To Russia's Elena Dementieva in the final of the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo,
Martina Hingis. A victory would have given the former world No. 1 her first
title since she came out of retirement last month, but Hingis nonetheless left
Japan happy. When she announced her comeback, Hingis (above, left) said she
most looked forward to playing Maria Sharapova (right), and in the semifinals
she defeated the top-seeded Russian 6-3, 6-1. Since returning to the WTA Tour,
Hingis has reached the Australian Open quarterfinals and won the mixed doubles
title in Melbourne. "I've exceeded my own expectations," she said.
By Churchill Downs, the first presenting sponsorship rights for the
132-year-old Kentucky Derby. Yum! Brands, the Louisville-based parent of KFC,
Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, paid an undisclosed amount to attach its name to the
race for the next five years. Churchill Downs had resisted bringing in a
sponsor for years, but president Tom Meeker said the deal would help meet the
race's goal of growing its global audience. "I know there will be the
naysayers," said Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, the winningest rider at
Churchill Downs. "But personally I think it's good."
At age 96, former Mississippi football coach John Vaught. In 25 seasons
(1947-70 and '73) Vaught led the Rebels to 18 bowls and six SEC championships;
the school hasn't won a conference title since the one Vaught delivered in
1963. Vaught, who groomed quarterbacks Charlie Conerly and Archie Manning for
the NFL, was an innovative offensive coach, and his Ole Miss teams were known
for wide-open passing attacks that stood out in the staid SEC. In 1982 the
Rebels' stadium was named after him.
On the Lions' offensive coordinator job, former Rams head coach Mike Martz.
Martz, who was fired by St. Louis on Jan. 2, agreed last week to join new
Detroit coach Rod Marinelli's staff. But he backed out when he and the Lions
couldn't agree on salary. ( Martz was reportedly seeking $1.5 million per year,
while the team offered a three-year deal worth $2.8 million.) Martz indicated
that he would be content to sit out next season. "There's a wrong
impression that I'm desperate for a job," he said. "I'm not pursuing
By the Astros, an insurance claim on the contract of All-Star first baseman
Jeff Bagwell. The 37-year-old (above) is guaranteed $17 million this season,
but the Astros can recover $15.6 million in insurance if Bagwell, who had
surgery last June on the arthritic right shoulder that caused him to miss 115
games in '05, retires or is deemed unable to play. The claim creates an awkward
standoff between the Astros and one of their stars. Bagwell insists he's
healthy and will report to spring training, but doctors who have examined him
at the team's request say his injuries are career-ending. (The case may have to
be decided by an arbitrator.) Bagwell, who has played his entire 15-year career
in Houston, told the Houston Chronicle, "It probably will never be fixed
between me and the Astros."
The seven-year career of Pacers forward Jonathan Bender, 25, because of
chronically injured knees. The fifth pick in the 1999 draft, Bender was a
versatile seven-footer but never fulfilled expectations that he would be a
star. He played only 76 games over the last three seasons, averaging 6.5 points
and 2.5 rebounds. (Bender says the cartilage is completely deteriorated in his
left knee and nearly gone in his right.) Though he doesn't plan to play again,
Bender (left) is not filing retirement papers with the NBA so he can collect
the $14 million in salary he's due for this season and next.
His decision to play for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, the Dodgers'
Nomar Garciaparra. The All-Star shortstop said he wants to spend spring
training getting acclimated to a new position, first base. Many baseball
officials predicted that big-name players would pull out of the tournament
because of concern over injuries or missing camp, and Garciaparra is the latest
star to prove them right. (The WBC starts on March 3.) Giants slugger Barry
Bonds and Braves pitchers John Smoltz and Tim Hudson have also bailed. "I
think there will be even more players pulling out as the start gets
closer," says one National League G.M.
At age 95, Al Lewis, who was best known for playing Grandpa on The Munsters.
Less known were his roles as Greenwich Village restaurateur, Columbia doctorate
holder in child psychology and freelancer in the Runyonesque world of college
basketball player procurement. In 1989 Lewis (below) told Raw Recruits
co-author Armen Keteyian that he played middleman in the recruiting of Chuck
Cooper (who went to West Virginia State in 1950), Solly Walker (St. John's,
1950) and Sidney Green ( UNLV, 1979). "I don't buy players," he said.
"But if a school came to me and said, 'We definitely want this guy,' I
would find out what the going rate was, and I would say, 'You have to raise the
price or you can't play in the poker game.'"