Mark Starr

Stories by Mark Starr

  • 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...
  • NFL Draft Report: Silence is Golden!

    I’m just a lowly sports reporter, so forgive me if, by discussing a serious matter of national policy, I sound a bit naive or foolish. But I can’t help but notice that America’s leadership has a little problem with leaks—both at the White House and at the intelligence agencies. If those folks are serious about halting the information flowing to the press, they’d be well served to spend a little time in Foxboro, Mass., home of those other—and far more successful—Patriots. Because Foxboro is where secrets go to die.The Patriots consider absolutely all information about the team proprietary. The mafia code of omerta has all the power of a promise made after the third drink on guys night out compared to Pats coach Bill Belichick’s stranglehold on team news. Only Belichick speaks publicly—and he says nothing at all. Indeed, his pronouncements have redefined the NFL vocabulary. Take the word “probable,” once a rather straightforward concept. But when Belichick utters it during the season,...
  • Patriots Games

    Though that team in the Bronx has hijacked the name, in Boston we think kindly of the other meaning of the word "Yankee", and so this week we celebrate the 231st anniversary of the first winning Yankee team. In the spring of 1775 my ancestors (OK, the spiritual ancestors of me and my neighbors here) dared to take up arms against the mighty British for a skirmish that helped launch a war that ultimately yielded all those freedoms that we claim to prize so much.Which is one of the reasons that Patriots Day, a holiday celebrated only in Massachusetts, is such a treasure. This is the holiday that best reflects our state's unique character. We don't celebrate vital American history with car sales here. Rather we have a few folks dress up in 18th century fighting garb and reenact the epic events of Lexington and Concord. The rest of us honor our heritage in a manner that demonstrates core American values: with a day off from work and two major sporting events—a morning Red Sox game played...
  • Fenway Park Seder

    Tonight, as they did last night and have done for more than 2,000 years, Jews will gather with family and friends for Passover seder, with its ritual retelling of escape from slavery in Egypt, of 40 years spent wandering in the desert and, finally, of the Promised Land.On Tuesday, my brother Billy and I met at Fenway Park for Boston's home opener and, in similar ritual fashion, retold our Red Sox story. It always begins with my brother's insistence that, with the Red Sox somehow having rallied from three games down against New York, we needed to trek to Yankee Stadium for the seventh game of the 2004 American League Championship Series. I am once again forced to concede that I was extremely trepidacious. "You know it will end badly, just like it always has," I prophesized, finishing on this ominous note: "You and I will be stuck in the Bronx at two in the morning, waiting for the A train and taking abuse." With the benefit of hindsight, you may regard me as a coward. I prefer, in...
  • Safe at Home

    Can we join in a rousing “free at last, free at last” in tribute to that humble servant of the Lord, the Rev. Jesse Jackson? With America’s civil-rights agenda complete, Jackson is now free to turn his attentions to the rich and mighty whose problems are entirely self-inflicted, most notably San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds.No doubt Bonds was appreciative last week when Jackson called out Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig for failing to protect the slugger from the wrath of fans in San Diego, who booed and threw objects (including a syringe) at Bonds during the Padres season opener. Then again, Bonds is savvy enough to know that some fresh controversy can boost his new ESPN reality series, “Bonds on Bonds.” (What’s next for the network, a show starring the Duke lacrosse team called “Animal House”?) Still, the abusive treatment Bonds received from the Padre cadre must have been a wee bit distressing. If that’s the reception in laid-back San Diego, what horrors...
  • Show Me the Moneyball

    Has it really been just three years since “Moneyball” took the baseball world by storm? In the spring of 2003, Michael Lewis’s provocative tale of how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s statistics-driven approach rejected conventional baseball wisdom to find undervalued players for his cash-poor ballclub altered the way many of us—baseball execs, sportswriters and fans alike—analyzed the game, its teams and its players. Baby boomers like me, whose love affair with baseball had always contained a geeky stats component, suddenly believed that they had squandered their lives running fantasy teams when they could have been doing the same thing for real in the bigs. You didn’t have to be an intuitive judge of talent. You didn’t even have to be able to hit a curve ball (something else we shared with Beane, except he got to demonstrate it in 301 at bats over six seasons for four different Major League teams). You just had to be able to crunch the numbers.It was too late for me. But...
  • Me and March Madness

