A TRIUMPH FOR SPORT
The apostles of gloom were out in full force after the Winter Olympics ended. Frustrated perhaps by the lack of bitter international disputes at Cortina, they pointed an ominous finger instead at the remarkable success of Soviet athletes in the Games and interpreted same as a sure sign of the coming collapse of Western democracy, or at the very least the absolute surrender of amateur sport to Communist strong-arm tactics.
Perhaps it is starry-eyed to put forth a completely opposite interpretation: that the influence of the ideals of Western democracy and amateur sport are changing the Soviet Union and may yet be a significant factor in the inevitable destruction of the brutal, ruthless Communism we know today.
Communists bend the truth to their needs, yet in the Olympic Games, Soviet athletes accepted the harsh truth of defeat as readily as they did the sweet truth of victory. Communists see nothing but evil in Western democracy, yet in the Olympics Soviet praise of Western athletes was warm and sincere.
February 20, 1956
Communists place political significance on everything: Averell Harriman at the Baseball Writers' dinner in New York remembered Andrei Vishinsky's insisting some years ago that a Soviet-British soccer match had great political importance. Yet in a speech at Cortina just after the Games closed, Soviet Sports Minister Nikolai Romanov said—along with praise for his athletes and a proud boast that they'd do even better at Melbourne—that the Winter Games "helped to demonstrate that the friendship between East and West sportsmen and women which started in a big way at Helsinki has become even stronger. When you consider that there wasn't a single unpleasant incident through the Games—even in a sport as rough as ice hockey—then you can realize the value of these games.... Sport is above politics and is increasingly building up a deep and sincere bond between us all."
Sport above politics! Shades of Lenin and Stalin! Maybe Romanov didn't really mean what he said. Maybe his Communist tongue was in his Communist cheek. But he said it, and that alone was a remarkable triumph, if a small one, for the two-often-ridiculed ideals of fair play and sportsmanship that are the backbone not only of amateur sport but, in truth, of Western democracy itself.
START OF A MISSION
The National Parks, with facilities for 25 million visitors, had twice that many last year as nomadic Americans trooped the country over to see and live for a while in their heritage of primeval beauty. They saw the parks overcrowded and deteriorating (SI, June 13).
It was around a campfire in 1870 that the decision to set up the first national park was made, and so, to launch the Department of Interior's Mission 66—a 10-year effort between now and 1966 to save and improve the parks—a simulated campfire was built in the department's restaurant in Washington a few nights ago, and 500 conservationists, Congressmen, other government officials and their wives sat down to dine around its glow. The usually bare walls were garlanded with fir branches. The guests sipped cider punch and dined on elk steaks and roast buffalo shipped in from Custer Park. It was a happy meal because, a week or so before, President Eisenhower had nodded approval to Mission 66.
The need for immediate and continuing action was outlined to the diners by Conrad L. Wirth, Director of the National Park Service. When the mission is completed, he said, "it is predicted that 80 million visitors will be descending upon these recreational areas and unless determined action is taken without delay to prepare for this influx, irreparable damage will be done to the priceless natural resources of our park system."
Mr. Wirth was speaking of the kind of danger which creeps up on a country unawares. Now, thanks to elk steaks and roast buffalo, Congress knows about it. SI lifts a glass of cider punch to Mission 66 and, from time to time, will report on its progress.
NO PLACE TO HIDE
The upper crust of the International Boxing Guild, which is very crusty indeed, has from time to time sought to allay the heat by proclaiming that it is a labor union. If it were, the Guild would enjoy legal immunities and very likely could have prevented Julius Helfand's action in outlawing it. No one, however, has taken too seriously the concept of fight managers as members of the working class.
But lately the heat has been simply terrible and, with a federal antitrust action following close on Helfand's edict, the Guild decided to tuck itself under labor's protective wing in fact as well as in fancy. Jack (Doc) Kearns, one of the Guild's founding fathers, was seen several times in earnest huddles with George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO. Finally, Leo Miller, Chicago labor lawyer, announced that the Guild would indeed seek a charter in the AFL-CIO.
This was brought to the attention of Mr. Meany in Miami, where the AFL-CIO executive council has been holding its winter meeting. Yes, Mr. Meany said, he had talked with Kearns several times "as old friends would." Would the Guild get a union charter, then?
"Over my dead body," Mr. Meany said.
CLASS: WORKING CATS
The working class at dog shows has nothing to do with Karl Marx. It is a division that honors Malemutes and collies, Saint Bernards and Rottweilers and all such breeds as were developed to work for a living rather than spend their days chasing the fox or sitting on ladies' laps.
The cat fancy never has gone in for this sort of thing. There are, for instance, no sporting cats entered at cat shows though cats are well known to be fond of bird hunting. Until just recently there had been no working cats. But at the Memphis and Mid-South Cat Fanciers Club show there were six working cats entered, as against 160 of other varieties. The others were common show types like Siamese, Persians and Manx.
