Ever Since the beginning of the Eastern indoor track season, Wes Santee has given—at least to the casual eye—a spectacular imitation of a man in the throes of some baffling process of disintegration. He set a new indoor mile record in January, true enough, but he let Denmark's redheaded Gunnar Nielsen beat him and break it the very next week. He was resoundingly booed in Madison Square Garden for his bout of shoving and elbowing with Manhattan's little Freddy Dwyer (who came through to beat him the week after that) and went on to lose the Pan-American Games 1,500-meter final to an unknown Argentinian. Remembering his compulsion for big talk, a great many of his fellow countrymen began to feel that the American candidate for the four-minute mile was only a false alarm.
It was an unfair estimate: it did not take into consideration the difficulties of pacing on little indoor tracks and Santee's lack of familiarity with them; it disregarded the effects of altitude at Mexico City and Santee's resolve to treat the winter season primarily as a time of preparation. And few who scoffed had any real understanding of the endless physical toil needed to condition a man for a distance race, nor the physical agony implicit in a four-minute mile. But by running 4:00.5 at the Texas Relays—the fastest mile yet run in the U.S. and fifth fastest in history—Santee himself has restored a sense of proportion to his own endeavors.
The Texas race—Santee's first outdoor mile of the season—made it obvious that he is far stronger and sharper than he was in April last year. And with milers, as with horses, motorcars and women, a slight increase in speed is only had by a tremendous increase in price. It was not until the last of May in 1954 that Santee managed to get within striking distance of four minutes with his 4:01.3; best time last year—4:00.6—was made in June. Santee himself was surprised by last week's 4:00.5; he finished thinking he had done no better than 4:02 or 4:01.5. It would be unfair to predict that he will break John Landy's world record, but there should no longer be any doubts that Wes Santee is still to be reckoned with in the world of track, and few doubts that he will break the four-minute barrier this year.
April 11, 1955
DUCKS OVER SIBERIA
The story of how 26 banded American birds, mostly pintail ducks, were shot down, or otherwise grounded, over northeastern Siberia has just been confirmed by Dr. John W. Aldrich of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington. Dr. Aldrich said he received the information, amounting to a bonanza in bird-tracing terms, from the Russian Embassy about two months ago and made no announcement at the time because he didn't think the public would be interested.
Now that he has received some inquiries about the incident, Dr. Aldrich is only too happy to oblige. He said that the report was delivered to him personally by Yuri I. Gouk, who is second secretary of the Russian Embassy. Mr. Gouk (pronounced Gook) cheerfully translated a letter he had received from Russia while Dr. Aldrich and his assistants took notes. It was a sparse report, Dr. Aldrich says, but it did reveal that about 20 of the birds were pintails and the remainder were snow geese and brants.
The meeting was on the friendliest of planes, Dr. Aldrich confides. This did not particularly astonish him, for birdmen have always managed to get along well together and are quick to share information about the meanderings of banded birds of all nationalities. Just two weeks ago, as a case in point, Dr. Aldrich received a report that an American had picked up a banded Russian tern in France; the word was immediately flashed to Mr. Gouk.
As for the American birds reported on by Mr. Gouk, Dr. Aldrich said they had been banded and released over the past few years from breeding grounds along the Arctic coast of Alaska and the Yukon Delta. They were banded at the "flapper" stage, that is, while big enough to walk but not big enough to fly. When released they fanned out, some of them, as it develops, fanning off to Siberia.
Dr. Aldrich says that peaceful coexistence is an everyday reality in bird circles. For all concerned except the birds. Those identified in Siberia were, alas, dead ducks.
THE STANLEY CUP
Hockey's Stanley cup play-offs, now in final swing, seem at first glance like the most arrant sort of nonsense. Though Detroit just won the National League championship after a bruising 70-game season, the top four (of six) eastern professional teams have been whacking away at each other all over again to decide who wins the real championship. Hockey officials, players and fans, however, find the process logical in the extreme. Man, one should remember, is a creature easily hypnotized by tradition and is reluctant to depart from the comfortable ruts of habit.
