SEE YOU AT THE BALL PARK
Baseball's spike-shod infantry is advancing, even now, upon the major cities of the country. The cheers of crossroads admirers are raised daily along the route of march, and by night—since this is the fortnight when every manager is duty-bound to maintain a Napoleonic assurance—the telegraph wires clatter with bulletins and pro-nunciamentos calculated to warm the blood of those who wait beyond baseball's 16 Seines. It is doubtful if there is a man, woman or child in the entire country who feels the slightest surprise in this phenomenon—or who imagines for a moment that there might not be an Opening Day, or that the pennant race will not be raging under banks of moth-festooned floodlights in humid August. Will there be a World Series in 1956? Ask around. A thousand throats will chorus: "You nuts, Jack?"
Nevertheless it is a question that a visitor from the moon or even from Moscow might reasonably ask. Your baseball, he could honestly say, is not so sacred as you think. What happened to the Boston Braves? What happened to the Philadelphia Athletics? Murdered by the dollar! Why must you follow the fortunes of nine gum-chewing young men every day for almost six months? There are troubles in the Middle East. You are not interested? What of the contest between your Kefauver and Stevenson? Don't you still like Ike? Can you say that politics in a presidential year is not a greater common denominator than sport? Why is this baseball important? Or is it?
Well, of course baseball is important to the U.S. Any fool knows that. Still, how could you answer a fool who didn't know it?—like love, the Great Game of baseball has an indescribable effect upon the human soul. You hate the world? You will positively not be arrested for rising in a ball park and screaming: "Drop dead, you bum," as long as your seat is paid for. Need reassurance? A civilization in which 16 separate big league teams can be absolutely committed to playing 154 baseball games has a certain soothing solidity; if you have a television set, furthermore, you can watch for nothing. As for baseball vs. The Larger Issues, let us just explain that no candidate would be fool enough to speak publicly during the hours when a World Series is being played. Not only would he lose his audience but he'd miss the game itself and he wouldn't want that—if he didn't like baseball he very probably would never have been nominated in the first place. But, of course, to get back to where this all started, people just don't go around asking about baseball and The Larger Issues, or whether baseball is as sacred as we think, or what happened to the Philadelphia A's. There's no need of it—which is one of the nice things about baseball. Will there be an Opening Day! Will there be a World Series! See you at the ball park, Jack.
April 9, 1956
CALIFORNIA STORY (CONT.)
The parade of witnesses continued in Los Angeles last week as Governor Goodwin Knight's investigating committee hammered away at boxing's dirty business. The principal target of Chief Investigator Jim Cox was Matchmaker Babe McCoy (SI, April 2), his brow furrowed, an ulcer on his hand picked raw from anxiety.
Among the witnesses who pointed a finger at McCoy was Alexander Dumas Jones, better known as Watson Jones, onetime California state light heavyweight champion. "I was just McCoy's little colored boy," Jones sobbed. "I loved that fat man, but he robbed me." Jones testified that McCoy told him to "get out early" (i.e., get knocked out) in a fight in 1950. Jones also testified that he had thrown three other fights, two on McCoy's orders, the other on the bidding of Sparky Rudolph, McCoy's cousin.
Another fighter who took the stand was Heavyweight Harry Wills (no kin to the Brown Panther of Dempsey's day). Wills testified that he was given a fight in Baltimore with Freddie Be-shore on the condition that he lose. He identified New York Mobster Champ Segal, a pal of McCoy's, as the man who ordered him to lose. Segal, said Wills, even promised he would get Wills "off the mob's black list" when he lost.
Wills went to Baltimore for the fight, but he changed his mind and won. It was a dastardly thing to do, but the mob gave Wills a chance for redemption two years later against Harry (Kid) Matthews. Wills worked hard to lose, and he did. "Did you put forth your best effort?" Cox asked for the record. "Naw," said Wills.
The case of Carlos Chavez was also on Cox's list. It was brought out that Chavez had told friends in November 1950 that he was to take a first-round dive against Art Aragon. Under oath Chavez readily admitted discussing a dive beforehand but explained that no moral question had arisen for him in the fight which went one round: "I had bleeding hemorrhoids."
Another witness was a wrestling referee who told Cox that he had been benched for talking to an FBI agent investigating possible monopoly in wrestling. The referee's further story: once reinstated, he was given little work until time for his annual physical. Then Dr. Louis E. Benson, the regular examining physician at Olympic Auditorium (Babe McCoy, match-maker), found the referee unfit for duty. His blood pressure was 170, he had a heart murmur, a hernia, a growth on his throat and a low red-corpuscle count. Alarmed, the referee went to Dr. William R. Gibson, a heart specialist. Dr. Gibson "found nothing wrong with my heart, my blood pressure was normal, and I did not have a hernia."
