Mark Starr

Stories by Mark Starr

  • Starr Gazing: Do the Yankees Suck?

    With our country awash in vitriol, I look back on the political trash-talk of my young manhood as rather more restrained than I thought it at the time. "Tricky Dick," the appellation bestowed on President Nixon by his enemies (and some friends as well) now sounds almost affectionate, a cute name for a Sesame Street character.I feel the same way about the chorus of "Yankees suck!" that my Boston brethren, in their bravado as well as their cups, will be chanting as the Red Sox play the Bronx this holiday weekend. I once found the sentiment so crude that I threatened to banish my daughter from Fenway Park if she joined in. But in this era of South Parkisms, it seems decidedly more quaint than vulgar.My city is, of course, steeped in a great intellectual tradition and the relentless war cry of baseball fans here has always been more about irony than abuse. We don't go around chanting "Royals suck!" There's no need. We have long chanted "Yankees suck!" because they so obviously didn't....
  • Starr Gazing: Tony La Russa's Enduring Passion

    Most baseball wannabes of a certain age will tell you that their career arc ended when they discovered they couldn't hit the curve ball. Truth is most of us washed out long before we ever saw a real hook, unable to catch up to any fastball that had what we prehistorics used to call "mustard" on it.Those of us who loved the game anyway gravitated to what we sensed was the true calling for men of intellectual gifts but physical limitations--the managerial ranks. We sat for hours on end with our Strat-O-Matics, experimenting with all sorts of brilliant innovations. How would the '27 New York Yankees have fared if Lou Gehrig batted in front of Babe Ruth instead of behind him? (The answer is: quite well.) My personal favorite was determining how those Red Sox bottom-feeders of my youth might have done if they just had the Yankees' pitching staff. (The answer is: decidedly better.)But that fantasy is so yesterday. Over the past decade our collective regard for the managerial function...
  • Responsibility and Loneliness

    St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa visited Boston this week for the first time since the unhappy events of October. He chatted with NEWSWEEK's Mark Starr about "3 Nights in August," a new book about him and the challenges of managing the modern game. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Baseball managers don't seem to get as much respect today as they once did.Tony La Russa: When I was a young player, it was the way society was--authority figures had automatic respect and credibility. As times have developed, I think [everybody] questions a lot more. You're really skeptical about people in charge. If you're a manager or coach, one of your initial challenges is to establish your credibility and give them a reason to respect you. And every year, you have to renew it. That's the challenge.You still hear the word "genius" thrown around the NFL and the NBA in regard to coaches like Bill Belichick or Phil Jackson. But you don't hear it about baseball managers.I don't think the tag applies. It's way...
  • Starr Gazing: Chicago's Legacy of Baseball Misery

    When I moved to Chicago in the mid-1970s, all my friends there--I'd say all my baseball friends, but frankly that would be redundant--assured me that I would be smitten with the Cubs.The Cubbies were, after all, viewed as the National League counterpart of my hometown Red Sox--from the friendly confines of their ancient ballparks to the ceaseless futility of their baseball quests. Moreover, embracing the Cubs would require no betrayal of my first love since--this was before interleague play--the Red Sox and Cubs could never meet except in a World Series. Today that possibility remains decidedly against the odds, but back then it was a truly laughable notion.But even though I settled in on Chicago's North Side, just a few miles from the Cubs home, the relationship never took hold. There were no lights yet at Wrigley Field and every game felt like the adult version of Ferris Buehler--hookey with sausage and beer on the side. It was altogether too happy a place for this East Coast...
  • Starr Gazing: The Premier Malcontent

    I think of myself as a man totally at odds with the current age. Truth is, though, I am a man who has pretty much been at odds with every age. As just one example, I could never do the twist.Still, I am not quite the modern misfit I posture as. While I have never watched "American Idol," sent a text message or visited a chat room, I can Google. And I do--often and with a vengeance. As proof, here's my little Google trivia quiz: What in the Googliverse was I searching to produce this list of modern baseball all-stars--Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Randy Johnson, Rickey Henderson, Nomar Garciaparra, Larry Walker, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Belle, Jeff Kent, David Wells, Manny Ramirez, Juan Gonzalez, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Jason Kendall, Jose Guillen, A.J. Pierzynski and Jose Canseco?OK, maybe the inclusion of Canseco is a giveaway. The answer is that each of these players has been labeled at least once in his career--fairly, unfairly or perhaps both--as a "cancer in the clubhouse." It...
  • STATISTICS: MAGIC NUMBER?

