PAUSE ON THE FRONTIER
From its beginning, the history of the American automobile has been linked with racing. Henry Ford learned about cars by building and racing them before the Ford Motor Co. was ever organized; General Motors' bestselling current product is named for one of the greatest of the oldtime racing drivers, Louis Chevrolet (who designed the original Chevrolet in 1911). Given such a grand tradition, it seemed strange that the directors of the Automobile Manufacturers Association should announce last week their unanimous decision not only to deemphasize speed and horsepower in automobile advertising, but also to sever all connections with racing competition in any form: stock car races, hill climbs, acceleration tests, even the providing of a pace car for the Indianapolis "500."
It is true that many of today's cars already have speed and power beyond the call of necessity. But it is also true that racing is a major frontier of all automotive progress, not of speed alone. Mercedes-Benz won the world championship with fuel injection, and Jaguar won at Le Mans with disc brakes. Both these milestones of automotive design are now offered on production cars, and their primary contributions are efficiency and safety, not speed.
Proving grounds have their uses, but a lot of Americans will go on insistently believing that competition offers the ultimate test—in running a mile, selling a toothpaste, making a better mousetrap or building a car.
June 16, 1957
Detroit's announcement actually amounts to an agreement not to compete. "If this had happened in Europe," one auto executive said, "a cartel would have come out of it. That's why the resolution was reworded and reworded again. They didn't want anyone shouting collusion, even though the intentions of the Automobile Manufacturers Association were good."
But collusion it is, whether anyone shouts it or not—and collusion of a peculiar and complacent kind. In a country that has always found its growth and, indeed, its special sense of destiny in crossing borderlines and pushing back barriers, Detroit has turned its back on the frontier.
THE AMPHETAMINE HUBBUB
The deliberations of the American Medical Association are sober, weighty and meticulous. They are also, as a rule, technical beyond the layman's understanding, and they pass into medical history without causing a flutter in the world at large. But last week the association's House of Delegates, meeting in New York, condemned what it termed the indiscriminate use of a drug called amphetamine to produce souped-up performances by high school, college and professional athletes. It also resolved to investigate the matter—and these particular deliberations exploded on front pages and produced a rain of all-but-radioactive comment.
From coaches, trainers, athletic commissioners and managers—and from athletes themselves—came denials and righteous indignation. Seventy-five newsmen converged on the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for a press conference with Dr. Herbert Berger, the man who caused the resolution to be brought before the AMA delegates. For in supporting his contentions, Dr. Berger had pointed to the running of under-four-minute miles by 12 different athletes as one of the more obvious results of mixing amphetamine with sport. In his college days, he said (he is 48), such an achievement was as unlikely as a trip to the moon. And now look—12 different men had done it. It was significant, Dr. Berger added, that Roger Bannister, the first of them all, had been a medical student when he crashed through the barrier in 1954.
Almost everybody, from the man in the street to the milers themselves, disagreed with Dr. Berger's assertions, in detail and on Page One. (In London, Roger Bannister said, "I have never even contemplated using such drugs myself," and Brian Hewson and Derek Ibbotson called Dr. Berger's notion "nonsense." John Landy's comment was promptly relayed up from Australia: "Ha ha, ha!")
The 75 reporters, armed with carefully sharpened questions, waited an hour and a half and then were told by an AMA public relations man that Dr. Berger had decided to make no further comments on the doping of athletes or the running of miles until the AMA's investigation was completed.
The newspaper hubbub began to subside, and as it did so volunteers came forward here and there to admit that amphetamine is used in sports. Among them were two American veterans of Canadian pro football; a high school teacher—and former coach—in Ohio; and a woman swimmer in Australia. Their admissions were not exactly news: athletes have been experimenting with pep pills for years (SI, Nov. 15, 1954). But Dr. Berger's remarks, and the serious concern of the AMA, had made news of the whole question of souped-up athletics.
Amphetamine (under trade names like Benzedrine or Dexedrine) comes in aspirin-sized tablets known as Bennies, Dexies or pep pills. It stimulates the user so that he feels unusually lively and alert, though actually he is not; and it masks off the sensations of fatigue so that he can press on to the point of exhaustion without feeling tired. (Later, though, he may feel very tired indeed.) But pharmacologists say that amphetamine cannot make an athlete, or anyone else, perform beyond his native limit of strength or speed, because it creates only the urge, not the means, to do so. However confidently you may press the accelerator, you get the same old fuel mixture as before. (The body itself produces a substance which will trigger the release of extra energy for emergency use. But amphetamine won't do this.)
Only a few facts emerged from last week's commotion: 1) amphetamine can have harmful effects if it is used to fend off fatigue to the point of collapse; 2) it cannot create superathletes or record-breaking performances; and 3) some athletes are using it nevertheless. How many are using it, nobody knows. But the ethics of winning, or trying to win, with the help of drugs was hardly discussed at all.
