- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2008

Yeah, I know I’ve been in a wicked writing slump lately, but just to set your mind at ease: While typing this, I’m not pulling a Jason Giambi and wearing a tiger-striped thong.

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Did you read about the minor leaguer who was traded for 10 maple bats? I’m told, though, that the Laredo Broncos, who made the swap for pitcher John Odom, drove a hard bargain. In fact, they threatened to nix the deal if the Calgary Vipers didn’t drop their additional demand for “a resin bag to be named later.”

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The more I look at Tigers manager Jim Leyland — he of the three-packs-a-day cigarette habit — the more I’m convinced he would have made a great Marlboro Man in the movie “Thank You for Smoking.” (A part played by Sam Elliott, possessor of the best voice this side of Yankees P.A. announcer Bob Sheppard.)

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Speaking of the Yankees, they were reportedly much miffed when they heard about a promotion planned for this year’s All-Star Game festivities involving the Red Sox’s David Ortiz … in their own ballyard, no less. But come on, let’s think about this. If you’re going to have the winner of an online contest try to call the shot of a current slugger during the Home Run Derby — a la Babe Ruth in the ‘32 World Series — who better than Ortiz, the universally liked, Round Mound of Round-Trippers?

I mean, who would the Yankees prefer in the role of the Bambino, John Goodman?

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Besides, it’s not like Big Papi has never hit a homer in The Stadium before. A quick check of his stats at baseball-reference.com reveals he has hit 16 of his 276 regular-season dingers there, plus another three in the playoffs — 19 more than Goodman.

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The Nationals’ Lastings Milledge tells Sports Illustrated: “I take every game like it’s my last.”

Milledge also swings at every pitch like it’s his last. That’s why he’s struck out 115 times and walked only 37 in 528 big league ups.

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Elsewhere in baseball, the players okayed tougher drug rules the other day. The biggest change: When a player hits his 50th homer of the season now, he’ll be met at home plate by a lab technician and presented with a specimen cup.

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While we’re on the subject, the Sunday Column couldn’t be happier for Ponce de Jones (aka Chipper), the Braves’ .417-hitting third baseman. After all, if he were doing that in the pre-testing days, we’d be taunting him with renditions of “Take Me Out to the BALCO Game.”

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For the record, Jones is batting .359 since turning 35 last April. Before that, he was a .305 hitter.

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But don’t tell Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens about it. It’ll just give ‘em more ammunition.

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Recommended reading: Steve Marantz’s just-published book on the 1986 Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler bout, “Sorcery at Caesars” ($19.95, Inkwater Press).

(Can it really have been that long ago?)

It was Hagler’s last fight and Leonard’s last great one, and Marantz, erstwhile boxing writer for the Boston Globe, tells the tale in refreshingly understated fashion. No need for hyperbole with these two champions. Steve pulls no punches, either, dealing forthrightly with the drug and marital issues the boxers faced.

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One of my favorite passages:

While the bout was being negotiated, Hagler was hiding out at his mountain getaway in New Hampshire — a place that had no telephone (Marvin preferring “Garbo-like seclusion”).

“When he needed to be consulted,” Marantz writes, “[Manager] Pat Petronelli called Hagler’s neighbor, who relayed the question and called back with an answer.”

Unbeknownst to Hagler’s people, the neighbor “had to run up a mountain to do it,” Marvin’s attorney, Morris Goldings, told Marantz. One day, after he’d had to deliver two or three messages, he told Petronelli, “I hope this is the last question — I’m getting exhausted.”

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Well, we got through an entire week without a famous female athlete opting for early retirement. First Annika Sorenstam, then Justine Henin … Who’ll be next to say she’s run out of gas, Danica Patrick?

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Not that it means anything, but:

Martina Navratilova was a month shy of her 50th birthday when she teamed with Bob Bryan to win the mixed doubles title at the 2006 U.S. Open.

And JoAnne Carner was 53 when she tied for second in the 1992 LPGA Championship (which was played right here at Bethesda Country Club).

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News item: Former NFL journeyman Ross Tucker says the Patriots flouted the rules in 2005, the year he was with them, by letting players on injured reserve practice with the team.

Comment: Boy, it’s open season on the Pats now. Someday soon, I expect, somebody will accuse Richard Seymour of concealing a Foreign Object.

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Rick Neuheisel’s contract as UCLA’s new football coach calls for him to receive a home loan of up to $1.5 million — at a well-below-market rate, too.

There’s only one condition: The house he buys can’t have a pool. After what happened at Washington, the school doesn’t want him associated with any kind of pool.

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Industry observer Todd Gray on the petering out of the golf boom (as quoted by the Des Moines Register): “Private clubs once ruled golf. Ozzie and Harriett wanted to join country clubs. Well, today, Ozzie and Harriett both work and health club memberships are outselling private golf club memberships 50-to-1.”

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Trivia question: Which state has the most golf courses per capita? (Answer below.)

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The Best Jobs in Sports (revised edition):

1. Tiger Woods’ caddy.

2. Zamboni driver.

3. Charles Barkley’s bookie.

(Note: The previous No. 3 had been “Brett Favre’s backup.”)

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(And the No. 3 before that was “Anything Don Zimmer has been hired to do.”)

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Answer to trivia question: Iowa, which has 425 golf courses for its roughly 3 million residents (according to the Iowa Golf Course Association).

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The folks at PF Flyers are reissuing a classic pair of sneakers — 1956 Bob Cousy All-Americans. The sneaks are priced at $60, which I’m pretty sure is what the Cooz’s winning share was when he captured his first NBA title with the Celtics in ‘56-57.

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And finally …

Cousys, of course, will be powered by PF Flyers’ exclusive “flying wedge,” that historic breakthrough in sneaker technology that enables you run and jump like a White Guy from the mid-‘50s.

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