LEO DOESN'T MISS IT
Mr. L. Ernest Durocher, an executive of the National Broadcasting Co., turned up in Dallas last week to address a banquet for the Dallas Friends of the National Jewish Hospital at Denver. The hospital is a nonsectarian charitable organization for the treatment of tuberculosis and Mr. Durocher has been interested in it for a long time. Also, one facet of his job with NBC is public relations.
Mr. Durocher was met at the airport by assorted dignitaries, two cityside reporters and one sportswriter who had known him during his long, misspent youth.
Mr. Durocher was a very picture of the modern major network executive, conservatively dressed in a black suit, with a black four-in-hand tie and a touch of white handkerchief showing at the breast pocket. He discussed NBC and the hospital in quiet, dignified tones and he didn't pay much attention to the sportswriter until he was asked if he missed baseball.
June 17, 1956
"No," said Mr. Durocher, seriously. "I haven't missed it a bit. I haven't seen a game this year. I love my work with NBC."
His voice was still quiet and dignified, but you couldn't help remembering when Mr. Durocher's voice was a raspy howl that could climb over the roar of a crowd at Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds.
"Of course, I still follow my boys," said Mr. Durocher, and the NBC fa√ßade seemed to crack a bit. "Mays isn't hitting or playing the way he can. Once he gets started, the Giants could get in the first division with four or five wins in a row."
His voice wasn't as cool or dignified as it had been, and you could see a little of the man who managed the Dodgers and Giants and played with the Yanks and the Cards.
"I'm very active in Little League baseball in Beverly Hills," said Mr. Durocher, hanging desperately to his dignity and sitting firmly on an alter ego named Leo the Lip. "I guess I hit more fungos with those kids than I ever did managing a major league club. They get me out at 9:30 in the morning and keep me there until 4 and ask a million questions an' holler when I want to quit. Man, I get tired."
Someone asked him something about NBC, and Mr. Durocher answered briefly. Then Leo the Lip pushed aside the NBC executive and the quiet voice took on some of the raucous howl you remembered.
"You know, baseball was gettin' too gentlemanly," said Leo the Lip. "Used to be you could tell off an umpire an' not watch your language. Got to where you use one cuss word an' out you go.
"I remember I used to have a ball with George Magerkurth," said Leo the Lip, who looked not unlike an umpire himself in his black suit. "I'd get on Magerkurth, who was a real big guy—maybe 6 feet 4, 240 pounds—an' I'd call him a few choice names an' pretty soon his face would turn kinda blue, he'd get so dang mad. Then I'd walk right up to him close as I could without touchin' him. Short as I am, I'd be lookin' right into the top button of his coat. Then I'd say, 'I oughta punch you right in the nose, ya big bum!' "
Leo the Lip was crowded up against a reporter, demonstrating, and his arms were waving and his voice had picked up the volume and power it used to have, and the dignified Mr. Durocher, who works for NBC, had disappeared.
"Ol' Magerkurth never failed to take the hook," said Leo the Lip happily. "He'd turn purple and a blood vessel in his neck would swell up an' he'd stand up on his tiptoes an' look down on the top of my head an' he'd holler 'I dare yuh! I dare yuh!' "
Leo the Lip chortled and his face, still a mahogany brown from the hot sun of a thousand afternoon baseball games, crinkled with glee.
Someone asked him to pick a team from all the players he has seen in 30-odd years on the diamond.
"Jeez," said Leo the Lip. "That's tough. Can I have two center fielders? They'd be Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays. Gotta have Babe Ruth in right an' I guess I'd put Stan Musial in left. That'd put Lou Gehrig on first base and I'd want Pie Traynor at third. Shortstop would be Travis Jackson. Catcher? Bill Dickey an' that big tomato face from Chicago—Gabby Hartnett. I haven't got a second baseman, have I? Put in Charlie Gehringer."
Leo stopped a minute to think.
"Give me Dizzy Dean an' Ol' Carl Hubbell an' Mose Grove an' Dazzy Vance for pitcher," he said.
