ALSTON IN CLOUDLAND
This is an article from the Aug. 22, 1955 issue
Nobody, but nobody, was in a more natural position to enjoy the broiling American League pennant race than Walter Alston, the quiet fellow who manages the Brooklyn Dodgers.
If the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox utterly exhaust themselves in the next six weeks, Alston will not even have to look regretful. With his Brooklyn Dodgers perched on an Olympian cloud, 16 or so games ahead of any National League rival, Alston even had time to enjoy some American League baseball on TV. Ted Williams of the Red Sox? Alston thought he seemed a bit "nervous." Casey Stengel's fireballing right-hander Bob Turley? "Wild," among other things.
Floating 16 games in front last week, Alston ordered out his World Series scouts. Mission: to study all four American League scramblers until the end of the season or until one beats all the rest—whichever is sooner.
The wonderful football game which the College All-Stars won (30-27) from the awesome Cleveland Browns (see page 41) dramatized one inescapable aspect of the annual All-America selections: some mighty effective talent gets overlooked.
Not that some of 1955's All-Americas failed to cover themselves with glory in the big game at Chicago's Soldier Field; Notre Dame's Ralph Guglielmi, for instance, played all four quarters at offensive quarterback and definitely outshone his professional rival, George Ratterman. But none of the men who scored touchdowns in the All-Stars' first victory since 1950—Henry Hair of Georgia Tech, Frank Eidom of Southern Methodist and Mel Triplett of Toledo—got any All-America mention at all last year.
Neither did Baylor's L. G. (Long Gone) Dupre, who disproved that old axiom "you can't run against the pros" by sifting through their defense all night almost at will. Neither did Marquette's Ron Drzewiecki who executed a dazzling 48-yard kickoff return in the first quarter. Neither did Penn State's outsized tackle, Roosevelt Grier—by all odds the most effective lineman on the field. Neither did Ohio State's amazing little (139 lbs.) place-kicker Tad Weed, who booted three field goals (one for 34 yards) and two conversions to account for 11 of his team's points. A startlingly long list—and one which might set a football fan groping for some hard, fast, solidly based fact on which to cling as college press agents begin composing their odes to the 1955 season. Well, sir—neither Harvard, Princeton nor Yale, the fortresses of Walter Camp's old football world, placed a man on last year's All-America teams. Nobody from Harvard, Princeton or Yale played in the All-Star Game either.
UNDERHAND? YES, UNDERHAND
Few human institutions have demonstrated so case-hardened a resistance to change as baseball. The ball has gotten a bit livelier during the dizzy 20th century and bats have changed shape in infinitesimal ways but the game has been played, year after year, exactly as it was in the day of the gas lamp, the walrus mustache and the bustle. Last week, however—at 7 o'clock, Wednesday night, Aug. 10, 1955, to be exact—innovation reared its bedizened head in professional baseball like a stripper jumping out of a paper cake at a DAR convention.
Manager Freddie Hutchinson of the Seattle Rainiers not only risked the chance of a thunderbolt from on high but his three-game lead in the Pacific Coast League and started a softball pitcher named Bobby Fesler in a regular game against the San Francisco Seals. The pitcher, to be sure, was no ordinary softball player; at 25, after 10 years in the softball leagues (where pitchers throw from only 46 feet away), he had racked up a total of 55 no-hit games. Before Hutchinson signed him, furthermore, he had demonstrated an uncanny ability to baffle Seattle's best batters with a hard ball at 60 feet. But if anyone had ever employed the softballer's underhand toss in a professional baseball game the phenomenon had escaped baseball's historians.
It would be hard to guess whether underhanding is here to stay—although Hutchinson sturdily insisted that he was not pulling a publicity stunt ("Would I risk my lead on a stunt?") and that Fesler's astounding underhand tricks with a baseball even at 60 feet (he has six different deliveries) would win ball games if he could only maintain control. Control, as it turned out, was not Fesler's greatest attribute. "We'll wait him out," said San Francisco Manager Tommy Heath before the game. "I don't think he can get that garbage over for strikes." Heath, as it turned out, was right, although Fesler had his moment of glory.
As the cocky underhander stepped to the mound to face San Francisco's lead-off man, Jimmy Moran, a capacity Seattle crowd of 13,899 rose and roared. Fesler threw his fast one in for a strike. He threw his sinker in for another. He threw his riser for the third and the crowd went wild. After that, however, it was more restrained. Fesler walked the next San Francisco batter to first, wild-pitched him to second and balked him to third; he issued another walk, heaved another wild pitch, got clipped for an infield single, walked two more batters—and was taken from the game, which Seattle eventually lost 5-3.
