young coach Nick Saban at the helm and Daunte Culpepper—the team’s best quarterback talent since Dan Marino hung ‘em up—under center, are a fashionable pick. But such hopes also revolve around how Culpepper rebounds from both a serious injury (knee) and a serious embarrassment (the Vikings’ party boat shipwreck ). My take on the...
  • September Song

    David Ortiz’s heart palpitations have put something of a pall over what otherwise has been a fairly compelling season, one in which, even with the obsessive Barry Bonds watch, the action on the field has mercifully trumped events off. With his prodigious power numbers and unrivalled clutch hitting, Ortiz was on his way to giving lie to the notion that a DH can’t be an MVP. Even more important, he has become baseball’s first face, the desperately need anti-Barry. Bonds’ menacing “Screw you” scowl has been replaced by Big Papi’s megawatt smile that says, “Hey, you look like you need a hug.” And there’s nothing that we, the game’s faithful fans, need more than an occasional hug. Here’s betting Ortiz can return to the game. September would be something less without him.Still, the season’s final month appears rather intriguing. Entering the stretch run, about the half the American League and almost the entire National League can claim to still be in the playoff hunt. That should enable...
  • The Boston Bust

    On Saturday night, after the third game of the Boston Red Sox’s critical five-game series with the New York Yankees, the Red Sox brass went cruising on Boston Harbor to celebrate the engagement of the team’s 32-year-old general manager, Theo Epstein. If life imitated Bay State literary (“Moby-Dick”) or even cinematic (“Jaws”) metaphor, we would still be fishing bodies out of that murky sea. Instead, the worst Theo and company had to endure was a return to Fenway Park where they watched the Yankees win two more ballgames and complete the sweep of the home team.It’s a good thing that Theo has a wedding on the horizon because his long honeymoon with Red Sox fans—“Local Wunderkind Makes Good in Dream Job”—may just have just come to an abrupt end. When Epstein snuck out of Fenway last fall in a gorilla suit, after having quit his job in a power dispute with team president Larry Lucchino, Red Sox nation was almost completely in his corner. We are an odd breed here in New England and will...
  • Is Mickelson Worthy?

    If I recall my long-ago flirtations with Sophocles and his Greek ilk, misfortune only rises to the level of tragedy when its seeds reside in the central character.Golf is but a pleasant diversion and, for me, never rises to that level. Still, the 72nd hole of the recent U.S. Open may be as close as it will ever come. Phil Mickelson’s implosion on that final hole has been likened to a similar disaster that befell Frenchman Jean Van de Velde in the 1999 British Open. In truth, they are not remotely the same. Van de Velde was a journeyman who had never before been in that position (nor will be again) and was totally unequipped to handle it.Mickelson, on the other hand, had shed his “best player never to have won a major” at the 2005 PGA and had then won his first green jacket at the 2006 Masters. A par on the final hole of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot would have given him three major triumphs in a row, a feat of Woodsian proportions. When he pulled his drive left and found his...
  • Baby-Boomer Sports: The Last 50 Years

    Boomers were the first to see all their athletic heroes perform live on TV. Our sports correspondent remembers some of the greatest hits of the past 50 years.
  • Coming Clean

    It is said that confession is good for the soul. But I haven't seen much evidence that professional athletes subscribe to that theory. Most will only 'fess up to the most public of failures—missing a free throw, losing a race, striking out with the bases loaded—and sometimes not even that. It is almost impossible to get a pro to address the subject of performance-enhancing drugs, let alone have one discuss the issue with any candor.In my 15 years on the sports beat, I have succeeded in having that honest conversation just once, and I confess I used a pretty potent drug, administered liberally over a three-hour dinner, to loosen the interviewee's tongue. The athlete, a swimmer of renown who would go on to Olympic glory, had spent much of the evening complaining about the difficulty of competing against the cheaters from China, much as American swimmers had ranted about the doping of East Germans many years before.This rap seemed pretty rehearsed, one I had heard in one form or...
  • A Rivalry Is Born