    You all remember me from last week’s column —and, if your words can be trusted, you don’t like me very much. Yes, I’m that guy who “dissed” a national treasure, the NCAA basketball tourney: as a far too indiscriminate gathering that has dulled the regular season, as a showcase for mediocre hoops and as a event propelled toward “madness” only by America’s greater love affair with gambling.Well, I got my comeuppance. Not, mind you, because of anything you folks had to say. Your e-mail barrage—from thoughtful, analytical critiques to dismissive abuse—hadn’t yet arrived when my daughter, who was on spring break vacationing with her mom and me in Florida, requested a small favor. “Dad,” she said, in a familiar tone that instantly puts me on the defensive, ready to say no to some outlandish adventure. But the actual request came as a total surprise. “Dad, would you help me fill out my dorm’s March Madness pool?”There are a couple of things you should know about Sarah to fully appreciate...
  • Bonds Gets Blasted

    Major League Baseball had hoped to spend last week showcasing the breadth of its game's international talent and appeal. But the inaugural World Baseball Classic was barely underway here when it was overshadowed by the most detailed and damning accusations yet against baseball's most celebrated slugger, Barry Bonds. In a Sports Illustrated excerpt from a new book--"Game of Shadows"--two San Francisco Chronicle reporters allege that the Giants star, jealous of attention lavished on Mark McGwire during his record home-run year, began injecting steroids after that '98 season. By 2001, when Bonds broke McGwire's home-run record with 73, the authors claim he was pursuing a relentless regimen of multiple steroids, human growth hormone and insulin. The only thing that could have been more embarrassing for American baseball would have been Team USA losing to Canada. Oh, wait, that happened too.The book comes out on the cusp of a season in which the 41-year-old Bonds will chase one of...
  • ‘Madness’ Reconsidered

    I’m not looking to burst anybody’s bubble (or bubble team) here. But March Madness isn’t a religious holiday with a pedigree to rival Christmas, Passover or Ramadan.It has been an extraordinarily successful marketing concept that conveys the notion that there is a national affliction racing through the populace. And it’s not complete hooey. Since the NCAA tournament boosted its reach to 65 teams and began to create some complementary excitement with the women’s tourney, it’s hard to find anybody who can’t manufacture a rooting interest—if not for an alma mater then at least a geographical connection.Of course, those connections may not be enough to spur serious interest so there’s this other all-American allure. If the NFL is America’s ongoing Gambling 101: Introduction to the Point Spread, then the NCAA Tournament is a related course, Gambling 101a: The Creation of Pools and Their Efficacy in Disrupting National Work Productivity. Trust me, Thursday and Friday this week and next...
  • To an Athlete Dying Young

    Way back in a time, when life and death didn’t go straight to video on your cell phone, my dad used to tell me tales of Harry Agganis, “The Golden Greek.”Agganis was a Massachusetts schoolboy legend. Recruited to play football by Notre Dame, Harry, the youngest of seven children, chose to stay close to his widowed mother and play instead at Boston University. An All-American quarterback, he was a first-round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns. But again he decided to stay home, this time to play first base for the Boston Red Sox. In 1955, Agganis was hitting .313 in his second major-league season when he was sidelined with chest pains; he died at age 26 of a pulmonary embolism.A decade later, I felt the full impact of a similar tragedy involving another local hero turned Red Sox star. Born only a few miles from where Agganis was raised, Tony Conigliaro might have been called “the Golden Italian” had it been the least bit alliterative. Hollywood handsome and a gifted slugger, Tony...
  • Slip Sliding

    She made the Japanese Olympic team in Nagano as a 16-year-old, but was left off the team four years later. She won the 2004 World Figure Skating Championships, ending Michelle Kwan's reign with a stunning array of combination jumps. But the following year she finished ninth. And she made it to the 2006 Games by finishing third in the Japanese national championships. Such consistent inconsistency hardly portended big things for Shizuki Arakawa in Torino. But that should have been a sign in these topsy-turvy Olympics, in which some of the most-hyped stars have fallen short. The 24-year-old Arakawa performed with barely a bobble, leaping past Russian world champ Irina Slutskaya and America's Sasha Cohen for the ladies' gold medal. It was the first-ever gold for a Japanese figure skater, and the sole medal in any sport for the Japanese team here. "I couldn't think at all with the gold medal around my neck," said Arakawa of her upset triumph. "I can't really find any words for it."In...
  • Slip Sliding Away