Abuse and derision drifted out from delighted jockeys on the San Francisco bench. "Whoopsie, dearie," bawled one dugout wit, "does um get to pitch at a picnic now?" Cried another: "A farce, that's what it is—they're makin' a blankety-blank farce outa the game!" But the Seattle crowd called for Fesler again anyhow. Late in the second game of the double-header (with the score 9-4 for San Francisco) Hutchinson sent his curio in again. He gave up four walks, was hit for three infield singles and a home run. But he also struck out two San Francisco batters with the bases loaded in the eighth and hit a long double off the Seals' orthodox Pitcher Gene Bearden.
Afterward, San Francisco's players spoke of him with curious respect. "He was wild, just like we figgered," said Manager Heath, "but he was a rough one when he got the ball over." Said First Baseman Wayne Bejardi: "The thing that amazes me is the action he gets on every pitch. Give that kid some learning and he'll be hard to hit." Said Hutchinson after two analgesic bourbons: "We're going to work hard on his control. One thing's for sure—he's staying with the ball club."
Last spring the most sought-after basketball player in the U.S. was a seven-foot, 18-year-old Negro boy named Wilt (The Stilt) Chamberlain. At Philadelphia's Overbrook High School, The Stilt averaged B in the classroom and 37 points a game, and many a coach's heart cracked the day he chose the University of Kansas.
This summer The Stilt has been working as a bellhop at Kutsher's Country Club, a Catskill Mountain resort that caters to "a sports-minded clientele." The other day, before loping off in the direction of Kansas, he took time off from his job ($26.10 every two weeks, plus tips) to give a modest account of his experience so far with institutions of higher learning.
Said The Stilt, sitting in an armchair, his grasshopper legs jackknifing into his chest: "In high school I'd get eight or nine letters in a day. And quite a few phone calls. I preferred a phone call 'cause then I wouldn't have to answer.
"There was Dayton, St. Joe's and Villanova. Then I had offers from Penn and Cornell in the Ivy League. I thought about Penn but I wanted to get away from Philadelphia, go out in the country a while. On the coast? UCLA. San Francisco. Oregon and Washington too. I was supposed to go out there a couple of times, but never did. I got offers from four junior colleges in California—Ventura and something else—Mexico and Florida. Had an offer from an alumnus of Notre Dame. Most of the time an alumnus would be the one to contact you. Sometimes he might live in Philadelphia, or be coming there on a business trip or write you a letter from where he lives. The letters are usually vague at first."
The Stilt sat up, brushed his mustache slowly and smiled. "A few schools are still after me now, but I won't mention the names. They have come up to see me [at Kutsher's] and tell me I made a rash decision. But there's no chance of me switching. I got what I wanted."
What had The Stilt wanted, besides a chance to play for Kansas' veteran coach Phog Allen, that pugnaciously vocal enemy of "fixers" in basketball? His reasons for picking Kansas were private, The Stilt decided, but he had thought them over a long time. Of course, Kansas authorities were giving him a full scholarship. He was also going to be able to drive to Kansas in his own car—nothing too new or expensive. He thought maybe a '53 Olds. "I price cars every day," The Stilt said. "I can tell you just about the price of any car since '36. Summer's the best time to buy cars."
THING FROM THE SEA
An SI correspondent just back from Virginia vouches for the following tale, which may go far to relieve the shock suffered by a young woman at Virginia Beach the other day.
The story begins with a U.S. Navy officer who is passionately fond of skin diving. He was anxious to pursue the sport on a Virginia Beach vacation, but a skin rash on his face made the salt water painful. His dermatologist solved the problem: wear a fullface Halloween mask under regular skin-diving goggles. The Navy officer went to the dime store and picked himself out a nice one, close fitting if evilly Martian.
That, no doubt was why the sunbathing girl on a quiet stretch of beach roused from her doze and—involuntarily—let out a choked scream as she saw the Thing almost leaning over her.
The Navy officer doesn't know why he then said what he said. It was almost involuntary too. It did not comfort the girl much at the time. "Take me," he said slowly and carefully, "to your President."
FIGHT MANAGER KAYOED
Chairman Julius Helfand of the New York state boxing commission has shown during three months of investigation into the devious ways of boxing that he knows how to jab, feint and slip punches. But, as other commissioners have learned, it takes much more to win a decisive victory over those who rule boxing. So now Helfand has scored his first knockout.