    With assorted Middle East crises driving up energy prices, I was wondering if anybody has considered the potential of vitriol as an alternative energy source.I just happened to corner a fair share of the vitriol market last week, most of it coming from foreign sources. It came to me after I suggested, in the wake of l'affaire Zidane , that European soccer players might actually have something to learn from America , at least in terms of handling trash talk.Perhaps my tongue wasn't planted quite firmly enough in my cheek. The result of my musings was significant outrage: about the notion that we have anything to teach Europeans regarding soccer; about the bad behavior of our athletes in general; about the bad behavior of our government leaders in general, and about a host of other sins ascribed to those of us who dare to set America up as an example of anything at all. Skipping past the many pejoratives, the response from abroad could be best summed up thusly: Butt-head!Mind you, I...
  • Italy’s Golden Moment

    In the waning moments of overtime in its World Cup semi-final against Germany, Italy attacked with dramatic results. The strategy led to two goals and a last-minute victory over the tournament hosts. Afterwards, Italian coach Marcello Lippi attributed the team's uncharacteristic offensive mindset to its dread of letting the game end in a shootout. Italy had never won a World Cup match on penalty kicks, exiting three of the last four tournaments (including its loss to Brazil in the 1994 final) via the excruciating one-on-one duel.But the penalty shootout is ultimately—both its defenders and debunkers largely agree—a crapshoot. And if you shoot craps often enough, one day your number will come up. So it was Sunday night in Berlin, as Italy's number—a fourth World Cup championship—came up big. Italy converted all five of its shots to beat France, after a sometimes exhilarating, sometimes desultory and, occasionally, stunning, 1-1 tie.Much was made of the opposing goalkeepers in...
  • Can Les Bleus Cure France’s Blues?

    During World War II, my father was an American officer attached to the Free French, assigned to General Philippe Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division. As a result, in August of 1944, he was there for the liberation of Paris. It was a singular event in his life, and on the occasions when our conversation turned to the war, he would say that I couldn't possibly imagine what it was like to be in Paris that day.I was in Paris a little more than a half century later to witness France upset Brazil 3-0 and capture that country' first-ever World Cup championship. In the wee morning hours after the game, trying to join my wife near the Place Republique, the celebratory throng engulfed me. There were a million revelers swarming down the boulevards, laughing, cheering, singing and waving the French flag. It was so densely packed that I could barely free the cell phone from my pocket to dial my dad back home in the States. I couldn't really hear him, only hoped that he could hear me. "Dad, I said, "I...
  • Ban the World Cup Flop

    I am a flop and, in keeping with the spirit of our times, blame my predicament entirely on the flops of others.Let me explain. For the past couple of decades, I have postured as a true soccer man, or actually as a “football” man to project a continental flair. I have pretended to be so well versed in the game, so comfortable with all its nuances, downright European in my appreciation of its history, its ritual and its realities. At least in my mind, I am Old World. I practically have to put down my boccie ball before I stroll down the cobblestone street to the café to watch the match.But the 2006 World Cup has drummed home one painful truth: in the end, I am fundamentally New World when it comes to soccer, impatient with the idiocies of the FIFA establishment for foisting a spoiled game upon us in this, the sport’s greatest showcase. Under the guise of tradition, they perpetuate a fraud. Unable to police the game with old methods, disdainful of new technologies, they have assured...
  • The Winning Strategy

    There is a rare international consensus among coaches, players and fans that attacking football is the most attractive game. But in recent years and World Cups, there's never been anything approaching a consensus that attacking football translates into winning football--especially on the game's biggest stage. Still, this 2006 World Cup seemed like it might be different--that the cautious defensive tactics, the 10 men behind the ball whenever a team gains a one-goal advantage, the relentless fouling that halts flow, all might be relegated to that historical place where you can find the 2-3-5 formation, "total football" and the hand of God. And perhaps as a result, something more akin to the beautiful game would emerge insteadSo what exactly has emerged in Germany? Well quite a bit, actually, and for once the trends have combined to produce a string of dynamic and dramatic games. ...
  • Goodbye and Good Luck