It would be improper to say that Philadelphia has never known excitement, for both William Penn and the Continental Congress had a livening influence and so, of course, did Connie Mack. A certain somnolence does often obtain there, however, and there seemed to be no reason in the world to suspect, this spring, that it would be shattered—least of all through the medium of baseball. The Phillies began the season as an 80-to-l shot; a good many of the people who came to watch them play seemed moved to do so 1) because of a lack of other entertainment, or 2) simply for the chance to boo. But the Phillies won; a fortnight ago Philadelphia became suddenly, noisily and giddily obsessed with the notion that they can win the National League pennant.
Even the most loyal of the Phillies' newly loyal fans cannot quite explain what finally catalyzed this startling reaction; the city was only pleased with the team on Memorial Day (they were fourth), then became bursting with love when the Phillies took three straight from Brooklyn and a series from Cincinnati, threatening to lead the league. Now the Phillies are all but packing Connie Mack Stadium on week nights (411,478 paid admissions in 24 dates), and the mobs of fevered converts cheer if one of their players so much as spits on his hands or kicks the dirt.
But perhaps Philadelphia's new fever is best illustrated by the sad tale of one Thomas Harrison, 41, of Wilmington, Del., a longtime Phillies fan who leaned out of his box seat and picked up a batted ball during one of the Cincinnati games last week. It was not, as he believed, foul and, thanks to the ground rules, what would otherwise have been the winning run didn't count and the Phillies lost. Well, Harrison was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct, after irate fans threw beer cans at him, and led off to a police station while an umbrella-swinging woman cried, in rich South Philadelphia accents: "Let me waffle him! Just let me at him, will you?" Harrison was just as horrified as his detractors and said, "Why did I do it? Oh, I wish I had those moments back."
A few days later, though, Philadelphia seemed inclined to forgive the erring fan. The baseball team sent a representative to court to ask for leniency. The magistrate found Harrison not guilty of disorderly conduct, although not without charging him with "the biggest error of the game." By this time an error or so didn't seem important—with the Phillies only a half game out of first place.
Nobody was happier than the peanut vendors at the stadium. "The fans are awful nervous," one explained. "They're eating more peanuts than ever. This is the year!"
HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT
The ball streaked on a flat, hard line toward the light tower in left center field, 450 feet from the plate. No. 24 wheeled and ran hard through the illuminated night, his route converging unbelievably with the dropping ball. He flung up his gloved hand and the ball hit and stuck in the webbing and he braked himself with his right hand against the wall and wheeled and made the long throw back to the infield. The two base runners backtracked frantically, and Bob Clemente, the batter, stood at first base, looking incredulously toward the spot far out at the edge of darkness where Willie Mays had made the catch.
When the Pirate center fielder, Bill Virdon, trotted out to take his position, he could not take his eye off the spot where Mays had caught the ball. He looked and measured the distance with his eye. It was hard to believe that even Willie Mays had caught one out there.
After the game, Willie took a big swig of water, galloped into the clubhouse, methodically peeled off his uniform and tried to dismiss the catch as ordinary. Not so Giant Manager Bill Rigney, who has never been so full-throated in his praise of Mays as Leo Durocher used to be. Said Rigney: "That ball was actually uncatchable. There isn't a man in the world—go back to 1900, I don't care—there isn't another man in the world who could have caught that ball. I never thought he had a chance, but then that's Willie." Giant Coach Tommy Henrich, who played in the Yankee outfield with Joe DiMaggio, also felt obliged to testify for history. "It was better than the greatest catch I ever saw—the one DiMaggio made off Hank Greenberg back around 1938. DiMaggio's catch is now No. 2. When I see him, I'm going to have to tell him why I put him in second place."
Under the overwhelming weight of opinion, Willie himself finally agreed. "Yeah," he said, "it was probably my best. Better than the one against Vic Wertz [in the 1954 World Series]. This ball was hit on a bullet. The one Wertz hit looped a little. I'd have to say this was the best I ever made, I guess. I had to work for this one."
SOMETHING TO BE SAID
Alumni of the University of Chicago —among them some who are still loyal to the academic concepts of Bob Hutchins—sometimes fret that Hutchins' doctrines attracted too many undergraduate eggheads. (Sample snort: "The greatest collection of neurotics since the Children's Crusade.") Last week Dean of Students Robert Strozier, speaking to 200 alumni lettermen from Chicago's years as an athletic power, charged that the "best students" are no longer "fighting for the opportunity to attend the University of Chicago" as strenuously as "to attend many institutions of less academic stature." He also proposed a remedy: a return to intercollegiate football, which Chicago proudly abandoned 18 years ago.
