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Friday, April 27
It's official: Youppi! lives!

No one is quite sure how or where the rumor started. But eventually, it swept through spring training like a Polk County brush fire.

It was the end of an era. Youppi! was gone.

OK, we know what many of you are thinking right now. You're thinking: "What the heck is a Youppi!?"

Youppi! has been the Expos' mascot since 1979.

But for those of us in baseball, those of us who have taken in the splendor of baseball at the inimitable Stade Olympique, no one needed to explain what this meant. To some people, maybe Vladimir Guerrerro is baseball in Montreal. To others, maybe Felipe Alou is baseball in Montreal.

To the true insiders, though, Youppi! and only Youppi! was baseball in Montreal.

For 21 years, Youppi's beloved, mostly inexplicable antics were the light that shined on the darkness of Expos baseball. To watch Youppi! motor across the dugout roof and slide into his own home plate was like watching Olivier perform Shakespeare. This, friends, was mascot artistry at its apex.

The Expos media guide described the Youpster as "a youthful prankster possessing good humour, an impish grin and an abundance of energy." Some would say he was to mascots what Ed McMahon was to broadcasting, what Dan Quayle was to politics, what Linda Tripp was to espionage.

But to the true Youppi! aficionado, he was so much more.

"It's a dying breed of mascots," said Phillies outfield-quotesmith Doug Glanville, "that just basically stand there, and a dying breed of mascots where nobody knows how to pronounce its name."

Ah, oui, oui. So when the word spread this spring that the Expos had told Youppi! to Youp on own of town, the sadness that swept the game was a rare combination of overpowering grief and sheer bewilderment.

"What -- are they trying to unAmericanize the game up there?" asked Pirates pitcher Terry Mulholland. "How can you play in that environment without Youppi? Now they have nobody to break up the excitement of the game. Who's going to settle that crowd down now? Who's going to confuse them?"

"It's a big loss to baseball," said Braves reliever Mike Remlinger. "But the biggest loss has to be to the fans up there. Those people really looked forward to seeing him -- all 5,000 of them."

We asked some of the Youppi! lovers we met in our travels if they could even imagine baseball in Montreal without the Youpman.

Wild, wild, wild
Click here for Jayson Stark's Wild Pitches from the past week.

"That," said Astros broadcast-witticist Jim Deshaies, "is like football in America without Jesse Ventura."

"It's like the Yankees without pinstripes," Mulholland suggested. "Like Kentucky Fried Chicken without bagels," Glanville philosophized.

Yes, there was a special magic in the air when Youppi! was around. So without him, a trip to Montreal promised never to be the same.

"When he used to bring his big 50-gallon barrel out and pretend he was playing the drums," Deshaies reminisced, "I mean, I could see that 100 times and still double over."

Oh, not everyone in the ballplaying public seemed to get Youppi's special brand of hilarity. But that was just because they looked at Youppi! all wrong.

"I always took kind of the car-wreck mentality towards Youppi," said Deshaies, whose daughter once danced atop the dugout with Youppi. "It was like, 'It was so bad, it was great.' Know what I mean? So everyone else would be saying, 'Here comes that bleeping guy.' And I was, 'Great. Here comes Youppi!' "

There was always some confusion about his name, of course. Youpping is, after all, a foreign concept to most players. But being the Ivy Leaguer he is, Glanville was pretty sure he'd figured it out.

"Let's see: You-pee," he said. "It's like U of P. I think it's a Penn thing. He had a quiet wisdom, so you think of the University of Pennsylvania. I think he might have been on some sort of spy mission in Canada. His grant probably ran out. They had to call him back. I wish him well."

As great hoaxes in modern history go, it may not rank up there with a 'dead' Paul McCartney wearing no shoes to cross Abbey Road. And it isn't quite Orson Welles staging his invasion of the Martians. But by baseball standards, it doesn't get any bigger than this: Youppi! lives!

"If I only knew how to Youp, I'd Youp in protest," Remlinger said. "Maybe we could hire him to teach us how. Or at least we should all wear orange in protest. Do they make any clothes in orange?"

Well, we were just getting ready to head off on an investigative shopping mission to find that out when word of a stunning new development on the Youppi! front reached us.

Youppi! lives!

"The rumors of Youppi's demise have been greatly exaggerated," Expos media-relations director P.J. Loyello told Week in Review. "He's still around."

Yes, it's true. This was all a big (gasp) hoax.

