The supreme court of the United States, in a decision read from the Bench by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled Monday by a 6-2 vote that boxing, unlike baseball, is in interstate commerce and so is subject to the federal antitrust laws. The Department of Justice now can proceed with prosecution of its complaint against the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president) to the effect that the IBC and affiliates have monopolized the sport to the detriment of other promoters, boxers and such side beneficiaries as TV, broadcasting and the public.
In the complaint, first filed in March, 1952, the Justice Department asked that IBC and its fellow defendants be compelled "to restore free and open competition" to boxing.
On this point, Chief Justice Warren reviewed the government case that Norris and his companions had sewed up TV (which, with a lesser take from radio and movies, represents 25% or more of the promoter's return in present-day boxing) and had used Joe Louis, then heavyweight champion, to sew up the leading contenders for the title he resigned (see box).
February 7, 1955
While the court's two dissenters, Felix Frankfurter and Sherman Minton, held respectively that earlier baseball decisions applied to boxing and that sport in general is outside the antitrust laws, Chief Justice Warren referred to a prior court decision which made clear that the baseball example could not be used to exempt any segment of the entertainment business from antitrust regulation.
The Supreme Court decision does not mean that the boxing millennium is here. Its ruling has nothing to do directly with control of boxing by hoodlums and murderers. There is, however, an indirect effect. The ruling does permit the Justice Department to prosecute boxing's control by the hoodlums' good friend, Jim Norris. And this is close indeed to the heart of the matter, for as Norris openly tied up the best sports arenas and TV contracts, so the mobsters have taken surreptitious control of the best and most promising boxers. The Syndicate could not prosper, by Syndicate standards, under circumstances of "free and open competition." It needs monopoly.
If the Justice Department succeeds in establishing that the Norris-IBC monopoly is illegal (the Supreme Court ruled that it was entitled to resume prosecution on this basis) then other promoters will have a chance.
As to the other side of the coin—undercover control of leading boxers by mobsters—some of the states have begun to act. Their specific aim: elimination of the hoodlum element. They are, moreover, two of the states which are most important to boxing. The first is New York, where Julius Helfand, racket-busting prosecutor, has begun to function under Governor Averell Harriman's order that he clean up boxing. The second is Pennsylvania, where Governor George M. Leader and Attorney General Herbert B. Cohen last week pledged themselves to a boxing cleanup aimed directly at the racketeers who have long made Philadelphia boxing notorious. A legislative investigation has been proposed.
This is a good start and, if both states carry out their announced intentions, may be almost enough. For a state-by-state cleanup of boxing is neither likely nor necessary. Very few of the 48 states contain major boxing centers. An adequate decontamination program need only strike at the main centers of boxing, where the big fights are held and where the major portion of the racketeers' investment lies.
Now, in addition to state action, the sword of the FBI dangles over the hoodlums' heads, thanks to the Supreme Court decision. For if boxing is in interstate commerce within the meaning of the antitrust laws, then the FBI becomes the investigative body to probe boxing for the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. In the past, state investigations of boxing have begun well and have ultimately fizzled because of state politics. But the FBI is as removed from local political pressures as a government agency can be.
Things seem to be looking up for boxing, for boxers and for those millions who enjoy the sport in the arenas and in their living rooms.
Warning to Rip
The men who make the rules for baseball are a pretty conservative sort. Years pass when the rules committee feels no urge whatever to tinker with the laws of the game, and a modern Rip Van Winkle could presumably awaken and enjoy a function at the Polo Grounds without any preliminary briefing. This year, however, it might be well to take Rip aside and warn him about the intentional base on balls. At a recent Chicago meeting the rules committee, prodded by a rare urge for change, decided to cut down the size of the catcher's box.
For as long as anyone cares to remember, the catcher's box has been more a state of mind than an actual delineation. Its official boundaries were designated by simply extending the third-and first-base lines beyond the plate, but neither umpires nor players gave these borders much thought. When a cerebrating manager decided to walk a threatening batter to get at some less formidable opponent or to set up a double play, the catcher simply stepped a few safe paces to the side of home plate and gathered in four throws from his pitcher while the batsman observed the ceremony with either disgust or pride or a little of each. No one seemed to care that the catcher was almost invariably outside his prescribed territory without proper credentials.
The new catcher's box, legalized by the rules committee this year, is designed to keep its occupant in close proximity to home plate. Only 43 inches wide, it is described by two parallel lines forming a narrow alley between home plate and the backstop. If the catcher fails to have both his feet inside his box at the time a pitch is thrown, it constitutes an automatic balk.
On hearing this news, catchers, who are a breed known more for sturdiness than agility, began to set up a public howl. The thought of springing nymphlike through the air to gather in an intentional outside pitch held no appeal for such blocks of granite as Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra, although each is a solid enough soldier to insist that he will find a way.
