MLB teams aren’t the biggest fans of Mark Appel right now writes senior writer George Dohrmann in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. That’s because Stanford pitcher scorned the Pittsburgh Pirates’ $3.8 million offer last summer following the draft, raising the eyebrows of MLB front offices as he decided to return to Palo Alto. Appel feels he was in the right about his choice, despite the criticism.
“When I made the decision, people looked at the money. I also factored in that I would get to be here at Stanford, which is like home, for another year and I would get another chance to help my team get to [the College World Series], and I would get my degree.” (PAGE 28)
Many still believe Appel is being used by super agent Scott Boras as a protest against new draft rules. In the new draft, each draft slot has a limit on signing bonuses and it slowly declines the further it goes down, lessening the power of big market teams at the end of the draft. Small market teams at the top of the draft were scared to deal with Boras. Some believe that when the agent didn’t get the price he wanted from the Pirates, his client pulled out. Now, Appel is hoping to erase a disappointing junior season that included a four-inning, seven-run debacle against Florida State in the CWS, but others think he may just fall further in the upcoming draft without the leverage of returning to college.
“People dwell on the decision because it’s an odd decision in their minds. But I have moved on. In my eyes it has already been a wonderful year, full of memories I’ve created and memories I hope to still create with my teammates. I’m not going to determine if it was good decision based on money.” (PAGE 31
Also, the Way Too Early Top 2013 Draft Prospects by Albert Chen:
- Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford
- Ryne Stanek, RHP, Arkansas
- Austin Meadows, CF, Grayson (Ga.) HS
- Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana State
- Kohl Stewart, RHP, St. Pius X (Houston) HS
- Clint Frazier, OF, Loganville (Ga.) HS
- Kris Bryant, 3B, San Diego
- Jonathon Crawford, RHP, Florida
- Austin Wilson, OF, Stanford
- Trey Ball, OF/LHP, New Castle (Ind.) HS
Founded in 1989 by megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger and confidant Jim Lorimer, the Arnold Classic has exploded from an elite bodybuilding competition into a four-day spectacle in Columbus, Ohio, that draws 175,000 attendees and 18,000 athletes from 81 nations. SI Contributor Jeff Pearlman (@jeffpearlman) immersed himself into the Mecca of Muscle, speaking with the juiced up vendors and visitors. He even sampled the powders, pills, drinks and other substances that were widely available.
“Arnold attendees are not interested in the types of power that move markets and mold the masses. Their pursuits are more personal, and the rewards they seek are more tangible. According to seemingly every salesperson at every table, physical immortality is merely a beverage, a cream, a power bar, a pill away,” Pearlman writes. (PAGE 61)
Pearlman saw guys with tree trunk thighs and girls who roam the floor in scantily-clad attire to show off their tone — the people who “wait on winding 2½-hour lines to receive a free 20% Guatemalan-knit cotton T-shirt, a small bundle of pills and a coupon for GNC.” (PAGE 61)
Of course, Schwarzenegger himself makes an appearance, and the guests treat him as “the man who put bodybuilding on the map” instead of the over-the-top action star and failed governor.
“Arnold is a god here. Everyone knows he’s a politician and a movie star. But to us he’s an icon who can do no wrong,” says guest Ron Waterman, a former WWE wrestler who was peddling a fitness product.
Visit si.com/mag for more photos from the Arnold Sports Festival.
In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Peter King reports from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis (PAGES 24-27), where he scouted the new kinds of players at critical positions that executives are looking for in this year’s draft. King believes the following evolving positions are the most essential:
- The athletic offensive tackle: With quarterbacks varying between pocket and mobile in today’s NFL, an athletic offensive tackle that can fend off both heavier ends and speed-rushers is needed in an offense. Think Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, who could very well be the #1 pick to Kansas City.
- The three-down middle linebacker: Even with Ray Lewis departing the NFL, his style of linebacker play (sideline-to-sideline, every down playmaker) is as important as ever in the league. Alec Ogletree of Georgia best fits the mold, as he can rush the quarterback, chase down receivers and easily latch on to running backs.
- The physical corner who can run with speed guys: Corners that can bump at the line are in demand in the NFL as quarterbacks sit in the pocket longer, waiting for the play to develop. They still have to hang with speed receivers once the play opens up, however, and Xavier Rhodes of Florida State, who bumps “like a five-year NFL vet” is the guy in this year’s draft.
When senior writer Chris Ballard first planned a basketball road trip through the Pacific Northwest, he expected depression, anguish and hopelessness along basketball’s so-called “Trail of Tears.” Once he started his journey to the five basketball destinations along I-5 (Portland, Oakland, Sacramento, Seattle and Vancouver), Ballard was pleasantly surprised at the vibrant fanhood for basketball in each city and the culture that emanated around the current or former teams.