A great deal of the explanation of the Stanley Cup play-offs can be read in one look at the cup itself. It is, without doubt, one of the most astounding antiques in the world—a silver-plated cup which sits on a fluted base which sits in turn on three sub-bases which sit in turn on a two-foot barrel. This complicated system of underpinnings has been added to make room for the engraved names of winners down through the years. The cup has been around for a long time—ever since 1893, when Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley, then Governor General of Canada, donated it as a symbol of hockey supremacy.
The custom of play-offs for the cup has been around just as long—longer, in fact, than professional hockey. In the beginning, amateur teams (the Montreal Victorias, the Ottawa Silver Sevens and other historic clubs) competed for it annually. Professional teams, once they came into being, were obviously stronger, and in 1907 the trustees of the Stanley Cup ruled that it should henceforth go to the best pro team in the world. Hockey clubs literally came out of the bushes to play for it—it was once won by a team from Whitehorse in the Yukon and once by a team from Rat Portage in Ontario.
From 1912 to 1925 there were two major hockey leagues, one on the Pacific Coast and one in the East, and play-offs were an obvious necessity. For a few years the winner of the Western Canada Hockey League also competed. Since 1926, however, there has been one major league. It has shrunk from 10 teams to six while its season has been expanded from 24 games to 70. In 1947, moreover, the trustees of the Stanley Cup turned it over to the NHL, thus limiting any possible challenges to NHL teams. But, for all this, hockey players seem to see nothing artificial in the play-offs at all and nothing unusual in a system by which a team finishing fourth during the season (as did Toronto in 1948-49) should end up as the Stanley Cup custodian. Hockey fans never seem to suspect that the play-off games could possibly be a gimmick to wring more money from their pockets; they practically fight to get tickets. The Stanley Cup is hockey's brightest prize, and hockey salaams with simple fervor at the foot of its well-worn keg.
Bad boxing decisions are as hard to explain as warts. In the case of Gil Cadilli's curious victory over Willie Pep an explanation seemed in order to many a TV fan who had been moved to boo until his picture tube was blue in the face. In San Francisco, newspaper offices' telephones rang with the indignation of fans who had seen Willie fight and, they thought, win with almost the skill of his youth. His was a desperate effort to prove that, despite his years (32 or more) and reputation (not of the highest), Willie still was good enough to rate the boxing license New York recently denied him. Sympathy for Willie is not as common as dirt—a word often used to sum up his ring tactics—but in this case he had it. As for explanations, there were several. In general, they overlapped:
For the most part boxing in the San Francisco area is Sid Flaherty, who manages Bobo Olson, middleweight champion, and Gil Cadilli among some topflight others. A strong independent for years, Flaherty aligned himself last winter with the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president) and the Cadilli-Pep fight was announced as a joint promotion of Sid Flaherty Boxing Enterprises and IBC. It is against the rules of the California boxing commission for a manager to be a promoter, but Flaherty's promotions have been an open and ignored secret for years.
Those who fear or are unfriendly to Flaherty say he "owns" boxing in San Francisco, virtually dictates terms and has a heavy word in appointment of ring officials. Officials for the bout were Referee Jack Downey, who alone voted for Pep, and Eddie James and Tony Bosnich, judges, who agreed on Cadilli. Bosnich, a former heavyweight in Flaherty's stable, was protested before the bout by Pep's trainer. He was told by Joe Phillips, California athletic commissioner in the area, that the commission was not handling the bout since it was to be held on federal property, Parks Air Force Base. At the base, the trainer was told the commission was handling it. Ben Bentley, IBC publicity man, gave this version: "When the air base people came to town to get pictures, the question of officials came up. Flaherty told them the commission would appoint the officials and he mentioned several names."
The appointments were made and the officials—referee, judges, timekeeper—were paid by Sid Flaherty Enterprises, Inc., their checks signed by Fred Spier, the organization's bookkeeper.
Commissioner Phillips moved in on the situation after the fight, during which Willie peppered Cadilli into piccalilli for all but one, or at most two, of the 10 rounds. Phillips suspended Judge James "for life" and put Bosnich on probation with a gently humiliating proviso that Bosnich would sit next to judges at future bouts in order to be coached in scoring.
This is all old stuff in San Francisco. The presumption that Flaherty fighters "can't lose" is common. Frankie Carter, former lightweight, restaurant owner and for many years considered a good referee, was refused a 1955 license. He has a simple explanation: In 1952 he voted for Robert Villemain over Olson. "That's the last time I worked a Flaherty card," Carter says.