The referee then went back to Dr. Benson, who, the referee said, registered surprise at "how I got my blood pressure down in such a short time. It was 128." Added the referee: "If this hearing has done nothing else, it has brought my blood pressure down 40 points."
In the light of the revelations, the blood pressure of most other Californians was up. The investigation next moves to rich, ripe San Francisco.
The Ausable is a glaze of ice. Snow lies 20 inches deep along the borders of the Neversink. The Truckee is low and clear before the spring runoff. The Beaverkill is high and cloudy. Brodheads Creek is a turgid ditch.
There will be Americans to whom this sort of intelligence conveys little—just as there are people who take on a lost expression when the talk turns to Quill Gordons, Hare's Ears and Royal Coachmen. But to trout fishermen who have been checking their equipment and gear in mounting anticipation of April and the pursuit of the brook, the brown and the rainbow, very little is more important just now than news of America's cold-running streams.
It has been a winter of long and nervous speculation. Fall hurricanes, heavy rains and assorted blizzards conspired to flood much of the best trout water in the country. Piscator cannot be blamed for wondering, this spring, which of his favorite pools have silted up and what favorite riffles have been gouged out.
The news is mixed. Virtually all the famous California trout streams on the West Slope of the Sierra Nevada, from the Kern and Kaweah, Tule and San Joaquin north to the Yuba, Feather, Sacramento, McCloud and Trinity, suffered damage in December floods. New channels were scoured out, popular and accessible pools have been radically altered, and spawning beds in the streams and tributaries have been upset. But reports from the undamaged East Slope of the Sierra brag of the greatest snowpack in years—enough to insure a fine runoff during the driest of conceivable summers. One of the worst hurt of streams was Pennsylvania's classic Brodheads, so badly gutted by Hurricane Diane that veteran anglers were close to tears. But trout fishing breeds resilience of mind, and Pennsylvanians were assuring themselves last week that "the Brodheads will come back"—and meanwhile, doesn't Pennsylvania still possess such treasures as the Lackawaxen, the Bushkill and the Yellowbritches?
The same seasonal euphoria is now spreading in the West. If old pools have been silted up and friendly riffles altered, may it not happen that new pools and even kindlier riffles have been set up by a rampaging but beneficent Nature? Stocking and rehabilitation will do the rest. Indeed, perhaps the floods have actually improved the fisherman's long-range prospects.
At all events, it is high time for a man to be oiling his reel, anointing his fly lines and clearing up the clutter in his tackle box.
DEFEATED BUT EAGER
Most of the big league headlines just now go to men who have made the squad, and small type serves for the youngsters—platoons of them—who are being shipped back to Wichita, Chattanooga and way stations for more lessons in the minors. The more self-confidence a player brought to camp with him the harder it is to accept the news. He argues. The club has an investment in his morale. The manager's job is to send him away defeated—but still eager.
Nobody is any better at this delicate art than Casey Stengel of the New York Yankees, and Casey explained his technique the other day in St. Petersburg. He invoked a mythical rookie shortstop to represent all the brash, hopeful but as yet unskilled youngsters he has had to deal with in his eight springs as manager of the Yankees.
"He says, why should I go down," Stengel orated. "I'm ready now. I'm as good as anyone on the club.
"Well, there's a couple of things he could learn, but he don't think so. He wonders why I keep an old guy like Phil Rizzuto around. I say to him, bunt me one down third."
Stengel held his hands apart, waist high, as if he were bunting and suddenly jerked them up to his chest as if to meet an unexpected high pitch.
"He fouls it off. I say to Phil Rizzuto, bunt me one down third. Phil bunts me one down third."
Stengel paused, looked around with a half-truculent, half-inquiring stare.
"I say, all right, bunt me one down first." Casey leaped back, flinging his arms up protectively in front of his face. He slowly regained his composure and looked at his audience. "He says, the pitch was too close. I say, Phil, bunt me one down first." Casey stepped back smartly, briskly lifted an imaginary bat up close to his face and calmly chopped it forward. "Phil bunts me one down first."
"I look at him," he went on, referring to the rookie. "He says, I'm a hitter, not a bunter. I say, hit one to right. He pops up. I say, Phil, hit me one to right. Phil hits me one to right.
"I say, there's some things you don't seem to do so good. He says, I'm a pull hitter. I don't hit to right. I say, all right, give me a hit-and-run. He misses the pitch.
