BEAU GESTE IN MELBOURNE
As spring comes to the northern half of the world, athletes in more than 50 countries will start work in earnest toward the big target: the Olympic Games in Melbourne next November. This has been a foul winter, and that may explain why the fervor for these Games has been far from wholesome in the past few months. Through the winter, at such times as it has not been diverted by the alleged wrongdoings of Wes Santee, the interest of many has been consumed by the big unnecessary question of whether the United States or Russia will "win" the Games.
No country is supposed to win, of course, and while Olympic officials have been pointing this out from almost every platform except swinging chandeliers, there is still a tendency among well-wishers to keep the national rivalries going. In Washington this winter, Congressman Torbert MacDonald, an old sportsman who should know better, proposed that the government reimburse our athletes for expenses incurred while preparing for the 1956 Games. Congressman MacDonald was thus taking a seat very close to Arpad Csnady, the secretary of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, who this winter advised the free world that the way to build Olympic strength is to give the government a hand in it, as Hungary does.
Meanwhile, happily, sportsmen in the southern hemisphere have been exercising in the good warm air and last Saturday came a pleasant story from the Australian track and field championships in Melbourne, where John Landy had promised to run a truly fast mile.
March 19, 1956
Landy was churning along, as good as his word, when the runner in front of him, a promising 19-year-old named Ron Clarke, stumbled and fell. John Landy sailed over him, raking Clarke's arm with his spikes.
Nothing in the rule books dictated what Landy did next. It is quite conventional for a runner in what was then Landy's position to give his fallen rival the briefest of pitying backward glances—while racing on. In the split instant, however, John Landy consulted John Landy. Then he stopped, turned back to help Clarke.
"Go on, John, go on," cried Clarke. "Don't worry about me."
Landy hesitated, then ran on. Well, he overtook the field one by one and charged to the tape to win in 4:04.2, as the crowd bellowed its happiness. "This," said an eyewitness named Franz Stampfl, who was Roger Bannister's coach, "is the most gallant action I have seen in a lifetime."
The pause to help Clarke has possibly cost Landy a world record. In making the decision he did, however, John Landy set the world a pretty good sporting standard.
EXERCISE IN MILWAUKEE
A New York judge dusted Wes Santee with legal DDT for the second week in a row—thus guaranteeing that any latent professionalism which might cling to him as a result of his "lifetime ban" by the AAU positively would not be catching within the U.S. for another six days—and the Kansas Jackrabbit got into a plane forthwith, flew west and ran a mile in the Milwaukee Journal games.
His second reprieve stemmed from Supreme Court Justice Irving L. Levey's refusal to take final action in the Santee case without a formal trial, which was set for this Thursday. "Even a hardened criminal—which Mr. Santee is not—has a right," the judge said, "to a certificate of reasonable doubt." Nevertheless, neither the court's action nor the Milwaukee race constituted much of a triumph for Santee. As in New York's Knights of Columbus games, most of the milers entered in the meet decided to withdraw and run a special race of their own—just in case Wes's malady might later prove more infectious than it seemed.
Though Santee promised to "run like mad" and though a record crowd of 10,000 cheered him lustily, he could do no better than 4:10.5 against two run-of-the-mill service athletes who consented to appear with him. Because of the charge of professionalism, it seemed that Wes might henceforth be running, if and when he ran, just for exercise—a horribly amateur concept.
There is hardly a phase of human endeavor, from abalone culture to zither tuning, which has not been lauded by legislators somewhere in the U.S. since the Republic was founded. Even so, it is rather exciting to be able to report that athletic prowess, too, is deemed worthy of legislative commendation in the State of Rhode Island. For a moment there it looked as though the legislature of Rhode Island was going to refuse to cheer athletics—in fact it looked as though it was going to disavow two young, clean-living local boys well-known to the local voters.
Well, perhaps that is going too far. The senate of the State of Rhode Island was all for athletics from the start. State Senator Francis Joseph LaChapelle rose and proposed a resolution commending 1) Hockey Player Camille Henry, wingman for the Rhode Island Reds, and 2) Basketball Player Billy Von Weyhe of the University of Rhode Island. The senate simply droned "Aye," and went on about its business. But when the resolution reached the house, cries of pain arose.
