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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lewis handed Hall of Fame honour

Lennox Lewis
Lewis is a three-time world heavyweight title-holder

Britain's former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis will headline the 2009 inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Lewis, 43, retired in 2003 with a record of 41 wins (32 by KO), two defeats and a draw, and enters the Hall in his first year of eligibility.

He said: "To be put in the Hall of Fame is an accomplishment that seals my legacy. It will always be there."

Lewis recently denied speculation that he is planning to make a comeback.

Hall of Fame trainer Emmanuel Steward, a 1996 inductee, said: "Lennox definitely belongs in the top six heavyweights of all-time.

"He would have been a threat to any heavyweight champion in history because of his size, balance and all-around skill. Lennox could do whatever he had to do to win a fight."

Joining Lewis in the Hall of Fame will be American bantamweight champion Orlando Canizales and South African super-featherweight champion Brian Mitchell.

Posthumous honourees are middleweight William Jones, welterweight Billy Smith and middleweight Billy Soose in the Old-Timer category.

Inductees are voted in by members of the Boxing Writers' Association and a panel of international boxing historians.

The 20th Annual Hall of Fame Weekend is scheduled for 11-14 June in Canastota, New York.

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NFL laying off about 150

NEW YORK -- The NFL pays its players billions of dollars a year and fans pack its stadiums every week. But even the deep-pocketed league is shedding jobs.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that the league is cutting more than 10 percent of its staff in response to the downturn in the nation's economy that could put a dent in ticket sales for next season.

Goodell announced the cuts in a memo to league employees. The NFL is eliminating about 150 of its staff of 1,100 in New York, NFL Films in New Jersey, and television and Internet production facilities in Los Angeles.

"These are difficult and painful steps," he wrote in the memo. "But they are necessary in the current economic environment. I would like to be able to report that we are immune to the troubles around us, but we are not. Properly managed, I am confident the NFL will emerge stronger, more efficient and poised to pursue long-term growth opportunities."

The NFL long has been regarded as one of the wealthiest pro sports leagues on the planet. In September, Forbes called the NFL "the richest game" and the "the strongest sport in the world." The league has revenues of approximately $6.5 billion, of which an estimated $4.5 billion goes to players.

But now it joins the NBA, NASCAR teams and the company that runs Major League Baseball's Internet division in announcing layoffs. The NHL hasn't laid off workers, though it is in a hiring freeze, a spokesman said Tuesday.

So far, NFL fans haven't noticed the cutbacks, which also include reduction in travel by some league staff and such secondary costs as printing and minor events. The NFL announced last month that it was reducing the cost of playoff tickets by about 10 percent from last season.

"We're looking at everything with an eye to how we can be more efficient and reduce costs," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

The cuts will take place over the next 60 days, running past the Super Bowl, which will be played Feb. 1 in Tampa. Employees who volunteer to leave will be offered what was termed "a voluntary separation program."

The layoffs are separate from the cuts in front-office and other personnel being made by the 32 individual teams.

Aiello said the NFL still plans to throw parties at the Super Bowl, elaborate events for which the game has long been known. However, local organizers say the companies that regularly host their own parties are watching expenses, scaling back plans and inviting fewer guests.

Goodell said last month in an interview with The Associated Press that the league and its teams could feel the economic slump in sponsorship and marketing.

Ticket sales for this season have been strong and stadiums have been largely sold out. But NFL officials, including Goodell, believe that is because season tickets for this year's games were sold in the spring and summer. The commissioner feared the league and its teams would take a bigger hit when season tickets go on sale next spring for the 2009 season.

"There's no secret on sponsorship, advertising, licensing -- those numbers are going to be impacted by the current climate. We're aware of that," Goodell said in the interview.

"We're still, unfortunately, in the beginning stages of this. And most of our tickets are sold in the spring. And so '09 is going to be more of a barometer of how impactful the economic environment's going to be on the NFL," he said.

In a related development, the NFL has indefinitely suspended plans to play a preseason game in China as the New England Patriots closed their operations there, according to Sports Business Journal. "There has been some belt-tightening given the economy, and one of the things we suspended was our operation there," Patriots spokesman Stacey James said, according to the report. The Patriots, the only NFL team with an on-site presence in China, had been slated to play a preseason game there as early as 2009. That game will not occur, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, according to the report. That decision became "increasingly apparent earlier this year once we locked into having three years of games in the [United Kingdom]," McCarthy said, according to the report.

Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports consulting firm that works extensively with the NFL, says pro football is unlikely to feel the downturn as badly as baseball because it has fewer tickets to sell and still has a guaranteed revenue stream in its national television contracts, which dwarf those of other sports.

But he noted that the league also has fixed costs -- almost 60 percent of its total revenue will be paid to players this year, with an increase next season. Labor costs are one reason the NFL opted out of the labor contract, which will now expire after the 2010 season instead of 2012, as when first negotiated.

"There is uncertainty on ticket sale, revenue pressures on sponsors and a problem with the auto industry, which is their biggest advertiser," Ganis said. "Yet you still have your biggest fixed cost in the players. So there is a real problem there."

In September, the NBA became the first major American sports league to announce layoffs because of the economic downturn when it said it was eliminating about 80 jobs in the United States. Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the company that runs the sport's highly successful Internet division, said Monday that it has laid off about 4.5 percent of its workers. And nearly 70 people have been let go from NASCAR teams recently.

Meanwhile, in Palm Beach, Fla., where the NHL board of governors is meeting, commissioner Gary Bettman said team owners and executives met with an economist from Canadian-based Scotiabank and a banker from JP Morgan Chase & Co. at the league's board of governors meeting Tuesday. After the meeting, Richard Peddie, the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, wryly said the pair of economic advisers was nicknamed "Dr. Doom and Gloom."

"We are very mindful of what's going on and very cautious that we're focused on doing the right things to the extent necessary and people are focusing on costs," Bettman said. "We haven't laid off anybody at the league office, and I'm not -- at least for the immediate future -- planning on even thinking about that."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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A 73-Year-Old Gives Basketball a Second Shot

Shawn Poynter for The New York Times

In the season opener, Ken Mink was greeted by a sign held by his wife that said: “Ken Can, He’s Our Medicare Man.”


JACKSON, Tenn. — Before Sunday’s basketball game, Coach Yogi Woods gathered the junior varsity at Lambuth University. Watch out for 73 on the other team, he said. He did not mean the player’s number. He meant his age.

The visitors, Roane State Community College, had a septuagenarian guard, Ken Mink, college basketball’s oldest player, who has started a second career after his first ended a half century ago with a mysterious shaving-cream incident.

If the 6-foot Mink was good enough to play, he was good enough to be guarded, Woods told the Lambuth players. Then he turned to the freshman Kendrick Coleman and said: “If he goes in for a layup, don’t let him have it. If he scores on you, we will never let you forget it.”

This mixture of curiosity and macho dread has greeted Mink all season at colleges throughout Tennessee. After all, how do you defend a guy whose peers are generally pumping iron to supplement their blood levels, not to build their muscles? On Nov. 3, the junior-varsity coach at King College told one of the Roane players, whom he had coached in high school, “If the old guy scores, we’re walking home.”

Late in that game, Mink entered and found himself open in the corner. He gave a pump fake, and the defender ended up draped over him like raccoon coat. Calmly, he hit both free throws. The Hack-a-Mink strategy had failed.

Shawn Poynter for The New York Times

Ken Mink is writing a book about his season and a rap song for his teammates. He was an editor before taking to the courts again.

“I thought some teams would play along, humor him,” said Randy Nesbit, the coach of Roane State, located in Harriman, Tenn. “No, they’re not like the Washington Generals. They’re like sharks sensing blood.”

At home games, Mink has been a crowd favorite. Attendance, usually about 100 per game, has on occasion swelled to 400. Mink’s wife, Emilia, 68, wore a retro cheerleader outfit to the season opener, complete with saddle shoes and a poodle skirt. She held up a sign that said, “Ken Can, He’s Our Medicare Man.”

No one has been happier than the guy who runs the Roane concession stand.

“He even put a new item on the menu, polish sausage with peppers and onions,” Nesbit said. “It was just plain hotdogs before.”

For a guy Mink’s age, two-a-days are a likely reference to multivitamins, not double practices. But while shooting around in a neighbor’s driveway in the summer of 2007, he realized he still had his shooting stroke. So he sent e-mail messages to eight tiny colleges near his home in Knoxville, Tenn. Perhaps a small school could use a guy with an old-school push shot.

“You do realize you’re 72?” Emilia Mink asked her husband. “Do you think you can convince someone you’re not?”