"I look at him." Stengel's look was a masterful blend of amazement and disgust. He turned away, toward a fancied Rizzuto. "Phil, give me a hit-and-run. Phil hits one through the hole."
Casey shrugged. "I don't send him back. He sends himself back." His face was serious as he turned back to the imaginary rookie.
"You can't do anything," he said. "There's a lot of things you don't know. Maybe you better go back and learn them."
Since the night he knocked out Archie Moore last September, Rocky Marciano has toyed like Hamlet with the question: whether to take arms against a sea of inferior challengers and by opposing end them, or just quit and be the only heavyweight champion ever to do so without a draw or defeat on his professional record.
As Rocky lolled on Copacabana Beach last week rumor answered for him. Rocky would quit, it said, because that is the way his family wants it.
But Rocky himself was not so sure. In the bar of Rio de Janeiro's Hotel Excelsior he hefted a soft drink and said: "It's a tough decision to make and I won't make it here.... I've got six months or more [to decide]."
In five months it will be September, a good month for an outdoor fight in one of the big-gate cities. Between now and then Rocky is likely to hear loud cries from Archie Moore that he deserves a second chance and even from those partisans of Floyd Patterson who believe that he is ready, young as he is, to take on the champion. There is belief, justifiable or not, that a Moore-Marciano rematch would not draw a satisfying gate. And with Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, feuding with the International Boxing Club, there seems little prospect that a buildup series of matches could be arranged in time to convince the public that Floyd is indeed ready.
Who else, then? Well, there is Hurricane Tommy Jackson, who is seeded No. 2 in the ring ratings—where a seedier No. 2 has seldom been seen.
Rocky is right. There are a couple of things to think over before deciding.
ASIDE TO FOOTBALL FANS
At Annapolis the fine old maples that line the United States Naval Academy drives are just beginning to bud. Forsythia is in bloom. The ivy is just a little brighter than it was a week ago. On the high green fence enclosing Navy's practice football field there is a small sign: "Keep Out—Seeded."
The birds chirp more often now and there are other sounds of spring. Like, for example:
"Oola, oola, oola, atta boy, pitch it, yah, yah, yah!"
"Thirty counter on the third, set—."
And "thung," a kind of solid, low bass tone. That would be a foot kicking a football. After a winter of discontent over the Army game, spring football practice has come to Annapolis.
"This is the 11th day," Coach Eddie Erdelatz says, referring to the 20 allowable practice sessions (in 35 days) before football must again be abandoned until fall. "I'm very pleased. Last night they were terrific and this is going to be a good one, too. Look at them work. The spirit here is tremendous. Not one boy is out there because he's on scholarship. They're all here because they want to play. That's the only way to have a team. At other schools a man who is supposed to play football gets his plate broken if he doesn't play. No play—no school. Not here. The boy plays if he wants to. If he doesn't, no one gets after him."
This is one of the sounds of spring, too. Coach Eddie says it every year when the visiting reporter drops by for an estimate of the situation.
The situation is that Erdelatz has a rebuilding job. Eleven lettermen are gone: Quarterback George Welsh, Center Jim Wood, Ends Ronnie Beagle, Jim Owen, Jim Barker, Tackles John Hopkins, Pat McCool and Jim Royer, Guards Vernon Dander and Bill Mohn, and Fullback Dick Guest. Next fall's team probably will be made up of the old second team and top J-V boys.
"We've always had a problem with the line," Erdelatz says. "Not enough weight. Bob Reifsnyder played fullback in high school. He weighs 225. Last year for the plebes he played tackle. With that weight we couldn't waste it in the backfield.
"Just look at those boys play. That's spirit."
It was, at that, and a half mile away there was spirit in another kind of spring practice. This was baseball. The Middies' intercollegiate season starts soon. Here the scene was relaxed, easy, and the sounds those of chatter and ball meeting bat or glove.
Standing out in the shortstop hole was a man who in previous years would have been found only on the football field. Quarterback George Welsh.
Erdelatz would have liked Welsh on hand during football practice to help coach. But Welsh and Dick Guest chose to play baseball. Every year at the Academy, Welsh went out for the baseball team but could not make it because football's spring practice detained him too long. But now he almost has second-team shortstop snared. Guest is tentative first-team left fielder.
Next August, Welsh will report for sea duty aboard the cruiser Des Moines but that will be summer. Now it is spring and there are baseballs flying through the air. Also footballs.
When the NCAA swimming championships opened in New Haven last week, the chief topic, naturally, was whether Yale could take the team title from its old rival, Ohio State. In the first event, the 1,500-meter freestyle, the Yales looked substantially stronger than the Ohios; so the watchers mentally put Yale off to a good competitive start.
