After their ceremonial month of fasting, sun-dancing and medicine-making in the South, baseball's flanneled warriors have begun filing away from their spring training quarters for another year. During the next fortnight they will creep north through the bushes of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, skirmishing lightly along the way and testing pinball machines of nights in the hotel lobbies of towns like Chattanooga, Winston-Salem, Louisville, Danville and Richmond. The Giants and the Indians, who have been whirling each other around the Far West like ill-tempered waltzing mice, will make the longest trek: they will head east together and play ball in San Antonio, Houston and New Orleans before turning north at Montgomery, Ala. Before you know it (if the ice-choked Hudson does not turn into a glacier) umpires will cry "Play ball!" in the major league parks, the stirring perfume of hot dogs and spilled beer will titillate the sensitive nostrils of the faithful and the first pitched balls of 1955 will zip plateward above the soggy greensward of spring. Life will begin again, as it always has. The earth still turns.
HORSFALL RIDES AGAIN
The grand national, won this year by the Irish jumper, Quare Times, is the world's most grueling and most dangerous horse race. Since 1839 it has been generating intense excitement among devotees of racing around the world. But to a 63-year-old retired English schoolteacher named Georgina Horsfall, a lady preoccupied with falling horses, the Grand National is a national disgrace which Miss Horsfall does not propose to take sitting down.
Miss Horsfall is but one voice in a swelling chorus of angry protest that began after last year's Grand National, in which four horses were killed. Animal lovers had been denouncing the steeplechase for years, of course, but the unfortunate results of last year's race (in addition to the horses killed, 16 fell and only nine finished) gave the animal welfare crowd its strongest case in a long time. It was so strong, in fact, that the National Hunt Committee had to sit down-with the Home Secretary to discuss protests from several groups, including Miss Horsfall's own League Against Cruel Sports. The outcome was that the hunt committee agreed to modify at least one of the more dangerous jumps: the extremely hazardous Becher's Brook. The ground on the far side of the jump was raised and so was the brook's bottom. In addition, a runout from the brook was provided.
April 4, 1955
Even so, the improvements were just so much horse feathers to Miss Horsfall. She agreed to study the modifications but warned that if they struck her as inadequate she would give all concerned "a piece of my mind."
At her terraced home in Ilkley in the West Riding of Yorkshire, a haven for stray dogs and cats, Miss Horsfall smoothed down her cardigan and admitted she had never seen a steeplechase, indeed had never even ridden a horse. Miss Horsfall makes no apologies; she would as soon be caught in a hamburger stand (she is a devout vegetarian) as at a race track.
What particularly steams Miss Horsfall is the royal family's participation in the Grand National and other sporting affairs which, in the Horsfall view, are unfair to horses. "Disgraceful," is the Horsfall word for it.
This year's Grand National, run in atrocious weather that made it potentially the most dangerous in years, might be taken as a modest moral victory for Miss Horsfall and the thousands of like-minded animal lovers in England. The modified jump at Becher's took no horse lives (although there was a total of five falls there and at the thorn fence just beyond), and the water jump directly in front of the grandstand was eliminated by the racing officials as being entirely too hazardous for the day's foul weather.
But, for all of that, Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family were there. The Queen Mother's horse, M'As-Tu-Vu, fell turning into the homestretch and dropped out. This will not improve the royal family's case with the animal lovers one bit. As for the Grand National itself, a great deal more than one nonfatal running of it will be required to unseat Miss Horsfall.
SPURRIER AT SEA LEVEL
If the mile-and-a-half-high altitude of Mexico City has a deleterious effect on athletes recently come there from sea level, as pictures and on-the-spot reports of the Pan-American Games (SI, March 28 and pages 59-62 this issue) seem to prove, perhaps just the opposite happens to athletes at sea level. Perhaps they run faster. If the theory is ever put to scientific test a prime case history will be that of 22-year-old Lon Spurrier of Delano, Calif.
A couple of weeks back, Spurrier competed in the Pan-American 800-meter run in Mexico City and finished a good second to Arnold Sowell. His time: 1:50.3. The elevation: 7,600 feet. Eleven days later in Berkeley, Calif., Spurrier ran again, this time at 880 yards (804.7 meters). The elevation: 18 feet. His time: 1:47.5, a stunning new world record that broke the old 1:48.6 mark held jointly by two titans, Mai Whitfield and Gunnar Nielsen.
