This is an article from the March 5, 1956 issue
The sporting vernacular, with its gift for the pungent phrase, tempts more and more politicos, and this week Adlai Stevenson appropriated it to say, in a speech at a Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Hartford, Connecticut:
"...and from Washington, Gettysburg and southern plantations we hear the President expressing renewed confidence in his team.
"To put it politely, I must say that the head coach seems to have missed some plays and not be too sure of the score."
THE POOR OLD AAU
Since it suspended Wes Santee two Sundays ago the Amateur Athletic Union has been showered with criticism. It has been accused of cruel and unusual discipline because it singled out Santee for investigation and punishment while letting other similar offenders go free; of playing into the hands of the Russians by removing our best runner from the Olympics and thus insuring victory for the Soviets (and a Communist propaganda coup); of hypocrisy because it punished an athlete who took money but not the officials who gave it to him; of capriciousness for suddenly enforcing the letter of the amateur law after winking at violations of it for years; and of gross naiveté in defending the outdated and thoroughly discredited idea of pure amateurism in sport.
Despite the number and quality of the critics—they include Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas and Shirley Povich of the Washington Post, sports-writer of intelligence and integrity—emotion seems to have swayed reason. For the most part, the AAU is being unjustly criticized. Consider:
The AAU singled out Santee for investigation and punishment. Last May Santee received $450 from the Fresno Relays to cover his expenses, including round-trip fare from Kansas to California. Before returning to Kansas a week or so later, he competed in two other meets for which he also received expenses that included round-trip airline fare from Kansas to California. Even accepting one of Santee's arguments—that a first-class athlete is obliged to spend as high as $40 a day on expenses—the $1,200 he received impressed Sportswriter Bruce Lee as an awful lot of money for an amateur to accept. He broke the story in the San Francisco Chronicle. His charges were detailed and specific. There was an immediate demand that "somebody do something" about Santee. The group that had to do something was, of course, the AAU. Despite some recent extravagant talk, no specific charges of accepting exorbitant expense money have been directed at any other athlete.
The AAU is playing into the hands of the Russians by keeping Santee out of the Olympics. The president of the International Olympic Committee (chap by the name of Avery Brundage) informed the president of the AAU last December that even if Santee were to be cleared by the AAU, the evidence already on the record was sufficient to keep him out of the Olympic Games. The precedent for this occurred in 1932 when Finland absolved Paavo Nurmi of well-founded charges of professionalism only to have him barred by the International Amateur Athletic Federation the day before the Games opened. As for propaganda, the AAU's action in suspending its most famous athlete is more likely to reflect in America's favor than against it.
The AAU is hypocritical because it punishes the athlete but absolves the official. Actually, the most significant thing about the AAU decision was not the banishment of Santee (other great athletes have been barred before), but its denunciation of certain meet officials in California and its announced intent to continue the investigation of meet promoters even further. A report of a special committee at the AAU convention last December said in part: "The...sponsor who solicits participation of a star athlete...and 'persuades' him to do so by payment of exorbitant fees under the guise of 'expenses' must be held legally responsible with the athlete and must be banished from the amateur athletic scene. He is as much the guilty party...."
The AAU is capricious in suddenly enforcing the letter of the law after winking at it for years. Again, from the committee report at the AAU convention: "...Recent developments unmistakably lead to the conclusion that the enforcement of these rules has been lax; and responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs must be shared jointly by athletes, sponsors of athletic events and the AAU itself."
The AAU is a vast, loosely knit organization. Considerable power is wielded by the local districts, which consist principally of unpaid, voluntary, sports enthusiasts. Sometimes local pride and strange ambitions take precedence over strict adherence to amateur rules. Not the last of the committee's December recommendations urged that specific procedures be developed for local AAU districts to follow in order to maintain supervision and control over amateur sport.
The AAU is naive in failing to recognize that pure amateurism no longer exists. It is necessary here to recall Avery Brundage's definition of an amateur (from the Latin amare) as one who loves sport, rather than as one who is unpaid. The spread of commercialization, which almost destroyed college basketball and has hurt college football, places a premium on skill. The athlete who plays for fun is left in the cold, unwanted except as a spectator.
A letter SI received this week decries this attitude in these words: "I would like to point a warning finger to a group of ruthless and cynical promoters who have robbed us of a priceless common heritage: the ideal and pursuit of sport. The promoters who slipped a few C-notes into Wes Santee's pockets are deliberately sabotaging for their own selfish purposes one of the Western world's finest ideals: amateur sport.
