Also in This Week’s Sports Illustrated: The Meanest Player in MLB, The End of the “Outrage Open” in Flushing, Predictions for the Most Competitive NASCAR Chase Ever and College Football’s Ultimate Underdog

You’ve seen the three covers for this week’s issue, out on newsstands now. The Sept. 19 issue of Sports Illustrated also includes the following.

MLB PLAYERS POLL

Who is the meanest player in baseball? (page 22)

  1. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox C….29%
  2. Chase Utley, Phillies 2B….13%
  3. Milton Bradley, Mariners LF….11%
  4. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs SP….5%
  5. Vicente Padilla, Dodgers RP….4%

[Based on 215 MLB players who responded to SI’s survey]

FAST FACTS: White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has said of his catcher, whose aggressive play has clearly chapped many an opponent, “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.” … In 2006, SI named Utley baseball’s dirtiest player—for his often muddy uniform, not his demeanor…. Since ’06, Padilla has plunked 56 batters, fifth most among all pitchers, and Zambrano has hit 49 (10th)…. In a similar poll, the Indians’ Jim Thome was voted MLB’s nicest player.

Read on for more after the break.

TENNIS: THE OUTRAGE OPEN – S.L. PRICE

At times the 2011 U.S. Open provided great tennis — including Novak Djokovic’s third major win of the year — but it will be remembered for relentless rain (and subsequently unpopular schedule changes), threats of the players unionizing and Serena Williams’s meltdown (again) in the women’s final. Senior writer S.L. Price draws the following parallel to Williams’s behavior and the U.S. Open as a whole (page 72): “Williams and the Open are made for each other. Both are stormy and oblivious and give every indication of not having learned a thing.”

To read the full online version of The Outrage Open, click here.

On the Tablets: A slideshow of the best shots from the U.S. Open fortnight.

NASCAR 2011 CHASE PREVIEW: HOW THEY’LL FINISH – LARS ANDERSON (@LarsAndersonSI)

Senior writer Lars Anderson predicts that Jimmie Johnson will charge to a sixth straight Sprint Cup title. Here’s where Anderson predicts Johnson and the other 11 drivers in the Chase will stand when the final checkered flag flies at Homestead on Nov. 20 (page 85)

  1. Jimmie Johnson
  2. Carl Edwards
  3. Jeff Gordon
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Matt Kenseth
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Kurt Busch
  8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  9. Ryan Newman
  10. Kevin Harvick
  11. Tony Stewart
  12. Denny Hamlin

JUNIOR JOHNSON HAS A LOT TO SAY – LARS ANDERSON (@LarsAndersonSI)

On the eve of the most competitive Chase yet, senior writer Lars Anderson spent time with three of the most famous members of NASCAR’s old guard: Junior Johnson, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. Here are some great quotes from those conversations (page 76):

  • Junior Johnson: “Back in the day you could come to the racetrack and anything could happen. A driver with not that much money could actually win. That’s not the case anymore. You can almost predict before the race the seven or eight drivers who actually have a chance to win. But I’ll tell you what: I think the Chase this year is as wide-open as it’s ever been. This year, you actually can’t predict who will win, and that’s good for NASCAR.”
  • Richard Petty: “You don’t see action on the track anymore…. Once you bump a guy out of the way and get past him, the guy you moved usually can’t get back to you. We didn’t have that problem, which I think is a good problem not to have. But that’s why track position now is so important in the sport, which means pit stops and qualifying are critical if you’re going to win the championship this year.”
  • Bobby Allison: “There’s just too much engineering in the sport. Let the boys drive. And if they feel like it, let the boys really go after each other, both on the track and in the garage. Right now, that ‘Boys, Have At It’ thing that NASCAR announced [in 2010] has just turned out to be a p.r. move, nothing more.”

To read the full online version of Junior Johnson Has a Lot to Say, click here.

On the Tablets: Highlights of Junior Johnson and Richard Petty in the 1960 Daytona 500.

VANDERBILT FOOTBALL: ULTIMATE UNDERDOG – MICHAEL ROSENBERG (@Rosenberg_Mike)

Winning SEC football games at Vanderbilt may be the toughest task in any major American sport. As former Commodores safety and NFL Pro Bowler Corey Chavous puts it, “It’s like trying to climb a mountain with a truck on your back.” At SEC Media Days in July, there were 1,050 credentialed reporters; fewer than 10 were there to cover Vandy (page 54).

Yet in 2011 the Commodores are 2–0 in the debut season of coach James Franklin. Franklin has wasted little time since becoming coach last December. The Commodores have the 35th-best 2012 class, according to Rivals.com — unprecedented success for the only private school in the SEC — and Franklin has filled every media request, spoken to every student group imaginable, had his staffers post short promotional videos on YouTube, told his players he loves them and more. Only time will tell how far Franklin’s efforts go in resuscitating the fortunes of the biggest underdog in college football.

To read the full online version of Ultimate Underdog, click here.

On the Tablets: Two YouTube videos of James Franklin psyching up his team.

