The tragedy at Le Mans (see page 40), in which 87 persons were killed and 108 seriously injured, cast a pall over the entire world of sport last week. No one could remember an event more catastrophic. It seemed the more heartbreaking because it came to people on a day's outing, people enjoying a respite from a workaday world where tragedy is not so rare.
Sportsmen everywhere extend condolences and deepest sympathy to the bereaved of Le Mans. And, perhaps, it might not be too soon to express grateful admiration to the Mercedes-Benz team. Because the car which plunged into the crowd was a Mercedes, driven by Pierre Levegh, the entire Mercedes driving team withdrew from the race.
No team was more serious about winning at Le Mans and, by this gesture, the drivers spoke for all the world of sport.
June 19, 1955
DEFEAT IN THE WEST
It was a confident, cocky Yankee team which swept into Cleveland Stadium to wind up a victorious, 20-game march down the Eastern shore and across the Western slopes of the American League. Five games ahead of the second-place White Sox, the Yankees clipped the staggering Indians in the series opener, widened their lead another half notch over idle Chicago, and then prepared to make a farce of the remainder of the season by dealing Cleveland a death blow in the final three games. But the Indians, a slumbering giant plagued all spring by injuries and inefficiency at the plate, ruined the script. Bats booming, they overcame a five-run deficit to win on Saturday, then overpowered the Yankees twice in the Sunday double-header. It was a chastened group of New Yorkers who returned home this week, the once comfortable lead shaved to two and one half games and real trouble ahead in a suddenly red-hot race for the pennant.
Rival managers Stengel and Lopez refused to give the fans a Bob Turley—Herb Score strikeout duel (SI, May 30), but there were no signs of resentment at the box office. In three days, including the Sunday double-header season record of 69,532, Cleveland and the Yankees played to a daily average of nearly 43,000. The spinning turnstiles also helped the Yankees set an all-time major league attendance record for a single road trip (440,035). Thus the 1955 Yankees are presenting the baseball world with two great questions: What is this Yankee team—lacking a Murderer's Row, a pitching Big Three, or even a DiMaggio—doing up there in the first place? And why does everyone except the New York fans want to see them so much?
Stengel attributes the Yankee lead to one thing ("We're ahead because Cleveland has been losing"), but there is more to the success story than that. The Yankees, hurt by injuries to key men (Infielder Jerry Coleman, hardhitting rookie First Baseman Bill Skowron, veteran Catcher Yogi Berra), have continued to win, anyway. A 38-year-old castoff National League relief pitcher, Jim Konstanty, has been performing almost daily miracles behind the faltering Yankee starters. Reserve First Baseman Eddie Robinson has been having a field day whacking clutch home runs for New York victories. And the once-famed Yankee bench strength is far from depleted as long as versatile performers like Negro Rookie Elston Howard and Joe Collins and aging but still active Phil Rizzuto are around.
Other than that, there are still traces of some old Yankee trademarks. The team leads the league in home runs with perennially promising Mickey Mantle heading toward his first great year. Even gloomy Casey Stengel admires the defensive play. "They catch the ball pretty good," he admits. And there is, as always, a spirit and hustle which, if not a Yankee monopoly, is at least a Yankee tradition.
Offered to Leo Durocher and the fumbling Giants by Dan Parker, sports editor of the New York Mirror:
"Wait till last year!"
EYES HAVE IT
Time was when the game of baseball was built on the unsupported opinions of the baseball scouts. The old-timers of this breed could size up a rookie in a single afternoon and predict his future pretty accurately on the back of a penny postcard. Some didn't need that much space. Mike Gonzalez of the St. Louis Cardinals, for instance, is remembered for a classic of brevity. Reporting on a busher one time, he wired the Cardinal office: "Good field, no hit."
Mike's day is long gone. Things are getting more and more scientific. Branch Rickey has reduced the entire game to a formula only slightly more complicated than the Einstein Theory. Walt Alston of the Dodgers is up to his hips in charts. Clubs hire mathematicians to sit up in the stands and tabulate everything from curve balls to passing airplanes. And now it becomes clear that the game is off on a new scientific kick: visual perception.
Mike Gonzalez, with his Cuban gift for simplification, likely would define visual perception as: "Can him see good?" But there is, it seems, more to it than that. The question is not alone can him see good, but also how good is him depth perception?