"What have we lost? An ideal, the ideal of doing something for its own sake, for the fun of it, for the physical and spiritual good to be derived from it. When are we going to realize that these fellows are stealing us blind?"
Shed a sincere tear for the ruined ambitions of Wes Santee but recognize that the AAU's action may be the necessary first step in preventing even worse corruption of amateur ideals.
The true billiards fan finds it hard to understand why anybody bothers to play any other game. But devoted as they are, the billiards people have been dwindling in number. Or rather, they were dwindling until the 39th National Amateur Invitational Three-Cushion Tournament was concluded at the Denver Athletic Club the other day. That event, attracting 4,000 spectators and producing some of the most exciting competition in years, was immediately hailed by enthusiasts as a sign that a revival of interest was on.
Many of the clubs represented in the tournament reported that they are starting junior branches with expert players giving freely of their time to teach youngsters the game. (In billiards, a youngster is reckoned to be in his late 30s or early 40s.) But at least one of the oldtimers was dubious about the project: "Frankly, the game is just too tough for the youngsters. They won't give it the time and concentration that is necessary." A more positive thinker told of the young woman who wandered into the club looking for her husband, got so interested in the tournament that she saw all 37 matches, then demanded that her husband buy a billiards table for their game room.
As for the tournament itself, it was another triumph for Edward Lee of the New York Athletic Club, who has won all of the 12 national tournaments he has entered. This time, however, he knew he was in a fight. Off his stroke at the start, he nevertheless squeaked through his first five matches, then was upset by 66-year-old Lee Lerner of the Milwaukee Athletic Club, the defending champion, Ed Lee having passed up last year's event. Next day, Ed Lee, playing against Al Young, the Denver Athletic Club champion, still couldn't find his touch, was down 28-20 before he suddenly rallied and piled up such a string of points that a spectator finally said: "Poor Al must have thought it was raining billiards."
This victory brought Lee up against Richard Michael, Cleveland champion, and Lee shot his way rapidly to a commanding lead. In the late innings, when Michael made a brilliant but futile rally, tension ran so high that a man fell off his seat in the temporary stands, and a woman spectator, a billiards square, cheered loudly. A horrified oldtimer whispered, "Who let that Dead End kid in?" The match proceeded with only such properly hushed comments as "By damn, sir, that was brilliant!"
In the playoff match next day, Lee was at his superlative best and although Michael played brilliantly, he simply couldn't keep pace with the New Yorker who has been called "the Ben Hogan of three-cushion billiards." Lee won, 50-28, in the 61st inning.
REUNION AT ANNAPOLIS
Nothing in sport demands quite such a combination of delicate timing, selfless teamwork and brute strength as intercollegiate rowing. Reassembling an eight-oared crew after its members have split up and gone their various ways in the world would, in most cases, be something like getting the late John L. Sullivan back above-ground and into training again. Nevertheless all members of the United States Naval Academy's rowing team of 1952, which whipped the world at the last Olympics, are gathering at Annapolis to start training again this week—a good many of them with wives and children in tow—and every man of them is bursting with the hope that they can make history repeat itself at Melbourne in November.
There is almost no precedent for such an experiment, but what little there is suggests failure—Navy's 1920 crew regrouped in an attempt to qualify for the 1924 Olympics but lost by five heartbreaking feet to Yale. Navy's 1952 Olympic champions, however, are not inclined to think much about the past, one way or another. For one thing, six of them were sophomores when they rowed at Helsinki; they competed with the unbeaten Navy crews of 1953 and 1954 as well, and thus have been away from the Academy for only a year. Ed Stevens, the Olympic stroke, is one of the six—he has not gained a pound, does not drink or smoke and, at 23, feels he can be at the top of his form this summer and fall. And almost all of the 18 returning officers (the Olympic crew and its coxswain, Charles D. Manring, plus eight other oarsmen and a second cox who competed at Navy during the last four years) have kept in constant touch with each other and have been hoping for the chance to try a comeback.
At Annapolis last week, the first arrivals could hardly wait to take a shell out on the water. It was a moment they had been awaiting since 1953, when Olympic Stroke Stevens approached the U.S. Olympic rowing chairman, Clifford (Tip) Goes, and suggested that he and his shellmates try it again in 1956. Goes sold the Navy's high brass on the idea. When Congress passed a law, last spring, authorizing the Armed Forces to train picked servicemen for the Pan-American Games and the Olympics, the crew's comeback was as good as started.