At Mexico City, Spurrier led in the 800 meters until the stretch, where Sowell overhauled him. After that fine performance he decided to go all out for a record at Berkeley, although the meet attracted only 3,000 spectators.
Not given to overstatement, Spurrier says: "I was somewhat excited, of course, about breaking the record. I had planned to run the race in 1:48. I felt good, and the conditions were perfect—the weather and the track, I mean. I thought if I was ready I'd be able to do it."
He almost overdid it. He had planned to run the first quarter mile in 55 seconds. But he raced through the first 220 yards in 25.5 seconds, and at the quarter his time was a crackling 51.6. At the 660-yard mark, California's Coach Brutus Hamilton (Spurrier's old coach) crowded to the curb to yell: "You're under the record! Keep going!"
"After I heard him yell," says Spurrier, "I kept my same stride. But at the top of the turn I started my kick and when I hit the stretch I was going all out. I may have had a little left at the finish, but not much."
Bridge table conversation is limited in two directions. It may be of the sparse grunted-bid-and-raised-eyebrow style, favored by serious players, or of the discursive "Whose bid is it now? Oh, mine!" style, favored by a certain sex. In neither case is an aphorism likely to be heard or, indeed, recognized.
Edward Mayer is an Englishman who for some 30 years has been dropping in on people and winning their money at bridge. In Money Bridge, his just-published book which discusses brazenly the art of winning the opponents' cash at the bridge table, Mayer unloads some aphorisms and, in leading up to one of them, discloses that he likes best to play against those who have adopted one of the familiar bridge systems. Systems, he says, were designed to win duplicate bridge tournaments and are a handicap when one is playing ordinary rubber bridge for so much a point. Learning to play bridge by one of the systems, Mayer holds, is like learning to play piano by taking 20 correspondence lessons.
This view leads Mayer to tell of his gratitude to Ely Culbertson, whose system converted many a player into prey for Mayer's winning ways.
"Mr. Culbertson's Approach-Forcing system," he writes, "was designed for persons equipped with limited thinking machinery; he devised a means of persuading millions of brainless people that they could play an almost perfect game. He deserved all the money he made, and I am greatly in his debt."
(But during the mid-30s an American team led by Culbertson beat a team from Mayer's club, a victory attributed by Culbertson to his system. It was followed by "a spate of artificial codes" in British club play, and Mayer at that time was not grateful. He wrote a sharp letter to The Times.)
"...if you regularly lose, you are not the unluckiest player at the table; he is your partner."
"Picasso drew human beings with normal bodies before he gave them three heads and eyes in their navels. So at bridge you must learn faultless bidding before applying your brains to misleading your opponents."
"A convention in its broadest sense is an arrangement between partners disclosed to the others at the table. The most valuable which has come my way was used by a Frenchman who did not permit his wife to bid No Trumps!"
"...a former President of France...fell out of a night train in his pajamas and roamed the country quacking like a duck.... His peasant rescuer identified him immediately as a very important person because his feet were clean. Distinguished players are less easily recognized...."
"You win by the other man's mistakes, not by your own brilliance."
CALLING ALL CROWS
If men had wings and bore black feathers," Henry David Thoreau once said, "few of them would be wise enough to be crows." Despite the likely truth of this observation, men keep trying to become as smart as the big, black, swashbuckling con men of the avian world, and down in Baltimore a team of six men has made the project almost a life work.
The Baltimore six include a team of four brothers—Ray, Lou, Jerry and Eddie Foehrkolb—and a father-and-son team, Charlie and Buddy Weaver. The team started to hunt crows back in 1947, but for four full years they hit nothing but fresh air while the crows cawed themselves sick.
The reason for their failure was simple enough. The crows were just too smart. They could spot the boys coming a mile away and hear a car door slam farther away than that. And the crows never relaxed their vigilance or sat around cutting up a few caws without leaving a sentinel on the nearest fence post. This sentinel crow would call out interesting bulletins which, freely translated, might mean: "Station wagon pulling off the highway!" or "Break it up, fellows, these guys got guns!" or perhaps "Hey! A great horned owl just flew in! Let's go get the __!" Crows hate horned owls as much as other birds hate them.