    Not too long ago, I wrote a paean to the sport of soccer that produced a very warm response from old-timers who had embraced the game—at the risk of ridicule from friends and family—in the lonely years. I confessed that, at times, I was so desperate for a soccer fix that I would hail a New York cab just for some conversation on the international game.It’s no so lonely any more. Who needs taxi drivers when I can open my computer mailbox and find an avalanche of correspondence trashing the World Cup performance by the American team and blaming the coach, Bruce Arena, for most of it? Folks wrote me criticizing the mental preparation of the team, the starting lineups, the formation the team played and the reticence to attack until the final, desperate minutes when it was already too late. These folks are as dead certain that Arena should have started Eddie Johnson, at the very least in the third game, as Red Sox fans are that Grady Little should have removed a tired Pedro Martinez in...
  • The End of the Line

    American soccer fans spent too much time worrying about whether the Italians would show up and do their part today on behalf of the U.S. World Cup team. Sure, for the United States to move on to the next round the team required an Italian win over the Czech Republic to go along with its own victory against Ghana. But you never have to worry about the Italians; they take care of business when they have to—and did so handily in a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic.We should have instead spent all our time worrying about our lads. They couldn’t do their part and are now homeward bound after losing to Ghana 2-1. The U.S. team did finally score its first goal of the tournament—on a beautiful DaMarcus Beasley feed and Clint Dempsey finish—but they still appeared offensively challenged, as they have throughout this tournament.There will be plenty of blame to go around for what appeared a lackluster effort that was not sufficiently urgent until too late in the game. Coach Bruce Arena will...
  • The U.S. Sees Red

    The United States soccer team demonstrated Saturday what its fans had believed all along: that it had enough ability to beat the Czech Republic in its World Cup opener. Unfortunately, that talent combined with a rediscovery of the aggressive style that got the team this far in the first place still wasn’t enough to beat unflappable Italy. But the U.S. did manage to gain-or salvage, depending on your perspective—a 1-1 tie and keep alive its hope of moving on from the first round.The irony will certainly be noted, at least in this country, that Italy, a country in the midst of one of the worst soccer scandals in history, may have been the beneficiary of the first scandalously bad officiating of this World Cup. Referee Jorge Larrionda issued three red cards, or one fewer than the number given in the 25 previous Cup matches. The first, to Italy, was righteous; when an elbow draws a bloody waterfall, it’s red by definition. But then the Uruguayan ref fell in love with the color and, in...
  • Coach Under Fire

    Bruce Arena, coach of the U.S. national soccer team, doesn’t tolerate those he deems foolish. Which has always been a lot of folks. He likes to punctuate his responses to the press with a smirk, clearly suggesting that the questioner is, at the very least, unworthy and, quite possibly, a total idiot with no comprehension of the nuances of the game at its highest levels.There is no discernible reason for his dismissive attitude beyond arrogance. The American press’s coverage of soccer—mine included—has always been infused with more than a little boosterism. No sportswriter chooses to report on the sport because it is a shrewd career move or because his editor is pleading for more soccer stories. It’s a labor of love, and many reporters discreetly root for the U.S. team because nothing helps the cause more than an American World Cup success.Despite Arena’s prickly attitude toward the press, a couple things have always redeemed him in their eyes. The first is that he displays pretty...
  • America Arrives

