Originally created 02/11/99

Overtime: De La Hoya facing tough opponent



Eighteen years after they first met in one of the great welterweight fights of all time, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns got into a bit of a tussle again Wednesday.

This time, though, it was just over who would get to sit next to female boxer Mia St. John on the dais at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Hearns won the friendly skirmish, then he and Leonard turned to their main job at hand -- promoting Saturday's welterweight title fight between Oscar De La Hoya and undefeated Ike Quartey as the next great welterweight bout.

De La Hoya's defense of his WBC title against Quartey, a former WBA champion, is certainly on paper the best 147-pound title fight in some time.

It promises to give De La Hoya his first major test against an undefeated fighter in his prime, and could set the stage for a series of big fights among the smaller fighters.

De La Hoya, fighting in his 18th title bout at the age of 26, will be defending for the sixth time the WBC welterweight title he first won from Julio Cesar Chavez.

He'll be doing it against a big puncher who is 34-0-1 with 29 knockouts and held the WBA version of the title before having to relinquish it to go after big money fights.

De La Hoya is a 3 1/2 -1 favorite.

BASEBALL: For Turk Wendell, getting his one cent in wasn't enough.

Wendell, a rather superstitious relief pitcher who wears uniform No. 99, avoided salary arbitration Wednesday when he agreed with the New York Mets on a one-year contract worth $1,200,000.99.

In addition to his base salary, Wendell can earn three bonuses of $4,999 if he pitches in 67, 68 and 69 games.

"I love 99, so why not?" Wendell said. "I want to have as many 99s in my contract as possible. It has to give me good luck."

Wendell, a 31-year-old right-hander, was 5-1 with four saves and a 2.93 ERA in 66 games last season. He broke a team record previously held by Jesse Orosco when he appeared in nine consecutive games last September.

-- Texas Rangers first baseman Rafael Palmeiro underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a slight cartilage tear in his right knee.

Palmeiro, who signed a $45 million, five-year contract to return to Texas after five years in Baltimore, is believed to have injured himself while running stairs as part of a workout last week.

Doctors said he might be limited a bit at the beginning of spring training, but he should be able to play in exhibition games. He's expected to be ready for the start of the season.

-- Less than two weeks after being fired by the New York Mets, Tim McCarver will be brought on board by the crosstown Yankees on Tuesday, a source at Fox Sports told The Associated Press.

McCarver, who has 10 Emmy nominations, was fired by the Mets after 16 years as the team's analyst and replaced by Tom Seaver, who won three Cy Young Awards with the team.

FIGURE SKATING: Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, the apparent heirs to the American ice dancing crown held seemingly forever by Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow, strengthened their lead Wednesday in the original dance.

Lang and Tchernyshev, former training partners with five-time winners Punsalan and Swallow at the Detroit Skating Club, also took the compulsories the previous night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. As usual in dance, there was little change in the standings, with Tuesday's runners-up, Eve Chalom and Mathew Gates, still in second place.

Performing to Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flower" from "The Nutcracker," Lang and Tchernyshev finished first with eight of the nine judges. Chalom and Gates, who skated to Shostakovich's "Second Waltz," got the other first-place vote.