WEEK OF INDECISION
This is an article from the Aug. 8, 1955 issue
As news stories waned on the Meeting at the Summit last week, readers began to discover another meeting on another summit where the Big Four had been replaced by the Big Five. There were no Eisenhowers, Bulganins, Edens or Faures in the cast, but the names involved were, to many Americans, even more familiar: White Sox, Yankees, Indians, Red Sox and Tigers. Geneva had given way to the American League, which was having its hottest pennant race in 15 years.
The standings and events in no way reflected the preseason odds (Cleveland even money, New York 6-5, Chicago 5-1, Boston and Detroit 20-1). In one seven-day period the lead changed three times, and no one was ready to predict what would happen in the next seven days—or by then which of the five teams would be ahead. It was as close as that. No less an authority than Casey Stengel believed that any team which could win eight in a row could start printing up World Series tickets. "But nobody can do it," the grizzled Yankee manager growled. "The rest of 'em won't let you."
Perhaps nowhere was the electrical excitement of the pennant fight more evident than in the air which surrounded Manager Slats Marion of the White Sox. As his team rolled into New York to win two out of three from the Yankees and—for the second time in a week—take over first place by a decimal, the quiet man of the White Sox argued every questionable play with the umpires, moved around the dugout like a caged panther and held court in his dressing room offices before an unending stream of newsmen, photographers and radio people.
"I guess this sudden popularity goes with first place," Marion grinned. "It's kind of unnerving—but I hope it lasts all summer."
NOTES IN MIDSUMMER
The American League race has entered a period of crisis whose outcome no man can foresee, and properly enough the attention of the U.S. is concentrated on baseball. Yet here and there are absorbed individuals, many thousands of them, who continue in their own unique sporting ventures, untroubled by the lack of public interest in their victories or defeats. Near Los Angeles some of these dedicated souls are flocking to a newly opened, drive-in, do-it-yourself rodeo, where, for $3, they can try to rope a steer. In Madrid, an enterprising innkeeper has opened a bullring for tourists; for $17.50 a visitor can fight an inexperienced animal and for $12.50 one that has been in the ring before. In Portland, Ore. boys and girls 9 to 13 are playing daily matches of bicycle polo.
The bear hunting season for archers opened in California's Los Angeles County. Up in Humboldt County there is no closed season and no limit; a hunter can bring in all the bears he wants, provided he will use bow and arrow alone and will not take firearms into the woods with him.
The International Junior Champion Chess Tournament was under way in Antwerp, for contestants under 21, with the Russian contender, Boris Spassky, hard pressed by Edmar Mednis of The Bronx, 17. Mednis paid his own fare, aided by friends who scraped together $360, which left him $15 for expenses. Two great roller-skating tournaments were rolling in Toledo, Ohio and Mineola, Long Island. Fishing boats were setting out each day for the bluefish run off the Jersey coast, and feelings ran so high that the captain of the Ebbie II was charged with having fired a 20-gauge shotgun across the bows of the Henrietta III, the Swordfish and the Seaspray, to warn them off his bluefish chumming grounds. The Campbell's Soup people began to promote in sporting circles a drink called soup on the rocks, consisting of beef bouillon poured over ice cubes, and garnished with lemon peel, mint or cucumber. In the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest farmers hunted the five-pound rabbits that have become a pest—two men ride in stripped-down jalopies over the trackless fields at night, one operating a searchlight, the other a salmon net affixed to an eight-foot pole—a game expected to bring in 10,000 live, edible rabbits this summer. It's valuable also, since some naturalists solemnly affirm that the San Juan rabbits are so big and multiply so fast that they could destroy American agriculture if they ever reached the mainland. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa kids who read 10 library books get free ball game tickets.
And in France authorities worried because an old-time flyer named Jean Salis (he was the first man to fly over Mont Blanc) has built a replica of the plane in which Blériot first crossed the Channel, and has just duplicated Blériot's flight. The authorities worried because another replica has been built, and they foresee a vogue for old planes like that for old automobiles.
It would be foolhardy, of course, to argue that all this is sport—as foolhardy as hunting bears with bow and arrow. Nevertheless, the picture that emerges from these thousands of miscellaneous, obscure, overlooked and often primitive pleasures has connotations of interest, sometimes of excitement and, above all, the essential ingredient of sport—enjoyment.