    Had anybody but football diehards been watching when the United States opened the 2002 World Cup in South Korea--it was a 5 a.m. start in America--the game might have been memorialized as the "Miracle on Turf." The Yanks stunned powerful Portugal with three goals in 36 minutes, then held on for a 3-2 win. The upset helped propel the U.S. team to unprecedented Cup heights, and only some bad bounces and a blown call kept the Americans from an even bigger upset of Germany in the quarterfinals.The U.S. squad that will kick off its 2006 World Cup campaign Monday against the Czech Republic in Gelsenkirchen won't stun anybody. That's because the United States, long a football backwater, is now recognized as an emerging power--currently ranked fifth in the world. At a time when it can no longer claim supremacy in homegrown sports like baseball and basketball, America can finally compete at the highest levels of the world's game. U.S. team manager Bruce Arena has made that faith the...
  • The First Cup is the Deepest

    When the alarm went off at 4:55 a.m. that morning four years ago, I instantly sensed my inner dread mingling with my stupor. In five minutes the U.S. soccer team would kick off its first World Cup match in Korea, and four years of waiting, hopes and dreams for this country’s burgeoning soccer clan might quickly be exposed as little more than an advanced case of wishful thinking.I had been in Paris four years earlier for the U.S.A.’s World Cup opener when, just minutes into the game, a sharp German elbow into the gut of America’s best player, Claudio Reyna, knocked the stuffing out of the whole team. It was a blow from which our lads never recovered, at least not during their French sojourn. The United States exited that ’98 World Cup 0 for 3—and ranked a humiliating 32nd out of 32 teams in the competition. I saw all three American games and left France completely dispirited about our country’s soccer future.Portugal, the opponent that fretful morning in Korea four years later, was...
  • Baseball’s Good News

    If Barry Bonds continues to hit home runs at his current tepid pace, he should pass Hank Aaron’s career record of 755 sometime in September of the 2007 season. But it’s not at all certain Bonds will get there, and there are more “ifs” in his chase than in the famous Rudyard Kipling poem …If Bonds, soon to turn 42 and finally showing his age, with his wobbly knee and bone chips in his elbow can keep limping up to the plate and swinging the bat through this year and then another full season...If some team, possibly an American League club looking for a designated hitter, is willing to deal with the sideshow that is Bonds, as well as the potential locker-room backlash…If Bonds’s ego can accept a monumental drop in salary from the $18 million he’s earning this year to something more akin to the $500,000 deal with incentives that one-time superstar Frank Thomas signed this year to be the DH with the Oakland A’s …If the MLB investigation of drug use in baseball doesn’t uncover evidence...
  • Best of the Rest

    Most of the young stars on non-European teams have tested their mettle playing in the elite European leagues. Here are five who will return as centerpieces of their national teams. ...
  • In the Spotlight

    The European football powers enter each World Cup with the highest expectations. Here are four veteran stars who will be in the spotlight--and on the spot. ...
  • Girls Gone Wild

    Once upon a time, the dream of the feminist movement was one of equal opportunity. They didn’t want to be like men, just to have the same chances. There was an implication, a faith inherent in that aspiration, that not only could they perform the same jobs, master the same subjects and play the same games but that they would do it in a fashion that might be better for our society. The conceit was that they would imbue all they touched with a women’s sensibility, which would be more nuanced, more empathetic and, ultimately, more humane.I confess that I more or less subscribed to that notion. I grew up in an extended family dominated by males and one didn’t have to be an Einstein to recognize our multitude of emotional shortcomings. Fortunately, the Starr men were just smart enough to marry up and improve the family gene pool. Still, trust me on this: by virtually any standard other than sports trivia, Scrabble and the ability to grill medium rare, I don’t measure up to any of the...
  • The Stink of Official Error