"Where are we going to stop?" cried Representative Robert E. Lee. "I believe in the dignity of this house. When we place athletic prowess in the same category as honoring distinguished citizens, well...."
"I bet on a horse that won at Lincoln Downs the other day," said Representative E. Rex Coman. "As far as I'm concerned he deserves a commendation too...."
"Has anybody," called Speaker Harry Curvin, "got an Airedale dog that caught a woodchuck lately?" Then, however, he hastily banged the gavel and put the resolution over to the next day's calendar. Next day the house passed it, perhaps after reflecting on the "distinguished citizens" it had honored the year before. These included: one high school football player, one high school hockey team and one grammar school basketball team, as well as a member of the state senate for "wealth of praise received at a testimonial dinner," a state employee named Joseph Panone for being elected president of the Northeast Mosquito Control Association and Patrick B. McGinnis for his "efforts to develop the service of the New Haven Railroad."
RUMBLE ON THE COAST
The earthquake effect of the University of Washington slush fund scandal (SI, Feb. 20) seemed to have set up sympathetic vibrations all along the Pacific Coast. There was soul searching—or a reasonable facsimile thereof—in high places. There was also a new set of red faces, this time in Los Angeles—an ex-UCLA halfback named George Stephenson told the Oakland Tribune that everybody on Red Sanders' traveling squad as well as a good many less favored players were handed $40 above the conference limit of $75 a month when he was there in 1953.
Stephenson left UCLA for the Marine Corps in 1953, returned last fall, transferred to the University of California, then dropped out of school because he could not make enough to support his wife. Athletic authorities did not overlook this rather disjointed academic career, nor the fact that Stephenson was not a very hot football player. They did not directly deny his charges; they threw mud at their accuser instead. "I'm sure," said Coach Red Sanders obliquely, "that no assistant of mine would make any such secret deals. Stephenson himself...wasn't worth what he was given under the conference rules." Said a coach at California: "A malcontent."
The halfback, however, was interestingly specific in his charges. "An assistant coach handled all this business," he said. "He gave me a slip of paper with an address in Westwood and told me to go there about the third of the month to pick up my $40. He told me to sign my name to the list and collect the money." Last fall, he added, he was told that he would not get the extra $40 unless he made the varsity squad, but that if he did so it would be paid retroactively—even if it took him until the final game of his senior year to qualify.
His charges, plus others, that UCLA, too, had been tapping an alumni slush fund were not, however, without effect. Dr. Robert Gordon Sproul, top administrative officer of both the University of California and UCLA, launched an investigation to "learn whether or not the pledge of the university to abide by the rules is being respected faithfully by those responsible for their enforcement," He was deeply concerned, he said, "that there shall be enforcement without sophistry or subterfuge." Intoned Victor O. Schmidt, who is Pacific Coast Conference commissioner: "These charges are of a serious nature and will be given full attention."
But it was fast-talking Harvey Knox—who has scandalized a good many people himself by his unabashed efforts to boost son Ronnie to a top spot in football's pecking order—who really spoke out on the UCLA case. "George Stephenson has the right approach," he cried. "It's a national scandal. I don't care how bad a football player Stephenson was. That's no answer to what he says. The sooner the business of paying college football players is put on an above-board basis, the sooner...we'll be through with hypocrisy. There should be a fund to pay players but it should be under the scrutiny of the president of the university. The alumni shouldn't contribute to any fund which will be used illegally to demoralize youth. Everybody," concluded Harvey, "is guilty!"
A coffee can filled with mud was shipped a couple of weeks ago to each of the baseball teams in the American League. It is a rare and very superior mud, found only in New Jersey's Pennsauken Creek, a tributary of the Delaware River, and its service to baseball is both unique and one of those imponderables which would be difficult to evaluate.