The working cats, chosen because their owners regard them as exceptional mousers, included Black Vulcan, entry of the Vulcan Iron Works, who is not only a mouser but a cricketer. He lives next door to a cricket ranch (the man raises them for fish bait) and spends many a happy hour catching and eating crickets.
His most outstanding rival was Georgette, who lives in the pressroom of the Memphis Press-Scimitar and Commercial Appeal. Georgette not only catches mice. From time to time she catches a rat and brings it to the pressmen who feed her from their lunches. The pressmen do not appreciate this. It was, in fact, some members of the Press-Scimitar editorial staff who entered Georgette as a silver tabby. They backed down on that after giving Georgette a bath. She turned out to be' a sort of brown mackerel color and what looked like silver was just printer's ink.
To test the cats' working abilities a maze was constructed of wood and chicken wire. Each cat was permitted to sniff at four frightened little pet mice at one end of the maze, then taken to the other end and induced to enter it. The cat that got through in the shortest time would be the winner, though a disappointed one. He was not allowed to catch the mice.
First cat away was Cavalier, entry of the Zephyr Awning & Products Company, which makes awnings and products. Cavalier took his own sweet time—two minutes. Georgette was next.
She sniffed the mice and was put into the maze. The excitement, the flash of photographers' bulbs, the buzz of the crowd—none of these bothered Georgette, who lives among the roaring presses. She eased through the first opening, looked about, went straight through the second, darted through the third, stopped to get her bearings before going through the fourth, stuck her head into a cul-de-sac but backed out immediately and then went on through the fifth and sixth openings without hesitation. She finished breathing easily. Time 1:48.
Black Vulcan just sat in the maze, refusing to do anything. After two minutes he was removed. Camshaft's Flywheel (H&H Stamping Company entry) got confused and was removed at 3:16. Calico (of Anderson-Mulkins Antiques) quit like a dog. She looked like a winner, then went back to the start and stopped. Smoky Joe (Memphis Steam Plant) just wouldn't start.
Georgette was the winner of a large silver platter, biggest trophy in the show, but she was not the most distinguished cat in the show. That honor went to Tortiman of Gallus, a very rare male tortoise-shell domestic short-hair who is potent. It seems that the odds against a male tortoise-shell domestic short-hair being potent are about 1 to 1,000.
The most frightened animal in the show was a mouse, one of the five originally brought to the show to entice the cats through the maze. He escaped, and if there is anything worse for a mouse than to escape into the thick of 160 cats, you name it.
SOVIET TROTTERS ABROAD
So far, in their campaign to conquer the world of sport, the Russians have been so thorough, so steeped in certainty (and so successful) that they have been deprived of one of sport's great lessons: that the best laid plans of mice and men, etc. It is now possible to report, however, that this grievous oversight has been at least partially corrected: almost at the moment that the Soviet Minister of Sport, Nikolai Romanov, was exulting over Russia's Olympic victory at Cortina, a group of his countrymen—who had gone to Paris to prove that the U.S.S.R. has the best trotting horses in Europe—were discovering that plans and pronunciamentos are not always enough.
The U.S.S.R. made no bones about its reason for entering horses in big-time international competition. "If we came to Paris," said Michel Kalentar, director of Moscow's Hippodrome, "it is because we believe we have a good chance of winning." The Russians spared no pains in preparing victory: they obtained seven railway cars for their six best trotters, loaded 15 sulkies, two tons of Russian oats, two tons of Russian hay, half a ton of Russian corn, 200 pounds of sugar (the horses get a pound a day) and 500 bottles of Russian mineral water.
Europe's railway systems, however, hexed the expedition from the first; the Soviet horsemen expected to get their steeds to Paris in three days. It took seven. They were halted for five hours at the Polish border, were 48 hours late at Hanover, and from then on fell farther and farther behind schedule. At Jeumont, on the French frontier, the Russians asked French customs officials for permission to take the horses out of their cars and exercise them a little; the French, with a bureaucratic disdain that even a Russian border guard would envy, refused. It was, they whinnied, against regulations.
The Russians had hoped to run their horses against Gelinotte, queen of French trotters; Gay Noon, a Swedish 7-year-old; Scotch-Harbor, an Italian-owned horse, and other top European standard breds in the 12-million-franc Prix d'Amerique. They arrived at Vincennes track (five miles from Paris) so belatedly that the stiffened horses were not even entered. The race was won by Gélinotte. All the following week, however, the Russian horses were worked briskly. Grooms wearing astrakhan fur bonnets were on hand to lead them from the stables. Their drivers seemed prepared for every eventuality—they even had silvery plastic overalls to protect them from mud. But in the 5-million-franc Prix de France, none of the Russian entries placed among the first six. Again, France's Gélinotte was the winner.