There was resigned comment when in two recent contests Flaherty men were "gifted" in the opinion of ringsiders. Eddie Chavez won an eyebrow-raising split decision over Manuel Enteria; Maurice Harper took a divided opinion from Del Flanagan. Kismet, San Francisco said, and nichevo.
Joey Maxim, who opposes Flaherty's favorite son, Olson, in San Francisco on April 13, heard the Cadilli-Pep decision with personal misgivings. After the fight, he said to Pep:
"Geez, Willie, I scored it nine rounds for you! What the hell are they going to do to me when I fight Olson?"
This remains to be seen. A bluff fellow, Flaherty said Maxim's manager could pick his own ring officials. Up to that point, the presumption had been, of course, that they would be picked by the boxing commission.
NEW YORK DREAM TRACK
The growling sea of New York race-goers, who involuntarily pushed, gouged and elbowed one another at the opening of the racing season at Jamaica the other day, at last have something to look forward to besides a ticket on a winner. While their mass torture was transpiring, the legislature up in Albany was finally voting its approval of New York's $45 million "dream track" (SI Sept. 27). Within another two years these same racing fans, who keep their pari-mutuel machines ticking faster than those of any other state, may be able to make their bets and buy their hot dogs in approximately the same comfort as the folks in California and New Jersey, where you can lose your money amongst the finest of creature comforts.
The New York "dream track" is the conception of an exclusive society of 50 members known as the Jockey Club. Throughout its 61 years, the Jockey Club has set the tone for U.S. racing, prescribing its rules and policing the breeding of its thoroughbreds. When the amenities—or lack of them—at New York's old and weary racing plants began to drive the fans to more distant tracks—or just leave them sitting at home in an armchair—the Jockey Club undertook to blueprint a plan to recapture the trade.
The plan which the legislature eventually approved puts New York racing on a quasi-public basis, something like a public utility. A non-profit outfit called the Greater New York Racing Association, proctored by the Jockey Club, will build and operate the "dream track" where Belmont Park now stands.
Either Jamaica or Aqueduct, and perhaps both, will be bought out and closed. Saratoga, whose rococo elegance and tradition excuses its antediluvian facilities in the minds of most patrons, will remain upstate to remind sentimentalists of the good old days. After all, Saratoga is an institution.
The Jockey Club has already submitted a design for the new Belmont that has raised the eyebrows of a lot of oldtimers. For one thing, the grandstand will face south, an innovation designed to put a little sunshine on the pallid faces of punters. Belmont's famed Widener chute, a six-and-three-quarter furlong straightaway, no longer will run through the middle of the racing oval, and its finish will be in front of the new stand instead of what now appears to be the next county. The present mile-and-a-half course will be shortened to a mile and an eighth with a turf track inside it and a steeplechase course inside that.
There are still some imposing hurdles to cross before the New Yorkers may bathe themselves in racetrack luxuries. A couple of fellows who own the largest share of stock in Aqueduct (known in the trade as "Footsore Downs") claim they are being frozen out of racing, and they keep muttering ugly words like "socialism." Then there is the State Racing Commission, which will have to approve each step in the new enterprise.
Taking the optimistic view that the "dream track" will soon materialize, New York may have gone a long way toward making some sense out of a confused business in which the rich grow richer and the poor poorer.
WHALE OF A SIGHT
The silent gray procession has been gliding past the Pacific shoreline each year for who knows how long. Southern Californians, loath to let anything big go by unnoticed, recently took to watching the annual marine migration. "Whale watching," they call it, and that's just what it is. At this time of year the Southern Californians gather by the hundreds in friendly groups from Point Loma to Point Magu just to observe the dignified Pacific gray whale shuttle from its winter breeding grounds in Baja California to its official residence in the Bering Sea some 7,000 miles away.
As Southern California activities go, whale watching is a mild sort of sport. Yet it attracts all kinds including a television actor named Bob Sweeney, who has enlisted newspaper columnists and others. Sweeney and his friends have now worked out the essentials for a whale-watching kit which pretty well describes the nature of the sport. You should have a folding stool, binoculars, pad and pencil, eyeshade and benzedrine, the last a Hollywood tonic for all situations. The approved refreshment is a dollop of Morgan's Blood: pour five jiggers of rum over a half teaspoon of brown sugar, stir well, add two ice cubes, a dash of bitters and serve. Since Morgan's Blood tends to stimulate the enthusiasm, whale watching should be done in pairs, and sightings to become official must be confirmed by your partner.
