It wasn't a luckless streak to rival that of the Chicago Cubs or the Boston Red Sox. Nonetheless, it was frustrating.
For 12 summers, members of the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED softball team have gathered in Central Park every Wednesday afternoon to battle other journalists on the diamond. But since winning the New York Press League championship in 1990, the SI team hadn't been very good. It seemed that although many of the players covered sports for a living, they often played as if they had never seen a game. The nadir was 1993, when SI came in last, with a 3-12 record. Our team wasn't much better the following year—it went 5-10. Call it our personal SI jinx.
But this summer, with the addition of some talented new staffers and a boost from several nonstaffers (Larry Fine, a Reuters sports editor and a former member of the now-defunct combined SI/UPI team; Val Frye, a former SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOR KIDS production coordinator; Fran Fitzgerald, an imaging specialist at our sister publication, PEOPLE, and Don Parsons, a Time Inc. software projects manager), SI got off to a 7-2 start that led to big things.
Fitzgerald led the team with three homers, including a titanic, game-winning grand slam during a June game against New York City's ABC-TV affiliate, WABC. Assistant photo editor and third baseman George Washington batted .452 for the regular season and drove in a team-high 14 runs. The defense, which had been out of synch in recent seasons, suddenly clicked when rookie reporter Teddy Greenstein was inserted as a fifth infielder, behind second base. "I had almost forgotten what it feels like to win," says SI deputy picture editor and veteran outfielder Steve (no relation to Larry) Fine of SI's early success.
Team manager Doug Goodman, who moonlights as news bureau chief, insisted that the nonstaffers weren't ringers. Besides being occasional SI readers, Goodman says, "almost all of them are members of the press." He acknowledged that chief of reporters Stefanie Krasnow's recent hiring decisions had turned out to be "excellent recruiting" but denied rumors that he had asked her to include a question about batting average on employment applications.
Although it slumped toward the end of the regular season and finished 9-6, SI regained its form in the league's single-elimination postseason tournament, defeating the CBS This Morning team 11-3 and the New York Post 4-1 to earn a berth in the finals against defending league champion WABC. The highlights of SI's 4-2 victory in the title game were a two-run homer in the second inning by Parsons, the spectacular pitching of ace Larry Fine, stingy defense and the tribute to Mickey Mantle by infielder and photo researcher Mitch Howard, who wore a black number 7 on his jersey. Said Howard, "I was praying to the Mick the whole time out there."
An elated Greenstein said, "Now I can die in peace."
And so, we hope, can the SI softball jinx.