Two ball clubs now have visual perception projects going for them. The Milwaukee Braves hired an expert to work with the boys in their rookie camp at Waycross, Ga. She is Mrs. Alice Richardson, 51, a former school-teacher, and she undertook to make rookie eyes sharper by a baseball adaptation of fast-reading techniques. Just what Mrs. Richardson accomplished cannot be proved, but one thing is sure: she did no harm. Almost all Milwaukee farm clubs are in first division.
At Rochester, home of the Red Wings of the International League, a more ambitious project is now in its third year. The Bausch & Lomb Optical Company (whose president, Carl Hallauer, is a Red Wing director) has been testing the eyes of Rochester players with a machine called an "orthorater." This excellent contraption is under the direction of an attractive University of Kentucky graduate named C. Jane Davis. Miss Davis and her machine feature a series of 12 eye tests measuring among other things depth perception.
"For judging fielding ability," says Miss Davis, "depth perception appears to be the most revealing visual skill. Seventy-six per cent of the players whose eyesight passed this test had fielding averages in the upper half of the league's standings. Only 24% of the players who passed were in the lower half. Thus a fielder who passes the test has three times as good a chance of being in the upper half as a player who fails."
The tests also indicate hitting ability, and Miss Davis believes that she can even predict batting slumps. But the big value of the orthorater, says Miss Davis, would be in making a selection between two young ballplayers of apparently equal ability. The one with a slight edge would show up in the tests.
Or put it this way: If a big league scout could take one of these machines and give the test to a prospect who was flashy in the field but a little weak at the bat, why then the scout could just stay up all night making his calculations and then, first thing in the morning, shoot off a wire to the home office:
"Good field, no hit."
Sniping at the ancient British game of cricket from such vantage points as New York, Memphis or Seattle—or worse, doing so in England with an American accent—is probably the most ineffectual critical exercise in the world. It would be rank understatement to say that it is something like throwing marbles at a buttoned-up Patton tank, or planting a firecracker with a clockwork fuse in an elevator shaft of the Empire State Building. Groucho Marx watched an interminable game last year at Lord's Cricket Ground in London and finally asked: "How long can they be at bat without running?" When a nearby Briton politely replied, "Theoretically, for a matter of days," Groucho said, "At night they play with phosphorescent balls?" Nobody smiled. Nobody frowned.
Criticism of cricket must come from within. Americans who feel an ungovernable urge to inform Englishmen that cricket is not one of the world's greatest games—and it must be admitted that despite all the amity and concord which now exist in Anglo-American affairs, there are thousands of. them—should seek English sources for their objections. These, oddly enough, are easy to find. Cricket once had a Black Sox scandal all its own—in the early days of the 19th Century a well-known player accepted a bribe of ¬£100 to throw a game. Novelist Mary Russell Mitford (1787-1834) protested vehemently at the dullness of a game at Lord's during the reign of George IV:
"I anticipated great pleasure from so grand an exhibition. What a mistake! There they were—a set of ugly old men, white-haired and bald-headed...dressed in light white jackets with neckcloth primly tied round their throats, fine Japanned shoes, silk stockings.... There they stood, railed in by themselves, silent, solemn...making a business of the thing, grave as judges, taciturn as chess players...." Mary almost blew a fuse. But it is not necessary to rely on such mossgrown criticism. In the last issue of England's authoritative medical journal, The Lancet, Physiologist John Fletcher has presented a report calculated to warm every Dodger fan's heart and to reduce a high percentage of his own countrymen to apoplexy.
Its basic premise: A cricketer uses little more energy in a day than a spectator who is watching him from a deck chair. Fletcher discovered, for instance, that a fast bowler or well-set batsman consumes only 250 calories of energy in an hour—as compared to 324 for a man walking four miles in the same period—while a man alternately batting, bowling and fielding uses up no more energy than is needed to drive a car or do office work. It seems only fair to add, however, that only two newspapers saw fit to report the devastating news at all, that not one letter-to-the-editor has appeared as a result of it, that English cricketers are continuing their earnest efforts to get "fit" for coming test matches with South Africa, and that Englishmen are still watching the game with stolid, unshaken and unshatterable joy.
