This is an article from the July 4, 1955 issue
Sports-Loving Governor Robert B. Meyner of New Jersey recently presented the 1954 Spingarn Medal, highest award of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to Publisher Carl Murphy of Baltimore, head of the Afro-American Newspapers. Then, to the surprise of all present, the young governor proceeded to give the NAACP a solid rap on the knuckles.
"I notice," he said, "you have not deemed it suitable to award the Spingarn Medal in the field of athletics. But it is my belief that Negro athletes, in this sports-loving nation of ours, have done a great deal to break down old taboos and prejudices. I am thinking of such persons as Jesse Owens, the track star, who confounded Adolf Hitler's racial theories by running away with Olympic prizes in Berlin. Adolf was so mad he left the stadium.
"I am thinking of Levi Jackson, who became the captain of the Yale football team and a member of one of the exclusive Yale societies; of Jackie Robinson, the first Negro ballplayer to be admitted to the major leagues, thus establishing a precedent which has been followed generally; and of Joe Louis, who surely was one of the greatest boxers and greatest champions in the history of the ring.
"It seems to me that such men as these have played a most important role in Negro progress and, by earning the enthusiastic admiration of millions of Americans who love excellence even more than they nurse prejudice, have advanced the cause of equality of opportunity for all Negroes."
RETURN TO GRACE
The boxing fan, a wistful waif among the forces which rule his sport, was seated during the week at a bountiful table which served not one but two desserts. Archie Moore, the well-groomed light-heavyweight champion, came into his first big pay-night and undisputed right to a heavyweight-title shot in a brief encounter with Bobo Olson (see page 50). And Vince Martinez, the grounded welterweight, took soaring flight once more against tough Cuban Jesus (Chico) Varona in Syracuse, home town of new welter champion Carmen Basilio.
Martinez, unable to fight since last December because of a managers' boycott (SI, May 30), bears an extraordinary similarity to Moore. He is a superb boxer, whose handsomely chiseled features show none of the stigmata of his trade after 44 fights. He can punch with left hook or right cross and sets his opponent up for these with frosty deliberation, unruffled by bull-like rushes, fending them off with a persistent, tantalizing jab as impenetrable as vault steel.
He thinks as he fights, too. Against the urging of one corner adviser that he finish off the dangerous Varona quickly, Martinez insisted on boxing the Cuban a full 10 rounds to a unanimous decision (see page 56).
"After my layoff," he explained in his dressing room afterward, "I needed those 10 rounds." His punching, in fact, sharpened as the fight progressed. To prove that he could do it he combined a left and right to drop Varona for a count of two in the closing seconds of the fourth round.
An interested, much-impressed observer was Champion Basilio, whose title Martinez seeks. "A good fighter," Basilio said, and added cheerily, "but he can be taken."
Martinez would like to give Basilio the chance to take him. If his grounding is really over, he feels, like Archie Moore, that he rates a title shot soon.
SOUND, WITH FURY
"Boxing, putting a cauliflower ear to the ground, suddenly heard roars in Congress and cheers in the Junior Chamber of Commerce.
The Congressional roars were from the throats of Rep. Thomas J. Lane, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Harold Ostertag, New York Republican, both demanding that Congress investigate boxing's dirty business. Each introduced a bill to that effect.
"Mobsters have muscled in on the game to the detriment of clean sport," Lane told the House of Representatives. "Ask the police departments of any large city who are familiar with the ways and hangouts of the criminal elements. Fighters and managers who are on the level don't like the setup, but what can they do about it? Only an aroused public opinion can save the sport for the boxers and the fans....
"It is no secret that this popular sport is under the tight and powerful control of a few men who run the game to suit themselves, with little regard for the boxing commissions in the several states. As audiences, through the medium of radio and television, have become national instead of local, it would seem that this professional sport should be subject to federal control, since it has failed to regulate itself. Monopolistic drives, to put it mildly, have sewed up the game."
Rep. Lane wants the House judiciary subcommittee on monopoly and mergers do the investigating. Rep. Ostertag, who did not speak on his bill, preferred investigation be done on a broader front by a special committee.