Then the gun went off, and after the first 100 meters nobody bothered to think very much about the rivalry of Columbus and New Haven. Way out in front, thrashing the water more like a drowning man than a title contender, was 20-year-old George Breen from Cortland (N.Y.) State Teachers. Breen covered the first hundred in 1:04.2. He passed 800 meters in the boiling time of 9:35.2. At 1,000 meters, he was still beating the water in an unbeautiful and highly incorrect fashion and was still booming along.
"I wasn't sure how I was doing," he reported later. "Of course the shouts from the spectators encouraged me, and I knew something was happening."
Indeed something was. When Breen touched the pool rim at the end of the 1,500 meters, he had broken the world record by no less than 13.1 seconds, the first American ever to set a world record at that exhausting distance.
Swimming's two greatest coaches, Bob Kiphuth of Yale and Mike Peppe of Ohio State, were popeyed. "Breen's world record is comparable to a 3:52 mile in track," bubbled Peppe. "It's the single most brilliant effort in swimming since I've been coaching. He's undoubtedly the greatest long-distance freestyler this country's ever had."
Kiphuth, a real perfectionist on technique, wasn't quite sure what to say. "What can anyone say?" he asked. Then he thought of something. "Breen swims a six-beat crawl with a two-beat draw," he observed, trying to analyze Breen's deplorable style. "His execution, of it is poor. But," he added, "that's the tremendous thing about it."
But Breen, surrounded by reporters, wasn't too sure about anything, except that he owes his phenomenal record to the wise coaching of Dr. James Councilman of Cortland State. "I was so bad," said Breen, reflecting back to his freshman year, "that a coach without his patience wouldn't have taken the time with me."
A reporter asked Breen what plans he has for the upcoming Olympics.
"I'll have to qualify first," said the greatest distance swimmer in U.S. history.
Neither Kiphuth nor Peppe nor anyone else in New Haven shared this cautious appraisal. "No doubt," said Peppe, "he will be the hottest American prospect for the Olympic Games."
Having joined in praise of Breen, the two coaches backed off and had at each other for the NCAA championship. It was almost anticlimax that Ohio State, with the aid of its diving squad and Al Wiggins (SI, April 2) in the 200-yard individual medley, kept its championship for the third straight year.
THE TALL, STRAIT AND NARROW
A small problem in the ethics of the amateur confronted Carl Cain, the University of Iowa Olympic squad basketballer, on Easter morning. He had breakfasted with an SI reporter who was reaching for the check. Cain stayed the reporter's hand.
Running through his mind was the fact that the AAU had just barred three basketball players (Tom Heinsohn of Holy Cross, Sihugo Green of Duquesne and Ron Sobieszczyk of De Paul) from amateur competition because they announced plans to join the College All-Star team and tour the country with the professional Harlem Globetrotters.
"Better let me pay it," Cain said. "The AAU is really watching things now." And so he paid the $1.70.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
The Le Mans auto race will be run this year (July 28-29) but will not count toward the 1956 world's sports car championship. The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile dropped it because of drastic rules changes adopted by Le Mans authorities—principally limitations on fuel capacities, fueling stops and engine size.
Dr. Forrest C. (Phog) Allen, after 39 years of basketball coaching, has succumbed to the mandatory retirement rule of the University of Kansas. At 70 Allen pleaded fruitlessly for another year so that he might coach "the greatest team I ever assembled" and glory in the expected feats of 7-foot Wilton (Wilt the Stilt) Chamberlain. New coach: Phog's assistant, Dick Harp.
The Oklahoma-Notre Dame football telecast has caused rescheduling of the Baylor-Texas A&M game to night time play and Rice-Texas may make a similar shift to preserve the gate.
Governor Goodwin J. Knight of California has given another $30,000 to his committee investigating California boxing (see above) so that it may continue the good work.
Youngest person ever to bowl a perfect 300 game in play sanctioned by the American Bowling Congress is Gene Kuchcinski, 15, of Toledo, Ohio who has been bowling only two years. He turned the trick for the Elm Recreation Team. Two other 15-year-olds have done it but Gene is younger than either of them.
Bob Sweikert, winner of the Indianapolis "500" last year and third-placer in a D-Jag at Sebring this year, will drive at Indianapolis next month, is also looking ahead to Europe's Grand Prix races next year.
More peanuts, hot dogs, crackerjacks;
More beer and Coke and grape.
The baseball season's coming back
And I must get in shape.
—IRWIN L. STEIN