WAVE OF THE FUTURE
Never, in one short year, has the world of track and field cast off so many shackling preconceptions; on the eve of the 1956 Olympics, with the four-minute mile a dazzling fact and the Russian juggernaut a startling new force, neither records nor long accepted U.S. superiority are sacred any longer. But some preconceptions have been destroyed within the U.S., too. During the last four months, while their elders stole the headlines, an astoundingly precocious crop of U.S. high school students has staged the greatest orgy of record breaking in scholastic history, and in so doing has made it plain that they too may well be in the reckoning before the score is settled at Melbourne.
Few of them are over 18 and many of them are younger. Most of them have served little more than a bare apprenticeship in their chosen events but they have demonstrated an uncanny mastery of technique in hurdles, weight events and jumps as well as fleetness in sprint races on the flat. A few of them, in fact, are already so good that they could extend the world's best this week if thrown into competition with them.
The most spectacular performer, in point of virtuosity, is Eddie Southern, a lithe and long-legged 17-year-old from Dallas, Texas. Southern broke one of the seven high school records which fell this spring and tied another; he equaled Jesse Owens' old mark of 20.7 for 220 yards and ran the fastest time ever—a blistering 47.2—in the quarter mile. In addition he fled over the 120-yard high hurdles in 14.1—an amazing performance, even though high school athletes use a hurdle which is three inches short of the regulation 42 inches and though one other 17-year-old, Ken Thompson of Comp-ton, Calif., has equaled his time this year.
In Phoenix, Ariz, a beardless 16-year-old named Jim Brewer pole vaulted 14 feet 2 inches (beating his 17-year-old next-door neighbor, Ernie Bullard, who could only manage 13 feet 6‚Öú inches). Eighteen-year-old Charles Dumas, of Compton, Calif. set a new high school record by high jumping 6 feet 9‚Öú inches, and then threatened every jumper in the world by doing 6 feet 10¼ inches (only an inch under USC's national champion, Ernie Shelton) at the Southern Pacific AAU meet. Charley Tidwell of Independence, Kan. ran a 9.5 hundred (with a brisk following wind) and set a new record of 18.5 for a 180-yard flight of low hurdles.
The 1955 high school season did dramatize the basis of one chronic U.S. weakness on the track—the fact that youth can seldom compete with age in distance events. Rangy, crop-headed Miler Tom Skutka of Morris Hills (N.J.) Regional High School ran the fastest interscholastic mile of all time at Rutgers Stadium a fortnight ago. His time: 4:19.5. It was a tremendous accomplishment for an 18-year-old. So was the 4:20 mile with which Tod White of Newport Beach, Calif. broke the accepted record earlier in the season. But both, of course, were 20 seconds from real glory.
In almost all other events, however, the gaps between 1955's high school stars and their elders were far narrower. Dave Coates of Culpeper, Va. put the 12-pound shot 59 feet 8½ inches. Nineteen-year-old Bobby (The Mouse) Mosshart of Abilene, Texas ran a 1:54.3 half mile. Dewey Bohling of Albuquerque, N. Mex. threw the discus 179 feet 9¾ inches. Two relay records fell: Jefferson High School of Los Angeles set a mark of 1:27.2 for the half mile; Robert E. Lee High School of Baytown, Texas set one of 3:17.9 for the mile. All of which should make interesting reading in London, Vienna, Stockholm, Prague—and Moscow.
BROKEN BUT BEATING
He likes to fight himself into condition," Archie Moore's trainer was saying the other day. He was up at Ehsan's Training Camp in New Jersey where the light heavyweight champion is struggling to lop off 21½ pounds before defending his title against Bobo Olson next Wednesday night (see page 60). "We had five bouts lined up, but the doctors had Archie running all over the country on this heart business."
Archie's aging heart has unquestionably become the most publicized coronary pump in the sporting world. In the past three months cardiac experts in San Diego and Chicago thought they discovered a heart condition. Specialists in San Francisco and Detroit reversed that decision. "As normal a cardiovascular system as anybody could wish," concluded the San Francisco examiner.
The tie-breaking vote now comes from the New York State Athletic Commission experts who decided to find out for themselves. The doctors listened with stethoscopes, looked with a fluoroscope and recorded with an electrocardiograph.
