In glistening little Portofino, on the Italian Riviera, 800 peripatetic Americans are temporarily bivouacked in a town of 4,000. And so it goes, from the North Cape of Norway to the isles of Greece. Americans are not only packing the highways, waterways and fairways of their own land but spilling abroad to take part with Europeans in one of the greatest sport and vacation seasons in history.
The old side-wheel steamers churning up and down the Rhine were crowded last week as never before, and at border check points the sport cars were jammed on the Autobahns while sweating customs and border police stamped passports well into the night. So many skin divers were in the water that a French lawyer seriously advised them to wear their fishing licenses pinned to their suits under the surface to avoid possible trouble with the law. So many tennis balls were being batted in England that the result might have been foreseen: in Worcestershire during a match, one Eric Marsh served the ball and executed a sparrow flying past.
Records fell. While Sergeant John Williamson of the Royal Air Force set a new British gliding record last week with a climb to 29,700 feet, down on the ground Alec Russell, a jockey at the Bogside Racecourse, brought home all six of the day's six winners, a feat last performed in England by Sir Gordon Richards in 1933. Meanwhile, Lester Piggott, this year's startlingly successful jockey, made news of a different order: he entered the annual donkey derby at East Hendred, Berkshire, started well and was running second when his donkey tossed him over its head.
August 4, 1957
The first swimmer to try to swim the Channel splashed bravely out of Calais bound for Dover. In Barcelona, Matador Antonio Bienvenida poised his sword over the bull's shoulder blades, brought down the blade in the classic arc and stabbed himself in the left foot.
It cannot be said that this summer's spectacle of a sizable portion of mankind earnestly pursuing happiness by way of sport provoked profound thought. No sociologists or philosophers found it in any wise reassuring or disquieting. All baseball writers noted there had rarely been a National League race like this one; all fishing editors commented on the number of boats setting out for porgies and blue-fish off the New Jersey coast; all travel writers recognized the difficulty of finding hotel accommodations in Italy—or motels with vacancies on American turnpikes. The closest approach to solemn reflection came from France. There some scandal was caused by the disclosure that only 30% of the latest batch of conscripts to the army knew the name of the premier, but that 97% knew the name of the winning cyclist in the Tour de France. Is sport more important than politics? gloomily asked the weekly Demain. Are values not distorted in a world where youth cares passionately about a bicycle race and cares nothing about officials who might have to make decisions about war or peace?
On the contrary, replied the sports daily L'Equipe, the conscripts' answers were correct. "The art of governing has become more simply the art of deceiving. It is therefore quite natural that youth seeks a tangible truth and heroes of its own stature. Sport is an exaltation of youth, of its own radiant strength....
Is it so surprising that youth turns toward realities which are more pure, and reserves its enthusiasm for the only things which, to its eyes, remain worthy of enthusiasm?"
Well, each land to its own politics. On this side of the water, though, the intense interest in, say, Philadelphia over the fate of the Phillies does not necessarily mean the fans think all politics corrupt and all sport pure. The-motive that has set-millions fishing, sailing, camping, hiking, playing games (or watching experts play them) is probably a good deal simpler. Sport has the happy faculty of being intensely serious without being serious at all, intensely serious about the immediate business at hand, yet with a full realization that, so far as the great issues of human destiny are concerned, the outcome does not matter in the slightest. Sport flourishes when people can set those issues aside for the time being and devote the same purposeful attention they require to inconsequential ends—and sport in the summer of 1957 is flourishing as rarely in anybody's history.
There is nothing so dear to a congressman's heart as a small, family-owned business. Bert Bell, who minds the store for the National Football League, found that out last week when he testified before the house committee investigating monopoly practices in sports.
It is only in the last 10 years that the pro football business has grown beyond its rough-and-tumble beginnings. Most of the founders are still around to see that the store's recent prosperity won't be blighted by meddling outsiders. Bell, who learned the trade from these paternalists, pointed out that their profits are surprisingly small and that their shop is "a small operation." (Last year 10 of the 12 teams made a profit which averaged about $68,000.)
That these men would ever make use of their enterprise's admittedly unique business methods to cheat customers or employees was patently absurd to Bell. "If you are unreasonable in any way...the press and everyone will know about it, and you can't be unreasonable....
I know football men, and I know their word, and I know the oldtimers are in there for the best interests of the players." Bell feels the same way himself. "I feel I owe a greater loyalty to the players than I do the club owners, because they are younger and do not know the different angles. They are part of my family, and nobody so far as I am concerned is ever going to do anything harmful to them."
The congressmen were concerned with the effect of the draft and the reserve clause on the players' economic status. Bell pointed out that the reserve clause is different from baseball's. After two years with an NFL team, a player can declare himself a free agent and make his own deals. The draft, according to Bell and the players who followed him to the witness table, is, in the long run, beneficial to players. It serves to equalize rich and poor clubs, making for better races and, therefore, bigger gates and higher player salaries (they have risen 300% in the last 11 years).
Bell summed up the league's attitude toward consumers when he discussed closed-circuit television. "I am definitely against it," he said. "I believe the kids of this country are entitled to see sports. How are they going to pay for closed circuit? When money becomes the predominant figure in professional football...then we are no longer what we claim, a sport."