"BO-BET! BO-BET! BO-BET!"
July is the month when Frenchmen almost forget their preoccupation with art, cuisine, political philosophy and other aspects of France's civilizing mission to the world in favor of a compelling domestic absorption in a bicycle race: the Tour de France. From Le Havre, where the race started on July 7, to Paris, where it ended on Saturday, at least 20 million Frenchmen have lined the roads to watch and cheer.
This year the crowds chanted "Bo-bet! Bo-bet! Bo-bet!" for their favorite—Louison Bobet, a 30-year-old former baker from Brittany trying for his third successive victory, something never achieved in the 42-year-old history of the race. A good-looking, soft-spoken fellow, Bobet found himself besieged by admirers at every pause, every overnight halt.
When the first lap ended in Dieppe Bobet collapsed in a hotel room, fed up with reporters, sick of cheers and suffering with saddle blisters. He groaned, "I'll never win this race." On the third day out, in something of a temper, he stepped up his leg drive and won the 130-mile lap between Roubaix and Namur. Now it is one of the canons of the Tour de France that leading cyclists should be allowed to shine while pumping through their own native regions, and by canon and geography the third lap should have been won by the Belgian sprinter, Jean Brankart.
The Belgians and other traditionalists were furious with Bobet.
As the cyclists sped 2,700 miles into Alsace-Lorraine and Switzerland, over the Alps and along the Riviera, Bobet had to watch his pedals. "He's alone against 129 opponents!" one paper told a palpitant France. "He sees enemies everywhere!"
In the foothills of the Pyrenees, between Toulouse and Saint-Gaudens, where the road climbs 3,000 feet in 10 miles, Bobet covered the route in only a minute and a half less than it took the celebrated Alpine specialist, Charly Gaul of Luxembourg. That put Bobet in first place, gave him the right to don the leading cyclist's traditional yellow jersey and make it obligatory for him to recite again the names of the sponsors backing the Bobet entry: he confessed that he drank Perrier water, preferred Suze aperitifs, slept on Simmons mattresses, used Hutchinson tires and recommended brilliantine for unruly hair. Then, five minutes in the lead, he sailed from Bordeaux across the rolling countryside, triumphantly first, into Paris, reaching the capital's Pare de Princes Stadium four minutes and 53 seconds ahead of Brankart.
"That's the last Tour for me," Bobet said. "I can't go on breathing poisoned air."
Then he went off for a week of sprinting exhibitions.
THE BLAISE SPUTTERS OUT
Blaise D'Antoni, the millionaire New Orleans promoter, has quit the boxing business. Quit. Just like that, last Friday night. He said he was shocked by the innuendo connecting him with racketeers. There will be a couple of scheduled fights; then he will fold up Louisiana Boxing Enterprises, Inc. In a statement prepared in nice-Nellie language. Blaise told why:
"Too little appreciation, and little or no response from boxing fans or civic leaders, and the demands of my private businesses...prompt me to give up my idea and plans of making New Orleans the boxing center of the world...I'd be happy to see others carry on...No one can deny we have operated along lines of the highest class..."
Blaise D'Antoni's trouble was that, in trying to make New Orleans the boxing capital of the world, he had been pretty much obliged to deal with the men who have been running U.S. boxing for a long time. On July 14 the executive director of the New Orleans Crime Commission, Aaron M. Kohn, made a speech before the men's club of the St. Matthew Evangelical and Reformed Church. Said the crime commissioner: "Men of the caliber of Costello and Carbo must not be permitted to feel that they can transfer any part or all of their discreditable pattern of activity to New Orleans."
New Orleans needed no translation. In trying to bring big-time boxing to New Orleans, Blaise D'Antoni had felt it necessary to bring Frank Costello and Frankie Carbo, two of the tired old men of Prohibition's underground, to New Orleans too (SI, July 18).
On July 19 Blaise offered a rebuttal before the New Orleans Optimist Club, and this time no prepared statement. He was speaking in pure D'Antoni:
"I want to explain some of those articles in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. I want to apologize for the way the story was written. This is what happened: I hit the Waldorf at about 9:30 a.m. that day and there were 22 newspapermen and about 12 photographers around...but the first two bastards that got into the room were from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. I'd been warned about them. I told them that if I wasn't quoted verbatim I'd make both of their heads one...And you remember how that came out [SI, June 27]..."