Last week the Russians stubbornly went on predicting victory in the next big Sunday race—the Prix de Paris. "Perhaps," said Spokesman Kalentar, "it was the change of climate. Maybe it was the different shape of the Vincennes track which was responsible for our defeat. Our horses are not accustomed to race in packs of 19 and 20—in the Soviet Union there are seldom more than seven or eight participants. We are confident we will do better next Sunday."
But last Sunday the Russian trotters got badly beaten all over again; this time a simpler, if more heretical, explanation for defeat, finally seemed to dawn on their drivers and trainers—that Gélinotte (the winner), Gay Noon (which was second) and two other French horses (which were third and fourth) might just be able to run faster than the trotters from the U.S.S.R.
PANDEMONIUM AT HARRINGAY
Britons regard their system of boxing control, though not their boxers, as among the world's finest. It is a system which rests ultimate authority in a self-appointed, self-perpetuating group of men who are amateurs of the sport—the British Boxing Board of Control. The board has no legal authority but its prestige is such that the professionals—promoters, managers, fighters—accept it voluntarily as the supreme court of British boxing.
The supreme court now has a case on its hands. Kid Gavilan, who has been jobbed before but deserves better in these, his declining years, lost a decision the other night at Harringay Arena, London, to Peter Waterman, a likely young fighter who paints in the Churchillian manner, enjoys ballet, reads Homer and likes to discuss the nuances of James Thurber's humor. Waterman also likes to take his breakfast in bed from an elegant, raffia-wrapped tray—quite moderne—while fondling an equally elegant Persian cat. And what's more, his manager is named Jarvis Astaire.
Well, The Keed, a raffish type if there ever was one, toyed with this charming esthete for a couple of rounds, then moved in with a familiar, oldtime grin and proceeded to clobber the Homer out of him. Gavilan slapped a bit, to be sure, as he always does, but he punched too, and at the end of the fight there were few among the sell-out crowd of 11,000 who did not believe that Gavilan had won, and handily, giving Waterman his first defeat in 31 bouts. The press row was unanimously for Gavilan.
But not the referee. Paunchy Ben Green waddled over to Waterman and raised his hand.
For 10 minutes there was wild, indignant tumult in the arena. A bottle, some apple cores and an orange were flung into the ring, where Gavilan stood shaking his head and smiling wryly the while his manager, Se√±or Yamil Chade, screaming above the hoots and boos, alternately tore at his hair and beat the canvas with his hands. Eventually, Chade had to be restrained from punching anyone who came near him.
What tore it for the British fans was that since last November, when Canadian James J. Parker was awarded only a draw with clearly beaten Ewart Potgieter, they have been subjected to a succession of weird decisions. On the previous Saturday, Belfast fans, a forthright lot, hurled chairs and other missiles into the ring, injuring several persons, in protest against a decision which took the British featherweight title from Billy Kelly, an Irishman, and gave it to Charlie Hill, a Scot.
Referee Green was up before the boxing board the day after the Gavilan fight but was given until Washington's Birthday to prepare an explanation of his decision which, under British rules, is the referee's responsibility.
Waterman, who had gone into the fight a 6-4 favorite, at first claimed loftily that he had won, but after reading his press notices he concluded gloomily that he might better have lost. He and Gavilan watched a film of the fight, then appeared on television together. Gavilan said he would like a return match and Waterman said he would too, if it ran 15 rounds or more. Gavilan had shown signs of tiring by the 10th.
There was talk for a time that American boxers could no longer be induced to fight in Britain, in view of recent decisions. But Archie Moore, scheduled to defend his light heavyweight title against Yolande Pompey on March 13, said he would go through with the fight and was sure of getting a fair shake. Besides, he expects to win by a knockout.
SANDLOT ON THE RHINE
The Baltimore Orioles can leave no baseball diamond unwatched in their search for new talent but when they sent Scout Rex Greaves to Europe to look over the GI leagues no one expected him to come back with two German boys who had learned the game by watching American soldiers play.
But he did, and two promising rookie brothers, Claus and Hanjorg Helmig, are on their way to the Oriole training camp at Scottsdale, Arizona, to show their stuff for Manager Paul Richards and then, very likely, find a niche in Class C or D baseball. From there, perhaps, the major leagues.
Claus is 20, a right-handed pitcher and outfielder. Hanjorg, 17, is a southpaw pitcher who bats right and can double at first base. They speak English well, having learned it the way they learned baseball—by emulating GIs stationed at Mannheim on the Rhine.
"I've been dreaming about becoming a major leaguer right since I saw my first game in '49," says Hanjorg, with a steely, earnest glint in his blue-gray eyes. "It has been my first ambition. And whatever I say about this goes for my brother, too."