Strozier rejected popular canards about Chicago's students but added that "the unpleasant fact remains that a myth was created on a national scale and myths die slowly." The school, he said, "constantly meets a kind of bland lack of interest even from those who recognize its greatness and its importance. Too many young people do not even consider Chicago.... There is still something lacking in our situation. It is a subtle, indefinable something, but it needs to be remedied dramatically and forcefully.... I wish to state without equivocation that I favor the return of football...as soon as possible....
"Had I been a member of the administration when we withdrew from intercollegiate football, I feel sure that I should have voted to approve the action.... [My present] deep personal conviction [was] arrived at with difficulty. I believe that the resolution to return to football competition would say something which could not be said in any other fashion to the public, and some things need to be said. I believe that there are many abuses in intercollegiate football today, and for these abuses I feel only a sincere scorn. I believe that there are many institutions of real quality whose quality has never been affected by football. I also believe that Chicago was a great institution when it participated fully in all intercollegiate sports [and] I intend to bend efforts toward the return of football to Chicago."
NO MAN'S LAND
Professional boxing is ruled, in the main, by state athletic commissions which determine whether fighters are physically and morally fit for presentation to the public. Some states, like Ohio and Arizona, have only city commissions but most of them, city and state, belong to the National Boxing Association and recognize each other's suspensions. A fighter banned in one state is, generally speaking, banned in all NBA states. Thus, some semblance of national order is maintained in boxing.
A case for the statewide system of control, as against the city system, is presently being made in Arizona, where Promoter Paul Clinite has recently tried to sign fighters who have been declared unacceptable in the rest of the country.
Item: A month ago Clinite was trying to sign Art Aragon to fight an unnamed opponent, despite an NBA ban on Aragon as a convicted fixer. The plan was dropped, apparently because Aragon is appealing his conviction and his lawyers wanted no complications.
Item: This week Clinite is trying to line up a fight for Ewart Potgieter, the South African giant (7 feet 2 inches, 340 pounds). The amiable Pottie has been banned elsewhere because he assertedly needs postoperative treatment for a pituitary tumor and also because of so-called "shotgun" eyesight, which makes it impossible for him to see a punch coming from either side. Aside from that, Potgieter has proved himself singularly inept as a fighter in Africa, in Europe and in his few appearances in the United States.
Clinite's gimmick is simple. He could put on such matches because jurisdiction of the Phoenix commission stops at the city line. The Phoenix Coliseum, where the fights would be held, is outside the city limits. Under the statewide system of control a promoter of Clinite's limited sensitivity would have no place to hide.
Scandalous it was. Never a thing like it before. Gavin Sorrell, president of the Oxford University Boat Club, was even talking about imposing penalties!
"We shall have to fine Corpus Christi III for entering the race under false pretenses," he sniffed.
After all, boating at Oxford was a gentleman's game, and the coxswain of Corpus Christi College's successful third-string crew was no gentleman. That was obvious the minute the crew tossed her into the drink after the race.
Of course the scandal did not break until last Friday, a week after the race. Then the papers were full of it. A terrible thing! A girl coxing a college crew to a victory in the bumping races during Eights Week. Two World Wars and Suez had hardly incensed Blueblazered rowing buffs more.
Many alumni refused to discuss the matter. One official humphed: "A fantastic trick. Shocking."
The cause of the fuss was blonde Alison de Courcy-Ireland, girl friend of the Corpus Christi III stroke. She had been smuggled aboard dressed in blazer, trousers and a floppy hat. Her presence in the boat far from disturbed the crew, however. Said one elated oarsman:
"We rowed the race of our lives with her in the stern. Her steering was brilliant, her commands like angels' voices in our ears."
With antic pitch and jeering chatter,
The battery worked on the batter;
They stirred him up too much, that's all—
He made a pancake of the ball.
—HARVEY L. CARTER
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
•Blow of the Week
A few days after he was fined $1,000 for nightclubbing, Yankee Catcher Yogi Berra got another severe blow: a foul tip smashed through his mask, breaking his ample nose. Yogi issued a statement of restrained complaint: "You know, something like this could ruin a fellow's appearance."
The Aussies have been developing a mild case of Davis Cup jitters over Lew Hoad's poor showing in the French and other tournaments, but London bookmakers nonetheless make him a 2-to-1 favorite to win his second straight Wimbledon next month. Runners-up: Australia's Ashley Cooper and Neale Fraser at 5-to-1.
•Lead Us Not Into Temptation
Detroit's decision to turn its back on the Indianapolis "500" (no more factory-sponsored pace cars) has presented Indianapolis arrangers with a possibly tempting riposte: to bring in a European model as the pace car next Memorial Day, introduced as "the world's best-styled and best-engineered car for 1958."
•Salute from a Marine
After 20-year-old Don Bowden became the first American to break the four-minute mile, he received a telegram from a 25-year-old man who once came fairly close (4:00.5) himself. CONGRATULATIONS ON A GREAT PERFORMANCE, it read. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. WES SANTEE.