Blaise was not giving up on his North-South boxing axis that day. "We intend to have big-time boxing here," he continued, speaking of the International Boxing Club's James D. Norris as "Jim Norris—that's my associate who runs boxing in the North." And then he told the Optimist Club, in a formal phrase, the relationship between Jim Norris and Frankie Carbo—something even Jim Norris has been officially uncertain about. "Jim Norris doesn't give any guarantees," he said. "[But] through Frank Carbo, who's an intermediary, I have 17 contracts..."
On July 20 D'Antoni was guest speaker at a meeting of the Young Men's Business Club of New Orleans. In the question period, Crime Commissioner Aaron Kohn stood up and asked whether Blaise knew that Frankie Carbo had been arrested 18 times on various charges, including the killing of two men. "Anybody can be indicted," Blaise said. "Did you ever look into your own closet and see how many skeletons you had there? Maybe you did some of the things you accuse him of. It's about time somebody did something about you. I'm going to start a one-man fight. I'm going to be on you like gravy on rice."
On July 21 the New Orleans States editorialized: "The better interests of New Orleans would not welcome the establishment here of operations by men of the reputations borne by Costello and Carbo...The community is indebted to the Crime Commission..."
On July 26 the assistant superintendent of New Orleans police, Guy Banister, issued the following statement: "The gangster interests cannot be permitted to control any sporting event or so-called sporting event in New Orleans."
On July 29 Blaise D'Antoni gave up trying to make New Orleans the boxing center of the world.
WORKING ON THE RAILROAD?
For 10 weeks the New York public relations firm of Stephen Fitzgerald & Co. has been conducting a public opinion survey for Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick. If you haven't been polled, it's because you are neither an employee of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad nor a summer school student at the University of Connecticut, the two main groups of average citizens selected to receive the questionnaires.
Enough returns are now in for a preliminary report to major league club owners in Chicago this week. Highlights of B&O (and Connecticut) opinion:
Nine out of 10 say yes, baseball is America's national game. But some stay away from ball games because there's no place to park. And some think games take too long to play. And some just prefer to watch baseball on TV.
The poll-takers have also collected opinions from sportswriters, and one preliminary finding in particular should please the major league club owners: 67% think that TV baseball fans would be willing to shell out something for the privilege of watching the game in their living rooms.
More of all this later, when the poll-takers issue their final and complete report after the World Series.
SAILOR IN THE TREETOP
Tree climbing is an activity most people give up along about the time they leave grade school. But in the Pacific Northwest, where high-lead loggers continue to work much as they did in the days of Paul Bunyan, grownups still climb trees. Like handling a two-bladed ax or a six-foot crosscut saw or a peavey hook, using a pair of climbing spurs is part of a lumberman's job—and also part of his play.
Each summer, when the logging business is slack and the camps have closed down, lumberjacks gather at places like Port Alberni, B.C.; Longview, Wash.; and Albany, Ore., to test their strength and skill in the arts of the woodsman. There dark-bearded, hairy-chested men with legs like kegs and backs as broad as their beloved Douglas firs compete in the specialties of their craft, felling 14-inch trees in less than three minutes and, unaided, rolling 1,000-pound logs up an 18-foot ramp faster than Jim Golliday can run the 100.
In such company the most amazing athlete of all is a 150-pound vegetarian named Danny Sailor who is not only the world champion at his specialty—climbing trees—but he is so good that he has run completely out of competition.
At the recent Sooke Day sports carnival on Vancouver Island, the 26-year-old Sailor fasted for a week (which is part of his training system), then challenged all comers to step up and take a crack at his crown. Nine came forth. Then the luck of the draw sent Sailor out first to scurry up and down the 86-foot sparred fir tree, a distance he negotiated in 28 seconds flat (21 up, seven down) while 15,000 spectators held their breath. When the time was announced, eight of his opponents withdrew; the other, a Saltspring Island Indian named Ron Pappenberger who was considered to be a pretty good country tree climber in his own right, failed to make it a match race. His time: 57½ seconds.
Having run out of competition, Sailor is becoming something of a show-off. Frequently, on a two-foot perch almost a hundred feet in the air, he amuses himself and anyone brave enough to watch by doing calisthenics, jitterbugging and standing on his head. This may be all right, but to the oldtimers the real proof of Sailor's ability comes when, at the top of his climb, he takes off his hat, sails it out into the air, and then beats it to the ground.