    Former Olympic champion Oksana Baiul said her feet always told her when she was ready to skate. A glance at Sasha Cohen as she circled the ice before her long program Thursday and one sensed her feet might never say a word. She had "slammed" two jumps during warm-ups and now, as she struck her pose as the ill-fated lover Juliet, looked pale, skittish and reluctant. Perhaps prescient, too. Because just seconds later, Cohen fell on her first jump, then stumbled on her second and her gold medal was gone. "I was in a little bit of shock," Cohen said. She bravely pulled herself together and somehow resurrected the elegant skater who had started the evening in first place. Still, she left the ice too numb even to cry, convinced her dream of an Olympic medal was over.But Olympic figure skating is a daunting business--"not like getting churros at Disneyland," Cohen said afterward. Other potential medalists stumbled, too, and gold-medal favorite Irina Slutskaya had a nightmarish turn of her...
  • Bad Idea?

    The Main Press Center in Torino, as in every Winter Olympics, was essentially a large hospitality suite for the flu bugs of 100 nations. There was not even the possibility of seeking the relief of fresh air. Any air that might once have been fresh and was actually within our reach was already populated by huddled masses escaping the tyranny of a smokeless workplace.The only one of the five Winter Olympics I’ve covered from which I didn’t return home sick was Nagano, where I ate bowls of kimchi every day, counting on the fiery cabbage to ward off illness and, given its potency, pretty much all evils. I tried a similar approach in Torino. But to my surprise, red wine, while perhaps great for longevity, ain’t no kimchi.However, my illness coupled with jet lag has served one beneficial purpose. I am coughing, wheezing and wide awake in the wee a.m. hours, perfect timing to catch tonight’s Asian division opener—Korea vs. Chinese Taipei—of the World Baseball Classic. And trust me it...
  • Unimaginable

    Maybe the crowds in Torino aren't stoked to fever pitch, as they were in Salt Lake City four years ago. Then again, the Italian Olympic team isn't on a record medal pace--with just six halfway through the Games--as the U.S. team was in 2002. But none of that mattered last week in the mountains above Torino, where with rabid fans overflowing the grandstand to witness the first-ever Olympics snowboard-cross final, America's Seth Wescott rocked the joint.Snowboard cross, or SBX, was added to the Olympics to inject an extreme edge, as well as what is rare at the Winter Games--the thrill of head-to-head competition. And it delivered more excitement and mayhem than anyone could have dreamed. In the men's final, after two of the four boarders wiped out, Wescott found himself pinned behind Radoslav Zidek of Slovakia. But in a move unimaginable to the uninitiated, he hurdled past Zidek on an inside turn and held on in a photo finish. The women's final was equally compelling, bizarrely so....
  • Board Crazy

    Maybe the crowds in Torino aren't stoked to fever pitch, as they were in Salt Lake City four years ago. Then again, the Italian Olympic team isn't on a record medal pace--with just six halfway through the Games--as the U.S. team was in 2002. And maybe American TV ratings for the Torino Games are lackluster, with viewers preferring idol searches to medal chases. But none of that mattered last week in the mountains above Torino where, with rabid fans overflowing the grandstand to witness the first-ever Olympics snowboard cross, America's Seth Wescott rocked the joint.Snowboard cross, or SBX, was added to the Olympics to inject an extreme edge, as well as something that's rare at the Winter Games: the thrill of head-to-head competition. And it delivered more excitement and mayhem than anyone could have dreamed. In the men's final, after two of the four boarders wiped out, Wescott found himself pinned behind Radoslav Zidek of Slovakia. But in a move unimaginable to the uninitiated, he...
  • Can Sasha Cohen Save the Olympics?

    I have a privileged vantage point from which to experience the Olympics here in Torino, making me uniquely unqualified to opine on the level of American interest, or most would say disinterest, in these Games. From where I stand -- up close and personal -- the Olympics is always a pretty compelling athletic spectacle.But believe me, I do understand your grievances. You don't care about most of these sports in the first place. You don't like to see events on tape delay because if you are a real fan, it's hard to maintain your ignorance of the results. You miss Michelle Kwan a whole lot. You discovered that Bode guy was a blustery bust. Apolo turned out to be less than divine. You don't care how many medals they win, those bickering speed skaters are an embarrassment. And the underachieving U.S. hockey teams didn't exactly rekindle interest in their sport.But everything has now changed, all that negativity drifted away Tuesday night when a diminutive -- 5'2", 96 pounds -- young figure...
  • Who's Next for Gold?