    Baseball's first superstar, Cap Anson, reputedly said he wanted his tombstone to read HERE LIES A .300 HITTER--even though he had a .333 career batting average. Almost from baseball's inception, a .300 average has defined stardom. But increasingly another stat, on-base percentage (OBP), is showing up everywhere from broadcasts to stadium scoreboards. OBP validates what your Little League coaches always insisted--that a walk is as good as a hit. ESPN began running OBP alongside the holy trinity of stats--batting average, home runs and runs batted in--last season. "Teams are making decisions on players based on that number," says Tim Scanlan, ESPN senior coordinating producer. "It was time we reflected that." Elias Sports Bureau, which provides stats to Major League Baseball and team broadcasts, has tracked OBP since the early '90s. The new interest is fueled by the growth of stat-driven fantasy leagues and "Moneyball," the best-selling story of Oakland A's exec Billy Beane. But while...
  • Starr Gazing: Boston Blues

    I am shocked, utterly amazed, that some of my readers live outside Boston, even outside Red Sox Nation. And they have urged me to find something, anything, other than my beloved hometown team to write about. I regret their attitude. But journalism is a form of commerce and the customer is occasionally right. So while I deplore their provincialism, I respect it as well. I have done away with my paean to Opening Day at Fenway Park in a city and fan base so unique that nobody wonders at a shared moment of silence for Pope John Paul II and Dick "The Monster" Radatz, an all-star reliever from the '60s. Instead, I will share with you readers what I have always tried to spare you. I am baring my mailbox and revealing the kind of important stuff I have ignored and, thus, you have missed during the six-month span of my Red Sox obsession.Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong supports New York City Olympic bid Quellesurprise! What would be news would be a French superstar endorsing the New York...
  • Fenway 'Fever'

    My favorite sports book of all time, not to mention the funniest, is Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch," a memoir of an obsessive love affair with Arsenal, the London soccer team that dominated his youth and young manhood.But the best scene does not take place on the soccer pitch or anywhere near a stadium. It's a conversation between Nick and a close woman friend, who has just informed him that she is getting married and that he is one of the privileged few being asked to bear witness. Hornby reflexively segues into congratulations and exultation over the happy occasion, even as his mind is scrambling elsewhere. And suddenly there it is: his realization that the wedding falls on the same day as, and indeed conflicts with, an Arsenal home game. The problem reveals itself first on his face and then in apologetic mumbles and half sentences. She can't comprehend the problem, at least not on the scale he endures it, and finally says something dismissive like, "Well, you'll think about it and...
  • Starr Gazing: My Fantasy Life

    I confess that, for a man my age, I have a very active fantasy life. And my wife can get really steamed about it sometimes.Nah, not that kind of fantasy. I told you ages ago that I haven't had an impure thought about another woman since Natalie Wood crossed the Great Divide. I'm not talking about the ladies. I'm talking fantasy baseball.I am one of the multitude of Americans--estimates now run to 15 million--who play fantasy baseball, a preoccupation that has grown from the quirky little hobby of some New York writers into a billion-dollar industry. (And there is now fantasy football, basketball, NASCAR and, for all I know, fantasy "American Idol" too ... or is "American Idol" the actual fantasy?) The pioneers of the fantasy baseball game have seen very little of any money generated by their idea. Hardly surprising. If they had a knack for profit, they wouldn't be in my profession.For the uninitiated, fantasy baseball uses real players and real stats to create faux teams in faux...
  • Friendly Fire

    PRE-GAME INTRO When Mark Starr and Bret Begun were in Athens for the Olympics last summer, they got into it a bit over baseball. OK, more than a little bit. Not surprising given that Starr is a born-and-bred Bostonian and Begun a New York lifer. With the season opening Sunday night--and the Red Sox-Yankees again on center stage--the two have decided to go public with their differences and to look for some common ground too. Readers should feel free to chime in at rivalry@newsweek.com, a selection of their letters--with occasional comments from our columnists--will be published online.FIRST INNINGMark: I don't think you believed me before the World Series when I insisted that beating St. Louis would never mean as much to me as beating your Yankees. And that's even with all my in-laws living in St. Louis, diehard Cardinals fans. You thought I was just being self-protective. But it proved to be true. I love the championship. But months later, it's still the comeback against the Yankees...
  • FIGURE SKATING: A SARAH SPINOFF?

