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The Yankees promoted BRIAN SMITH to VP/Corporate & Community Relations. Smith had been Community Relations Dir since '94 and Special Assistant to team Owner GEORGE STEINBRENNER since '98 (AP, 12/26)....In this week's issue of the SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, Terry Lefton notes that former Rawlings VP/Marketing JOHN HODGINS has left the company. Hodgins' "responsibilities have been absorbed" by COO STAN MORRISON (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 12/24 issue).
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Columbia Pictures' film, "ALI," starring WILL SMITH and directed by MICHAEL MANN, opened nationwide on Christmas Day and is receiving mostly favorable reviews. In San Diego, Tom Cushman wrote under the header, "`Ali' Floats Like A Butterfly, Stings Like A Must See" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 12/23). In Baltimore, Michael Sragow wrote the film "comes at you from every direction, much as MUHAMMAD ALI did in his prime." Sragow: "It's one of the most ambitious biographical films ever made in this country, and one of the most unusual, moving and exciting. Everyone who has thrilled to an Ali fight, cheered one of his proclamations or rooted for him in his struggle against disease will want to see it and wrestle with it. ... The movie has a hardscrabble integrity and stature" (Baltimore SUN, 12/25). In S.F., Bob Graham wrote: "If [Mann's] new biopic of Muhammad Ali is not right up there with the gold standard of boxing biographies, MARTIN SCORSESE and ROBERT DENIRO's `RAGING BULL,' it misses by only a whisker." Graham: "`Ali' connects so often and so persuasively that its shortcomings the movie goes slack from time to time really don't amount to much" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 12/25). In MN, Colin Covert wrote "Ali" is "uplifting as an uppercut to the devil's jaw, but wisely avoids sentimentality. Like its subject, it has power and grace, but the emotional tone is closer to `Raging Bull's' dark realism than `Rocky's' facile optimism" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 12/25). In NV, Royce Feour wrote Smith "gave a splendid performance playing" Ali (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 12/22). MAXBOXING.com's Michael Katz wrote: "'Ali' is a winner because [Smith] must be seen, or at least heard. `Ali' is not easy to capture, in print or on film" (MAXBOXING.com, 12/24). In San Jose, Glenn Lovell wrote: "Smith and Mann may not score a knockout with this film, but they do win by turning an icon into a feet-of-clay mortal" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 12/25). In Atlanta, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie wrote: "Unlike the Champ himself, `Ali' isn't the greatest. But it's still very good and definitely worth seeing" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 12/25).
JABS: In Detroit, Terry Lawson wrote under the header: "`Ali' Eventually Falters, Just Like The Greatest" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/24). In K.C., Joe Posnanski wrote, "The movie `Ali' portrays him like nobody else had ever done. It makes Muhammad Ali boring" (K.C. STAR, 12/23). In Pittsburgh, Ron Weiskind wrote, "Ali famously proclaimed, `I am the greatest.' Unfortunately, the movie isn't" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/25).
In N.Y., Neal Travis writes that MLB Giants LF BARRY BONDS "just set some kind of record for an autograph-signing session" in Atlantic City, NJ. Travis adds that Bonds' "share of the day's proceedings was $350,000 a good chunk of which he gave to" his marketing agent, MEAD CHASKY (N.Y. POST, 12/28)....In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes that during the absence of Lakers announcer CHICK HEARN, who is recovering from open-heart surgery, PAUL SUNDERLAND's "work ... has taken getting used to that's natural but it's no surprise he's risen to the occasion. He's on top of everything and his knowledge of the league is right on. ... If anything, this proves we'll all be saddened when Hearn eventually isn't there, but his predecessor will come certified" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 12/28)....The NTRA announced that LAURA HILLENBRAND has won the MEDIA ECLIPSE AWARD for writing in the features/enterprise category. Hillenbrand's article, "THE GREATEST HORSE RACE EVER," was part of best-selling book "SEABISCUIT: AN AMERICAN LEGEND" (NTRA).