Their diagnosis: Moore's heart is slightly enlarged—quite the usual thing among athletes—otherwise absolutely normal.
Moore's diagnosis: All I got is a broken heart because I can't get a fight with Rocky Marciano.
The right hand," said the professor standing in the surf of the Atlantic Ocean at Jones Beach on Long Island, "grasps the rod-butt immediately below the reel, like so, with the left side of the thumb resting on the left side of the reel spool firmly enough to prevent the reel from revolving. Like so. Now never 'thumb' your line or you may get a bad burn. Thumb the reel. Like so. Clear?"
The professor, a lean, red-haired, red-necked man of 40 named Jerry Jansen, turned and looked at his pupils standing in a semicircle behind him. The little group included, among a half dozen others, an advertising man, a mechanic, a bartender, a small boy, a postal worker, a manufacturer, and a pretty girl in dark glasses. All were members of Professor Jansen's spring course in surfcasting, which consists of five indoor classes held at a trade school on lower Second Avenue in Manhattan and two field trips to Jones Beach. As the professor looked searchingly at each one, the student casters grasped their rods a little tighter and nodded understandingly. Only the girl in dark glasses was bold enough to ask a question. "How," she said, "do you mean?"
"Like so," said the professor, demonstrating again. The girl nodded as the professor cast beautifully far out into the Atlantic and the students gasped in admiration. The professor, who is not immune to an occasional backlash, cried out happily: "Now you do it!"
The students hurried to position, leaving a safe distance between them, and went to work. The professor fell back to watch them worriedly, shouting instructions and, after a bit, hurrying from one to another for swift individual diagnosis. He complimented the bartender who was casting acceptably although he had never held a rod in his hands before. He moved on to the mechanic and regretfully informed him that his rod, purchased at a cut-rate tackle shop, was "a bum stick." The mechanic looked so crestfallen that the professor hastily corrected himself. "It's not hopeless," he said. "It can be fixed." He swiftly drew a diagram. "See?" he said. "Like so."
From time to time, some of the veteran surfcasters working the beach would stop and listen, frowning, as the professor spilled secrets of the art which, in the view of the old-timers, should be learned by bitter experience. "That guy ought not to be blabbing all that," said one surfcaster, shaking his head. "Let 'em learn it the hard way, like everybody else."
Professor Jansen, a foreman of painters by trade, who teaches surfcasting as a hobby, dissents: "I say the more casters the merrier, and this is only the beginning. Next month a half dozen of us pros are going to put on an exhibition out here and I understand they're going to take movies and put them on television. The old-timers better get used to the idea—you can't keep the art of casting a secret in this modern day and age."
Her jersey's unravelin'
From midriff to head;
The butt of the javelin
Caught in a thread.
—Irwin L. Stein
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Swaps and Nashua made it dramatically clear that their two-horse match race (planned for Chicago next August and reported last week in SI) would be one of the most exciting in turf history—Nashua by a nine-length victory in the $119,800 Belmont Stakes, Swaps by breaking the world record for a mile and 1/16th and beating last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Determine, in the $109,800 Californian at Hollywood Park. But the horses had hardly cooled out when plans for their mid-summer duel bogged down in a tug of war between competing promoters (see page 40) With interest at a fever peak, however, racing fans were looking forward to a dream race.
Hatchet-faced Carmen Basilio of Canastota, N.Y. won the world welterweight championship from Boston's tough Tony DeMarco at Syracuse, in one of the most savage battles of boxing's television era.
Screeching time after time past the scene of automobile racing's most appalling tragedy, Britain's Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb drove a Jaguar to victory in the 24-hour sports car race at Le Mans, France.
Brooklyn's Right Hander Don Newcombe, who ran up a 10-game winning streak despite being suspended and fined by Manager Walter Alston (for refusing to pitch batting practice last May) was finally knocked out of the box by the Chicago Cubs and charged with his first loss.
Brigades of oarsmen from the West Coast, Middlewest and the eastern seaboard headed for Lake Onondaga at Syracuse, N.Y., and the most wide open IRA championship regatta in years—though unbeaten Penn is slightly favored on the basis of performance, Cornell, Washington, Wisconsin and Navy are all rated as possible winners.