Published: Saturday, July 26, 1997
Page: 1D
By: Tom Archdeacon
Tom Archdeacon

Rock Newman
If you believe Rock Newman, he comes from the world of boxing to the doorstep of Dayton baseball with a helping hand ... not a knockout punch.

`I want you to take a good look,' he said as he stepped from the Marriott hotel lectern Friday afternoon. `I want you to see there aren't any horns - just a little pony tail. I'm not the boogie man.'

Tell that to the Downtown Dayton Partnership and Tom Dickson and Sherrie Myers, the husband and wife team who thought they had the inside track to bring minor league baseball to Dayton by the spring of 1999.

To them, Newman - once a star baseball player at Howard University, then the brash and blustery fight manager who guided Riddick Bowe to the heavyweight crown and a $100 million HBO deal and now an outspoken social activist with political and celebrity connections - arrived on the Dayton scene with all the subtlety of a sucker punch to the jaw.

The partnership and their anointed owners have immersed themselves in buying a minor league club, securing millions in funding and convincing Major League Baseball to approve the effort - all before an Aug. 15 deadline set by the Cincinnati Reds, who have territorial rights in Dayton. Newman has stepped onto the scene saying `I'm a friend of the process, not a foe.'

He said rumors are swirling that `the Dayton effort is about to derail' and if so, he is `ready, willing and able' to bring a minor league club to town - now.

`I'm scared by all this,' admitted one partnership official. "The plot is thickening and it shouldn't. We don't have much time left. We're so close, but I'm afraid this could all unravel. I'm not sure what to think."

That's how it can be with Rock Newman. When committed to a cause, he is often mercurial, obstreperous and unwilling to compromise, which is why some partnership folks had their backs on the ropes Friday.

If you look at his boxing days, you see Newman - who said he learned long ago that "controversy sells" - has been master of the bluster and the bluff. Behind the methods, there is usually motive.

Although he denied it, it is believed by some that his debate about Mike Tyson's punishment being racially unjust reveals an ulterior motive. While Newman said he abhors what Tyson did and is simply pointing out the discrepancy with the slap on the wrist treatment given Andrew Golota - who has used low blows and bites - some say he is really trying to curry favor with Tyson, who some expect to part ways with Don King.

Similarly, there are those who say Newman's interest in Dayton is because he has an option to buy a ballclub in Battle Creek, Mich., which is not the lucrative market Dayton is expected to be.

Who knows?

One thing for certain, Newman has raised some pointed questions that need to be addressed. He said he believes that Major League Baseball is already raising red flags about the husband and wife ownership of two teams in one league.

Dickson owns the Lansing Lugnuts. Professional baseball rules prevent him from owning a second team in the same league - which is why Myers has stepped forward as the team owner in Dayton.

"Look, I grew up on a farm," Newman said. "If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck and quacks like a duck - and had a bunch of little ducks - it is a duck. Everyone in the partnership and with the Reds says talk to Tom Dickson, he's handling everything. I think his effort isn't even very well disguised. The way I - and some very brilliant legal minds see it - there's got to be a question of dual ownership here. To me, this is a violation of the letter of the rule."

Newman said he believes that if Major League Baseball has the same interpretation, the Dayton effort is in big trouble. "I'm saying if that doesn't work out, I have an alternative that will be acceptable to the Reds, the Dayton community and Major League Baseball.'

He took another poke at Dickson, whom he said he visited in Chicago. `He told me he had figured a way to buy a club for $3 1/2 million and then sell 49 percent of it to (Dayton investors) for $2.5 million. For him it would establish a tremendous economic windfall.'

While Dickson claimed such facts are distorted, the questions are raised.

Newman said Major League Baseball might also see him as part of the solution to a problem that plagues the professional game. `Next year there will be 30 major league teams, and now there are 156 affiliated minor league teams and yet, 50 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, not a single African American owns a franchise in major league or minor league baseball.

`Baseball is trying to broaden its diversity and become more ethnically inclusive. It is looking for minority participation and here is a good opportunity to start."

On matters of race, Newman has some definite thoughts. While he has bright blue eyes and skin so fair most strangers mistake him for white - his mother has said all four grandparents also looked white - he talks of growing up black in southern Maryland:

`I have seen and felt racism like most blacks have never seen," he once told Sports Illustrated's Bill Nack. `Raw, naked nasty racism. People let their true feelings out around me, not knowing who I am.'

Proving just who he was began at Howard, where he was both ballplayer and a top student. After stints selling cars and working as a radio announcer, he moved to boxing and guided Dwight Qawi to the cruiserweight crown. For a while he was the publicist, then partner, to promoter Butch Lewis and then he lifted Bowe from the amateurs, where most painted the heavyweight as underachieving.

He guided the recently retired Bowe to the title and financial security, while remaining a boxing outsider. His biggest stand came against World Boxing Council president Jose Suliman, who tried pressuring him into delivering Bowe into a promotional deal with Don King.

Newman refused, went public with the manipulation and undressed Suliman in the most profane terms. To highlight their stand, Bowe took his WBC title belt and dropped it in a trash can.

When much of boxing blackballed Bowe, Newman managed to strike his windfall deal with HBO, which televised the trilogy with Evander Holyfield. "We beat them at their own game," Newman said proudly Friday.

Along the way, there were some controversial sidesteps - from tackling heavyweight Elijah Tillery (disqualified for kicking Bowe) to pouncing on Golota in a ring riot following Golota's disqualification for low blows. On the flip side, he points out a $250,000 gun buyback and a voter registration program he funded in Washington, D.C.

Since January, Newman has been out of boxing and crisscrossing the country looking for a minor league baseball team to buy. Of the two he found available - Dayton and Sacramento - he believes Dayton is the best.

"For Class A ball, they'd like a population base of 250,00 to 300,000. There are 1 million people in the Dayton area. Anyone with any type of brain could be successful here. And I think I could really jazz it up. This would be a significant story for all of baseball here. Dayton would be in the forefront of getting the sport on the right track. And I'm the one to do it."

And before you doubt him, consider this story Newman's wife, Demetria, tells.

It was the dead of winter a dozen years ago, and Rock woke up one morning and wanted to go boating. Not to be denied, he convinced her to trudge to a half-frozen lake.

Although the small boatyard was closed for the season, he managed to find an unsecured canoe. He wrestled it across the ice to the water, then stomped off in search of paddles. He found two that were crossed and nailed above a door. He pried them loose, and soon he and his wife were on the lake

When the owner finally managed to work his way out on the ice to get an explanation, Newman - cajoling, dodging, defying - quickly turned the tables. Soon the man was apologizing for ruining Newman's morning on the water.

That is Rock Newman. And as Nack once surmised, when you're dealing with him, you always seem like you're up the creek and he's the only one with the paddles.

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