Surrounded as he is by comfort and plenty, Mid-century Man may sometimes wonder whether, if called on, he could show the grit and ingenuity of his forebears. From the winter remoteness of British Columbia last week came a story which indicates that the human spirit is as strong as ever and can still, when challenged, prevail.
Frank Wharton, a watchmaker and gunsmith of Little Fort, B.C., shot a buck but found he could not eat it because he had no upper plate. He trekked 50 miles into Kamloops to get one but balked at the dentist's price. Racing home, he yanked a handful of teeth from the deer, fashioned himself a working set of uppers and triumphantly dined on venison. Achievement enough, perhaps, but, in addition, Frank Wharton is now known as the only man in British Columbia with real buck teeth.
Baseball Contracts were in the mail last week, both going and coming, signed and unsigned. The holdout stories were familiar, might even have been last year's carbons with names and figures changed. Among the more famous holdouts, 1957 edition, was Mickey Charles Mantle.
January 28, 1957
As usual, newsmen had to guess as to what Mantle was offered and what he requested. The average guess was $40,000 offered, $60,000 requested.
Since players acquired business managers and college educations, contract signing has been strictly business. The procedure is as standard as a page out of a School of Business textbook.
Mantle and the Yankees followed the rules accordingly.
The Yankees mailed the contract and a personal five-paragraph note which, among other things, offered Mantle $40,000.
Mantle didn't think much of the offer, returned the contract unsigned. The Yankees then invited him to "drop in" for a chat.
Mantle indeed "dropped in," found the front office unmanned except for the personnel manager, Lee MacPhail, finally caught up with General Manager George Weiss at a Chicago sports dinner Sunday night.
Mr. Mantle will, of course, come to terms with the Yankees in due time and newsmen will be invited to record the event for posterity. Photographers will take pictures of Mantle wearing a Yankee cap and maybe swinging a bat in the presence of Mr. Weiss. Mr. Weiss will predict another pennant for the Yankees, Mickey will say he hopes to do better in 1957.
The same thing, roughly, will also happen next year. Mickey, of course, is worth a good-sized mint. He is a nonpareil box-office attraction, probably the biggest since Babe Ruth. If it takes $60,000 to make Mickey happy, well the Yankees will just have to pay it. By all means Mr. Mantle must be kept happy. The game (and the Yankees) need a happy Mickey.
Amid the usual stereotyped stories of holdouts, there comes a refreshing one with a slightly different twist.
Like Mantle, Orestes (Minnie) Minoso was unhappy with the contract sent him, offering him $32,500. Returning the contract, Minoso wrote from his native Cuba:
"Dear Mr. Comiskey (Dear Chuck), I am sending this contract you sent to me because I guess you are wrong about it. It looks like a contract which belonged to me of '53 or '54, not for Minoso after fine 1956 year which I have. I can't think that this contract belong to me, it belong to another player on the club. This salary expired and is no good for me for next season. Contract for me should have more money than one sent by mistake for next season. Please send me correct contract. Excuse me, Orestes Minoso."
Mr. Comiskey thinks it might be a case of mistaken identity, indeed. He sent the last contract to plain Orestes Minoso, is sending this one to Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Armas Minoso, Minnie's official name.
But while the label will be different, Mr. Comiskey indicated the contents would be about the same.
YOU SHOULD KNOW...
Lately, intrepid SPORTS ILLUS-J TRATED staff members have attended a number of banquets in honor of this hero and that, most of them football stars. This is a type of entertainment indigenous to the season and productive of a few morsels of sports news. The sports news has been duly reported, here and elsewhere in the magazine, but, as a sort of byproduct, the staff members have brought home with them a large, frequently elderly, batch of football stories. It is only fair to warn you that if you attend one of these affairs you will very probably hear one or more of these stories. On the theory that forewarned is forearmed, here are some which appear with the dessert at banquets every year:
A coach, calling desperate instructions to his team from the sidelines, was penalized five yards. As the official marked off the penalty, the coach, unwisely, said, "You don't even know the right penalty for coaching from the sidelines. It's 15 yards." The official placed the ball carefully, looked up and said, "Not for the way you coach."
Just to show officials are not always so lenient, there is the story of the coach who was overcome with anger when he saw an 85-yard scoring play recalled for an offsides. As the official paced off the five yards, the coach howled, "You stink!" The official finished the five paces and kept going for 15 more. He put the ball down, turned to the coach and called, "How do I smell from here?"
Players? They are always exceptionally dumb or exceptionally witty in these stories. Joe Slowwit, the tackle, was the dumb type. His coach looked around for a long time trying to find a job he could do to earn his keep and finally, in desperation, gave Slowwit a job sorting potatoes. "Put the little ones in this basket, the big ones in that," he told Slowwit and left him with a large stack of potatoes. Hours later he returned to find Slowwit sitting hopelessly before the potatoes, with a very small potato in one basket and a very large one in the other. In his hand was a medium-size potato. "Coach," he said sadly, "I'm gonna hafta quit. This job is too tough. These decisions are killing me."