    Her salt lake Olympic teammates Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen were competing at the World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow last week, but 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes was back home headlining the Stars on Ice--"if it's Tuesday, it must be Toledo"--national tour. Both Kwan and Cohen appear pointed toward another Olympic spin in Turin, Italy, next February. But Hughes, who at 19 is the youngest of the three, told NEWSWEEK it's "really unlikely" she will return to Olympic competition. "I had great success in 2002 and I doubt I'll go back," she said.Until recently Hughes was focused entirely on school. Last spring she completed her freshman year at Yale. But she couldn't resist returning to the ice for the lucrative world of ice shows. While a three-month, 60-city tour is grueling, show skating doesn't demand the difficult triple jumps required for competition. Hughes would be hard-pressed to get back into shape for an Olympic season after not having competed for more than...
  • Starr Gazing: Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

    I am not one who readily relinquishes credit for any job well done. And Barry Bonds credits (or in his mind, discredits) the media for doing what no pitcher has been able to do for years now--shutting him down.I only wish it were so. If it were true, even half true, I would already be claiming the accomplishment in a prominent spot on my resume. After all, I have been on this crusade for a long time. I have endured readers' vitriol for daring to attack this baseball hero without meeting the standard of absolute legal proof. I have patiently explained to readers again and again that there is no reason to trust Bonds's word over common sense, not to mention the evidence of their own eyes. So I would be pleased no end to believe that I--OK, make that a more generous "we" in the media--had the ultimate responsibility in this sorry baseball saga.But it is obvious now that Bonds has determined his own fate without help from anyone or anything--unlike, I would add, his baseball...
  • Starr Gazing: Selig's 'Sorry' Testimony

    Tomorrow the madness begins. And the NCAA men's basketball tournament starts, too."March Madness," however, pales in comparison with the lunacy that has been Major League Baseball's blind eye to its drug problem. And now, finally, somebody is calling on the game--its leaders and its stars--to account for itself.I know it's not easy to choose sides in a pissing match between two such feckless institutions as Congress and Major League Baseball. Kind of like having to root for either Sydney Greenstreet or Peter Lorre to find the Maltese Falcon.But forced to choose sides, I have no hesitation--OK, maybe a little--about choosing Congress's corner. For decades baseball has used congressional clout shamelessly to its advantage. Now, at last, when baseball's position is untenable and Congress can at least purport to represent the fans' interest, Commissioner Bud Selig and his minions would prefer to tell folks there to "stuff it."There's no stuffing baseball's dirty secrets back in the...
  • Starr Gazing: Kwan Last Time

    I would have sworn that Michelle Kwan toured as a young flapper with Sonja Henie. Or, at the very least, that she shared the ice with Dick Button, back when a double axel was still a gigantic leap of faith. I can even picture Kwan these days strolling through Disneyland, that beatific smile on her face, telling her very own fairy tale to her grandchildren. "Once upon a time, there was an ice princess ..."So imagine my shock to discover that Kwan is not only heading to another world championships, in Moscow next week, but that she claims to be just 24 years old. Frankly, I couldn't be more stunned if Barry Bonds suddenly started talking to reporters about the size of his testicles.All I can figure, so to speak, to explain Kwan's Peter Pan syndrome is that skaters must count birthdays only during Olympic years. How else to account for a lady who competed back when Michael Jordan was in his prime yet is still younger today than Kobe Bryant? And unlike either of them, she still wins...
  • Starr Gazing: A Few of My Favorite Basketball Things