When you can do that, boy, you're a tree climber.
Of the 25 world track records at distances from 100 yards to 30,000 meters recognized by the International AAU, the nine shorter ones are shared by 14 different runners. The remaining 16, from 1,500 meters on, may soon be the exclusive property of two Eastern European army officers.
One, of course, is Emil Zatopek, the fabulous Czech who won three gold medals in the 1952 Olympics and owns world records in all nine events at six miles and beyond. The other is a slim, sad-faced Hungarian lieutenant and ex-clerk named Sandor Iharos who has broken three world records in the last three months and is apparently just getting warmed up.
In Helsinki the other day the 25-year-old Hungarian with the picture stride ran 1,500 meters in 3:40.8 to break Australian John Landy's record. Track experts immediately whipped out their slide rules to figure that Iharos—who was so fresh when he finished that he jogged another lap around the track just for fun—could have kept going to run a mile in "about 3:57."
Before that, at Budapest this spring, Iharos ran the 3,000 meters in 7:55.6, and then clipped off the two-mile at London in 8:33.4, seven seconds under Belgian Gaston Reiff's old record. The day before his two-mile run, Iharos missed the mile event at White City Stadium because of a tummy ache. So his teammate, Laszlo Tabori, beat England's Chris Chataway and Brian Hewson in 3:59, as all three finished in under four minutes. Tabori, a onetime private in the Hungarian Army, said the lieutenant would have run even faster.
Iharos will get two good chances this month at the world record for the mile, racing Chataway at London in a British-Hungarian dual meet August 12 and a week later returning home to Budapest's lightning-fast Peoples Stadium for another try if needed. Just a minute, though. Before that—this week in fact—he wants to lower the 5,000-meter record in a race at Warsaw. And what are his chances? Pretty good—the pace setter will be Russia's Vladimir Kuc, who happens to have set the record for the distance in the first place.
This leaves Iharos with no immediate races scheduled in either the 2,000 meters or three miles, but he can afford to wait. There's still a lot of summer a head.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Sal Maglie and Ed Lopat, for years the pitching royalty of the Giants and Yankees respectively, were sold off on the eve of the August 1 trading deadline as a penalty for their disappointing 1955 performances—Maglie to the Cleveland Indians for a rumored $25,000, Lopat to the tail-end Baltimore Orioles for $10,000, while the Yankees' two currently useless bonus players remained sitting on the bench (SI, Aug. 1).
Italy's Davis Cup team proved itself the hottest tennis combination in Europe by upsetting the Swedes 4-1, thus qualifying to meet Australia at the Germantown Cricket Club, August 12. The ecstatic Italians, after clinching their victory over Sweden, jumped full-clad into the nearest swimming pool.
Louison Bobet, a baker from Brittany whose cycling feats have made him France's greatest sports hero, won his third straight Tour de France, a 22-day cross-country cycling marathon through Belgium, Switzerland and France.
Chris Chataway, having abandoned his role as pace-setter for others, peeled another three seconds off the three-mile record with a 13:23.2 performance for which he kept his plans secret, sardonically explaining later that premeditated world-record attempts are "out of fashion these days" with British track authorities.
Doug Ford, one of golfing's up-and-coming Young Guard, took a convincing 4 and 3 decision from Middle Guarder Cary Middlecoff to win the P.G.A. championship.
Bill Sherwood, an unemployed steeplejack who has been earning $25 a day from a group of Milwaukee merchants for sitting on a flagpole until the Braves win seven straight games, continued his work when the N.Y. Giants ended a six-game Braves winning streak, 7-3.
SWAPS OR NASHUA?
With the match race between Swaps and Nashua scheduled for Chicago's Washington Park August 31, SI herewith presents a couple of tips.
From SI's Los Angeles Correspondent James Murray, who has followed Swaps's flashing career for two seasons: Swaps by five lengths.
From SI's Turf Editor Whitney Tower, who has followed Nashua from Saratoga to Florida and to his defeat by Swaps in the Kentucky Derby: Nashua by one length.
Both writers agree in one hunch: the winner will run the mile and a quarter in track-record time of 2 minutes flat.