"Any humpty dumpty in the bull pen. I'd like to start a National League race with that club an' see how many games we'd win by."
Leo the Lip said that wistfully. He had to go then, to talk to the banquet.
He walked away, and as he left, talking business, the loud happy voice was quiet and dignified again and you could see that Mr. Durocher doesn't miss baseball a bit.
HELMETS IN, BUTTONS OUT?
Henry Thompson, the Giants' third baseman, was carried off the field on a stretcher last week after being hit above the right ear by a fast inside pitch. Fortunately for Thompson, he had been wearing a protective helmet—now mandatory in the National League. But the concussion left him, three days later, still unable to play ball.
What if he had not been wearing the helmet? Anyone can guess, but the question is of special interest in the American League, where the use of helmets is still optional. Oriole Manager Paul Richards came out flatly: "Any player who doesn't wear a helmet is crazy." Yankee General Manager George Weiss hoped the incident would not be lost on Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer and Bob Cerv, a few of the Yankees who don't like to fuss with full helmets or plastic cap-liners. A league ruling, similar to the National's, seems inevitable.
Another innovation in the uniform scored a point last week. Quietly, and without much public notice, some clubs (among them the Orioles, Senators, Braves and Cubs) have ditched the old-fashioned button-up baseball shirt in favor of the zipper kind. Neater, they feel, and—well, consider Wednesday's Detroit-Boston game. Tiger Bill Tuttle grounded to Red Sox Third Baseman Billy Klaus. Klaus appeared to trap the ball, then lost it. It was not in his glove, nor did it trickle through his legs and on out into left field. Billy Klaus' frantic explorations showed where the ball had come to rest. Too late. Tuttle had an inside-the-shirt (button-type) base hit.
AMONG THE MISSING
There will be an absence of familiar faces at the U.S. Open this week, almost as if you took a look at the picture of your old graduating class and found that some of your best friends were no longer there. Whether tramping around the Oak Hill course in Rochester or watching on TV or just reading about it in the papers, you will fail to find former champions Lloyd Mangrum, Tony Manero, Lawson Little and Gene Sarazen; or those apparently indestructible golfing brothers, Mike, Jim and Willie Turnesa; or Jimmy Thomson, once the longest hitter in golf; or Denny Shute, the onetime PGA and British Open champion who will be missing his first Open in 30 years; or such amateurs as Bob Sweeny, Don Bisplinghoff and Don Cherry, the television and radio crooner who doubles in brassies. Each of them failed to qualify, as did Dow Finsterwald, the leading money winner among the pros this year, who was snarled in a tangle of playing dates and unable even to have a go at qualifying.
In their places will be a number of names unknown to all but their most intimate friends-people from Medinah, Ill. and Canandaigua, N.Y. and Ligonier, Pa. and other backwaters of the divot world. The explanation lies in the casting of the Open, a democratic process which gives free admittance to only a handful of the golfing royalty. The last five Open champions—Jack Fleck, Ed Furgol, Ben Hogan (twice) and Julius Boros—are admitted automatically. So are the top 10 finishers in last year's Open as well as last year's British Open Champion, that brilliant young Australian golfer Peter Thomson. Everyone else among the 162 starters must earn his ticket.
An errant driver, a chilly putter or just a bad disposition on qualifying day can eliminate the finest golfer from the Open. And so it is that Mangrum and the others will not be present at Oak Hill this week. Yet there are compensations for the absentees. Billy Joe Patton, who can be as erratic as a politician's promise, made it. So did that fine old timer Paul Runyan, just a wisp of a fellow who can still hit the crisp, immaculate irons that subdued the big hitters of the 1930s.
Yet of all the qualifiers none is more welcome than Henry Cotton, the 49-year-old British pro who may never again be seen in a major U.S. event. Cotton is a teaching pro in England these days, but even on this side of the Atlantic he can never hide behind such obscurity. It was he, with his impeccable manners and brilliant strokes, who finally made it possible for British professionals to use the front door of their clubs instead of the servants' entrance. His three British Open titles, stretching from 1934 to 1948, do not begin to tell his contribution to the game. As somber and British as the Houses of Parliament, he is as much of a golfing monument as Vardon or Hagen or Jones or Hogan and a happy ornament for this year's Open.