    I am now taking applications for Vancouver 2010. I'm not talking about applicants to help me cover the next Winter Games. Not for dinner companions at any of that city's superb restaurants. Nor from people who want an edge in securing NEWSWEEK's hot, always-in-demand Olympic pin .No, I am talking directly to the athletes here -- and about the big enchilada. If you want to win a gold medal in Vancouver, you better let me know soonest. From the couple of hundred American athletes who will head to Vancouver, I will pick one and only one to win a gold medal. And trust me on this: it will be a lock. I am the man.I first became "the man" as America prepared to usher in 2002. In this new millennium, NEWSWEEK has inaugurated a year-end feature that tries to glimpse into the future. We call it " Who's Next? " and my responsibility each year is to select one person in all of sports who will be well, next."Next" is, of course, a rather vague concept. Next week? Next month? Next year? For...
  • Torino Lights Up

    Fire and ice is always cool. Fire shooting out of space-age helmets, even cooler. You can never go wrong quoting Dante in Italy, or with Venus rising (especially when portrayed by that Wonderbra goddess Eva Herzigova). And both the red Ferrari and Sophia Loren are truly timeless. But Yoko Ono channeling her late husband's "Imagine"? And whose idea was it to have athletes enter the Olympic realm to the pedestrian rhythms of "Funkytown"?But so it always goes with this extraordinary Olympic ritual of opening ceremonies--a five-ring circus of high art, higher pretensions and that great leavener, schlock. And sometimes it's difficult to distinguish which is which. The International Olympic Committee and organizers of Torino 2006 had begun to fret that the motto of these Games--"Passion lives here"-- was bordering on parody as the world, even the host city, greeted the Olympic run-up with a collective indifference. Didn't we just have one of those? (In fact, yes, 18 months ago in Athens.)...
  • Here’s Johnny

    I am ashamed to say that when Johnny Weir first arrived on the figure-skating scene, we in the media privately referred to him as “Johnny Weird.” Not me, of course. Still, I apologize for the rudeness of my colleagues. Anyway, I certainly hope he appreciates the irony that now, as far as the media is concerned, Johnny is just about the most beloved Olympic athlete in Torino.That is not because the 21-year-old Weir has become a force to be reckoned with in his sport, a three-time American champion who trails only the great Evgeni Plushenko in the Olympic men’s competition that concludes tonight. We in the media are pretty immune to the charms of talent and aren’t going to get gushy just because somebody can ski fast, shoot a puck or jump with three revolutions. No, it is because Weir is unequivocally the best quote in the business and there is nothing the press loves—or needs—more than that.When it comes to quotability, Weir has got it all. He’s a four-tools guy—willing, candid,...
  • The Other Olympic Medal: Pins

    For years Americans attending the Olympics have enjoyed the added blessing of a robust dollar. So it has been a bit humbling at the past two Games in Europe -- Athens in 2004 and now in Torino -- to watch our dollar get shredded by the euro.But we NEWSWEEKers, an adaptable clan that is always looking ahead, have protected ourselves against the inequities of currency fluctuation. We got pins and we know how to use them.Olympic pins are the underground currency of every Games. They are produced by various nations, national teams, Olympic sponsors, media organizations and other participants. And these souvenirs are coveted by most everybody in town -- reporters, soldiers, waiters, athletes, tourists -- for the duration of the competition. My colleague Al, who serves as point man at the door of the NEWSWEEK office, has already collected pins from both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, a kangaroo pin from Australia, pins celebrating the Olympics of Beijing 2008 and Vancouver 2010, a Panasonic...
  • Scoring Without Scandal?

    Michelle Kwan's departure from Torino marked a sorrowful end to her Olympic dream and a huge disappointment for her legion fans. But it was also a metaphorical break with an era, the Kwan Dynasty. Kwan was unrivalled under the old figure skating scoring scheme, having tallied more perfect 6.0s than any skater in history.But now the sport moves on -- without Michelle and with a complex new scoring formula that will baffle those who are just tuning in for their quadrennial figs fix.The discarding of the old system has been gradual -- the 2005 world championships were the first competed under the new system -- but the change was a result of the sport's embarrassing judging scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. In truth, that scandal wasn't really a byproduct of the system, but the result of an out-and-out fix -- a pledge by the French judge to favor the Russians over the Canadians in the pairs competition in return for favorable treatment of the French ice dancer by a Russian judge...