Well, sir, the Baltimore boys decided, after four years of failure, to start at the very beginning. They set out to learn to talk and think like crows. They read every book on crows in the library. They bought every kind of crow call manufactured and practiced around the house until their wives were frantic. They hid in the woods and just listened to crows. Soon they were able to dig the talk real good and a little later they were able to duplicate the one about the great horned owl so well that crows blackened the sky as they rushed pell mell toward the enemy.
But the Baltimore hunters played it cozy. Having mastered the talk, they designed a blind out of mesh wire covered with dark chicken feathers. They got some of those jungle suits the Marines used to wear and made masks out of the same material. (A crow can spot a white-faced hunter through the thickest foliage.) Next, the hunters worked on decoys until they developed specimens of owls that would fool another owl, to say nothing of a crow.
It paid off. Sitting in their blind, the decoys out front, the now skillful imitators began to talk like crows. They told of Marilyn Monroe-type crows preening themselves in the underbrush. They broadcast alarms of crow riots (crows dearly love a free-for-all), and they cawed of crows in distress in a way that would melt the heart of even a heartless crow. They kept talking without a break, for that is a crow's way. If there is even a split-second interruption, the oncoming crows will whirl and flee.
Now they had the hang of it, the Baltimore boys got crows by the thousands. For three years straight now, one of them has won the contest put on by the National Sporting Goods Co. of Baltimore. Last week Charlie Weaver brought in 1,229 crows' feet (as evidence of number of crows caught) to take this year's title. No one knows how a one-footed or three-footed crow got in there.
Who cares about this slaughter of crows? Farmers and conservationists care very much. So do crows.
NEW BOY IN TOUGH SCHOOL
Most Fight fans are becoming resigned to a standard of boxing in which the jab is a fitful poke and footwork is acceptable if the boxer does not trip himself. True fighting craftsmanship is so rare these TV nights that the sight of it in a newcomer can thrill like a winning ticket on the last race.
Willie Pastrano, a 19-year-old growing middleweight with the speed of a cheetah, gave such a thrill when he was introduced to TV boxing society in Chicago against Al Andrews, a durable, hard-punching bruiser of no special excellence beyond his ability to take it until he can give it. But this has been enough to carry Andrews a far piece against all but the likes of Carmen Basilio and Vince Martinez. Against the unknown Pastrano Andrews' only chance was a knockout. Unable to deliver it through the magnificently skillful hit-and-run style of Pastrano, pestered by stinging jabs, Andrews stood in the middle of the ring at one point and begged Pastrano to fight at close quarters. Pastrano came in and coolly drenched Andrews' bewildered head with left hooks, right crosses and upper-cuts, then danced back. He never got another invitation. On two of the three official scorecards he won all 10 rounds.
Pastrano, unheard of in northern rings, is the latest product of Whitey Esneault's wonderful New Orleans stable, in which Ralph Dupas, second-ranking lightweight, was groomed.
One-legged Whitey has 14 or 15 professional fighters and some 75 amateurs under his wing. He has an uncanny eye for spotting ring talent in 12-year-olds and the knack for developing them into flashy, will-o'-the-wisp boxers, like Dupas and like Pastrano. They are nursed along until they are ready for amateur bouts held weekly at the St. Mary's Church Catholic Youth Organization gymnasium in the French Quarter. Then Whitey leads them into professional preliminaries and, if they survive, into main events.
The explanation for Pastrano's nearly impenetrable style lies in Whitey's training. His boys work out daily in a gym-set up in the St. Mary's courtyard, because Whitey likes them to have a church environment. He teaches them to be God-fearing and polite. Then he teaches them to take care of themselves in the ring. There are fans who urge Whitey's boys to wade in and trade punches, but the manager counsels care. Characteristically, his fighters dance nimbly away from perplexed opponents, lunge in with incredible speed to land a blow or two, then prance out of harm's way, all the while piling up the points needed to win.
"I don't want any of my kids to get punchy," Whitey explains. "I teach these boys to keep from getting hurt. They learn to box to protect themselves. But they also can punch, and they'll show it when the time comes."
Willie lost some earlier fights to boys who would give him no trouble now. It was no disgrace, at 17, to lose to the clever veteran Del Flanagan.
"When Willie first started," Whitey explains, "he liked malted milks."
