Mile Runs Hit the Road Across America; Why a .475 Hitter Isn't on All-Star Ballot

RUNNER'S World magazine reports that the new wave in distance-running events is a road mile contested on city streets, not on a track. The races aren't as popular as marathons, but their numbers are increasing across the United States.

The granddaddy of the breed is the Fifth Avenue Mile, a showcase event of the New York Road Runners Club that has made a 20-block beeline down the world-renowned avenue (from 82nd to 62nd Street) since 1981 and will be held Oct. 2.

On June 12, St. Louis will use a street below the Arch for its 13th Riverfront Mile, expected to attract 500 to 800 entrants in age categories ranging from 8-and-under to 40-and-over.

The success of these and other major metropolitan events has begun to spawn smaller-scale imitations. Hibbing, Minn., will hold its First Avenue Mile July 16, and Clawson, Mich., is making Clawson's Firecracker Mile part of its Fourth of July celebration.

The beauty of this short, straightaway distance is its compactness, with fewer logistics than marathons or 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) races. Because of the shortness, though, it must be broken into a series of races based on skill level.

One of the most appealing uses of this format occurred earlier this year in Miami, where a special Legends race was held as part of the Miami Mile. Eight former great milers, in the running equivalent of baseball's old-timers' games, took the starter's gun fired by Roger Bannister, who this month celebrated the 40th anniversary of his historic first sub-four-minute mile. Kip Keino and Marty Liquori tied for first place with times of 5 minutes, 23.6 seconds. Other competitors included Jim Ryun, Steve Cram, and Peter Snell. Phantom of the ballot

UNQUESTIONABLY, Yankee outfielder Paul O'Neill is this season's hottest major league hitter. His .475 average places him 83 points ahead of Cleveland's Albert Belle whose next-best .392 mark would look sensational most any other year. Oddly, however, O'Neill's name is missing from the All-Star ballots that fans have begun filling out to select the starting lineups for the July 12 game. Nearly 8.5 million ballots were cast last year.

There isn't enough room on the ballots, distributed at major league games and Texaco gas stations, for each team to list all its starters. At the start of the season, O'Neill and several other Yankees drew straws to determine who would be on the ballot.

O'Neill is in no real danger of getting left out of the game, though. Even if he doesn't receive enough write-in votes, the American League manager - in this case, Toronto's Cito Gaston - will surely exercise his authority to add O'Neill to the AL roster. Tale of two women's tours

SPURRED by the troubles in teenage tennis star Jennifer Capriati's life (a recent drug arrest and entry into a substance-abuse clinic), officials are wondering if the minimum age of women pros should be raised from 13 to 16. Top-ranked Steffi Graf, for one, says her early entry into big-time tennis - she played the French Open at 13 - ``was natural for me....'' Graf says she doesn't view playing pro tennis as a callow teen as hazardous: ``You can grow up and have problems; it doesn't really have anything to do with tennis.''

In an interesting juxtaposition to the early-entry debate in women's tennis, Elaine Crosby, who didn't pick up a golf club until she was 20, won the $400,000 Lady Keystone Open on Sunday in Hershey, Pa. Her first contact with the sport came in 1978, and three years later she won the Michigan Women's Amateur Championship. Last year, her ninth full season on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour, she finished as the 33rd-ranked player. Over the weekend, she collected $60,000 and her second LPGA career victory by finishing one stroke ahead of Britain's Laura Davies.

Crosby, a business administration graduate of the University of Michigan, is the LPGA's president. Touching other bases

* Pop quiz: Which highly popular outdoor sport had its origins indoors at Chicago's Farragut Boat Club? (Answer below.)

* The Big Ten Conference decided to retain its familiar identity last year despite adding an 11th school, Penn State University. The Big Eight Conference, however, had to face up to its new numerical reality or risk looking mighty silly. The conference will call itself the Big 12 after the 1996 football season, when Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor will join.

* In auto racing, a yellow flag means caution. On the NASCAR stock-car circuit, yellow tape on rear bumpers sends a similar message. Seasoned drivers know to pass ``yellow stripers,'' the unofficial designation for rookies, with extra care.

* Quiz answer: Softball. According to Paul Dickson, author of ``Softball: A Celebration of America's True National Pastime,'' the sport grew out of a playful moment in 1887 among a group of young men gathered for the telegraphed result of the Harvard-Yale football game. Using a boxing glove and a broom handle, they created what was originally known as indoor base ball.

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