“From the darkness came light: in Portland, in the form of a fearless rookie point guard; in Seattle, through two rich guys intent on airlifting in a team; and most shocking perhaps, in Oakland, where a spindly guard and an awkward power forward led the Warriors somewhere they hadn’t been in ages – far above .500.” (PAGE 57)
Here’s a brief look at Ballard’s stops in each city:
- Golden State – One of the surprises of the NBA Season so far, the Warriors stand in 2nd place in the Pacific Division, led by gangly shooter Stephen Curry and the somewhat goofy David Lee (their first All-Star since 1997.) The reception from the consistently supportive fans, despite the team’s history of struggles, is almost overly optimistic as they hold out hope for a possible homecourt series in the NBA Playoffs.
- Sacramento – Ballard expects Sacramento to be the place where “hope goes to die” with the Kings almost imminent departure to Seattle developing before their fans’ eyes, led by the unpopular team owners Joe and Gavin Maloof. Ballard comes away impressed by the die-hard fans, the “white-haired guys in Purple Reign T-shirts crowding the court before warm-ups.” Hope remains, shown through HereWeStay and HereWeBuild campaigns and former NBA player and current mayor Kevin Johnson’s backing of the team, but the outlook seems bleak.
- Portland – An arrival in Portland immediately begins with questions about “The Curse” – injuries ruining the careers of the immensely talented Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Brandon Roy and Greg Oden. It’s hard for current Blazers to ignore it, with LaMarcus Aldridge refusing to be announced as a center, the most cursed Blazer position. This year’s Blazers are different, though, and the hip town is crooning over star rookie guard Damian Lillard, a much-needed star at guard rather than a big man the team has always gone after fruitlessly.
- Seattle – “To be in Seattle these days is to feel a surge of green-and-yellow enthusiasm.” Former Sonic star Shawn Kemp owns a popular restaurant and is a stalwart leader in building support for the possible return of Seattle’s former team. Some Sonics fans find themselves conflicted, as they watch former Sonic rookie Kevin Durant dominate in Oklahoma City.
- Vancouver – Ballard crosses over the Canadian border to check out the lost home of the now Memphis Grizzlies. Although there isn’t much left in Vancouver to memorialize the Grizzlies (unlike Seattle, with all its green-and-yellow banners and posters), Ballard finds die-hards that still root for the Griz and ponder the what-ifs of what could have happened (What if Steve Nash had played in Vancouver? What if they had the first pick in the draft in their expansion year?)
Years after he last took the court, Michael Jordan is still a major presence in sports culture. To celebrate the iconic superstar’s 50th birthday, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has placed Jordan on its February 18th cover for a record 50th time. In this week’s issue, Senior writer Phil Taylor (@SI_PhilTaylor) looks at Jordan’s lasting effect on basketball, and sports in general, and examines his recent stint as a basketball executive for the Charlotte Bobcats.
“Depending on your generation, realizing that His Airness is now eligible for senior discounts is like the first time you heard the Rolling Stones on an oldies station or saw Winona Ryder playing someone’s mom,” Taylor writes. (PAGE 36)
Jordan, who built his own brand and spoiled us with his heroic performances, now spends his days at his $12.4 million mansion in Jupiter, Fla., or his $3.2 million condo in downtown Charlotte. Taylor notes that Jordan still golfs and runs steakhouses, all while floundering as an executive for the Bobcats (Their .106 winning percentage last season was the worst in NBA History). However, players, and the general public, still want to be like Mike. Taylor says:
“How many times have we heard someone’s mastery by describing him as ‘the Michael Jordan’ of their field?” (PAGE 39)
As time goes on, should we look at Jordan in the same light as he appears more vulnerable? Taylor writes, “no one aspires to be the Michael Jordan of team owners.” (PAGE 40)
As with all media requests from Sports Illustrated since the beginning of his basketball hiatus, Jordan refused to be interviewed by the magazine. With the cloud of mystery, it’s almost impossible to know if the competitive fire is still within Jordan like it used to be. Taylor concludes:
“Happy birthday, Michael. As you blow out your candles, our wish for you is that something inside still burns. (PAGE 42)”
(In addition to Taylor’s feature essay, some of SI’s most esteemed writers wrote about their Jordan memories. S.L. Price, Alexander Wolff (@alexanderwolff) and Jack McCallum (@McCallum12) offer their experiences covering MJ, from his days at North Carolina until late into his career.)
Also in the issue: All 50 MJ covers; 50 reasons we’ll never forget him; and the perfect 50 dunk that sealed his legend.