ON THE FITNESS FRONT
The associated press had a story out of California the other day which brought a couple of things into reasonably sharp focus: 1) the advent of the channel swimming season and 2) the decline and imminent fall of the American spectator.
The story, in case you missed it, had to do with a gentleman named Roy Sutter who paddled hopefully out into the blue Pacific late one evening en route from Santa Cruz Island to Port Hueneme on the mainland, 22 miles away.
He was well greased and strong and two hours later he was splashing contentedly through a group of surprised dolphins when someone tapped him gingerly on the shoulder.
July 15, 1956
"You will have to quit," said one of his crew members. "Everyone in the boat is tired and sick."
So the swimmer, who was still full of Australian crawl and not even ready for a change of oil, was hauled back into the boat forthwith and probably had to row it back to the island, in view of the condition of his crew.
This points up a sad state of affairs, or rather, two sad states of affairs, if you want to count channel swimming as one. The big thing here, however, is the collapse of the bystanders and spectators, who were resting quietly on their thwarts or oars, as the case may be, and still lacked the stamina to negotiate the 22 miles.
There has been quite a commotion about the parlous state of American youth lately, what with surveys which hold that the average European lad of 12 can touch his toes all day and the average American lad can't bend that far, but the splurge by American athletes in the Olympic trials proves pretty conclusively that whether or not you can touch your toes has little to do with your ability to cover a stretch of ground at high speed.
As long as toe touching is not an Olympic event, American youngsters seem likely to do as well or better than ever this year. While the toe-touching fans are deploring our lack of flexibility, the American younger generation continues to grow taller and heavier and stronger and fleeter, and probably that's one reason they can't touch their toes very well. They have grown too far away from them.
At any rate, the American athlete is still probably the best in the world, the American spectator is wasting away and unless someone with a strong and uncluttered mind like that of Avery Brundage does something about it, he may disappear forever into a darkened living room or a TV bar.
The way things stand now, as the competitors get stronger, the spectators weaken and more and more of them stay home to watch TV because they can't stand the exertion of a trip to the arena.
Maybe you can blame this on TV, along with the troubles which beset minor league baseball and minor league boxing. But time was when a real, hairy, oldtime spectator would battle for an hour to buy a ticket and two hours to get a seat at nearly any old contest, and that breed is becoming one with the whooping crane.
What the solution to the problem may be, we don't know. Perhaps a sort of spring training for spectators with courses in elbowing, sitting in the rain, sprinting up and down aisles and battling traffic would help.
Unless something is done, the 1960 Olympic crop will probably run faster, jump higher and throw farther before fewer people than ever in history.
BALLPLAYERS AND ECONOMICS
Back in the latter days of Happy Chandler's reign as commissioner of baseball (when there were 11 million U.S. television sets) the broadcast rights to the All-Star and World Series games were judged to be worth $1,150000 a year. With 60% of it going into the players' pension fund, major leaguers could look forward to their first professional "security": a modest $100 a month at 50 for 10-year men. Last week (there are now 40 million TV sets) the broadcast rights were reassessed at $3,250,000 a year—or enough to give a 10-year veteran of the majors a tidy $300 a month at 50.
Since the new contract suggests that major leaguers have never had it so good, it is a pity that the news came too late to be included in a thoroughgoing study of the ballplayer's lot just published by Professor Paul Gregory of the University of Alabama. The Baseball Player: An Economic Study (Public Affairs Press; $3.75) is a 213-page document which soberly analyzes the factors that determine baseball salaries. How much a player gets depends, among other things, on his ability, his box-office appeal and where his team finishes, Professor Gregory concludes. Ned Garver won 20 games with the last-place St. Louis Browns in 1951, but poor Ned had no bargaining power. As Bill Veeck observed when Garver hit him for a raise: "We finished last with you; it's a cinch we can finish last without you."
Since Gregory is a longtime contributor to the Harvard Business Review, he occasionally falls into professional economic jargon, but for the most part he covers the economic importance of batting records and trading ("In 1915 Manager Joe Cantillon of Minneapolis traded Outfielder Bruce Hopper to the Chicago Cubs for a hunting dog"), as well as the size of major league parks and the impossibility of replacing them, with the informal humor generally attributed to ballplayers. As a result, The Baseball Player must be one of the most entertaining works of economics ever written. It ranges over the whole baseball scene, including the economic importance of gifts from the fans (they once gave Rube Marquard an automobile they hadn't paid for and presented Chief Bender with a gold razor, not knowing Indians have no beards).
Perhaps the most memorable economic thesis in Professor Gregory's whole book, however, is one lifted from the saga of Babe Ruth. When Ruth asked for $80,000 in 1930 he was told that was more money than Herbert Hoover was getting as President. "What the hell has Hoover got to do with it?" roared the Babe, who then added thoughtfully, "besides, I had a better year than he did."
ON YOUR MARK—BOOM!
A United States intelligence report, unclassified and based on a careful study of Chinese mainland newspapers, etc., says that Communist China is now holding some 2,070 contests in preparation for the Olympic Games. What the Reds are sending to Melbourne seems not to interest intelligence so much as what they are keeping at home.
