Five years, six months, four weeks and an hour or two after Branch Rickey inaugurated his Five-Year Plan to bring a first-place team to Pittsburgh, the Pirates made it. The most electrifying baseball team of 1956 beat Milwaukee in the first game of a Sunday double-header, and the Jolly Roger flew at the top of the National League for the first time in eight years.
True enough, Milwaukee won the next game and dumped the Pirates to second again a couple of hours later. But the dramatic news of the week was that they had been in first at all.
Perhaps because they had been told many times by Mr. Rickey that this very thing would one day happen, the Pirates themselves were less dumfounded than anyone else. "Come on!" Manager Bobby Bragan shouted to his crew in the dressing room. "Act excited! Don't act like it's natural."
June 10, 1956
TELEVISING THE OPEN
Miss Imogene Coca, the comedienne, positively will not appear in the finale of the National Broadcasting Company's television coverage of the U.S. Open (see page 28) on Saturday, June 16. This should be welcome news for the millions who followed the Open by television last year. For as Jack Fleck was sinking his putt for a par on the 17th green and going on to birdie the 18th for a tie with Ben Hogan, the television audience was presented with the pleasant—but to golf fans slightly frustrating—antics of Miss Coca.
It couldn't be helped, really. For the Open was being played at San Francisco and the time differential brought it up to the brink of 9 o'clock in the East. This being prime television time, it would have taken a more reckless vice-president than any of the 25 or so NBC carries on its roster to order the Open to continue and Miss Coca to desist.
This year everything will be different. With the Open being contested at Oak Hill in Rochester there's no danger of a conflict with the big Saturday night variety shows. The broadcast will run from 4 to 6 p.m. E.D.T. and—NBC insists—if another Jack Fleck situation arises, the broadcast will run past the 6 p.m. deadline.
There is also heartening news from the sponsor (Eastman Kodak this year), who has issued a strong memo to the announcers, directing them to let no commercials get in the way of important tournament action. "We would rather," said the memo, "sacrifice a commercial entirely."
Happily armed with this kind of support, NBC's directors, announcers and technicians have been busy since January planning the coverage. A crew of 40 men, two mobile units and nine cameras have been assigned to the job and six steel towers have been erected as vantage points for the cameras which (with telescopic lenses) will be able to cover almost all the action from the 15th to the 18th green. Just to nail everything down, there will be a dress rehearsal before the final round.
Lindsey Nelson, the NBC sportcaster who has covered every Open since 1952 either by radio or television, is delighted with prospects for this year's coverage, but points out that golf remains the toughest sport to cover. "Football, baseball, boxing, tennis," he says, "all are contained in a comparatively small area and the picture is before you all the time. But the action in golf is spread over some 7,000 yards, and information about what is going on everywhere cannot be had instantaneously. This year, however, we will have better information than ever before because we will have an audio or voice information circuit extending back to the 14th tee. All three commentators—Bud Palmer, Jim Simpson and I—will be hearing information over this circuit through our headsets at all times."
Nelson and Director Harry Coyle of NBC are in hearty agreement on one point: they will strive to broadcast the Open as an athletic competition—not as a succession of tricky shots of individual contestants. What they would like best to do is pick up a fellow like Sam Snead at the 15th tee and follow him shot for shot right down to the 18th green—and victory.
It doesn't have to be Sam Snead. One thing is sure: it won't be Imogene Coca, or even Perry Como, who takes the spotlight away from the U.S. Open champion of 1956.
TRIUMPH AT TROON
While golf fans on this side of the Atlantic awaited the U.S. Open with the confident expectation of a dramatic finish, another great golfing competition was being resolved across the sea with about as much drama as anyone could wish for. It was, of course, the British Amateur at Troon, Scotland. It was won by—of all people—a Britisher, 18-year-old John Beharrell, the youngest man ever to win the title, the first Englishman to take it since Alex Kyle in 1939.