FORBES FIELD HOROSCOPE
This magazine has just received a short, nudging letter from a New York businessman named John R. Kane.
Today the Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place in the National League.
Remember that cartoon you published before last year's season began? The gypsy fortuneteller was gazing into her crystal ball...and she told the Pittsburgh player, "Don't bother!"
Yes, we remember. As a matter of fact, "Don't bother!" was not bad advice for the Pirates—the 1955 Pirates, that is. If Mr. Kane will glance at the drawing above, however, he can catch the old girl rather tardily making up the 1956 horoscope.
HORSEHIDE BRAIN STORMS
It will be a sad day when the metabolism of the baseball (see page 11) is no longer a subject for the most profound speculation. In recent years the conjecture has centered on whether the ball has long ears, rapid breeding habits and a furry coat that is sometimes dyed to simulate mink. But, as an SI reporter discovered while browsing around in the patents search room of the Department of Commerce (Class 273, Amusement Devices, Sub 60, Balls, Baseball), the horsehide (or pellet or spheroid or aspirin tablet) has been the subject of at least 65 brain storms through the years by ingenious souls who wanted to improve it.
Going back to 1872 and a Mr. J. H. Osgood's Patent No. 127,098, it was found that the first radical thought on the subject of the baseball was an idea to make it more durable. Osgood wanted to put two leather covers on it with overlapping seams running straight around the circumference, but no one took up the idea.
Three years later Mr. John Giblin patented "a waterproof base or cricket ball" composed of "heart of palm leaf (or other suitable material)" wrapped in wool yarn and covered with two or more pieces of India rubber, the whole to be molded and vulcanized. Although this ball might have come in handy in Milwaukee during the early, rainy weeks of the current season, it was never put into use.
Next came Samuel Hipkiss, of Boston, with Patent No. 172,315 for a normal-looking ball with a hollow center in which there was a tiny pea-sized ball. The little ball rattled around in the cavity of the big ball making a tinkling sound to serve "as a signal to the catcher by marking the flight of the ball." No doubt this would have been more useful to blind umpires than to catchers, yet baseball officials disregarded the Hipkiss invention.
In the same year, William B. Carr patented a ball wrapped in alternate layers of hard and soft wool, "the layers of soft wool being rendered elastic by an admixture of hair." And a year later another fellow patented a ball with a sewed-on cover of rubber cloth. Still no reaction from officials.
Certainly the most prolific thinker on baseballs was Benjamin F. Shibe, of Philadelphia, whose name was immortalized at Shibe Park until the Athletics renamed it Connie Mack Stadium before moving to Kansas City. Shibe's first baseball patent was for "a baseball having a core tightly wound by yarn, its strands being rigidly retained in position as a spherical compact mass by cement." Later he devised a machine for cutting the baseball's leather cover and punching the stitching holes. Then he submitted a patent for a cork center wound round with rubber strands and thread and finally for a ball with a wooden core.
Among later innovations registered in the patent office, one came from William H. Fox, of Minneapolis, who was disturbed by the theory that the regulation ball lost its balance after prolonged pummeling by batsmen. He thought the rubber coating on the cork core developed air pockets because it was imperfectly applied, so he wanted to punch holes in the coating to allow air to escape.
These days the major sporting goods houses do their own thinking on the baseball in the privacy of their own laboratories and without the assistance of such original minds as those of Osgood, Giblin, Hipkiss, Boynton and the rest. Which is perfectly all right with today's sluggers, but the pitching fraternity might appreciate a reconsideration of a 1941 patent—No. 2,266,390—for "a process for manufacturing a baseball having a shorter flight than a conventional league baseball." The inventor (who urged a looser winding of the yarn) even gave his reason: "The objectionably large number of home runs" being hit.
Obviously, nothing ever came of THAT silly idea.