Until the new rule is given its first workout at spring training camps in March, players and fans can only peculate on how it is likely to affect one of baseball's favorite stratagems. Will the shaky pitcher, already in trouble with men on second and third, have enough control to throw an outside pitch that the batter can't reach but the catcher can? Won't a good bad-ball hitter, like Yogi Berra himself, waving a 36-inch weapon, be able to reach out and powder an occasional pitch that is intended only as a safe-conduct pass to first base? Or will catchers now retreat in the direction of the box seats so the pitcher can lob the ball a dozen feet over the batter's head?
The experts seemed to agree only on one point: the already overworked catcher must now assume an added burden. "I don't see this new rule serving any purpose at all beyond giving the catcher a little more work," observed Carl Hubbell, the onetime great Giant whose sympathies normally lie with the pitcher.
Wes Westrum was of a like mind. "All I can see it doing is making it tougher for the catcher. It won't stop the intentional pass, and what will be tougher for us is the handling of the pitchout."
Yogi Berra, who heard the news in Rochester while toughening up on the rubber-chicken circuit, showed a scholar's restraint. "I read all about it last night but haven't been able to figure it out yet," the indestructible Yankee confessed. "I guess we'll have to wait until the umpires explain it more fully...."
Hank Greenberg, general manager of the Cleveland Indians, accepted an achievement award from the Sports Broadcasters Association last week, and in the course of his thank-you remarks offered a polished, one-sentence résumé of Cleveland's 1954 season.
"All season long the Indians belonged to the fans," he said, "but after the Series the fans were glad to give them back to me."
At Crans Sur Sieree in the snow-smothered Swiss Alps this week, blonde Carol Heiss, 15 (see cover), daughter of an Ozone Park, L.I. baker, is engaged in the final phase of a long preparation for queenship. Her eager little-girl face (with its adult dab of lipstick) betrays neither nervousness nor even the excitement of anticipation. Carol, like a queen bee on the eve of flight, is the product of a special kind of life, and in her own mind simply seems to be awaiting the inevitable—the day later this month when she will waft out on a rink at Vienna to become the woman's figure skating champion of the world.
While Carol is not alone in this estimate of her own talent, it should be added that another American girl, 19-year-old Tenley Albright of Bostom (see page 28), who was the world's champion in 1953 and is now seeded No. 1 on the U.S. team, is also given an excellent chance of winning. But Carol is unimpressed; she has been conditioned to win. Her mother, a pleasant, Munich-born housewife, began taking her to a Long Island rink when she was hardly more than four years old. Even at that tender age she astounded adults with her natural grace and dexterity, and in the years since—under the tutelage of Pierre Brunet, one of the most highly regarded skating teachers in the world—she has lived a life as narrow, rigorous and consecrated as that of a fledgling in the old Imperial Russian Ballet.
Carol's younger sister Nancy, 13, and her brother Bruce, are figure skaters too. For years Mrs. Heiss has awakened her children at 5:30 in the morning, has gotten them dressed, fed them and driven them to Madison Square Garden. By seven they are hard at work on the New York Skating Club rink. Carol's training stint lasts four and a half hours and is followed by an afternoon of classes at New York's Professional Children's School. Two years ago, as a skinny child of 13, she was judged fourth in the world's championships—she was the youngest girl ever to place in that august competition.
Only a few weeks before last year's championships, Carol was the victim of an accident on the Garden rink in which one of her legs was slashed by her sister Nancy's skates. She was unable to compete. This was a blow, since she intended to win and thus better Sonja Henie's feat of becoming world champion at 15. Germany's Gundi Busch (now an ice-show star) took the title. "I beat Gundi in free skating two years ago," said Carol last week, "and Gundi beat Tenley Albright last year, so I think I should win this year. Only two girls in the whole world can do the double axel jump—Tenley and I. But you are supposed to land on your outside edge," she went on dreamily, "and some people have to land on the inside and then switch to the outside...."
What did Carol propose to do after—and if—she won the championship? "Oh," she said, "the 1956 Olympics are definitely a must. I'll keep the championship until Nancy's old enough to win it. Then I suppose I'll go to college—a college with a rink." What if she didn't win? "I never," said Carol firmly, "think about losing."
A sequel has come to hand on the adventures of Sammy Lee in Asia. Sammy is the U.S. Olympic diving champion whose recent exhibitions and speechmaking tour of the Far East did so much to create a favorable impression for America in Asia (SI, Jan. 10). The sequel is not so happy, for Sammy put us in a fair way to get a bad name in the French-controlled section of Indo-China.
Lee was obliged to give an exhibition of diving in a muddy river. He was told the bottom was at 18 feet and clear of debris, but on his first dive Lee smacked a shallow bottom and cut his foot on a piece of glass. As he broke surface, he shouted to the French officer in charge of the affair that he was in trouble, that he had cut his foot.