But that doesn't begin to tell it. A six-foot, broad-shouldered, blond-haired young man who is so relaxed that he appears to be in constant danger of falling fast asleep, John Beharrell took up competitive golf seriously only a year ago. At that time he had had to withdraw from school because of ill health. Having no studies to distract him, he gave all his attention to the game and after reaching the semifinals of a couple of minor tournaments, decided to enter the British Amateur "just for the experience."
John did not expect to get past his first draw, but when he found himself in the semifinals he suddenly decided that he had as good a chance as anybody else. If this decision excited him at all, his sleepy-eyed, poker-faced countenance kept his secret. He seemed to be as nerveless as Ben Hogan himself.
He needed to be when he went up against 32-year-old Leslie Taylor, a Glasgow insurance man, in the final. During this match, gales howled across the Firth of Clyde with such force that they blew putts off line and almost carried off the Scottish golf writers who were trying to hold down the billowing press tent. But John Beharrell went about his business like a man full of Miltown, slicing his drives now and then, but becoming deadly accurate within 100 yards of a green. He faltered and lost four holes in the middle of the match but recovered and came on to the 32nd green to sink a two-footer and then, at long last, release his pent-up emotions. This he did by raising his putter high in the air, pulling off his cap and shouting, "Aye!"
Later, John Beharrell confessed that the "awful wind and the big crowd [there were 6,000 in the gallery] did bother me. That's why I collapsed and lost those four holes." Asked about his future golfing plans, John Beharrell said he would "never, never, never go pro." He said he hoped to play in the British Open. With that, his sleepy eyes took on a faraway look and he said: "I wonder how I will do then?"
When Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mt. Everest three years ago they not only won acclaim such as no climbers had ever known, but forever removed the awful mountain's name from the dark lexicon of the unattainable. The world hardly blinked last week at the word that Swiss mountaineers had not only climbed Everest's undefeated twin, Lhotse (the world's fourth highest peak), but had twice ascended Everest itself. The very conclusiveness of their victory seemed to dull the world's interest. But even from the sparse reports available it was plain that they had accomplished the all-but-unbelievable.
Hillary and Tenzing had plucked away much of Everest's publicity value, but their boots had not ground one molecule's thickness off the great peak's height; Everest's gleaming ice-falls, its terrible snow storms, the thin air on its sterile steeps were as deadly in May 1956 as in May 1953. And its latest conquerors—an 11-man expedition sponsored by Zurich's Swiss Foundation for Alpine Explorations—had also to conquer innumerable hardships, setbacks and perils. Only one of the Swiss climbers, who were led by a 43-year-old government collector named Albert Eggler, had ever been in the Himalayas before. As the group set out into the hills of sweltering Nepal in March, with 400 porters carrying its 10 tons of equipment, many an armchair critic of Asian climbing simply shrugged.
In late March, as the climbers approached Thyangboche Monastery at 13,000 feet, lanky Fritz Luchsinger, a 35-year-old army instructor, came down with appendicitis. They stopped; the expedition's medical man, Dr. Eduard Leuthold, radioed for an airdrop of anesthetics, instruments and other equipment necessary for an operation. Day after day dragged on; after a week, and before an Indian air force plane could arrive, Luchsinger happily improved enough to go on. But the race with the monsoons, which were two weeks early this year, had been dangerously delayed. The difficulties did not end; a second expedition member, Wolfgang Diehl, 47, also got sick; then Sherpa Leader Pasang Dawa Lama collapsed and had to be sent to a lower camp. By May 15, when the climbers reached the 26,000-foot saddle between Everest and Lhotse, the stinging snowstorms of the monsoon season had already begun.