That is not to say there is anything frivolous about this sport. Dr. Raymond M. Gilmore, a research biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has a high regard for whale watchers, since they provide him with his most useful source of information on the size of the gray whale herd. A century ago the herd probably numbered as many as 25,000, but the hunters who closed in on it each year during the winter rendezvous in Magdalena Bay reduced it to 100 or so by the start of World War II. Aside from its blubber and other unattractive ingredients, the gray whale was prized for its whalebone in the days of the hourglass figure.
Around January the grays start their slow processional to the south. As they reach California they hug the coastline to be sure not to miss Magdalena Bay, where they were all born. In the bay's water they flirt and mate and bear the young which were conceived the previous year. Their social customs provide that the female, which is bigger than the male and can thus enforce monogamy, deliver a calf one winter and conceive one the next throughout the 20 years of her maturity. The herd starts northward in late March and early April, cruising close enough to the Southern California shore to be seen by the Morgan's Blood crowd sitting quietly and contentedly on camp-stools. Last year the watchers confirmed about 1,200 whales, which leads Dr. Gilmore to assume that the herd has now grown to 3,000 or more. Presumably the herd will continue to expand rapidly now that it is protected by international law.
Southern California merchants are noted for their ingenuity, and the word is out that many of them are growing restless over the waste space on the broad backs of the 40-foot monsters. Before long, the watchers can expect to see the herd adorned with such signs as "Kockeyed Kelly's Kar Korral" or "Get Your Rum at Mac's Bar & Grill."
BASEBALL, CAPE COD
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
The bases were bricks, and home
Was a mooring buoy. We stole them.
First was under a pitch-pine,
Second was out in a sand-dune,
Third in the poverty-grass,
Home plate in Walker's path.
On a field like that you needed
A shovel to play shortstop.
I played in center. Once
When I tried to make a shoestring
Catch of a sinking drive,
I tripped and fell on a thistle.
The guy took three and Fulcher
Razzed me, but then in the bottom
Of that same inning I hit
A double and later scored.
One day a kingfisher sat
On a beach-plum bush off third
And watched us. He was the only
Fan that we ever attracted,
And even he took off
At the top of the fourth and never
Came back. I thought at the time,
How bored can a bird look?
'Things fall apart,' said William
Yeats, 'the center-fielder
Cannot hear the catcher'—
Something like that—and it seems
He was right, and wistfully now
I remember how I could hear,
From center near the thistle,
Our catcher shout to our pitcher:
"Now put it right here, boy, put it
Right here, this guy is blind
As a bat, so put it right here."
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
In winning Jamaica's six-furlong Experimental Handicap from an undistinguished field, New England's unbeaten Boston Doge proved only that he may be the best of the nobodies-don't count on his being entered against the likes of Nashua and Summer Tan in such distance affairs as the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes...
After watching Wes Santee run the mile in 4:00.5 (a new U.S. record) at the Texas Relays, his coach Bill Easton swore the Ashland Antelope "can't miss" a three-plus performance this year—next try: April 23 at the Kansas Relays...
The lowly Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators dramatized the illusory aspects of spring training by leading their leagues in pre-season games...
Wild rioting ensued as Argentina won the soccer championship of South America by beating Chile, 1 to 0, at Santiago-five were killed and 200 injured as 20,000 fought to enter the jammed stadium...
The year-long pattern of NHL hockey competition was repeated as the champion Detroit Red Wings and their arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens entered the Stanley Cup finals after eliminating Boston and Toronto...
New tennis rules similar to those of Ping-Pong (21-point sets, single serves and change of service every five points) were used for the first time as Pancho Gonzales of Los Angeles won the annual professional championship tournament from Pancho Segura of Ecuador, 21-16, 19-21, 21-8, 20-22, 21-19...
Boston's underdog (9-5), Tony DeMarco won the welterweight championship from clutch-happy Johnny Saxton with a 14th round TKO and then promptly agreed to meet New York's top contender Carmen Basilio on June 10, when DeMarco's injuries (a cut eye, a sore hand) should have well healed.