    After experiencing the dreary exhibition of American basketball in Athens this summer, I realized that I desperately needed a sabbatical from the NBA.I was raised on the great Boston Celtics dynasty of the Bill Russell era, and NBA basketball had long been part of my lifeblood. But like many a middle-aged grump, I had soured on the game for all those fundamental reasons I and so many of my colleagues have expressed ad nauseum.The Olympic flop was just a breaking point. You may have heard my profession's famous creed: "No cheering in the press box." Well there's no booing either. So in Athens I found myself struggling to keep silent, containing the rants--"move without the ball," "play some defense," "get out on the shooter," "could you just pass the ball"--that had become habitual back home when I watched the NBA.So I decided a little abstinence was in order. Admittedly my new TV regimen was abetted by the sensational distractions provided here in Boston by first the Red Sox and...
  • STEROID MOMENTS: BASH THY BROTHER

    The most surprising thing about the revelations in Jose Canseco's new book "Juiced" is how unsurprising they really are. In the wake of leaks of federal grand-jury testimony from superstars Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds, baseball fans have finally woken up to the epidemic of steroids in the sport.What the book does deliver is titillation. Canseco not only celebrates his own rampant steroid use, but he names names, superstars with whom he claims to have shared a steroid moment or two. The most notable is Mark McGwire, the record-setting slugger and Canseco's former "Bash Brother" with Oakland. Canseco writes that "steroids made Mark much bigger and much stronger... they made him feel more confident and more comfortable with his own body."McGwire and the other players named in the book have all denied using steroids, let alone having needlepoint sessions with Jose. And the response of Major League Baseball can be summed up: consider the source. Canseco has always hungered for the...
  • NOW, A SEASON ON ICE

    The National Hockey League has long been regarded as this country's "fourth" major professional sports league. But in recent years, with its dwindling fan base and minuscule TV ratings, the NHL has been flirting with minor-league status. Now its very survival appears to be at stake.Last week, after one final effort by the league and its players union failed to forge a new contract agreement, the NHL announced it was canceling the remnants of its 2004-05 season, thus becoming the first North American professional league ever to scrub an entire season. "This is a sad, regrettable day which all of us wish could have been avoided," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.In the end, that sentiment was about the only thing on which there was real accord. The players union had never really bought the league's fundamental negotiating premise--that NHL teams had lost more than $225 million last year and almost $2 billion during the past decade. And indeed it was hard to fathom as the league...
  • FAST CHAT: SIGNATURE 'SPACEMAN'

    The Boston Red Sox start spring training this week, and former Sox hurler Bill (Spaceman) Lee says he can still throw. But Lee, 58, will be confined to pitching his new book, "Have Glove, Will Travel." He talked to NEWSWEEK's Mark Starr.In reading your memoirs, it's hard to say you missed baseball's drug era, but--I was so juiced up--with Butazone and all those blood-thinning agents and painkillers--that while I could pitch in the American League, I couldn't have run the Kentucky Derby.Still, the game wasn't tainted by steroids.I don't look at that as tainted. After all, Ponce de Leon came ashore here looking for the Fountain of Youth.Don't you at least sympathize with the pitchers?I said in 1978 that the designated hitter would be the death of pitching. In our day your best athletes were your pitchers. Now your good athletes won't become pitchers 'cause people like to swing the bat.Were you excited about the Sox winning the series?Ballplayers aren't like fans. Our loyalties hang...
  • OLYMPICS: PARIS, BEWARE: 'WE HAVE MOMENTUM'

    New York City, once a long shot in the race to host the 2012 Olympics, is now a serious contender. Two factors: the sophistication of the city's presentation to European sports leaders in Dubrovnik in December, and a charm offensive by NYC2012's top brass. Bid-committee boss Daniel Doctoroff has rounded the globe, courting--with considerable success, insiders say--International Olympic Committee delegates. "I sense we have momentum," he says. In July, the IOC will choose among New York, Paris, London, Madrid and Moscow.Next week, with the visit of the IOC evaluation commission, New York moves from the "tell me" to the critical "show me" stage. It needs to boost the low "technical" assessment its original plan received. NYC2012 hopes revisions in the athletes' village (fewer high-rises), transportation scheme (buses, not boats or trains, for athletes) and competition venues (more clusters) have addressed IOC concerns. It hoped to already have full approval for the $1.7 billion...
  • Starr Gazing: Canseco the Clown