The cheers of the Junior Chamber of Commerce came in convention assembled at Atlanta, where 6,000 young business leaders hailed with a standing ovation a resolution calling upon the United States Senate "to investigate the extent to which professional fixers and gamblers have infiltrated the fields of amateur, semipro and professional sports with the purpose of enacting legislation to remove their sordid influences from these fields of American athletic endeavor."
It was one of two resolutions the convention passed unanimously. It declared that "sports are one of the most important cultural means a nation has for the development of ideals of sportsmanship and manly behavior in our youth, as against those influences which lead to juvenile delinquency."
JOURNEY TO JERSEY
Monmouth park is a New Jersey race track lying about 50 miles south of New York. Trains and buses stop at the gates and the New Jersey Turnpike has motorists there before they know it (see page 57). There is yet another approach and for many racing fans it is the only one. This is the approach by sea, a voyage that gives the thoughtful horse player time to make the transition from his workaday world to that better place across the water where roses bloom and swans arch their necks on the infield pond and some two-dollar tote tickets pay off.
The sea voyage from New York begins at a West 42nd Street pier in the Hudson River. The horse players' ship is the three-decker Peter Stuyvesant. Berthed alongside are the "Round Manhattan Island" sight-seeing boats, and the laughter and shouting of tourists and school children aboard these frivolous frigates furnished an unseemly contrast to the hushed and dignified atmosphere aboard the Peter S. The several hundred horse players, busy with The Morning Telegraph and other pieces of racing literature, are obviously relieved as their ship at last gives a blast of its whistle and backs out into the river to point for the Battery and the open sea. Almost at once there is a perceptible release of tension, as when a battle is joined. A few horse players get up and start pacing the deck, talking softly to themselves. With studied deliberation, the morning drinkers saunter to the bar. A matronly lady, seated at the rail, reaches into a brown paper bag and then, with a faraway look in her eyes, bites savagely into a piece of Danish pastry. Nobody pays the slightest attention to the colorful sights of the harbor, nor to the Statue of Liberty, nor to the breath-taking views of the New York skyline. A fat man in a flowered sports shirt hails a passing member of the crew: "Hey, Mac, what time we due at 69th Street?" "Twelve sharp, sir," replies the crewman, touching his cap.
It turns out that this is a pertinent query, for at 69th Street in Brooklyn a contingent of that borough's horse players wait silently on the pier and with them is a precious cargo: the official track programs rushed from Monmouth and containing the names of all the jockeys, the morning betting-line and the post positions for the feature race. Now there is serious work to be done: passengers (and the waiters and deck hands) work feverishly with stubs of pencils, scribbling, sifting their papers, thinking hard. Few of them seem to hear the ship's loudspeakers announce: "Attention, please. There may be cardsharks aboard. Do not play cards with strangers."
By the time the ship nears the pier at Atlantic Highlands, the New Jersey port, most of the horse players have completed their calculations. Here and there, one of them gets up to stretch. A tall, lean, toothless man looks about him, nods and then speaks.
"This is like it should be," he says, waving an arm. "A day's outing. Throw a few tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs in a bag and make it like a picnic, take the wife, get her out of the house, bet a few bucks, nobody gets hurt."
He shakes his head.
"I'm at Aqueduct the other day, I have some information from this bartender at a gin mill where some of the big shots hang out. So I go for 50 and the horse comes in, pays 10 dollars and change. So do I quit on a winner, come home, take the wife out for a feed and a show? No, I play it all back and 300 besides."
He fishes for a cigarette and lights it.
"It's not money when you win a bundle at the track. It's confetti. You don't realize until you find yourself outside the track, looking for a buck to get home on. Personally, I always keep a double saw folded up and slipped under the identification in my wallet. I got that much sense, but that's about all. Here last year I sold a piece property for $8,100. Who got it? The machines. You can't beat those machines, there's not enough money in the treasury mint to beat those machines. There's only one way and that's quit on a winner. But I'm nuts, I admit it. I ask myself, do I care about seeing the horses run? I do not. All I go to the track for is to hear the call. When I see them coming into the stretch and my horse gets the call, 'so-and-so coming on,' I turn my back and don't look. You want to know the truth, I don't care if the horses drop dead. All I want is to hear the call."
He raises both arms as if in benediction.
