Sports Columnist Dan O'Neill
Although baseball is our national pastime, Japan was the last team standing when the World Baseball Classic was finished. The makeup of big league rosters is more international than ever before.
While basketball was invented in Springfield, Mass., Argentina is the reigning Olympic champion. And NBA rosters are filled with stars from around the globe. Fair enough, but what is the world coming to when the Japanese no longer dominate sumo wrestling?
Foreign-born fighters have put a submission hold - so to speak - on Japan's national sport, dominating the top positions and capturing virtually all of the yearly titles.
Mr. Fuji and Toru Tanaka would have never stood for this.
The coveted rank of yokozuna, or grand champion, is now held by Mongolia's Asashoryu, who has won eight of the past nine tournaments. Two of the five wrestlers in the sport's second-highest rank of ozeki, or champion, are Bulgaria's Kotooshu and Mongolia's Hakuho.
The foreign stars have devoted fan followings, but they are pushing their Japanese counterparts out of the sport. Ticket sales have been declining, TV ratings have fallen and it is becoming harder for sumo to find young recruits to don the diapers.
Dreams of a Japanese revival were boosted before the tournament last month, but fell short when ozeki Tochiazuma placed third behind Asashoryu and Hakuho. Still, Sadogatake, a former wrestler who runs the "stable" where Kotooshu trains, believes there is hope.
"I think the popularity of sumo is recovering compared with a year or so ago," Sadogatake said "But it will be hard without the rise of a strong Japanese wrestler."
Or, as the Japanese proverb says: "sumo can only blossom in land of rising son."
*Descendants of George Mallory have said they hope someday to climb the press box at new Busch Stadium, "because it is there."
*Scientist are now saying the ball discovered last year in the outer solar system is not big enough to be a so-called 10th planet. In fact, it looks very much like the ball Dick Stuart hit off Ray Sadecki at Connie Mack Stadium in 1965.
This being the start of a new baseball season, after a few months of down time, it's probably safe to say the umpires are ahead of the hecklers at this point. But to bridge the gap and help some of you get back in a midseason groove, heckledepot.com has an offering of some appropriate jabs at the men in blue. Here is a sampling:
*"Hey, ump, I thought only horses slept standing up."
*I've got Internet stocks in better shape than you."
*"Hey, ump, is this your cell phone? It's got three missed calls."
*"Now I know why there's only one 'i' in umpire."
In a study presented on Monday, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health reported the Boston Red Sox players and coaches also earned a more dubious distinction during their Fall Classic sweep of the Cardinals in 2004.
They chewed and spit more smokeless tobacco than either the 2004 Cardinals or the two teams involved in the 2005 World Series. The researchers analyzed videotapes of the events, looking for telltale bulges in players' cheeks or the unseemly remains of smokeless tobacco drooling from their mouths. Nice work if you can get it, eh?
They found the disgusting Red Sox were three times more likely to use the tobacco products than the Cardinals. You see? I knew it!
A classroom presentation of the findings featured researchers in baseball caps and a lunch of ballpark franks. The Harvard team also implored baseball to ban smokeless tobacco, which has been linked to oral cancer, gum ailments, nicotine dependence ... and unseemly remains drooling from the mouth.
"We've seen data today from 2004 and 2005 that show children are heavily exposed to a cancer-causing agent from our best friends, the Red Sox," said Harvard professor Greg Connolly. "We've got to turn up the heat to get baseball to stop this."
In a related story, Commissioner Bud Selig is said to be launching an investigation into the existence of smokeless tobacco and "take it wherever it may lead."