    However, if that's too cryptic or polite for you, let me translate: Canseco is a giant slime ball who would say anything to milk his baseball career for one more giant paycheck. How low would he go? Well, he's the kind of guy who doesn't kiss and still tells. In his new book (which will go nameless out of respect for the written word), he insists he never slept with his pal Madonna because "I just wasn't that into her ... not really my type"--a backhanded insult he passes off as honesty.Nobody disputes that Jose has a major credibility problem. This is a man, after all, who believes that racism and conspiracy put an end to his baseball career when absolutely everybody else knows he squandered his own prodigious talents with lackluster training and a dissolute lifestyle. None of this would concern us if Canseco hadn't stepped up to the plate and become the first ballplayer to name names--outing those with whom he claims to have shared a steroids moment or two. And they are big names...
  • Starr Gazing: Boston, Philly Fans Agree: Pats Win

    Sorry, Philly fans, not even close. You don't have to be an MIT whiz kid to recognize the vast difference between the year 1960, the last time the Eagles won an NFL championship, and the prehistoric 1918 of Red Sox glory. The latter date is 15 years before the NFL was even born, a yesteryear of Woodrow Wilson and--if you can imagine this--an abiding faith in Washington that we could fight a war to make the world safe for democracy. If that isn't enough to distinguish it from modernity, suffice to say that I, a man still a midrange putt short of his dotage, watched the 1960 Eagles victory--and in living color if not HD.Moreover, three straight Eagles shortfalls in the NFC Championship Game, two of them not even close contests, simply doesn't measure up on the scale of sports pathos. It doesn't come close to matching the Red Sox's historic ability to race to the very brink of success before transforming it, in some unimaginable fashion, into cursed failure. If there exists an NFL...
  • Starr Gazing: Boston's Latest Legend

    Actually, I haven't a clue what he told him. He might have noted the frigid weather, told him to tuck in his shirttail or perhaps inquired about Jamie Foxx's prospects for the Academy Award. Belichick's and the team's collective reticence assures that we will never know the exact verbal exchange. All we do know is that a few seconds later the Pats proceeded to stuff Bettis, forcing him to cough up the ball. On the very next play, Tom Brady threw a 60-yard touchdown bomb and New England was headed to the Super Bowl.The word "genius" has been tossed around the NFL far too often in describing the game of X's and O's that is modern pro football. Nevertheless, there is a sense around the league--and increasingly among its astute fans--that Belichick is simply operating on a different level than his rivals. Success has, of course, always been the principal determinant of such lofty sentiments. And Belichick certainly has that going for him. If his Pats capture their third Lombardi trophy...
  • Starr Gazing: The Belichick Solution

    But I remain a creature of the '60s, and JFK's siren call to public service and sacrifice still resonates in my soul. So I am prepared, with this transparently brilliant suggestion, to surrender a shot at perhaps the greatest thing known to man, or at least a certain kind of feckless American man of which I am a prime example: the NFL dynasty!Mr. President, I urge you to pluck from our midst here in Boston the greatest Patriot of them all, Bill Belichick, and to appoint him head of our troubled Los Angeles CTU, that Counter-Terrorism Unit portrayed on Fox's hit show "24." I believe that our other great patriot, Jack Bauer, is far more of a team player than he now appears. He's just never had a decent game plan to follow, forcing him into desperate improvisation with decidedly mixed results (drug addiction, torture, murder, suicide mission). Rodney Harrison, the veteran New England Patriots safety, said Belichick's scheme against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts was the most...
  • Starr Gazing: Manning Rules

    Manning not only warranted his second straight MVP award but, at just 28 years of age and after only seven years in the league, would deserve entry into the Hall of Fame even if he retired after this season. He is as fine a pure passer as I've ever witnessed in a distinguished career as a couch potato, one that spans every quarterback this side of Otto Graham.That being said, Manning's record-shattering year--not only the 49 touchdown passes, but the stratospheric quarterback rating--deserves an asterisk almost as prominent as the one that should punctuate Barry Bonds's name in the baseball annals. When the NFL competition committee--with Colts team president Bill Polian a prominent member--chose to neuter defensive backs by changing the rules on pass defense, or at least the enforcement of those rules, the numbers of NFL quarterbacks across the board soared. It's hardly a coincidence that Manning was only one of about 10 NFL starting QBs--including Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb...
  • Starr Gazing: Bring Back the Traditional College-Bowl Format