The Communists claim to have broken 384 Chinese records in orthodox sports events in the past year and are now boasting about the performances of some one million participants from 11 trade unions in a workers' athletic tournament and their plans for 30,000 rural sports associations. And they are talking up, pretty loud, some respectable showings made by 491 Chinese athletes in other countries, especially soccer matches in other satellite lands.
Peking, however, is soft-pedaling the performances of its stars in some special categories of sport not likely to reach Olympic competition. These are competitive military events—not merely shooting (though there are 629 marksmen's clubs in Peking alone, with 84,000 members) or parachute jumping but "searchlight operation," "hand-grenade throwing," "bridge building" and, perhaps the least attractive sport ever devised, "landmine laying."
The reports throw a good deal of light on the old records that have been broken. The best Communist China time for the 100 meters is 10.6, which was the time of the winner of that event in the 1924 Olympics. As might be expected, Chinese records look worst in sports requiring long training and top coaching. In the high jump, pole vault, javelin throw and 1,500 meters, their best performances rank with those of the 1900 to 1912 Olympics. One of the new Chinese Communist records is a broad jump of 22 feet 8‚Öû inches. This was exceeded by 10 inches in the 1900 Olympics.
But the Chinese women's records are more impressive. In the hand-grenade pitch one of them has tossed the little iron spheroid 156 feet.
THE $25,000 STRIPER
The Striped Bass, all by itself, is prize enough for the hundreds of thousands of surf casters and boat fishermen who seek him along the Atlantic coast, but there is one striper presently at large with a little something added: a gold, diamond-studded tag attached to his lower jaw that makes him worth $25,000 in prize money to the angler who catches him before midnight September 14.
The tagging of the striper, henceforth to be known as Diamond Jim, was accomplished on a recent hot and humid afternoon in Chesapeake Bay in the presence of about 50 witnesses representing the state of Maryland, newspapers, radio and television stations, the Baltimore brewery that had put up the $25,000 prize, the advertising agency that thought up the stunt and three seagoing bartenders.
It wasn't easy. The whole affair flirted with fiasco for a full 24 hours. The night before the tagging day Clint Johnson, the advertising agency man in charge of arrangements, was called to the phone at a country club outside Baltimore and informed that the three stripers being held for tagging had just expired in their tanks. Turning away from the phone, Mr. Johnson scratched his bald head, tugged at his blond mustache and announced that other fishermen were being alerted and new stripers would surely be taken by dawn. Then Mr. Johnson went back to what he was doing, which was playing Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland on the piano.
At noon next day the guests began to gather in the bar of the Carvel Hall Hotel in Annapolis, the tagging expedition's port of embarkation. Mr. Johnson was there, mopping his head and passing out mimeographed fact sheets. When a reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun asked him if he had a live striper standing by, Mr. Johnson said confidently, "There will be an announcement shortly."
And there was, too. At 12:30 p.m. a courier arrived and breathlessly whispered. Mr. Johnson's face lit up like a neon sign, and he announced: "Two more stripers have just been taken. We are dispatching a fishing boat to pick them up, and the tagging will proceed according to plan. Davy Jones cocktails are now being served in the dining room."
The guests filed into the dining room, took their Davy Jones cocktails from two girls costumed as mermaids (the guests remarking, to a man, that they would like to tag them) and then sat down to an all-fish luncheon which led off with a serving of baked striper. Mr. Johnson took a seat with the mermaids (who had taken off their mermaid tails), and at the head table Toastmaster Earle R. Poorbaugh started introducing speakers. R. Leiter Fitzsimmons, head of the brewery, said the contest was intended to promote Maryland as a great fishing state. Dr. Eugene Cronin, a biologist, said the striper was "the king wherever he is found." Miss Joanne Bayes, the tall, red-haired leading lady of the Crunch and Des television show, said she intended to whisper "Look before you eat!" to the tagged striper just before tossing him back in the bay—a purpose for which Miss Bayes had flown down from New York.
At 2:55 p.m. the guests made their way to the boats. Three were standing by: the Holiday, the Timm D and the Diamond Jim. Mr. Johnson announced that these boats would rendezvous with a fourth boat named Three Sisters off Love Point. With that, he grabbed one of the bartenders and leaped into the Diamond Jim, waving for the other craft to follow.
From then on, there was a whole series of disquieting bulletins by radiotelephone, some to the effect that there were plenty of live stripers now, others reporting that all had died. Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson kept racing from boat to boat in the Diamond Jim, a runabout, shouting, "Are the refreshments holding out?"