A good story for losing coaches has been the one about the team which was being lectured after a poor game. "We're going right back to fundamentals," said the coach. "The game is played on a field 100 yards long." He held up a football. "This is what you play with. It is a football. You start by—" From the back row came a desperate cry, "Wait a minute, Coach. You're going too fast!"
The insecurity of the coaching profession lends a wry note to some of the stories. Red Sanders, who has known good years and some not so good, sounded the note perfectly after a good season at UCLA. The UCLA students gathered outside his house after the last game of the season and yelled until Red and his wife came out on the porch. Sanders surveyed the mob, then, in an aside to his wife, he said, "I wonder which one's got the rope?"
And, finally, there's the coach who was congratulated on having a lifetime contract. "I guess it is all right," he said. "But I remember another guy with a lifetime contract. Had a bad year, and the president called him in, pronounced him dead and fired him."
BOX 1174, CHICAGO
Joe Louis may or may not have been the greatest heavyweight of all time; there is room for argument. But his status as an economist is unchallenged; he is the world's worst. Joe owes the Government $1,199,437 in back taxes, a figure which is increased daily by $278 in interest and hardly offset by his own maximum income of $82.19 a day ($30,000 per year). But last week two Midwesterners, John Younghein and George Reeves Jr., from Norfolk, Neb., figured they owed Joe a debt for the enjoyment he had given them when he was champion. So they formed a nonprofit organization to pay Joe's taxes and rented P.O. Box 1174, Chicago, as a mail-drop for any like-minded Americans willing to contribute $1 to $5 or so toward the cause.
They figure there will be enough small donations to add up to $300,000, the amount for which the Government might settle Joe's account.
Solid figures such as these cannot help but recall to mind some other cash accounts on Joe Louis' books: the $89,092 he raised with his fists and donated to the Navy Relief fund in 1942, the $64,980 the Army Relief got from him only two months later. Add it up and it comes to $154,072, well over half the amount the Government now apparently wants from Joe.
There were other items which Joe's fans think might be entered on the credit side of his Government account; such as the time in March 1942 when he bought $3,000 worth of tickets out of his own pocket so that his buddies at Fort Dix could see him successfully defend his title against Abe Simon.
The fact that Joe Louis never finished grade school is no excuse for his failure to pay his legal debts to the U.S. Government. Joe himself would be the last to look for such an excuse. Some claim he was a wastrel and a spendthrift, others swear he was a victim of circumstance. Neither claim seems important in view of this fact: Joe was a great fighter, but, like all fighters he needed help in his corner. Never more than he needs it now.
DECLINE OF PATIENCE
A man old enough to remember Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris can also remember when the championship billiards matches of Willie Hoppe rated eight-column headlines in the sports pages. The other day, within the same week that saw man flying nonstop around the world in not too many hours more than it took Lindbergh to cross the Atlantic, Willie Hoppe was in the headlines again. But this time the headlines were of narrow gauge, and they told a sadder story that was a kind of parable as well.
The occasion was the 51st anniversary of Willie Hoppe's first world-championship billiards match. It had taken place in the Grand Hotel in Paris before a glittering audience of 2,000 persons who saw Willie, then 18, take the 18.2 balkline title from 53-year-old Maurice Vignaux. On this anniversary, more than a half century later, Willie performed a steady-handed exhibition before about 100 spectators. The setting was no Grand Hotel. It was a stuffy, dingy room over a Chicago bowling alley.
"The sport of billiards is extinct," said Willie Hoppe. "There's nobody left. They're all dead and I'm almost 70. There are no youngsters."
Willie said he thought he knew the reason why.
"It is a hard sport," he said, "and the average person nowadays hasn't the patience to master it. There are too many easier things to do."
Willie picked a good time to say these few little things—the week when impatient man flew around his world in 45 hours.
Laszlo Tabori came quietly, almost diffidently, into the big arena, clambering up the back of the steeply banked wooden track, pausing for a moment as if looking for something familiar in the crowded confusion before him. He carried his running shoes in his hand—new shoes, bright red with white stitching, the tiny indoor spikes set in a clean, yellow rubber sole. He had never run in them, and they seemed alien to his faded, well-worn sweat suit. He spoke to no one as he stood there, and no one spoke to him. Then, stepping delicately across the track, he started his slow warmup in the crowded infield, a vague, shadowy figure, his eyes hooded, his gray, cadaverous face lighting up only occasionally in an apologetic smile.