    With its rout of Oklahoma, USC not only settled what figured to be a contentious debate over the nation's No. 1 ranking, but made it clear that, were they playing again this NFL wild-card weekend, they'd be giving points to all four NFC playoff teams.It's hard not to be happy for a coach, Pete Carroll, who was dismissed by my hometown New England Patriots for, essentially, being too nice a guy. (That's another mistake, his successor, Bill Belichick, has not made.) Still, I kind of lost the thread of the Orange Bowl contest somewhere in the post-Ashlee Simpson hours, though I'm pretty sure Mickey Mouse eventually rushed for more than 100 yards against the Sooners' nothing-but-gaps defense.I've never been an advocate of a college playoff system. I don't like the idea of extending the season any closer to NFL length and keeping those "student athletes" out of the classroom any longer than they already are. Make it a four-team playoff and there will, inevitably, be a fifth team that...
  • Starr Gazing: The Year in Sports

    My editors at NEWSWEEK prefer their writers to be forward thinking. So even with this year-end ritual of looking back at the past year in sports, I did some looking ahead as well. And I can assure you, saving you decades of anxiety, that when I sit down to write the top stories of the 21st century, this year's topper will remain No. 1. That's because I can't even imagine a more extraordinary sports fairy tale than the 2004 Boston Red Sox.I considered making the BoSox numbers one through 10 for 2004--Red Sox Nation, Boston win rare Super Bowl-Series double, Epic Yankee Choke, Who's Your Papi, A-Rod Wears Goat Horns, etc.--but chose to spare you that. Let that notion serve as a reminder, though, that these lists are personal, about as definitive as the Bowl Championship Series rankings. (OK, maybe a little more definitive.)It was an extraordinary year in sports, both for good and bad. Lance Armstrong topped my 2003 list when he won his fifth straight Tour de France and dropped to...
  • ADVANTAGE: BIG TALENT

    When Donald Young was just 10 years old and a ball boy at a seniors tennis tourney, he had a chance to hit a few rallies with John McEnroe. Afterward, impressed by the kid's stunning array of shots, the tennis legend said, "He has hands like another lefty I know very well." Over the past five years, Young has evoked comparisons not only to McEnroe but to most every American star of recent vintage. "I played with Pete Sampras when he was the same age and it's comparable," says Eliot Teltscher, director of tennis operations for the U.S. Tennis Association. "Within three years he should start to do some real damage."The American tennis establishment can't wait. With the sport's appeal on the wane here, it needs the boost that a new, homegrown star can deliver. Moreover, the hope is that Young, an African-American, might attract a new audience, as the Williams sisters did for the women's game. At 14, Young officially turned pro. The unusual decision provoked much criticism in tennis...
  • Q&A: PAUL HAMM

    Paul Hamm won the gold medal twice in the same year--first in Athens with the greatest comeback in gymnastics history, then, two months later, over Korean protests at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. He looks back with Mark Starr.How do you feel as your crazy year ends? ...
  • Starr Gazing: An All Too Kobe Christmas

    On Christmas afternoon, ABC will air a special episode of its hit series "Lost." Only this one will star the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, two teams desperately trying to find their way off an island of their own making. It is the teams' first rematch since they crashed into each other so ignominiously--in the now infamous "basketbrawl"--last month in Detroit, delivering a body blow to a league struggling with its image and reputation.And that's only the tease. Right afterward comes the main event: the Miami Heat versus the L.A. Lakers. That's the NBA's version of Oprah: sure it's a basketball game, but it's about relationships, too. If you can't show "It's a Wonderful Life" all day long, what could evoke more Christmas spirit than Shaq versus Kobe, a modern parable about two rich and famous men who hate each other and can't stop talking about it. All you really need to make this NBA Christmas complete would be Latrell Sprewell in a Santa suit spewing the C word at women...