"This is the way, a boat ride, a day's outing, a few bucks. Polack Joe, rest his soul, ran the biggest crap game in Brooklyn here a few years ago; he told me himself, 'Quit on a winner, boy, you won't get hurt.' If I'd followed Joe's advice, I'd be able to retire right now. If I could start taking his advice today, with the kind of information I get, I'll make myself a hundred dollars a day and expenses. That I guarantee."
The Peter Stuyvesant bumps the pier and the horse players, each with his secret plan, start for the gangplank below.
ATTACK IN MOSCOW
The American chess team recently arrived in Moscow has in its favor something that every chess player must admire: a bold opening, the simplest and most challenging move on the board. Every country except the United States has conceded the Russians' mastery; in every international match the Russians have cleaned up everything for longer than anyone cares to remember (the English team last year did not win a single game in its match with Russia); and a good many Russian victories have been won with the equivalent of the second team. Everybody has had enough, except for the eight relatively (in this country) little-known Americans who have settled down in Moscow for 32 games against the greatest aggregation of chess power in history.
Chess is virtually the Russian national game. If nine Russians suddenly appeared in New York to take on the Yankees the situation would be roughly comparable to that of the Americans in Moscow. There is no element of chance in chess. The oldest game in the world that is still played in its original form, chess is strictly logical: the American team can hardly count on any outside circumstances providing breaks, blunders or flukes. But surprise, boldness, tenacity, the refusal to accept defeat are potent factors within a logical framework, and in that sense the appearance of the Americans in Moscow comes up to an exacting standard: it's good chess.
It is largely a matter of luck that some of the American team will be able to play. Back in 1950, when Arthur Bisguier, then 20, won the United States Open Chess Championship in Detroit, an automobile-load of homeward-bound players smashed up near Batavia, New York, and four players, including the first-place winner and two who tied for third in the tournament landed in Genesee Memorial Hospital. Since everybody in the car was a youthful chess prodigy, much of the present-day chess talent of the United States nearly vanished right there. Bisguier suffered broken ribs and a gashed forehead. Larry Evans, then 18, is now the second-ranking American player, and flying to Moscow. According to the book, the Americans have a heavy handicap against the Russians, but it would be much worse without these two. In the Russian-American match of 1954 (which the Russians won 20 to 12) Evans won two games, lost one and drew one—the highest score of any of the Americans, except Donald Byrne, who won three and lost one.
It is impossible to imagine a carload of Russian masters in a similar situation. Russia's chess masters are mature men, well-groomed, dignified, their appearance suggesting a group of prominent professors. In comparison the Americans suggest a group of revolutionaries—wild, unpredictable and unyielding in their resistance to Soviet chess authority. Donald Byrne is 25, a recent Yale graduate now studying for a doctorate at the University of Michigan. His older brother, Robert Byrne, is on his way to his third match with the Russians: he won his game from Russia's Grand Master, David Bronstein, in 1952's chess Olympics at Helsinki, which astonished the Russians so much they proclaimed him an international grand master. He lost one game and drew three in the Russian-American match last year.
Samuel Reshevsky, the strongest American player, who drew all four of his games with Smyslov last year, conforms more closely to the popular idea of a master—slight, bespectacled, balding, with an implacable will to win that made him a chess master before most of his teammates were born. Israel Horowitz, editor of The Chess Review, Herman Steiner and Isaac Kashdan are the sixth, seventh and eighth members of the American team—veteran chess players, as are the alternates, Max Pavey and Alexander Kevitz.
At fenway park in Boston, a corner of the left-field grandstand juts sharply to the left-field foul line, and there was a time when Red Sox fans vied for seats in it, the better to ride Ted Williams. There is a legend that one day Ted filled his hip pocket with hamburger and, at a proper moment, flung it to the corner critics with the implication that, being wolves, they might relish some raw meat.
Today Ted Williams enjoys a sort of peaceful co-existence with his corner. Indeed, the corner cannot be said to exist as it did in the old days. All of Fenway Park is Williams' corner now and to sit in any part of it is to become part of the endless Williams debate.
"He's mellowed, there's no doubt of that at all," said a fan the other afternoon, speaking with a rich South Boston brogue. "You take the way he treats the kids. Here the other day didn't he pose with his arm around the boy who got into a fight over him and give him a baseball, too? Do you remember when he'd tell a kid to scram?"
