The collection of cauliflower ears and crooked noses that congregated last week in Manhattan's Swann Galleries had come not to box, but to bid. The objects of their desire were fight-related books, photographs, posters and ephemera, most from the collection of Nat Fleischer, founder and longtime editor of The Ring magazine, who died in 1972. Baseball still reigns as champ in the field of sport collectibles, but as the items at left demonstrate, boxing is fighting its way up.
Meet the New Boss
When he purchased a controlling interest in the Southern Minny Stars, a Class A baseball team in Austin, Minn., last week, Chad Yale achieved a lifelong dream—at age 19. "I've always been a big sports fan and wanted to be involved in something more professional than we have here," says Yale, who was raised and still lives in Burlington, a small town in North Dakota, and a 15-hour drive from the nearest major league city, Minneapolis. After having fought back from a horrific injury that almost cost him his life, Yale should find being the youngest owner of a professional sports franchise relatively easy.
In February 1994 Chad was severely burned when a Canadian Pacific Railroad freight train jumped the tracks in the middle of the night just 50 yards from his family's house. He was the first one outside and immediately went to his car to switch on the headlights to illuminate the crash scene. "That's the last thing I remember," he says. One of the derailed cars was a tanker carrying propane; while Chad was in his front yard heading for his car, the tanker exploded. His parents and brother, who had left the house seconds after Chad, escaped with minor injuries, but Chad suffered third-degree burns over 90% of his body. Doctors gave him a 1% chance of survival. Though his right arm had to be amputated, Chad recovered during an eight-month stay at the St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center burn unit and in the spring of '95 graduated with his high school class.
Last July the Yale family reached an out-of-court settlement with Canadian Pacific. The terms were not disclosed, but they were sufficient for Chad to put up $90,000 to buy his piece of Southern Minny. (The Stars are valued at $250,000.) During his stay at Ramsey Medical Center, Chad met former Atlanta Braves catcher Greg Olson, who at the time was playing and coaching for the independent Minneapolis Loons of the Prairie League. They became friends—Olson spoke at Chad's high school graduation—and in December 1995 Yale bought a 5% share of Olson's team, which by that time had moved to Austin and become the Southern Minny Stars. After the Stars went 34-45 last season, Southern Minny's two controlling owners pulled out, and Olson, himself a part owner and the team's general manager, offered their stock to Yale. "It was pretty much a no-brainer," Yale says of his jump into sports ownership.
Yale's acquisition is just one of his ventures as a burgeoning businessman. For the next few months he'll be busy overseeing the construction of a 38,000-square-foot sports, recreation and restaurant complex in Minot, N.Dak., that he hopes to open by next October. Yale will make the 14-hour drive from Burlington to Austin for the Stars' opening series this season but has no plans to immerse himself in Southern Minny's baseball decisions. "Greg's been around baseball for a while," he says. "So I'll just go along with what he decides."
High Marks for Marko
International basketball's elite new EuroLeague staged its first EuroStars weekend in Istanbul just before New Year's, and while there was no slam-dunk contest among the festivities, had there been, we have a pretty good idea who would have won. Marko Milic, a 19-year-old from the former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia, has what those fluent in Hoopsperanto call "mad hops." NBA scouts have been tracking Milic since he was 17, and he says that several of them persuaded him to resist the blandishments of such high-powered basketball schools as Alabama, Duke and North Carolina and stay home. Their reasoning: The 6'6" swingman would develop faster playing among the men of the Euro-League, an agglomeration of the 24 best club teams in 12 European countries, than among the boys of the NCAA.
Milic says he got good advice. And there's even a touch of the gung ho on his team, Smelt Olimpija, based in Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana. "We're all young and without a name yet, so we're hungry," says Milic. According to EuroLeague rules, teams can dress only 10 players for each game, so Smelt Olimpija coach Zmago Sagadin has the 15 men on his roster battle each other for those spots every day in practice. That has made for a steep learning curve. Of course Sagadin isn't so foolish as to ever omit Milic from the starting lineup.
Like everyone playing topflight club ball in Europe, Milic, whose parents were both first-class field-event athletes in the former Yugoslavia, draws a salary, and his decision to play at home offers a lesson for U.S. college coaches: They may pick off the odd Andrew Gaze from Australia, or Dikembe Mutombo from Zaire, or adolescent refugees from such economically distressed European countries as Russia and Bosnia. But the most talented Continental teens can find better competition—and make money—playing for well-heeled clubs in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey and even Slovenia.