The service is valuable enough, at any rate, to keep league umpires busy for the rest of the season dipping their hands into the mud before each game and carefully swabbing it over the 60 baseballs which are the quota allotment for a nine-inning game. As they swab and rub, the gloss which was on the horsehide when the balls left the factory disappears and there emerges a white but unshining baseball fit for a pitcher's grip. The peculiar virtue of Pennsauken mud is that it takes the gloss off baseballs without discoloring them or closing their seams.
The mud is the exclusive discovery of Russell (Lena) Blackburne, who is 69 years old now and last year rounded out 47 years in baseball including a tour of duty as Chicago White Sox manager in 1929. He got his start as a mud merchant when Harry Geisel, then an American League umpire, mentioned baseball's need of a dirt which would do the deglossing job. "See if you can find some, Lena," he suggested. That was in 1938.
Some time later Lena was tramping through a meadow on the banks of the Pennsauken about 10 miles from his Palmyra, New Jersey home. There before him, revealed by the ebbing tide, was a limitless supply of the kind of mud an umpire dreams about. It was a singularly clean ooze, scrubbed of undesirable matter by the ebb and flow and confluence of the creek's branches. And it took the slick off horsehide like nothing else.
Each winter now, usually in February if the weather is right, Lena and a fellow townsman, Al Smith, the only other man to know the exact source of the mud, fetch it in buckets at low tide. They take it to the Blackburne basement, where Lena puts something into the mud—he won't say what—to cure it. There it stays for a year, aging and mellowing. Then he and Mrs. Blackburne put it into one-pound coffee cans and ship it away. For this service to baseball he is paid a nominal fee. He won't say how much.
Since each club gets two cans—one for training, one for the regular season—Lena is hard-pressed for coffee cans. He gets help from Father William Quinn's Sacred Heart rectory, which saves all its coffee cans for him.
Before the discovery of the Pennsauken mud, baseball was troubled by varieties which were either too sandy or too gooey. The American League saw its value as early as 1938, and in recent years it has been going to the teams of the National League and of the American Association, where Blackburne's friend Geisel is head umpire. (This year the National League's name is mud to Lena. They have been tardy in placing their order for the 1956 supply, and Lena has about decided to cross them off his list.)
Pitchers are particularly fond of his mud, Lena says, because it gives them a better grip on the ball. He has some criticism, however, of the umpires who use it. "Some of them put too much water in it," he says. He recommends that they massage the balls gently. "Do not," he says, "rub too hard."
Now, however, Lena is threatened by automation. The American League has long been experimenting with a factory-deglossed ball and had expected delivery this season. However, the machines did a poor, mass-produced job and, though engineers are working on the problem, Lena's monopoly is safe for now. And if the machines still can't handle the job next year, Lena has a supply for 1957 aging right now in his cellar, acquiring, through time's mysterious processes, those distinguished properties which have made Pennsauken mud what it is today.
THE SPORTING OUTLOOK
The national appetite for sports, not at all cloyed by television's soft, bland diet, seems more vigorous than ever. The Morning Telegraph and the Daily Racing Form, sister publications founded on the principle that the future may be judged by past performances, have just completed their ninth annual survey of sports attendance and make it clear that we are by no means housebound.
We are, in fact, getting out to the track, the ball park and the stadium in greater numbers. The Telegraph and the Form are understandably proud that, if you combine Thoroughbred and harness racing, horse-following is our No. 1 spectator sport with a total 1955 attendance of 50,473,402, an increase of about 65,000 over 1954. But all sports have reason to be proud.
Organized baseball, which led spectator sports until 1952, when racing passed it in the stretch, showed a neat gain in attendance—60,551—for a year's total of 35,660,208, even though the TV-sickened minor leagues sold 620,951 fewer tickets. Attendance in the major leagues was 16,617,383—a rise of 681,500.
There are similar figures for other sports (football had the biggest increase of any, 15,833,016 fans attending college and pro games, 680,846 more than in 1954), and the net effect is that sport has been having itself a boom. Basketball, hockey and even boxing are up. No sport, taken as a whole, seems to be losing customers.