Tabori, brilliant member of Hungary's distance team, four-minute miler and now a refugee from his native land, had eaten an early dinner (pea soup, fried filet of sole, grated cabbage and ice cream), slept a little in his room in Boston's Hotel Manger and was ready now for the first indoor race of his career, his debut in this strange country to which he had come so abruptly and unexpectedly to find a home. Whatever his thoughts were as he trotted carefully through the jostling crowds of athletes assembled for the Boston K of C Games, he kept them to himself. Few in the Garden noticed him until the two-mile race was called. Then, as he peeled off his sweat shirt and revealed the green-white-red band of Free Hungary circling his chest, a ragged cheer went up from a small group of his countrymen in the stands: "Tab-ori! Tab-ori!" Tabori smiled shyly, briefly, trotted once more up the track, testing the unfamiliar surface with his unfamiliar shoes. When the starter hustled the runners into line, he readied himself and stood immobile waiting for the gun, only licking his lips nervously as his eyes, hooded again, stared fixedly ahead.
With the gun, he became a workman, settling to an accustomed task, and as the laps streamed by beneath his rhythmically stepping feet, his workmanlike perfection showed. And as he ran, the crowd embraced him. Lap after lap, exchanging leads occasionally with Horace Ashenfelter, he ran his way into that alien land to which he had come so recently, a living legend from far away. And when little Freddy Dwyer, who bided his time so long and so well, broke from third place 300 yards from home and Tabori sprinted round the bend and after him, he had it made. Not the race, but his place in America.
Afterward, happy, bewildered by all the acclamation he was getting for a losing race, he stood in the center of a group of friendly, welcoming people grinning and rueful by turns. Questions were fired at him. How did his feet feel? Tom Courtney wanted to know. Tabori laughed. "My feet burned. They burned so much I couldn't feel the wood underneath my shoes." "Two weeks!" cried Courtney, shaking two outstretched fingers in his face. "Two weeks, and you'll really be in shape!" Tabori grinned.
How was the track? another asked. Tabori laughed again. "The curves are a little different," he said, "but the distance is the same." He turned to his coach, Mihaly Igloi, a red-faced wrinkled little man who stood beside him, and burst into a flood of fast Hungarian. The interpreter translated: "Those curves, he says. He didn't understand the curves. All of a sudden he noticed people were passing him in the curves and he realized that he was losing ground in every one of them." Tabori, listening, grinned and shook his head regretfully.
What about the indoor world record of 8:50.5? Did he think he would break it this winter? "Dwyer,"' answered Laszlo Tabori, "could have broken it tonight. This was the night he could have done it." He paused. "It was a good race," he went on. "It was a very good race. It was a very fair race." He looked at Igloi for a sign of confirmation, and the coach nodded vigorously.
Had he figured Dwyer as a threat? Tabori looked blank for a moment. Then: "Of course I knew both Dwyer and Ashenfelter might be quite formidable," he said. His voice was serious. "We know your runners quite well, you know." Then, suddenly, he laughed again. "I was perfectly astonished by this race," he said. "Before, I didn't think anyone, least of all me, would run it in under nine minutes. And look what happened! It was," he concluded, "a very good race."
Much later, in the dim light of an after-hours club, a reporter who had tagged along with Tabori, Igloi and a couple of friends on a tour of nighttime Boston brought up the subject of the race once more. Something had been bothering him. "Laszlo," he said, "there was one time in that race, about halfway through it, when you nearly gave me heart failure. All of a sudden you sprinted past Ashenfelter as though you were really going home, and I thought to myself, my God, the poor guy has misunderstood the whole business and he thinks this is a one-mile run! What were you trying to do, anyway?"
The answer to this vital question is lost to history. Laszlo Tabori, raising a glass of beer to his lips, wasn't listening at all. His eyes, bright and merry, were on two pretty girls who were just walking past, and he was singing gently the tune the jukebox was playing: Bei Mir Bist du Sch√∂n.
The weight lifter added
Ten pounds, then ten more.
Now where he once stood
There's a hole in the floor.
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
•End of a Tradition
Despite the moans of traditionalists who took pride in the Belmont Stakes as the U.S. equivalent of the English Derby (a testing 1½, miles for outstanding 3-year-old colts and fillies), Belmont's responsible men will allow geldings to run in 1957. Reason: the new rule should make blanket nominations for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont easier and more common.
•Return to a Tradition
Frank Lane of the St. Louis Cardinals last year abolished the traditional bat and perching redbirds on Cardinal jerseys—on the ground that the old symbols made a uniform into a "costume." Lane is reversing himself in 1957. Fans buttonholing Frankie on the winter banquet circuit have persuaded him there are some insignia too sacred to tamper with.
•Italy Tries Again
This year's Italian invasion of the Indianapolis "500" will be led by a hot new Maserati, to be driven by Stirling Moss. Maserati is anxious to prove it can succeed over the Brickyard circuit where Ferrari failed last year.
Red China, making progress in its campaign for physical fitness and sports achievement, has apparently outdistanced Russia in tennis readiness. The Chinese have asked International Davis Cup authorities to accept a Chinese team in this year's competitions; the Russians are still just talking about it.