A little after 5 p.m. came a solid news bulletin. The Three Sisters had reached Rock Hall, picked up the two stripers and was now heading for the rendezvous. Advised of this, Mr. Johnson pulled alongside the Holiday and leaped aboard. He checked with a state biologist who would do the actual tagging with a pair of $50 custom-made pliers and then suggested to Miss Bayes that she take off her high-heel shoes and prepare to leap from the Holiday to the Three Sisters. By the time he had designated the photographers and others who would go aboard the tagging boat, the Three Sisters was alongside. Mr. Johnson's man aboard the latter yelled over that one striper had now passed away, but that the other was alive and well. Barking orders like a ship's captain, Mr. Johnson dispatched his boarding crew while Captain Harvey Avery of the Three Sisters kept bellowing, "No more, no more! This boat will capsize! Distribute the weight, shift the weight there, some of you come up front here!"
Nobody paid him any mind. Instead, all hands gathered around the tank in the stern and, as cameras rolled, the live striper (a nine-pounder) was placed in the hands of Miss Bayes while the biologist worked feverishly with his pliers and tag.
In the very nick of time the biologist got the tag firmly in place, Miss Bayes uttered her prepared line, "Look before you eat!" and the striper was tossed, squirming and beautifully alive, out in the bay.
The striper—now officially Diamond Jim—vanished into the depths with the chances of his recapture standing at several hundred thousand to one in his favor. Conceivably, the biologists in the party said, he might decide to swim out to sea and up the coast. Or he might stay right in the neighborhood and spend the rest of his days trying to rub off the tag against a rock. He would surely, in the way that stripers have, make up his own mind.
As the Three Sisters, the tagging boat, turned around and headed back for Annapolis (it was now 6:40 p.m.), there was only one tragic note to mar the happy triumph. It was the catastrophe Mr. Johnson had feared all afternoon. In the excitement of transferring the tagging personnel, somebody had forgotten to transfer the refreshments.
THE ROAD BACK
The talk in the Bay Club, a popular hangout for North Bay, Ontario businessmen, usually sticks to fishing and hunting. But on this recent night the fellows were sipping their beer and discussing the perils and problems of being lost in the wilderness of the Canadian bush country. Just about everyone had some sort of experience to tell—everyone, that is, except Marty Vanclieaf, who had been prospecting in the North Woods for 30 years or so. Marty was being mighty quiet for a change.
"What's the matter with you, Marty?" one of the fellows asked. "Surely you've been lost on some of the early prospecting trips."
Marty smiled a smug little smile. "Lost? Never been close to it."
A few people snickered and one of them slipped him the needle. "Didn't know you were that good with the compass, Marty."
"Never use one," Marty snapped. "As long as a guy has one of these—" and here he drew a deck of cards from his pocket—"he doesn't have to worry about getting lost at all."
Marty studied the group amazement, then slowly went on: "I've tramped through more godforsaken bush than you fellows have ever seen, and this little pack has never let me down yet. Guess it never will."
By now even the club steward had dropped his chores to listen to Marty's explanation and, with his audience ready, Marty let them have it. "Well," he said, inspecting the cards in his hand, "whenever you're out in the bush and you think you're lost, you sit right down on the ground, take out your pack of cards and lay out a hand of solitaire. And I'll personally guarantee that within five minutes there'll be somebody looking over your shoulder."
If you are about to say you can tell this story another way, you are quite right. For instance, there is the version involving the intrepid explorer who always carries some gin and vermouth. As soon as he thinks he is lost, he starts to mix a Martini. Sure enough, a kibitzer materializes to tell him to make it a little bit drier.
"In this aria honest Guglielmo D'Alizzio swears a vendetta with the Internazionale Boxing Confederazione (Giacomo di Norrisetti, il presidente), which is demanding an exclusive contract with D'Alizzio's fighter in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. This announcement is greeted with cries of grief and sympathy by Giulio Helfandi, basso profundo, who rules boxing with an iron pizza but lately has shown signs of taking cream in his espresso. The prelude theme is then repeated and in a chorus filled with rage, curses and threats, newspaper writers sing the famous quartet 'Che cosa accade?' ('What's happening to the fight game?'). And then in the second act..."
The channel swimmer's ready,
Lithe and strong and sleek;
He'll swim without the usual grease:
He's young and doesn't squeak.
—F. E. WHITE
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
•On Crossing Bridges
Unseeded Italians Nicola Pietrangeli and Orlando Sirola dropped Americans Vic Seixas and Ham Richardson from Wimbledon doubles handily, raised possibility that the U.S. may have worried needlessly about facing Australia in Davis Cup challenge round in December.
•Standings, Nevada Style
In Las Vegas, where games won and lost are only incidental to baseball standings, here is how the tight National League race shaped up last week: Brooklyn, even money; Milwaukee, 6 to 5; Cincinnati, 5 to 2; St. Louis, 10 to 1; Pittsburgh, 40 to 1; Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, 100 to 1.
Russian athletes at Melbourne may have to get shore leave to compete in the Olympic Games. Soviet Union has requested permission to house athletes aboard Russian ships in port instead of at huge Olympic village. Likeliest reason: fear of runaways.
•Coast Schools Offside
In latest Conference penalties for football excesses, University of California drew $25,000 fine, USC a $10,000 fine and two-year Rose Bowl ban. Dwindling list of remaining eligibles for 1957 game: California, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State and Idaho.