The victim was Charley Bauer, who has been managing fighters for 30 years without ever so much as having a glove laid on him. As treasurer of the New York boxing managers' Guild, he refused to testify about the curious financial affairs of the organization. Helfand's winning counterpunch: revocation of Bauer's license to manage. Bauer and the Guild's lawyer, Murray (The Genius) Frank, screamed that they had been fouled and would fight the decision in court.
In a long review of the situation leading up to Bauer's banishment, Helfand pointed to evidence that the Guild, which sometimes argues that it is a bona fide labor union, is a "baleful influence" on boxing, a monopoly which has sought to control boxing by such devices as the grounding of fighters and managers who refuse to obey it. Some of its manager-members enjoy a "suspicious relationship" with "one Frankie Carbo, a notorious and elusive ex-convict and underworld character," Helfand said, though association with criminals is against commission rules.
There was evidence, the chairman pointed out, that the Guild has been "engaging in practices inimical to the best interests of boxing." Then, as if to hint that mere revocation of one manager's license was by no means his only punch, Helfand telegraphed one that has yet to land.
"A license may be revoked," he pointed out, "if a licensee has been guilty of acts detrimental to the interests of boxing.... A plenary inquiry may establish that membership in the Guild by a licensee per se is such a detrimental act."
HAPPY AT HAPPY KNOLL
The pungencies of J. P. Marquand have sauced the pages of SI intermittently for some weeks now, and oddly enough, to the delight of thousands who never have tasted the pleasures of golf and the American country club (see 19TH HOLE, page 67). He has given these auslanders a kind of sidelong insight into a phase of our culture which helps distinguish it from those of the Bulgar, the Boer and, less positively, the Kwakiutl Indian. Happy Knoll, wherever it may be, is now a recognizable sociological phenomenon.
At the same time Marquand seems to have enriched the understanding of those who do belong to country clubs and, like a good and gentle teacher, has illuminated their lives without ever suggesting that he would want them to be any different. Since Juvenal, the presumption has been that a literary satirist must be a reformer at heart. It is not necessarily so. The satirist more often loves the foibles he slashes. Sinclair Lewis was surely fond of George Babbitt. Mark Twain could not have written Huckleberry Finn without deep affection for the Mississippi midland and its people. And, in any case, the tendency of a writer is to like what gives him a subject.
Members of Happy Knolls around the country have written by the hundreds to SI to express, in the big majority, their understanding of this point. No one has been piqued except perhaps that Marquand has not yet addressed the truly important problems of Happy Knoll—handicap inequities, layout changes, chairmen of greens committees, female foursomes and other golfing mysteries.
Many nonmembers of the nation's Happy Knolls, on the other hand, have expressed doubt that the Marquand Geiger-typewriter has yet discovered the really rich vein which awaits him if he would but look in on a yacht club, a polo club or a hunt club, where the really screamingly funny stuff happens. These doubters are invariably members of yacht clubs, polo clubs or hunt clubs.
Perhaps Marquand will stray from golf and Happy Knoll someday. Meanwhile he seems quite happy there.
QUIETLY BULLISH MARKET
As every bookdealer knows, vast stacks of the books he sells wind up as gifts ("I don't know auntie's size so I'll send her a novel"). Now comes the dean of American sports book dealers, Montagu Hankin, to underscore that it doesn't happen quite that way with sports books. At least 80% of them are bought by people who want the books for themselves.
Hankin figures that is why some sports books steadily increase in value: the buyers use them and hang on to them, which means there are few copies kicking around secondhand bookstores to drive the prices down. Back in 1934 Eugene Connett published a 138-page volume, Fishing a Trout Stream, complete with 90-odd photographs showing precisely how it should be done. There were 950 copies at $7.50 a copy. The book now sells for $55.
That is not high as sports books go—a set of a 19th century magazine called Annals of Sporting and Fancy Gazette is worth $2,000—but it illustrates Mr. Hankin's axiom. Mr. Hankin lives in comfortable circumstances in a big house in Summit, N.J. where fine examples of the sporting prints of A. B. Frost cover the walls, and old maps, lithographs, fine bindings and first editions fill cabinets and chests of drawers, and less valuable rarities have overflowed to the basement and garage. One of his prized items is a venerable English book on fly fishing. The pages are about a quarter of an inch thick. Set in each page, like diamonds in a jeweler's case, are actual examples of the flies described. "This practical volume is so rare," says Mr. Hankin, "a collector who can get one for $475 is very lucky."