The '52 No. 3 oar, James R. Dunbar, was chosen "social secretary" of the group, and kept the other ex-oarsmen up to date on developments. Last summer the Academy's athletic director, Captain Elliott Loughlin, sent each of the 18 men a letter asking for their "personal desires" in the matter. All 18 wrote back asking for the chance to go into training again. Last fall Stroke Stevens (who was serving on the cruiser Albany), No. 2 Oar William Fields (aboard a carrier in the Pacific) and all the rest were ordered to "proceed" in February to the "United States Naval Academy for duty in connection with the Olympic Rowing Team."
Last week, as they began arriving at Annapolis, Navy's outspoken and venerable Coach Rusty Callow regarded them with a mixture of pride and sorrow. Nothing in Callow's career gives him quite the satisfaction of the 1952 Olympics. But was this his Olympic crew? Six of his first-boat men have married since graduation. Who knew, he muttered, what wives and children might have done to them. Who knew, for that matter, what might have happened even to the bachelors—four of whom, he noted with horror, had rented a house in Annapolis, bought a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, and were attempting to make their own meals.
"Weight is the first problem," he said. "I'd say maybe Armour & Co. might be interested in them the way they look now. It's got to come off. A mile a day of roadwork to start with, some calisthenics, a little rowing in the tank. But you can't work 'em too hard at first. Why you could kill 'em by not going into training gradually. Hands are going to be a bad problem. They can soak 'em in alcohol and alum to toughen them, but I'm just hoping it will work. I saw 'em rowing the other day from the bank. They were so tired they couldn't hardly get the boat back into the boathouse. They were puffin' so bad they couldn't hardly get upstairs to the shower room. We'll have a training table. We'll have morning workouts in February and March. Then, if they can stand it, we'll work 'em twice a day from April on."
It was an odd welcome, but effective. "Most of us," said Stroke Stevens, with a certain steeliness, "have had an idea this was going to happen and most of us have stayed in shape."
A taxi cab swooped down on New York's Seventh Regiment Armory one day last week to pick up a fare who had just emerged from the National Indoor Tennis Championships. "What's going on in there?" asked the driver as he careened down Park Avenue. "They having an antique show or something?"
It was a good guess. This year's matches were about as interesting as an exhibit of 19th century milk glass. American entries had seldom looked worse. Top-seeded Vic Seixas bowed out in an early round, and after Sweden's Sven Davidson, the 1954 winner, had lost the U.S. championship in an intramural match to his fellow countryman, Ulf Schmidt, one unpleasant conclusion was disturbingly obvious: since Tony Trabert defected to the pros, American amateur tennis has become amateurish indeed.
Billy Talbert, nonplaying, long-suffering captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, peered through the gloom of the armory—a building better suited for hangings than sport—and silently watched the Swedes lope through their semifinal matches with the last surviving Americans: Gil Shea, a player who perennially is supposed to blossom into greatness, and Art Larsen, a fading flower. Looking ahead to the formidable task of recovering the Davis Cup from Australia, Talbert shrugged and spoke frankly: "We've got a hell of a problem," he admitted, "but I'm not pessimistic. It just means we have to work a little harder and get the most out of the old players and do our darndest to bring along the young ones."
Still, unless the American veterans regain the drive of youth, or American youngsters develop the polish of age, the chances of Davis Cup success look slim. In fact, the bigwigs of tennis are scared stiff that America may not even reach the challenge round against Australia. The U.S. will first have to survive the American zone rounds, then knock off the European champs, and from their play last week, Sweden might well beat any team Billy Talbert can put together.
To grow a new crop of stars, the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association announced a program earlier this month that finally gets down to the heart of the problem: kids just aren't playing enough tennis. The Association plans to spend $50,000 this year convincing youngsters that tennis is no sissy game and ranks in prestige with baseball and football, and then teaching them how to play like champions.
No one expects this USLTA program to pay off for three to five years, and next summer the U.S. will have to stand pat with players who have only hovered on the edge of greatness—Ham Richardson, old Vic Seixas, and perhaps Dick Savitt, the Texas oilman, who might be the one big man Talbert needs for the Davis Cup, if he will put sport ahead of business.