MAYWEATHER–ORTIZ: STORMY ’WEATHER – CHRIS MANNIX (@ChrisMannixSI)

As he prepares for another tune-up for Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr. faces another feud with his father, felony charges for domestic violence and multiple lawsuits that could cost him tens of millions of dollars. Still, if Mayweather gets by Victor Ortiz on Saturday night, he will continue to tout his superiority and hold the world hostage as it awaits his showdown with Pacquiao. But if he loses, the $50 million payday from that fight will be gone — as will the legend of Money Mayweather (page 68).

As Mayweather’s first opponent in 17 months, Victor Ortiz could be more than Mayweather bargained for. Ortiz is an aggressive, hard-hitting southpaw — like Pacquiao — and in his 24 years has faced far bigger challenges than attaining the WBC welterweight belt. Growing up in Garden City, Kans., Ortiz was neglected and belittled by his mother, Manuela, who eventually left Ortiz and his two siblings when Ortiz was seven. His reaction? “I remember thinking, ‘F—, yeah, that b—- is out of my life. I don’t know if she hated me, but she never wanted to be around me.”

To read the full online version of Stormy ‘Weather, click here.

On the Tablets: A podcast interview with Chris Mannix on the upcoming fight.

POINT AFTER: MORE PERFECT UNIONS – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)

Senior writer Phil Taylor sees nothing wrong with rearranging the college football landscape so that similar programs are grouped together. But he does have suggestions for the criteria that these new conferences could use for their members (page 88):

  • ACC (All-Cheaters Conference): “How about a league that allows all the programs that just can’t seem to follow those pesky NCAA rules to compete exclusively against each other?… Best of all, players would be more likely to stay all in school all four years because, unlike the NFL, the ACC would have no salary cap.”
  • Conference USA (Unusual Scholastic Aptitude): “Schools such as Duke, Northwestern, Rice, Vanderbilt and Stanford should battle each other for something besides Fulbright scholarships.”
  • SEC (Stylish Ensemble Conference): “Teams with similar sartorial senses could form their own union, so fans will know where to go for the latest in football fashion…. The league could even negotiate an exclusive TV contract with Bravo and air the games immediately after Project Runway. Boom — a whole new demographic!”
  • The Big Mouth Conference: “Forget the Big East and Big West. The Big Mouth would draw a ton of media attention because it would be made up of the teams whose coaches [i.e. Steve Spurrier, Joe Paterno] give the best sound bites.”

To read the full online version of More Perfect Unions, click here.

SCORECARD: UP IN THE AIR – MICHAEL FARBER

Disturbingly, the Sept. 7 crash that killed 36 people from the KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is practically a standing headline in Russia. It marked the eighth fatal accident in the country in 2011 and the sixth since June — the direct result of a post-Soviet airline industry that suffers from lax oversight, maintenance shortcuts and poor pilot training. It also forced NHL players to confront their worst fears about leaving North America for the easy-money KHL. Says Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk of the situation in his home country (page 17): “You think about every soccer team, hockey team … they won’t want to fly Russian charters anymore. The Russian league has to change something. They have to care about life, not about money.”

To read the full online version of Up in the Air, click here.

THIS WEEK ON THE TABLETS

  • SI Digital Bonus: 0:00 to Go – Gary Cartwright’s Oct. 30, 1995, magazine story on the demise of the Southwest Conference.
  • Wave to the New Guys – An interview with surfer 20-year-old surfer Balaram Stack, who competed in the inaugural Quicksilver Pro New York in his hometown of Long Beach, N.Y.—the sport’s first major competition to be held east of the Mississippi.
  • All “Inside Sports” columns will feature live Truth & Rumors feeds for the first time.

INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS

  • College Football (page 30): California Blues – Despite obvious advantages, UCLA hasn’t been good since the 1990s. Here’s why. (George Dohrmann, @georgedohrmann)
  • MLB (page 34): Cys Matter – In a year of mostly ho-hum pennant races, the three-man chase for the top pitching honor in the NL brings welcome drama to the stretch run. (Joe Sheehan, @joe_sheehan)
  • NFL (page 37): Stand-up Performance – Houston’s new scheme requires Mario Williams to rise up out of his three-point stance and play as a linebacker, a role he’s settling into. (Jim Trotter, @SI_JimTrotter)
    • On the Tablets: Jim Trotter’s Week 2 NFL picks.

THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD: SPECIAL COACHES EDITION (page 27)

  • George Wares (Pella, Iowa/Central College) – Softball
  • Jean Kesterson (Indianapolis/Cathedral High) – Volleyball
  • Bill Haberek (Richmond, R.I./Charilho Regional High) – Track and Field
  • Ruth Lovelace (Brooklyn/Boys and Girls High) – Basketball
  • Frank Bumbales (Coconut Creek, Fla./Coral Springs High) – Baseball
  • Leslie Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood High) – Lacrosse

Follow Faces in the Crowd on Twitter @SI_Faces


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