As great hoaxes in modern history go, it may not rank up there with a "dead" Paul McCartney wearing no shoes to cross Abbey Road.

And it isn't quite Orson Welles staging his invasion of the Martians.

But by baseball standards, it doesn't get any bigger than this:

Youppi! lives!

No one has been able to determine where these reports came from. But they apparently were just another example of wild, unsubstantiated rumors that spread across the uncharted internet landscape, bowling over truth like Anthony Mason careening down the lane.

"Boy," Deshaies said, when the news reached him. "That's kind of ugly. Isn't it? How do we know that this wasn't something maybe the Expos floated, to see how it would fly. You know, they got in trouble for losing Randy Johnson, for losing Pedro Martinez, for losing Larry Walker. I think they just thought, 'If we get rid of Youppi! and bring in some no-name mascot prospects, we'll get hammered.' "

Here at Week in Review, we don't have minds that suspicious. All we know is that whoever was responsible for this dastardly act needs to pay -- and pay big.

"To perpetrate this kind of fraud with an entity of the stature of Youppi is appalling," Glanville said. "It would almost equal spreading a rumor that Big Bird is, in fact, 'not that tall in real life.' Or that Smurfette 'is not a natural blond.' Totally unethical and uncalled for."

Exactly. But as the search goes on for the perpetrators, that's not important now. What's important is the knowledge that Youppi! lives. And the world is a far happier place because he does.

Bobblehead of the week
Certain phenomena in life are impossible to explain. And now we have a new one:

The Power of the Bobblehead.

Don't believe in it? Well, consider this:

Until Jim Thome Bobblehead Day came along last Saturday in Cleveland, the man whose bobbling head was being celebrated had exactly six more hits this season than his bobblehead doll.

He was 6 for 47 for the year (.128). He had more than three times as many strikeouts (19) as hits (6). And he was only hitting .139 against right-handed pitching.

The bobblehead, on the other hand, hadn't made an out all season.

So that explains why, on Jim Thome Bobblehead Day, the Indians' lineup was missing a certain guest of honor himself -- i.e., Mr. Jim Thome.

Ah, but funny things happen when the force of the bobblehead is with you. And even his teammates sensed it.

"We were sitting in the lunch room before the game," reliever Paul Shuey told Week in Review. "And Eddie Taubensee was getting all over Thome. He said, 'This is Jim Thome Bobblehead Day, and you're not in there. What's up with that?'

"And I just said, 'Eddie, Jim's going to come in there in the ninth inning and hit the game-winning home run. And all the bobbleheads in the stands will be bobbing up and down.' "

They all chuckled at the time. But then an amazing thing happened.

It was the ninth inning. No outs. Tigers 3, Indians 3. And who should come stalking up to home plate to pinch hit? None other than Jim Thome.


He promptly took a mighty swing ... and ... hit a ground ball to second base.

Oh well.

"I'm not sure what happened there," Shuey said. "I fully expected him to hit one right then, because I was throwing at the time. I figure because I was in the game, I must have put the mojo on him."

But what do you know -- this game went to overtime. And Thome stayed in the game after pinch-hitting. And two innings later, here he came again. Except this time the situation was even bigger. One out in the 11th. Tigers now leading, 4-3. One runner on. Ace closer Todd Jones on the mound.

No way.


Of course, The Bobblehead Man launched a two-run game-winning bomb into a right-field bleacher section full of bobbing Jim Thome heads.

So tell us you don't believe in the Power of the Bobblehead now.

"He was just laying low," Shuey said, "until they had his bobblehead day."

Afterward, Thome never did compliment Shuey on so brilliantly anticipating the bobblehead forces in the air that day. But the next afternoon, as the Indians were stretching before the game, they made eye contact.

"I looked over," Shuey reported, "and just started bobbing my head up and down."

After that performance, we predict many bobblehead days in the future at the Jake.

"I'm looking for Juan Gonzalez Bobblehead Day next," Shuey said. "But let's hold him off till later, when we really need it."

Historians of the week
Babe Ruth. Rickey Henderson.

Who ever thought you'd see those two names linked by one historic column on the all-time stat sheet?

Let's face it. Except for the fact that they both walked a couple thousand times and both played for the Yankees, they had less in common than Rulon Gardner and Pee Wee Herman.