"Baltimore," says Claus, "is a young ball club. I want to be in on that growth. I want to be part of it. That goes for my brother, too."
The boys sought out Scout Greaves in Frankfurt last fall after learning from a ballplaying GI that he was in the area. Next time he went through Mannheim he had the boys throw, bat and field for him. He timed their runs to first base, took some movies and sent these back to Paul Richards. He took another look at them in December and last January 20 signed them to a contract, $300 a month each for the regular playing season. His scouting report:
"Hanjorg has amazingly good form, and his whip is really alive. His coordination on the mound is as good as any 17-year-old kid I ever saw, or care to see. He comes off the mound nice and low with a full follow-through. He throws every pitch in the book from a knuckle curve to a crossfire, and he knows where the plate is.
"The older boy [Claus] showed me a fast ball that a lot of boys aren't throwing these days. When I say this kid has a fast one, I want to give you an idea of what I mean. I have a pretty good recollection of Don Larsen's fast ball the year he came up to the majors. This right-hander's fast ball is right along in there with Larsen's. You can check me on this when you see him. I say he can slam it in there."
There were obstacles in the way of the Helmigs when they tried to learn baseball. Their soccer-playing German friends gave them little encouragement. German fields were filled with soccer and field hockey players. But GI ball park groundskeepers sometimes let the German boys play at dusk, after the soldiers were through. And they could not legally buy equipment—there's a government rule against selling or giving bats and balls to the German populace. The boys became expert at shagging fouls hit into the stands. They picked up cracked bats and nailed or taped them together. Torn, discarded gloves were sewed.
They played a mimicry of baseball because they did not know the rules.
"I remember," says Hanjorg, "we didn't know you had to tag up after a fly ball was caught before you could run."
Then, at the America House library in Mannheim, they discovered a book called Major League Baseball, by Mel Allen, the announcer. Hanjorg memorized it and pretty soon he was an announcer himself. He had organized a team, the Knights, as other German boys had done, and during their games Hanjorg would explain to the German audience what was going on.
GIs made Claus a batboy and let both boys run the scoreboard. The boys' idol during their learning years was Ernie Banks, stationed as a GI at Mannheim in 1951 and 1952. Intently they studied every move the Chicago Cubs infielder made at the plate or afield. When the Air Force ran a "baseball clinic" at Munich in 1954, the Mannheim GIs let the boys tag along. And Air Force Major Jack Glynn, who once played outfield for the now defunct Newark Bears, held a little clinic of his own at Mannheim.
The boys learned a lot and all over Germany other boys—in Munich, Marburg, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Wiesbaden—were learning, too. There are seven teams in the German Amateur Baseball Federation. The Mannheim Knights, with three American GI dependents on the team, won the federation championships in 1954 but next year the federation decided Americans couldn't play in the championships.
Last year Hanjorg batted .350 and as a pitcher won seven games, lost two. Claus, the fireballer, doesn't remember his batting average but he won 18, lost two.
"Some of my friends can't understand what I see in the game," Hanjorg says. "They are soccer fans like I am, too, but they don't like baseball.... Baseball is very exciting. They'd like it too, if they knew the rules. It is very graceful."
The skier won the race hands down,
You'll note the phrase, I hope:
His head's across the finish line,
His skis are up the slope.
—IRWIN L. STEIN
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
U.S. Olympic officials, back from Cortina and looking ahead to the Summer Games at Melbourne next November, tend to agree that, regardless of skill, many American athletes at the Winter Games did not begin to approach the edge of physical condition shown by the Russians, Scandinavians and others.
Liechtenstein's Olympic hero, Moritz Heidegger, the 19-year-old motorcycle racer who, though he had never driven a bobsled, raced creditably in the two-man bobs at Cortina (SI, Feb. 6), is dead. His sled crashed through the snow wall lining the track as he trained at St. Moritz for the Swiss two-man championships. His teammate, Weltin Wolfinger, broke a leg but Heidegger, whose brother was killed in a motorcycle accident five months ago, died of head injuries.
Startled horsemen ran across an example of Florida boosterism when weights were announced for the big 3-year-old races at Hialeah and Gulf stream Park: 122 pounds for out-of-state horses, 117 pounds for the talented Needles, which qualifies as a Florida-bred colt on the ground of having been foaled there. Embarrassed stewards could only point to a little-known clause in the state racing commission rules, intended to promote Florida breeding, which hands homebreds a five-pound advantage.
The Cowes Regatta, where many a royal yacht has raced, may have a red tinge this year. Three Russian naval officers, somewhat under the impression that it was a rowing regatta, offered to send oarsmen. Major A. M. Fitzpatrick-Robertson, Cowes Council chairman, agreed it might be done, as in times past, assured the Russians they'd be welcome no matter what they came in—warships, yachts or shells. He found "the three chappies...most congenial, most appreciative, and most un-Iron Curtain."