Nesbit, the Roane coach, grew intrigued. A former point guard and coach at The Citadel, he kept himself in terrific shape at 50. He was curious about the possibilities of athletic performance at an age when Gatorade has been replaced as the sports drink of choice by Metamucil. Still, he wanted to meet Mink before offering him a spot on the team.

“I think he wanted to make sure Ken wasn’t out on a weekend pass,” Emilia Mink said.

Ken Mink told Nesbit a story of unfinished business: he had played at Lees College in Jackson, Ky., only to be expelled from the then-Presbyterian school in 1956 as his sophomore season began. His crime? Mink said he was accused of soaping the coach’s office with shaving cream, slathering the lights and even the coach’s shoes.

He denied it. “I don’t even shave,” he said he told the university president. Apparently, his alibi was not as smooth as his baby face.

“It’s been eating at him all these years,” Emilia Mink said. “Ken likes to finish what he started.”

Marcus Mullins, a student manager on that Lees team, said he remembered Mink as a “good, hard-nosed player, a big raw-boned kid.” (“I used to be 6-2,” Mink said.) While he was not certain of the facts, Mullins said, the university president at the time was a stern man who did not tolerate prankish misbehavior.

“I know there was an incident, and suddenly he was gone,” Mullins said of Mink. “I’m sure he’s telling the truth.”

Mink said he joined the Air Force in November 1956 and played regularly in military tournaments for four years. He then went on to a career as a newspaper editor, continuing to play basketball in recreation leagues. Since retiring in 1999, he and his wife said, Mink has kept active by playing golf, walking, hiking, skiing, even hang gliding. He has published a book, “So, You Want Your Kid to be a Sports Superstar,” and along with his wife, edits an online travel magazine.

His hair is gray and thinning, but he does look younger than 73. Still, basketball and school have required adjustments. Spanish gave him more trouble this semester than wind sprints, so he replaced it with sociology.

“I’m threatening a 3.0,” he said.

By that, he meant his grade point average. He would kill for that to be his scoring average.

His goal is to score in double digits. Not for each game. For the season. With the holiday break approaching, Mink is 8 points short.

“His productivity has dropped since he shaved his mustache,” Nesbit said.

Still, there is a half-season remaining. Mink travels with his teammates in a vehicle the size of a rental-car bus, taking his own room on the road, receiving scraps of playing time during blowouts. He is writing a book about his season and a rap song for his teammates.

On one hand, his teammates admire the audacity of his effort. “Most 73-year-olds are using walkers,” forward Keith Bauer said. On the other hand, they do not spare him the tart wit of the locker room. When Mink joked that he had friends in high places, guard Philip Helton shot back, “Where, heaven?”

Mink has a nice shooting touch, and he can use his left hand around the basket, but it is the commonness of his talent, not the rarity, that makes him such an inspiring story, Nesbit said.

“He’s not a freak of nature beating Father Time,” Nesbit said. “There’s no special diet. People pull for him because he looks like a 73-year-old man. If people stay active and healthy, a lot could do what he’s doing.”

Sunday, after Roane’s lead had grown to double digits against Lambuth, Mink entered the game with 39.5 seconds remaining. He dribbled against pressure but did not take a shot before the buzzer sounded.

“At least, I didn’t turn the ball over,” he said.

There was no time to celebrate. The players piled in their bus for a long ride home. Final exams would begin in the morning. Earlier this season, teammates invited Mink to a party at a player’s apartment. He asked his wife for permission to attend, and she said no, according to Nesbit. It was just as well.

“If he starts breaking training, it’s all downhill,” Nesbit said.

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Santo: Hall veterans' vote needs change

LAS VEGAS -- Ron Santo, who fell nine votes short of election by the Veterans Committee to the Baseball Hall of Fame, said the process needs to change after the committee failed to elect a new member for the fourth straight time.

ESPN Radio

Appearing on The Waddle & Silvy Show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago, former Cub Ron Santo says he thought this was going to be his year to go into the Hall of Fame. He asks why there's a veteran's committee if it never lets anyone into the Hall. Listen
The Veterans Committee, a 64-member panel made up exclusively of all living Hall of Fame players, votes every other year on players from 1943 and after. Santo, who spent 14 of his 15 seasons with the Chicago Cubs and is a longtime broadcaster for the team, led the voting with 39 votes, or 61 percent, but needed to be on 75 percent of the ballots to be voted into the hall.

''It's a travesty,'' Santo said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. ''When I saw nobody got in again, I go, 'Whoa, this is wrong.' They can't keep going the way they're going. They've got to put a [different] committee out there.''