Happily married and looking forward to fatherhood, Willie has won his last six fights with his wedding ring tied to a shoelace. It gives him the feeling, he says, that his wife is with him.
NEW BOY RETIRES
The Hazards of prizefighting are multiple but what boxers fear most, to the extent that they laugh loud and nervously at jokes about punch-drunk fighters, is injury to the brain. It can happen to any of them at any time.
It will be news to millions of television viewers that they probably saw it happen to Chamrern Songkitrat, an ambitious young Thailander who wants to be his country's J. Edgar Hoover and came to the United States this winter for the double purpose of studying FBI and American police methods and doing a little boxing. By the grace of the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president), he had been matched against Raul Macias of Mexico, for what IBC and the National Boxing Association called the world's bantamweight championship but the California boxing commission insisted on calling just another fight. (SI, Mar. 14). Songkitrat was beaten last September by Robert Cohen of France, the champion, and a few months before that by Jimmy Carruthers. He had, in fact, fought only ten times as an occidental boxer. Until 1951 he had fought in the Siamese style which legalizes kicking as well as punching. Macias won by a wide margin. The bout, scheduled for 12 rounds, was stopped in the 11th.
But no one could question Songkitrat's gameness. He took punishment bravely. After the fight he and his companion, Thai Police Lieutenant Bhuriwat (who has no first or last name or, if you please, only one name) came to New York. Last Friday afternoon Songkitrat collapsed.
The Thai embassy in Washington arranged for his admission to New York Hospital, where he was put under the care of Dr. Brownson Ray, one of the world's leading neurologists. He had a blood clot on his brain, an injury which usually discloses itself from two to six weeks after a blow.
Friends of Songkitrat revealed he had been completely surprised by the offer to fight Macias. He was, in fact, a last-minute substitute for Mario D'Agata, who was unfortunately shot up in an Italian laundry. Songkitrat had done not a lick of training—no roadwork, not even shadow boxing—since his September bout with Cohen. The fight was scheduled originally for March 17, which still would not have given him time to get in shape, then was moved up to March 9. Songkitrat arrived February 23, air sick, and postponed training for a couple of days. He got in about 10 days of training, which included only 12 rounds of sparring before the fight. The afternoon of the fight one of his Western friends searched San Francisco's Chinatown for some joss sticks to burn as an offering. At New York Hospital, when Songkitrat's clothes were being removed, he pressed into his Western friend's hand a tiny, ancient Buddha, two inches high and in a gold and glass case, which he had worn about his neck. Songkitrat believed he was about to die.
Doctors were much' more hopeful. But Chamrern Songkitrat will not box again. He will not even continue his plan to study FBI operations. Once out of the hospital, Songkitrat will go back to Thailand.
The wrestler's not pretending;
That was an honest groan.
The ankle that he's bending
Is, alas, his own.
—IRWIN L. STEIN
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
British bookmakers took their heaviest licking in a generation as Quare Times (at 100-to-9) won the historic Grand National at Aintree with Tudor Line (10-to-1) second and Carey's Cottage (20-to-1) third—but not a horse was killed or even badly hurt on the muddy and dangerous 4½-mile course where four died last year...
Wes Santee barely missed the 4:03.6 world record for the indoor mile twice on consecutive nights at Cleveland and Chicago (running 4:04.6 and 4:04.2) well justifying his alibi ("my legs just pooped out") for losing the Pan American Games 1,500-meter final in Mexico City's thin air...
Cambridge, aided by ex-Harvard Oarsmen Phil duBois of New York and R. A. G. Monks of Boston, gave Oxford crew its worst beating in 55 years, winning by 16 lengths on the Thames...
Nashua won the $148,750 Florida Derby...
18-year-old Janice White of Toronto will make the year's first attempt, probably this week, to swim the frigid, tide-tortured Strait of Juan de Fuca...
Light Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore was ruled out of the ring in California for what officials called an organic heart condition but jauntily swore he would go on fighting elsewhere...
downtrodden Texas A & M (which snapped up Kentucky's high-powered Football Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant last year) struck again by hiring high-powered Basketball Coach Ken Loeffler away from third-ranking La Salle...
the great San Francisco mismatch between Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano and overstuffed Don Cockell may become one of history's top money fights with gate receipts expected to nudge the million mark.