- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2000

We suppose this had to happen dept.: Pretty soon those sisterly tennis dolls, Venus and Serena Williams, will be represented by real, unlive dolls.

Play Along, the toy company that brought us the Britney Spears doll, plans to market look-alikes of the ball-bashing siblings. Said company president Jay Foreman: "The Williams sisters are, without a doubt, the most popular and exciting female athletes in the world today."

He might get an argument from more than a few Anna Kournikova fans.

The dolls will stand 11 and 1/2 inches tall and come with tennis rackets, a ball and a special collector's card. The dolls, expected to be on the shelves for the holiday season, will be sold separately for $19.95 or together for $39.95. And we certainly trust Richard Williams, the players' oft-obnoxious daddy, will be nowhere in sight.

"At first I thought it was a little bit vain to have a doll," Venus said. "But once I saw them, I thought they were really cute. It's going to be a lot of fun."

And give Venus credit for coming up with a pretty good one-liner. Asked if the doll will be an action figure, she replied, "I guess it will have to be it will hit an ace every time."

Shuler gets message

News item: Heath Shuler returns to the University of Tennessee campus to try to finish a year's worth of classes so that he can graduate with a degree in psychology.

Comment: You mean he's finally realized he wasn't cut out to be an NFL quarterback?

That .400 Hurdle

It's anybody's guess whether Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton can hang in there and hit .400 this season, but Clint Hurdle might make a better guess than most other folks.

Many comparisons have been drawn between Helton and Hall of Famer George Brett, who settled for .390 with the Kansas City Royals in 1980 after being over the magic mark as late as Aug. 22.

Hurdle, now the Colorado Rockies' hitting coach, was Brett's teammate in 1980. Says he: "Both of them have the ability to drive the ball from line to line [and do] whatever is asked of them to help the team win. They have the ability to have the focus and concentration to just hit the ball hard somewhere and to not get caught up in any of the periphery, any of the external environment. They just try to play the game [according] to what the situations are dictating."

Brett struck out 22 times in 1980. Comparatively speaking, Helton is somewhat a free swinger.

"You never saw George swing at as many balls outside the strike zone as Todd will," Hurdle said. "Todd has the ability to get on a high fastball and to turn on some balls that are more than a little off the plate. At times, Todd's more of a slasher."

So, Clint, will Helton finish as baseball's first .400 hitter since Teddy Ballgame in 1941?

Surprise, surprise: Clint isn't saying.

Stan's the man, at last

St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial will become the first sports figure to be inducted into the 18-year-old Hall of Famous Missourians. He'll join 22 others including Harry Truman, Walter Cronkite, Mark Twain, George Washington Carver and Walt Disney in a ceremony Sept. 12.

And now a pertinent question for the good people who run the Hall: Why did it take nearly two decades to get around to Stan the Man? None of the other inductees, it should be noted, swung from a crouch described as "a little kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops are coming." Or batted .331 lifetime.

Covering Tiger's tracks

So you thought Tiger Woods already had done everything a guy can do with a stick in his hands? How about this new feat, if anybody cares: He bumped football off the cover of Sports Illustrated's annual NFL preview issue.

Woods, who beat Bob May in a three-hole playoff to win the PGA Championship last weekend, graces the front of the magazine's current number. It marks the first time in the 44 years SI has published an NFL preview that a non-football image has been on the cover.

And if you're counting, Tiger has been SI's cover boy nine times already. Michael Jordan, with 47 covers, is the all-time champ.

Eminently quotable

Toronto Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado, on why he often communes with fans during games: "Why wouldn't I talk to them? … You have a lot of time between pitches and innings when there's really nothing to think about. If you start thinking about the game and breaking it down too much, you tend to make it a lot more complicated than it actually is." …

LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, 43, about her competitive future: "My dad always says that 45 years old is when you hit the ball the furthest. I'm looking forward to that." …

Italian soccer star Roberto Baggio, on why he has turned down several offers to play abroad: "I can't sell myself for pocket change." …

Manager Tony La Russa, on the lengthy absence of Mark McGwire in the lineup of the first-place St. Louis Cardinals: "You have to pay your respects to Mark McGwire. There's nobody like him, so there's no way that you're better without him. But when he's not playing, we still have to win. And the fact is, we've been hanging in there."

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