When he got his wind after running a tardy third behind Australia's Jim Bailey and John Landy at the Los Angeles Coliseum last month, Villanova University's Dublin-born miler Ron Delany reacted more like a spectator than a participant. "Fabulous," he said. He seemed amazed. "They were simply fabulous." A few days later as he prepared to race Landy again at Fresno's West Coast Relays an Australian newsman asked: "Do you think you might take him this time, Ron?" Delany drew back in horror. "Who!" he cried, "me?" He was 60 yards behind as Landy ran 3:59.1.
Exactly 20 days later, however, at Compton, Calif., Delany refused to be shaken by another talented pacemaker—Denmark's Gunnar Nielsen—uncorked a tremendous stretch drive (110 yards in 14.7 seconds) and broke the four-minute barrier himself with a 3:59; this was a tenth better than Landy's time at Fresno and 5.9 seconds better than Delany himself had ever run before. What had happened to him in the interval between the two races? Delany—who will race Landy's conqueror, Jim Bailey, this Saturday in the NCAA meet at Berkeley—has an interesting theory: nothing happened at all. He credits his feat to 1) the fact that he was too busy with exams even to think about the Compton race during the preceding week and thus was well relaxed, and 2) that he wasn't trying to break four minutes.
This rebuked thinkers who are convinced that four-minute milers get that way only as the result of some extraordinary surge of resolution, but, in the case of Ron Delany, it seemed eminently reasonable. Delany, now 21, is a young man with a deceptively innocent eye, a soft Dublin voice, a fine backhanded sense of humor and the gift of looking at the world about him with a vast inward amusement. He seems to react to the four-minute craze, as well as most of the other works and pomps of bigtime competition, with a kind of delighted disbelief. Ever since he attended Dublin's Catholic University School he has simply run fast enough to beat the other fellow. Delany, who was lured off to Villanova by U.S. Miler Freddie Dwyer, holds the Irish record in the half mile (1:53.2) and the Irish record in the mile (4:05.8). He ran a 4:04.9 mile in an outdoor meet at West Chester State Teachers College this spring. But he was roundly booed by track nuts at Madison Square Garden all last winter because he refused to run for time and inevitably stayed back, even in slow fields, until the final sprint. Though he runs with a curious jiggling of the shoulders, Ron is a boy who can charge the tape.
He is also a modest youth and admits, without embarrassment, that he was "completely overawed" by John Landy, and in a great state of tension before both his California races with the world record holder. But his confidence came back at the IC4A meet at Randall's Island, where he ran a 4:14.4 mile and then, an hour and a half later, ran the half against Pitt's great Arnie Sowell. To his own surprise he gained on Sowell in the stretch, although he had stayed too far back to get more than second, and felt strong at the finish. At Compton, when Nielsen obligingly set a four-minute pace, Delany stuck up tight and "had an unusual amount of run left in the last quarter." And that, he feels, was all there was to it.
DIG THOSE CRAZY BOUNCES
Our local ball park's
A little tough.
It's sort of a diamond
In the rough.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
It was Louise Brough who ended Althea Gibson's first sudden spurt to tennis fame in 1950. Last week in the Northern England championship at Manchester, Althea had her revenge, beating Louise for her ninth straight European title and marking herself as the clear favorite for Wimbledon.
In the same tournament Australia's slam-banging Lewis Hoad failed to emerge from his so-so spring season, lost in the finals to 35-year-old Jaroslav Drobny, the Czech refugee now living in England.
•Try, Try Again
For the second time in 26 years of trying, British women won the Curtis Cup from U.S. lady golfers. Trailing two matches to one after the first day's pairs in foul weather, the British shone with the sun next day to take four singles matches. Only U.S. singles winners: Barbara Romack and Margaret (Wiffi) Smith.
Experts expect the Pirates to "find their own level" somewhere in the second division. But don't discount the fervor of a crew of young professionals currently playing like game-loving amateurs. Says Right-hander Bobby Friend (10 won, 3 lost): "We're out to make history."