The Swiss had only two choices-turn back or bet their lives on breaks in the weather. They chose to bet. On the 18th, Ernst Reiss, 36, an aircraft technician, and Luchsinger, the appendicitis victim, climbed Lhotse. On the 23rd, Ernst Schmied, 32, a Berne businessman, and Jurg Marmet, 29, a mountain guide, climbed Everest. On the following day, despite the danger of storms, two more of the party, Hans Von Gunten, 28, a chemist, and Adolf Reist, 35, an aircraft mechanic, arrogantly climbed it again. After that everyone wisely packed and scuttled for lower altitudes. Last week the expedition was plodding through steaming foothill valleys on its way back to civilization and was still out of touch with the world. There was no way of knowing what had prompted the second Everest climb, or whether the double assault had actually been made, as reports indicated, from a camp an incredible 3,000 feet below the peak (Hillary's and Tenzing's final camp was only 1,128 feet from the summit). But whatever the answers, there could be little doubt that Albert Eggler and his men had performed history's most amazing feat of mountain climbing.
CARBO STILL GETS AROUND
Frank Carbo, No. 1 in the ring ratings of the men behind boxing's dirty business, seldom is seen at the fights any more, what with all this unpleasantly hot weather we've been having, but he keeps in touch. For instance, he turned up in Houston a few weeks back at the time of the Bud Smith-Joe Brown fight, arriving by Eastern Airlines under an assumed name and taking a $90-a-day suite at the Hotel Shamrock Hilton, also under a false name. He stayed in Houston three days. A month later he was in New Orleans for the Willie Pastrano-Chuck Spieser fight and, incidentally, to do a little business with Babe McCoy, Los Angeles' sullied matchmaker, and Art Aragon, the Los Angeles Golden Boy who, through McCoy's and others' influence, witnesses testify, has been the beneficiary of an occasional fixed fight.
Carbo's descent upon Houston was preceded by rumors that he was about to "move in" on boxing there, perhaps to introduce to Texas the padrone system he has found so successful elsewhere. Houston boxing, which just about died three years ago, has revived recently, partly because a new promoter has been putting on really good fights (with the benefit of counseling from Lou Viscusi, manager of Willie Pep, Joe Brown and others) and partly because of Paul Jorgensen, a spectacular young featherweight from Port Arthur who now attends the University of Houston. In fights with Lauro Salas, Red Top Davis and Davey Walden—all owned by Hymie (The Mink) Wallman, buddychumpal of Carbo—Jorgensen drew better than $10,000 every time, a figure that would be sensational for most fights at Madison Square Garden. At these fights the audience is special, as indeed Houston is special. Ringside is filled with the town's top businessmen—oil and real estate men. It is a country club clientele.
Carbo, presumably, was casing the joint. Though he has beaten a few murder raps in his day and still is under indictment for murder in New Jersey, he traveled in the very best of Houston's boxing buff circles. He was greeted by Hugh Benbow, an oil-lease man who was a locally important boxing promoter during the '30s and professes to have known Carbo for 30 years. He has been shot at six times, Benbow sometimes says, and used to carry a gun. He introduced the hoodlum to Robert E. (Bob) Smith, Houston's biggest landowner, bigger even than the late Jesse Jones. Smith's real estate holdings within the city limits alone have been assessed at $12 million and he has oil, too.
Smith's interest in boxing stems from World War I days, when he was heavyweight champion of his Army outfit. At 61 he is a robust 220-pounder who still boxes. He has a box at all the Houston fights and sometimes for heavyweight championships loads friends into his plane and takes them to New York, Chicago or wherever the fights may be. He is known also as a philanthropist of sport, among other things, contributing large sums to the Little League.
Smith might have been considered strange company for Carbo but, after all, Frankie knows at least one other millionaire—James D. Norris, president of the International Boxing Club.
During his stay Carbo expressed interest in Jorgensen, remarking that he would like to "own a piece of him." But he did not talk to the fighter or to his manager, Richard H. McClendon, a real estate man. Neither is the type to do business with Carbo, a fact that may have been made clear to him.
"If I had to mess with any of those guys I'd quit managing," McClendon says.