Rickey may have passed the Babe to become the all-time walking champ this week. But as we compare the rest of their careers -- with the help of Week in Review favorite Brian (Last of the 20-Game Losers) Kingman, a former Rickey teammate -- we can see they're not exactly identical walking twins:

  • Babe, of course, ate hot dogs. Rickey, said Kingman, "was a hot dog."

  • Rickey was known for setting the table. Babe, on the other hand, ate everything that was on the table.

  • Babe was the biggest name in sports. Rickey can't remember the names of his own teammates.

  • Babe cast a curse on the Red Sox after they sold him to the Yankees. When Rickey leaves a team, Kingman said, "his curse is lifted."

  • Rickey made history for stealing bases. Babe was sent to reform school for stealing candy.

  • Babe was famed for playing cards on trains. Rickey was roasted for playing cards during a playoff game.

  • Babe was known for his famous called shot. Rickey, on the other hand, predicted he would steal 100 bases, Kingman reminisced, "then called everybody he knew and told them about it."

  • Babe once missed several games because of a "bellyache." Rickey was released by the Mets because of "belly-aching."

  • Babe walked 2,000 times "because the pitchers were scared bleepless of him," Kingman said. Rickey walked 2,000 times because by the time he got through crouching, his strike zone was smaller than Babe's gut.

  • Babe invented the home-run trot. Rickey was cut loose by the Mets after showing off his home-run trot -- on a single.

  • Babe hit his 60th homer in the House that Ruth Built. Rickey drew his 2,063rd walk in the Stadium Roseanne Barr Sang In.

  • And mostly, Babe was larger than life. Whereas "Rickey's head," said Kingman, "is larger than life."

    Naked truth of the week
    It was last Friday night in Cincinnati. Mets ace Al Leiter was reviewing the worst start of his big-league career (three innings, eight runs).

    Talk turned to the second inning -- an inning in which Leiter gave up six runs.

    "I was scrambling, just trying to get an out," Leiter was saying. "Hit a guy. Base hit. Hit a guy. Base hit. Base hit. Naked guy. Strikeout. Grand slam."

    Uh, wait a second. Roll back that tape. Did he just say, "Naked guy?"

    Well, yeah. Seems that midway through the inning, with the bases loaded with Reds, a guy known as the "Naked Cowboy" sprinted onto the field, stopped in center field and waited to be handcuffed and carted off. Fortunately for all concerned, he was wearing pink underwear, red boots, a hat and an American flag cape.

    But that was about it.

    Two batters later, Barry Larkin thumped one over the fence for the first grand slam of his 6,734-at-bat career. Hmmm. Does he owe it all to the naked guy?

    "It was different," Leiter told Week in Review. "Normally, you get Morganna or somebody like that running out there. You don't usually get a guy doing a chippendale routine."

    Asked which would be better at a moment like that, Leiter thought a moment.

    "Personally," he said, "I think I'd go with Heather Locklear."

    O-fer achievers of the week
    They've been outhomered by Luis Gonzalez. They've been out-trotted by Larry Walker. They've had so much trouble with their spelling, they apparently think there's no "O" in "home run."

    So what's up with the Baltimore Orioles, anyway? A mere five years ago, they hit more home runs in one season (257) than any team in history. Now, almost four weeks into the season, they've got three fewer home runs than Luis Gonzalez (13-10).

    Albert Belle is only two off the team lead -- and he's retired.

    So why can't the Orioles hit home runs anymore? For the answers, we've turned once again to David Hill and Jim Sundra, our favorite Orioles observers from the tremendous Baltimore baseball magazine, Outside Pitch.

    They now present, from the home office inside Babe Ruth's outhouse ...

    The top 10 reasons the Orioles aren't hitting home runs
    10) Opponents won't allow O's batting practice pitcher to start for them.
    9) Civil disobedience: protesting new strike zone by not swinging.
    8) Glare off empty Camden Yards seats proving quite distracting.
    7) Angling for HBO movie: 16*.
    6) Don't want to take unfair lead while McGwire is on DL.
    5) Feel bad about hitting Bud Selig's balls with a bat.
    4) New rule allowing zone defense having disastrous effect.
    3) Fearful that hitting home runs will hurt your asbestos class action suit.
    2) Albert Belle is getting paid $12 million for not hitting homers. Enough said.
    And 1) Fans spend $12 for Boog's Bar-B-Q, you don't want them dropping it trying to catch a ball.

    Jayson Stark is a Senior Writer at ESPN.com. Week in Review appears each Friday.

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