Someone quickly produced a bottle of amber liquid and Sammy began pouring it on his bleeding foot. The officer turned white and threw his hand to the skies in horror.
"What's the matter?" asked Sammy Lee.
"Matter?" repeated the officer. "Matter? This is 60-year-old cognac. You do not give it to the feet. You dreenk."
The king of pool
The referee, a thin man now fat with importance, cleared his throat and spoke through the pall of smoke. "Spectators will kindly remove their hats," he said, "for the dignity of the room."
The scene last Saturday night was a curtained arena on the third floor of Bensinger's Recreational Amphitheatre on Randolph Street in Chicago's Loop. On three other floors of the five-story building, male refugees from the world outside were busy at table shuffleboard, bowling, billiards and cards. The third floor, like the others, was thickly carpeted with cigar and cigarette butts and although the brown and yellow walls were blackening, a certain air of elegance was maintained by hanging elephant tusks, sporting prints and one striking oil painting entitled "Neptune's Daughter" in which muscular female nudes are seen to rise artistically from the sea.
"Presenting," the referee continued, "the final block in the world championship pocket billiard match between the challenger, Joe Procita of Los Angeles, California...."
The 200 spectators who occupied every seat in the twin grandstands gave Mr. Procita a hand as the stubby, paunchy, 56-year-old perennial contender stepped under the glare of the lights.
"And now," the referee intoned, "that great precision player who has dominated the game of pocket billiards for the past 14 years, the champion of the world, Mr. Willie Mosconi of Philadelphia."
Mr. Willie Mosconi, five feet seven, 41 years old, gray-haired and handsome, stepped forward to provide a vivid contrast to his opponent. Mr. Procita, in his rumpled brown suit and loud tie, looked like a professional pool player dressed up for the occasion. Mr. Mosconi, in his gray suit and dark blue tie, looked like a banker surrounded by characters out of a banker's nightmare.
The contrast was even greater as the final block of play began. Mr. Mosconi had a cold, he was tired and so impatient to get the whole affair over with that he won (nobody ever doubted that he would win from the start of the 10-block contest) in only two innings (meaning appearances at the table) with runs of 127 and 23. Mosconi's run of 127 was his highest of the week; he had earlier runs of 120 and 101. His grand average per inning was 16. The best Mr. Procita could do was a run of 71 while winning his only block on the Wednesday night preceding. Even so, the spectators felt they had received their money's worth, for to the billiard fan, watching the graceful Mosconi move smoothly from shot to shot is something like watching the way of a Joe DiMaggio or a Willie Mays with a fly ball. But the king of pool himself was less happy about his latest triumph.
"I'm tired and I'm losing interest," said Willie Mosconi. "It's a great game, but it's not much fun any more. There are only about 10 real pros in the business—and only five who are really first class."
Willie estimates that he travels 25,000 miles a year, mostly to give exhibitions under the auspices of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, manufacturers of billiard tables. Although Willie won't say, it is estimated that he earns about $15,000 a year from his billiard cue.
"It's a hard life," said Willie, a family man. "The nervous strain is awful. You can't get rid of the tension during a game. A golfer or a ballplayer can get some release from tension by whacking a ball, but we just have to hold it in. Sometimes your stomach knots in a ball. I've gotten so tense I've bitten my tongue until the blood came. It's a terrible thing."
But the most terrible thing of all, Willie insists, is the lack of real competition in the pocket billiard game.
"I don't know," said Willie Mosconi, "maybe what I'll do is go into the three cushion game. It's no cinch to be good in pockets and three cushions too. But I think I could be in shape in a few weeks."
Willie sneezed as the cold gained ground on him. He shook his head.
"I don't know," he said sadly. "It's a crazy life."
THE CHIEF JUSTICE SAID IN PART:
"The promoter's receipts [from TV and similar sales] represent on the average over 25% of the promoter's total revenue and in some instances exceed the revenue derived from the sale of admission tickets. The complaint alleges that the defendants have restrained and monopolized this...through a conspiracy to exclude competition.... The conspiracy, it is claimed, began in 1949 with an agreement [that] Joe Louis...would resign his title[and] procure exclusive rights to the services of the four leading title contenders...that he would also obtain exclusive rights to broadcast, televise and film these contests, and that he would assign all such exclusive rights to the defendants. The defendants have allegedly sought to maintain...this conspiracy...by eliminating the 'leading competing promoter' of championship matches; by acquiring the exclusive rights to promote [in] all the 'principal arenas'...and by requiring each title contender to agree...that if he wins he would...take part only in title contests promoted by the defendants. As a consequence of these acts...the defendants have promoted...all but two of the 21 championship matches held...between June, 1949 and the filing of the complaint in March, 1952."