As for Viscusi, who has been in Houston six months and thinks of settling there if boxing continues bright, he says he had only heard that Carbo was in town. The visit was not, in fact, generally known.
But in New Orleans Carbo operated as openly as a madam with a police permit. A couple of hours before Pastrano gave Spieser a hard-earned boxing lesson, Carbo sat down to dinner at Diamond Jim Moran's lush tourist haven, as public a spot as might be found in the city. At table with him were Babe McCoy and Art Aragon and four others who were less immediately recognizable. Diamond Jim himself, his tie sparkling with diamonds, was both obsequious host and jovial dinner companion. Carbo wore a dark blue suit, a white shirt and one of those white four-in-hands that bespeak conservative elegance in his set. Aragon, costumed as the Golden Boy, wore a nubbed silk suit of a color that might be considered golden but was more on the order of lightly toasted palomino.
Though this was a business dinner, it had its gala atmosphere. Friends and neighbors dropped by the table to pay their respects and Carbo, in sonorous tones, introduced them all to Aragon, rolling out the long vowels in what he pronounced as "Golden Bwoy."
At one point a captain of waiters called Carbo to the telephone, addressing him familiarly as "Frank." The call did not bring good news, apparently. Someone, it seemed, was reporting the failure of a prefight mission.
"If that's the way he feels about it," Carbo shouted angrily into the phone (he had not thought to close the door of the booth), "let the whole thing drop.... No, don't do anything about it. Let it drop.... Ah, he's a goddam weasel.... Don't do anything. We got these spies around."
Funny things were happening to the odds that night. In New Orleans, Pastrano, the home town favorite, was 2½ to 1 at ringside but Carbo money was being laid down in other cities and Carbo was betting on Spieser. The odds outside New Orleans were thus driven down to 6 to 5 in favor of Pastrano. Carbo presumably lost a lot of money, although when Referee Francis Kercheval unaccountably voted 6-4 for Spieser (even Spieser thought he had won no more than four rounds) Carbo came very close to making a lot. Just one more official opinion like Kercheval's would have done it.
Still, Carbo may have turned a nice piece of business at the dinner. The purpose of the meeting was to get Padrone Carbo's permission for Aragon to fight Middleweight Champion Sugar Ray Robinson, probably in August and most likely in Los Angeles. Carbo's usual fee for such a service is 10-15% of the petitioner's take.
Before the party broke up and everyone took his leave, the festive tone of the evening was commemorated by Diamond Jim's girl photographer. She took memory-book pictures of the group at the main table and then Aragon posed-at the next table, first with Diamond Jim, then with Carbo himself. When she came back with the finished prints Carbo looked them over, approved them and then demanded the negatives of the pictures in which he appeared.
It was the only precaution he had taken all evening.
His favorite fly is crushed and bent
And won't float on the water;
It looked so natural on his hat
His wife had used the swatter.
—F. E. WHITE
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
The Greek sun, shining down on the ancient plains of Olympia, was caught and concentrated by a burning glass to light the torch which will signalize the opening of the Equestrian Olympics in Stockholm next week.
Memorial Day double-headers produced the gaudiest total of home runs in history—50—26 in the National League, 24 in the American, including Mantle's Nos. 19 and 20. Historical comparison: in the double-headers of Memorial Day, 1927—the year Babe Ruth hit 60—only seven home runs were hit all day, including Ruth's No. 14.
U.S. Olympic sailing trials were widely headlined as taking place in Sharpie boats. Actually, the U.S. has no Sharpies, though the class is popular in Europe, so trials were held in the little-known Jolly class—to test racers in the essential ability to handle the unfamiliar.
•Derring-Do for Dublin
Irishman Ron Delany, shrugging off two lackadaisical races against John Landy, ran a 3:59 mile of his own to beat Gunnar Nielsen of Denmark in the feature race of the Compton (Calif.) Invitationals (see page 23). Said Dubliner Delany: "I did it for myself and the Ould Sod."