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September 20, 1999
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September 20, 1999


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The Real Crash Davis

Four years ago J.R. Phillips was the new Will Clark. A tough customer from the rugged LA suburb of La Puente, where he was once stabbed at a party, Phillips was a hairy-chested homer hitter with a trademark Tarzan yell that could bust your eardrums. He hit 27 homers for the Triple A Phoenix Firebirds in 1994, and when Clark went free agent in '95, Phillips—sporting a COMPLACENCY SUCKS T-shirt under his jersey—stepped in at first base for the Giants. Boom! Opening Day home run off Greg Maddux.

The boom went bust. Phillips's bats, broken in during long BP sessions until all the impact dents evened out, turned to dust. On June 2 he was hitting .099:10 for 101. The Giants sent him down, then traded him to the Phillies, who let him go in '96. After a stint with the Astros, he had a career .184 average, with 21 homers in 217 big league games.

Last December the erstwhile home run hero of the Mexican winter league's Culiacan Tomato Growers signed with the Rockies as a minor league free agent. "It's my 12th year of professional ball," said Phillips, 29, as he headed for Colorado Springs of the Pacific Coast League. He had long since been fitted with the dreaded 4A tag—too good for Triple A, not quite good enough for the majors—but he had a simple plan: "Go down there and put up some ungodly numbers."

A swing tinkerer, Phillips tried standing more upright with his hands higher. Boom! He hit a club-record 41 homers to lead the minor leagues, batted .311 with 100 RBIs and earned a September call-up. Last Saturday night Rockies manager Jim Leyland sent Phillips to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of a 6-6 game against the Brewers. He drove an 0-1 pitch 427 feet into the second deck, and Colorado won 7-6. "I was floating around the bases," he said.

The next afternoon he had a key double in a Rockies rally. Phillips knows he can't displace Todd Helton at first base in Colorado, "but I've opened up some eyes in Japan," he said. "If the Rockies don't want me back, maybe I'll go over there."

Complacency? Not in this hairy chest. "It does wear on you," Phillips said of his struggle to find his place in the game, "but you're getting paid to play baseball. Ain't nothing better."

Holy War

The hottest parlor game in Italy is trying to guess the identity of two men who claim they threw a pro soccer match last year. The scandal has rocked two major religions, Catholicism and calcio—Italian for soccer—and cast a pall over the prestigious Serie A league.

In August the news magazine Famiglia Cristiana, which is owned by the Council of Italian Bishops, ran a letter purportedly from a player claiming that he'd thrown a "very important" match in exchange for a new contract from another team. "I no longer feel alive," he wrote. "I feel a burden on my soul, my conscience is hurt, I am no longer a man." The letter sparked a storm of speculation in soccer-mad Italy, a squall that gained force when newspapers in Milan and Turin printed a missive from someone claiming to be a former teammate of the first letter-writer, stating that he had helped fix the match.

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