The rarest American sporting book is The Sportsman's Companion, published before 1800. Only two copies are known to exist. It has the fine aged appearance of something written on blotting paper, has sold for $2,800, and might not impress you at all. Down to more practical values, an early book on baseball, Henry Chadwick's 1868 American Baseball, How to Learn It, How to Play It, How to Teach It, brings in $35. Old college yearbooks are not worth much—about a dollar apiece—but a copy of The Harvard University Baseball Club (1903) fetches $7.50, the 1928 History of Southern Football $12, and Walter Camp's 1894 inquiry into football brutality brings $20. The official reports of the Olympic Games bring in anywhere from $12 to $50. The 1896 at Athens is the rarest, and the 1912 at Stockholm ($30), printed in four languages, is the best and most vividly illustrated.
Rare sporting-book dealers usually branch into other fields. Prowling around the attics and warehouses of the United States in search of books for sportsmen, Montagu Hankin stumbled across a trunkful of books that included a first edition of Poe's The Raven. He no longer does any searching himself, having retired on V-J Day, but his fame is such in his own business that discoveries are brought to him. Only a fortnight ago a New Jersey junk dealer brought him a copy of the first book of Charles Russell, the cowboy artist. "I once found three original Russells in a Vermont antique shop," Mr. Hankin said, like a man remembering a particularly happy fishing trip. "Nearly knocked me over."
Back at the latest Saratoga thoroughbred auctions—and once more actively bidding in likely yearlings (see page 42)—was trim and white-haired Eleonora R. Sears of Prides Crossing, Mass., who started assembling a racing stable at Saratoga last year at the age of 72. Since then she has spent approximately $800,000 for an assortment of both foreign and home-bred thoroughbreds. One of these was a $75,000 colt by Tudor Minstrel out of Neocracy which Miss Sears has named Tudorka. It would be pleasant to report that Tudorka looks like the current 2-year-old champion; instead, it must be announced that this $75,000 package has never started a race. At present he has bucked shins, but may be ready for some fall racing.
Miss Sears, it seems, has had singularly bad luck in her first year in the game. "Bad luck?" she said the other afternoon at the races, "I've had stinking luck. But I have really no complaints. I knew what racing was when I got into it, and I admit I've had a lot of fun. Just because you lose a match [when Miss Sears, in her youth, wasn't walking, riding or swimming, she was collecting tennis and squash titles] doesn't mean you quit playing the game. I've had a couple of winners, but I guess I'd like a few more—just like anybody else in racing. Yes, I bought some more yearlings this week; I got one filly by Pavot for $4,000. Who knows, she may turn out to be much better than my $75,000 colt or the Blue Peter colt I've just paid $43,000 for. Buying yearlings is a gamble-all racing is a gamble—and I suppose you've got to be something of a gambler to have fun in it. I'm having fun."
The yachts are sailing straighter,
The race is nearly done.
Slide-rule and calculator
Will figure out who won.
—IRWIN L. STEIN
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Ted Williams tapped a blooper into the Yankees' left center with the shift on and thereby became the 96th ballplayer to hit safely 2,000 times in the major leagues. Williams' reaction: "The cheapest hit I've made all year."
Notre Dame's Ralph Guglielmi, picked as Most Valuable Player in leading the College All-Stars to victory over the Cleveland Browns, earned it by playing the full game on offense, completing 10 of 19 passes for 129 yards.
Chris Chataway trailed two Hungarian milers by 20 yards in the British-Hungarian track meet, explained that "three-miling has taken the edge off my speed." Next day he lost the three-mile race by two yards to Laszlo Tabori, one of those who had beaten him in the mile.
The Le Mans tragedy still echoes. Mexico canceled the 1955 Pan-American road race scheduled for December until "safety precautions for spectators can be worked out." In five years of this longest (1,908 miles) of road classics 12 drivers and 10 spectators were killed.
Tony Trabert paired with Vic Seixas in the national doubles championships at Longwood this week—a test for the lame shoulder which has clouded U.S. Davis Cup hopes.
Swaps, 45th among alltime money winners, will pass 20 or more of these elite if he wins the $100,000-added American Derby over the Washington Park grass course Aug. 20, his first try on turf. Then: the $100,000 match race with Nashua Aug. 31.
The U.S. won the Wightman Cup for the 23rd time since 1923 even though Doris Hart lost for the first time in 12 Wight-man singles matches in nine years.