"I mind the time," said another fellow, taking a pipe out of his mouth, "when there'd be one big boo as he came out on the field. Today I'd venture to say it's 85% cheers to 15% boos. Do you agree?"
"No, I don't," said a third man, South Boston like the others. "I mean to say I don't go along with the idea that Mr. Ted Williams has mellowed and that everything is sweetness and light between him and the fans. The man has contempt for the fans."
A man wearing a sports shirt you could see through leaned over from the row behind. "Excuse me," he said, "no offense intended, I'm sure. But you gentlemen miss the point entirely."
The man with the pipe glanced at the others meaningly. "Well," he said, winking, "if you'll put us straight on the matter, we'll be most humbly grateful, I'm sure."
"The point about Williams is," the man in the sports shirt went on, "the point is he doesn't have to give a tinker's damn. He's just so good at his job that he can say, 'Take it or leave it.' "
The man with the pipe broke in: "Did you ever hear of a certain Mr. Babe Ruth? Wasn't he good at his job and at the same time on good terms with everybody?"
"Will you let me complete my thought?" said the man in the sports shirt irritably.
"Oh, go ahead," said the man with the pipe.
"I'll be brief," said the sports shirt. "I was here Memorial Day. Well, sir, Ted comes up for the first time and takes a count of two and nothing. Now an ordinary hitter would be required to let the next one go by but, as we all know, the take sign is never on Ted. So, lo and behold, if the next one isn't down the middle and the next thing you heard was that crack of the home-run ball and the whole stand was on its feet applauding—not yelling, mind you—but applauding as if it was a performance of the grand opera. And then there was Ted racing around the bases, not trotting like your Babe Ruth, but sprinting as fast as he could. As usual, he didn't tip his cap, but just streaked into the dugout as much as to say, 'There's your home run now, take it or leave it.' "
"What's the point of the story?" said the man with the pipe.
"The point is," exclaimed the man in the sports shirt, "wouldn't all of us like to be the same, so good at our jobs that we could tell the boss to take it or leave it or go to blazes? Isn't Mr. Ted Williams the living symbol of the same independence that makes the Irish character the wonder of the world?"
The others exchanged glances. "May I ask your name?" said the man with the pipe.
"Moriarty," said the man in the sports shirt, "from Framingham."
"Well, hell," said the man with the pipe, "bring your beer and come and join us. There's plenty of room in this row."
OVER HILL & DALE
Cross-country running's not for me,
Not in a month of Sundays,
Though I'd run too, I guess, if I
Were caught outdoors in undies.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
The Giants ended their worst Western trip since 1953 with a double-header drubbing in St. Louis, and Willie Mays still slumped. The Durocher lip buttoned on rumors this would be his last season with the Giants who, with an expiring lease, may be spending their last year at the Polo Grounds.
Defending champion Manuel Fangio roared down the track at Zandvoort-on-Sea, The Netherlands, racked up his third Grand Prix victory and put the Mercedes automobile back in competition after its dramatic withdrawal from the Le Mans holocaust.
Tough Julius Helfand, New York State Athletic Commission chairman, reopened his investigation of boxing by suspending the licenses of Managers Charles Bauer, Bobby Nelson, Bobby Melnick and Cus D'Amato, members of the International Boxing Guild. "We are a labor union," D'Amato protested.
A happy second comeback loomed for Babe Didrikson Zaharias after an operation for a ruptured spinal disc. Doctors guessed she'd be back on the links in three months.
Wimbledon tennis entered its final week with Vic Seixas, Ham Richardson and Lew Hoad among the fallen, Seixas because of a lame shoulder. Opposed in the semifinals were Americans Budge Patty and Tony Trabert, Australian Ken Rosewall and Dane Kurt Nielsen. Paris dweller Patty was being urged to replace ailing Seixas in Davis Cup competition.
The Transpacific Yacht Race—from San Pedro, Calif, to Honolulu—began this week with its biggest entry list—54 vessels. Scratch race record: 10 days, 10 hours, 13 minutes, held by the 96-foot ketch Morning Star, which will broadcast daily progress reports via Radio Station KNX, Los Angeles.