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The Thing
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Is the Rick Ankiel Watch a guarantee of failure?

This probably isn't a Nightline topic, or something as important as why NASCAR doesn't make their walls with just a skoosh more give, but it still might stand for something bigger than the moment in which it exists.

Ankiel threw off the mound this week and the world learned every sordid detail of it. He was wild and mechanically unsound. In all, he was just about what we saw last time around, and that's not good. Not to pretend to be Johnny Ombudsman, but here's a question: What if everybody left him alone? What if nobody but coaches and catchers watched his bullpen sessions? What if Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan took him to a local high school field tomorrow evening and let him throw off a cloddy mound in near-darkness? Would it make a difference? Don't think La Russa hasn't thought about it, or already done it. If nothing else, it would make a good case study.

Because the way it seems to be shaping up, Ankiel has no chance. If every time he plays catch with a teammate there are 10 reporters standing there with location charts, then Ankiel is fighting more than his arm and his head. He's fighting something bigger, something out of his control. He's fighting the idea that everybody is waiting for him to fail, which is a stronger force than a fear of failure on its own merits.

Eventually, of course, he's going to have to face the bright lights of the big city, because you can't just call the Mets on a Tuesday morning and say hey, we decided the game's in a half-hour.

But these are hypotheticals for a hypothetical world. They call this thing Ankiel is fighting The Thing, and we might be watching the surest way to make sure it continues to resist both definition and cure.

This Week's List

Next week in Media Today: Guest host Rudy Martzke weighs in on the annoying use of the pluperfect tense on "World's Strongest Man" telecasts.

Yet another dream of a gullible youth dashed: I'm starting to believe, grudgingly, that He Hate Me is more of a promotional gimmick than he is a potential football superstar.

On the other hand, when owners use the words "fiscal responsibility" and "small-market" in the same sentence, they will receive no-money-down and low, low financing on select used cars: Bud Selig reportedly will fine owners $1 million for speaking about baseball's labor issues.

All those scores in the paper were wrong, especially that embarrassing one that showed us losing to Oregon State: USC coach Henry Bibby, whose underachieving team hasn't missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity all season long, has forbidden his players from talking to the media.

March Madness means one thing: Zags.

Hint -- not Mark Madsen or Rick Fox: When Shaq said, "That's the way we should play every night," after the Lakers beat the Spurs on Wednesday night, guess who was out of the lineup with an injury?

It's almost enough to make you take back every unkind word you've ever said about Jerry Glanville: XFL announcer Jim Ross.

One reason you can see the steam coming out of Brian Sabean's ears from Vegas to El Paso: Barry Bonds, complaining.

Then again: What did you expect?

One reason Gary Sheffield is speaking only for himself: Some of us would be very, very happy with "just $3 million more than Carlos Perez."

About as shocking as tuning into Comedy Central mid-day seeing an old Saturday Night Live: Juan Gonzalez was hurt in his first workout with the Indians.

Of all things: Donyell Marshall.

The other 40 percent play in Utah: Charles Oakley told the New York Post that he believes 60 percent of NBA players regularly smoke marijuana, and many of them play high.

When college crowds storm the court after mediocre -- or even important -- wins, they're forgetting an important rule: Once everybody starts doing it, it stops being cool.

The locker room sound bytes from halftime of the XFL games prove what we always suspected about football players and coaches: No matter the league -- they don't have anything to say.

A brief and entirely subjective recap of incisive remarks caught on tape at halftime of XFL games: 1) Lineman shouting, "Who wants it more?"; 2) Coach shouting, "We're going to run it down their throats, OK?"; 3) Player shouting, "Now's the time! Now's the time!"

Why USA Today remains the quintessential window into the desolate American soul: "Can You Haiku? Write three lines about Ricky Martin for the chance to win a prize" -- part of the critically acclaimed "Daily Celebrity Haiku" series.

Come to think of it -- "Daily Athlete Haiku, with special guest star Gary Sheffield:

Nine million ain't s---
The whole world knows I can hit
Send my ass back East

As part of our own ongoing series, we present a foray into the positive by listing a few lesser-known NBA players who are really fun to watch: Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Andre Miller, Steve Nash, Eddie Robinson and Bobby Jackson.

And finally, who's on the bubble?: We're all on the bubble, every last one of us.

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail tim.keown@espnmag.com.



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