There are, in fact, indications that, given decent access to suitable arenas, many more fans might be lured from their TV settees to ringside. In Bangor, Maine recently, lumberjacks in their woods brogues and business men in their neat blue suits sat down together to observe Vince Martinez, the once-grounded welterweight, stab stylishly at a trial horse named Paolo Melis for 10 gory rounds, every one of which Martinez won. Bangor's population is 31,558 and the paying audience numbered 6,212. After federal and state taxes the gate receipts were $9,994. Not a million-dollar gate, to be sure, but much better than some considerably larger cities have seen. One reason for the turnout was Bangor's new $1,400,000, multipurpose, 8,000-seat civic auditorium, where the Philadelphia Warriors and the Boston Celtics have played to 6,500 in a nonleague game, where an ice show drew 62,000 patrons in nine performances, and where more than 25,000 thronged the sidelines on two successive weekends to watch a couple of schoolboy basketball tournaments.
This is the stuff which leads Leon P. Gorman Jr., radio-TV executive and promoter of the boxing show, to roar that "Bangor is the hottest sports city in the United States." He notes that the Sullivan-LaBua fight at Syracuse (population 221,000) drew but 1,550 paid admissions (it was televised) and a gate of $4,255.
"The same fight in Bangor, Maine," says Gorman, "would have drawn $10,000 or I'll eat every surplus potato in Aroostook County."
It is entirely possible that Bangor, for mysterious reasons, is just naturally the new, wild frontier of sports. But it is also possible that other cities could use new sports centers and all sports could use self-confident promoters like Gorman, who are not afraid to look an Aroostook potato squarely in the eye.
JUST LIKE MAGIC
The proprietors of the Caliente (Mexico) Future Book announced their opening line on the Kentucky Derby last week, and up to a point it made pretty good sense to the scanning public eye. There was Needles, winner of the Flamingo Stakes (SI, March 5) at 3 to 1. There was Career Boy, C. V. Whitney's highly rated colt, at 4 to 1. Terrang, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, was down at 12 to 1. But, wait a minute! Terrang's stable mate, Like Magic, was listed at 50 to 1.
Bettors all over the country remembered two things about Like Magic. He had finished only fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, but his owners, Rex Ellsworth and Mish Tenney, were reported (SI, March 12) to be even higher on him than on Terrang.
Within 24 hours, just like magic, Caliente got $100,000 worth of Kentucky Derby wagers on the horse at 50 to 1. In this week's revised Caliente odds: Needles 3 to 1, Career Boy 4 to 1, Terrang 12 to 1. Like Magic is 10 to 1.
He went in for golf
And just did survive;
He heard them shout "fore,"
But held out for five.
—A. R. FONTENOT
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
Australian officials have reversed an earlier decision and will now build a cinder training track adjacent to the Olympic Village in order to give runners a handier exercise course. Among the Melbourne facilities for training and competition will be seven gymnasiums for gymnasts, four halls each for basketball teams and weight lifters, three halls for fencers, eight rings for boxers and wrestlers, three hockey fields and four soccer fields.
World motorcycle speed records probably will be broken at Bonneville Salt Plats in late July, when a German team of riders, tuners and mechanics will try to surpass New Zealander Russell Wright's 185 mph and perhaps hit the 200-mile mark, the four-minute mile of cycling.
Hans G√ºnther Winkler, world champion rider in 1954 and 1955, has had his amateur status confirmed by the German Olympic Committee and, barring an unlikely veto by the International Equestrian Federation, will compete at the Stockholm Olympics in June. Winkler was disqualified for the last Olympics because he had given riding lessons to General Eisenhower and other Allied officers.
Milwaukee Braves' advance ticket sales have passed the one million mark, which is more than some other clubs will draw all season long. Last year Milwaukee drew 2,005,836, topping teams of both leagues. The alltime record: Cleveland, in 1948, with 2,620,627.
Televised football next autumn will be much like last year's under an agreement between the National Broadcasting Company and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. There will be a nationally televised game on seven Saturdays and Thanksgiving, with regional TV, as determined by colleges and conferences, on five Saturdays.