"It'll be eight years now that they've voted and not let anybody in. And personally, I feel like there's a lot of guys that should've been in, not just me," Santo said, according to the Chicago Tribune. However, Hall of Fame chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark noted that the goal of the two-stage veterans' process is not to elect someone every time they vote, according to the Sun-Times. ''The process was not redesigned with the goal of necessarily electing someone, but to give everyone on the ballot a very fair chance of earning election through a ballot of their peers,'' Clark said, according to the report. Santo was an All-Star nine times. He finished his career with 342 home runs, 1,331 RBIs, a .277 lifetime batting average and five Gold Gloves. While the post-1943 committee did not elect anyone to the hall, a smaller panel of just 12 members voting on players from 1942 and before did add a member to Cooperstown: New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians second baseman Joe Gordon.

"They have to change it," Santo said, according to the Tribune. "They're going to still have a Veterans Committee, but it should go back to where it was [in the '90s] when Bill Mazeroski got in. I think they should have a committee of maybe 12 guys that vote, that's the way to do it.

"Evaluate everyone, but instead of having all the [Hall of Fame] players vote, maybe just a couple players, a couple broadcasters, a couple writers -- a much smaller group. That's how [Joe] Gordon got in."

Santo said his life would not change because he's not in the Hall of Fame -- but he still believes he belongs in Cooperstown.

''Getting in or not getting in is not going to change my life at all. I'm going to be me, and that's it," Santo said, according to the Sun-Times. "But I feel I deserve this. I put up Hall of Fame numbers during the greatest era of baseball for pitchers, and I played with diabetes. Only diabetics can know what I went through. It would have just been satisfying [to be elected].''

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A Tribute To The Professor

Yesterday at the Winter Meetings, Greg Maddux officially announced his retirement from the sport of baseball. In his storied, incredible career, Maddux put up numbers that would make most people think he’s the greatest pitcher ever. Whether or not you believe so I’ll leave as an open-ended debate question, but one thing is for sure, I never got more enjoyment out of watching the Braves than when Greg Maddux had the ball. Here’s some numbers that illustrate how great his career was.

The Professor: working quickly and efficiently as always.

2: Number of unanimous Cy Young awards Maddux won.

4: Number of NL ERA titles Maddux won. Since the dead-ball era, only Sandy Koufax has won more NL
ERA titles with 5. This is also the number of consecutive Cy Young awards he won from 1992-1995, something nobody else has done and probably will ever do.

11: Seasons with the Braves as the staff ace. The Braves won their division every one of these years. (except 1994, strike year). He also won a division title with the Cubs in 1989 and with the Dodgers in 2008.

17: Number of consecutive seasons he won at LEAST 15 games. Unparalleled by any other pitcher.

23: Number of years Maddux’s career spanned.

78: Number of pitches it took Greg Maddux to complete a game on July 22, 1997.

6: Number of complete games Greg Maddux pitched using fewer than 90 pitches. Probably why he was regarded as the best teammate of all time. His unselfishness didn’t regard strikeouts as something he coveted. He’d rather use his defense, work quickly, and help his team win the game than glorify his personal stats.

355: Number of career wins. 2nd highest total since the dead-ball era. Another Braves’ pitcher, Warren Spahn, holds the highest total since the dead ball era at only 8 more, 363.

999: Number of walks he issued in his career, that’s an average of 43 a season or 1.8/9 innings. This is probably why he’s regarded as the best control pitcher of all time.

3371: Number of batters Maddux struck out in his career. This ranks 10th all time. Funny thing, he was never regarded as a strike-out pitcher.

153,845,000: Amount of money Maddux has earned in his career. Highest total for a player that didn’t play for the Yankees, Red Sox, or whose name doesn’t rhyme with “Arry Bonds”. However much he made, it doesn’t seem like enough for 355 career wins.

100: Percent of the Hall of Fame vote he should get in 2014.

Seeing Greg Maddux go is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in the Baseball world. I don’t care if he’s old, I still got extremely excited when I saw Maddux pitch in the post-season this past year. Maddux should break Tom Seaver’s record of highest voting percentage for the Hall of Fame and he should go in there with a Braves’ jersey. Here’s to you, Professor. For providing unlimited entertainment and joy to this Braves’ fan. Cheers, may you enjoy retirement more than MLB hitters will enjoy not having to face you.

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