For now, at least, all the great names of American tennis are in the past. On pages 6 and 7, HOTBOX presents some informal nominations for the newly organized National Tennis Hall of Fame—Bill Tilden, Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Bill Johnston, Bill Lamed, and so on; names that make heady reading. Perhaps some worthy successors will soon be popping bubble gum and winning playground tournaments across the land. Anyway, it is a nice thought.
MICKEY'S GREAT DAY
The tall, curly-haired young fellow seated at a table in the bar of the Bobby Jones Country Club at Sarasota, Fla. had just posted a score of 106 for an 18-hole round of tournament play. Every now and then somebody would stop at the table and slap him on the back and say, "Nice going, boy!" Or somebody would call out from across the room, "Congratulations, kid!" The grin on the map-of-Ireland face of the big fellow stretched from Ulster to Cork and he kept saying, "How about that? Real good, huh?" Then he would reach across the table and pat the hand of his wife Barbara or hug his 3-year-old daughter Bobby, seated on his lap.
A strange way for a man to behave after a disastrous round of golf? Golf-schmolf, who could care less? This was the Early Wynn tournament for ballplayers and for charity and this was Maurice (Mickey) McDermott (see page 31), the 27-year-old left-hander who had just been traded from the last-place Washington Senators to the first-place New York Yankees. This was the fellow who had been sweating it out all winter, knowing that he was on the trading block ("It was in all the papers, wasn't it?"), and now had hit the jackpot. "There was no place to go but up," he said, "but we didn't even let ourselves think about the Yankees. When the trade was announced over the radio, I was over at Sunshine Springs where I've been working all winter doing publicity for the water show there and I happened to be passing by the office and this girl stuck her head out of the window and yelled, 'Hey, Mickey, you been traded to the Yankees!' So I hollered right back at her, 'Get lost!' "
Mrs. McDermott nodded and added her version: "I was at home and this friend of ours, Jimmy Spanos, called and said, 'Did you hear it on the radio?' I said, 'Hear what?' And he said, 'Mickey's been traded to the Yankees!' Well, Jimmy is always playing jokes and so I said, 'Cut it out, Jimmy, I've got things to do.' He said, 'No kidding, call the radio station.' I hung up the phone and before I could pick it up again, there was Mac on the phone and he had called the station and it was true."
She looked at Mickey and he looked at her and they both laughed. "Man," said Mickey, "oh, man." Somebody yelled from the bar, "How's it feel, Mickey?" Mickey held up his hand and made a circle with his thumb and fore-finger. "Real good," he called back.
The McDermotts (soon there will be four of them) have just bought a new house in Sarasota and will live there permanently now. Except, of course, during the season when Mickey will probably set up a household in New Jersey. At 27, with a burning fast ball and improving control and a growing disinterest in nightclub crooning and fist fighting with sportswriters, the future looks bright to Mickey McDermott. Of course, his golf game could hardly be worse, but could Mickey—or Casey Stengel—care less?
The basketball professional,
A tall type most appealing,
Leaped high to score a basket
And sailed on through the ceiling.
—ROGER B. PREHN
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Juan-Manuel Fangio, Argentina's champion racing driver, may have to cancel out of Sebring, where he was to drive for one of Ferrari's three racing teams. Under the Perón regime, Fangio was allowed to import European racing cars duty-free; Argentina's new government now refuses to release Fangio's passport until he pays back all the duty imposts from which he was exempted by Perón. At the moment he doesn't have that kind of cash on hand.
Vic Seixas, veteran U.S. Davis Cup star who is now 32, is wearing spectacles (for nearsightedness) this indoor season (see page 15). Also, he doubts that he will be available for any foreign cup matches later this year. "I'm working on a proposition for a TV job," he said, "and if I get it, I'd be silly to stay in tennis."
The legendary redbirds which have perched jauntily on the St. Louis Cardinals' baseball uniform for lo, these many years will be demoted and sewn on their sleeves by the time the baseball season gets under way. For a last look at the uniform of the old Gashouse Gang, to be worn through the spring exhibition schedule, see cover.
Texas Tech may soon be admitted to the Southwest Conference after 29 years of trying. SMU has announced that it will change its vote to aye at a conference meeting in May; if four other schools, University of Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Christian continue their previous support, Tech will have the five votes needed for admission and thus be the first new addition to the seven-college conference since TCU was accepted in 1922.
Air-conditioned dugout is the latest baseball gimmick now being prepared by the Cincinnati Redlegs. Thermostatic control will keep the dugout cool enough to relieve the players on scorching days but not too cool to risk damaging pitching arms.