    At the U.S. national soccer team training camp in Cary, N.C., an Italian reporter recently cornered DaMarcus Beasley to ask if he aspired to someday play in Italy’s elite Serie A. Before the speedy young midfielder could answer, an eavesdropper cautioned: “Just be sure to check what next year’s results will be before you choose your team.”While America is preoccupied with Barry Bonds or the standout NBA playoffs, the rest of the world is consumed with one of the biggest scandals in Italian soccer history. There is currently a massive investigation into whether games were fixed by gambling interests, as well as allegations that elite soccer clubs—including Italy’s most illustrious team, Juventus—paid for favorable media coverage and dictated referees’ assignments for their matches. This Italian mess comes after recent match-fixing scandals in Germany, Brazil, Belgium and Portugal. It assures that the World Cup, the biggest sporting event on earth, will begin next month in Germany on...
  • Bonds, Steroids and the Babe

    On June 10, 1972, less than two years before he would blast his way into immortality, Hank Aaron hit his 649th career home run to pass Willie Mays and move into second place on baseball's all-time home-run list.That hit was immortalized in The New York Times with a three-paragraph story on the second page of the sports section. The Washington Post devoted one more paragraph to the game but seemed to miss the historic point with its headline: AARON SLAM BURIES PHILS.Then again, maybe it's all of us who are missing the point. Second place is a mighty accomplishment, but in this country the silver medal has traditionally never rated a coronation. Yet there's nonstop coverage of Barry Bonds as the Giants slugger nears Babe Ruth's famous, second place, record of 714 career home runs. In part this is because of questions about Bonds's chemical training regimen, and in part it's because our 24-hour cable-sports-news culture now creates a media circus out of the slightest of milestones...
  • In With the New

    None of the 32 countries that qualified to play in next month's World Cup can boast of an especially easy path there. But the one that received an automatic berth--host nation Germany--seemed to suffer the most controversy and consternation. Its youthful team has played uninspired football, most notably in a 4-1 thrashing by Italy early this year, and rookie manager Jürgen Klinsmann has taken a beating, too. Klinsmann, star of three German Cup teams in the '90s, has been vilified for his nontraditional methods, sins compounded by his insistence on living in southern California. When he flew home to America right after the loss to Italy, no less a persona than Franz Beckenbauer, Germany's greatest football icon, pleaded for him to spend more time with his team. Instead critics had to settle for whatever solace could be found in a 4-1 victory over an American "B" squad. Klinsmann termed it an important win, permitting the team to proceed with preparations "in a much quieter atmosphere...
  • Toward a Better Playoff

    Every 20 years, like clockwork, I get a great idea. Check out my last one, from 1986. That’s when I dragged my wife, whose passion for baseball is the inverse of mine, to a Red Sox World Series game just so my kid—still in utero, but an imminent arrival—would absorb the full Fenway Park vibe.If you think that’s silly, not to mention a waste of a good ticket, think again. Walking home from Fenway on Monday night, I called my now 19-year-old daughter at college in Missouri to report on the Red Sox romp over the Yankees. She required no fill. She had been tuned in—sacrificing several hours during which she could have been studying for this week’s finals. I was so proud.Now that you know the power of my ideas, pay attention, because I’ve got another brainstorm. This one is entirely selfless, aimed at boosting a couple of old friends—the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League—that could use some help. While the quality of play in both leagues is better than it has...
  • The Good Life

    Tucked away in a small shop in SoHo, Derrick Miller calmly explains a pair of $4,880 shoes. "These are our Lancer side lace, in chocolate brown crocodile leather," says the 33-year-old creative director of Barker Black Ltd. The detailing on each shoe is exquisite, from the vicious checkered leather, to the unique diagonal lacing, to its leather sole, where the company'strademark skull-and-bones with a crown is imprinted with 139 tacks. The "chocolate crocs" are the most expensive shoes in Barker Black's luxury men's line--pairs start at $675--but they best represent the brand's style: "sophisticated, with a touch of subversiveness," as Miller puts it.The company is at the forefront of a new trend in men's fashion--making formal style hip again, from slimmer suits to sportier dress shoes. Barker Black launched last year in New York, aimed at the man who is tired of the classic Brooks Brothers look but too tough for Prada. The label recently became available in Dubai and Tokyo, and...