So spoke Bert Bell, who runs the little football store on the corner. And, after listening to the profit-hungry statements of the gentlemen who run the baseball chain store across the street, Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler found his "a refreshing statement to hear."
GOLF AND LIGHTNING
Paul Ebelhardt, manager of Calumet Farm's racing stable, was on the eighth green at the Lexington Country Club a few Saturdays ago when a thunderstorm broke. He and his three companions finished the hole amidst lightning flashes and then took thought for their safety. One of the foursome, Arthur Hudgins, sprinted for the shelter of an old concession stand. Ebelhardt and Arthur McEwen, a law professor at the University of Louisville, hopped into their caddie cart while Frank Quinn, an insurance man, jumped on back, and the vehicle scooted over-the drenched fairway. About 150 yards from the clubhouse, a bolt struck them. McEwen was thrown out of the cart, killed instantly. Quinn was knocked to the ground, dazed but unhurt. The cart ran aimlessly another hundred yards, carrying Ebelhardt's unconscious figure.
Quinn got to the clubhouse, called for help, and two golf-playing physicians administered artificial respiration. Last week, 32 days after he was struck by lightning, Ebelhardt was released from the hospital.
The prominence of the victims made the accident front-page news. It incidentally contributed to the general impression that golf courses are particularly hazardous places in electrical storms. They are, but so is any open ground. Five handy rules when lightning is forking down:
FAIRWAYS. Find low ground-and you're safer lying down than standing up.
TREES. Keep away from isolated trees, but a grove or wood usually offers safety, provided you stay away from a tree that is taller than the rest.
CLUBS. Drop them.
CADDIE CARTS. Get out, unless your cart happens to have an enclosing steel top like that of a passenger car. (In general, an auto with a steel top offers very good protection and is in effect one type of what physicists call a Faraday cage. There is no electrical field inside the car.)
LAST CHANCE. Some witnesses report that an exposed man will sometimes feel his hair beginning to stand on end. This is nature's tip that he is within an actively charged electrical field and that a bolt is searching for him. If your hair rises, don't run for shelter; hit the dirt.
REMEMBER THE BREED
Horse racing is probably the most booming of major sports just now, so it is not surprising that the concept of the dream track seems to be on everyone's lips or typewriter.
Roosevelt Raceway, the new trotting paradise on Long Island, is opening its pastel portals and reports are enthusiastic on the score of shimmering comforts for patrons. Aqueduct, the first and authentic dream track for New York Thoroughbreds, is abuilding; advance publicity indicates it will have more seats for humans, and more square inches per human seat, than anywhere.
Even staid old Belmont has been getting into the act. You recall the publicity given to its face lifting last spring; on closer examination, the renovation seemed to amount largely to the installation of escalators. Nowadays, a track stands or falls (so does the unwary horseplayer on its escalators. The last time we looked, Arlington Park was leading the nation with 16 escalators; the other half of the Chicago entry, Washington Park, was second, at a respectable distance, with Belmont a fast-closing third.
Last week Belmont came through with an even more startling facility. Temporarily ignoring the Widener Course, the famous old 6½-furlong straightaway which cuts diagonally—and inconveniently, from the point of view of calling a race—across the infield, the Belmont management put its 2-year-olds on a new five-furlong course. The horses started just before the far turn at the end of the backstretch, and ended just before the sixteenth pole, in front of the grandstand seats ($1.95) instead of the clubhouse seats ($4.95).
Via the public address system, spectators were invited to send the Greater New York Association their reactions to the innovation. This is a rather curious procedure, suggestive of holding a national plebiscite to determine whether apple pie a la mode is more popular than apple pie. We would assume that the stands would outvote the clubhouse on anything.
The alarming thing in all this is not the growth of facilities themselves. This magazine has too often protested the manner in which the sports fan is abused to think of opposing this particular trend, in horse racing or any other sport. But what we do deplore is the absence of evidence that much thought is being given to the quality of racing itself, or to the maintenance of some of its traditions. It may be argued that the horseplayer does not give a fig for tradition—we believe that the thoughtful fan does.
The purpose of the Widener straightaway is to give 2-year-olds racing experience before they graduate to the turns at Saratoga or later. Its width 140 feet allows green youngsters to wobble, as they mostly do at the beginning of their careers, without endangering themselves or others. The main stretch through which they were running last week is only 100 feet wide. The charts show that the first four races under the new regime brought 37 horses to the post; 11 of them got into trouble by bumping into each other, bumping into the rail or drifting wide on the turns.
In addition, the shortened stretch puts a premium on the speed horse, at the expense of the 2-year-old who is developing stamina. This is another deplorable nationwide trend. It is now exceptional to find one mile-and-a-half race on a day's card. These are referred to as "marathon" races, and are not supposed to be popular. Yet the 1½ mile is the classical distance for a horse. We are forgetting that a great race horse is supposed to combine stamina with speed and heart. Breeding for speed alone is a form of inbreeding. Its only result will be further to shorten the distance of races and the limits of race horses—we look gloomily to the day when there will be $200,000 purses for 50-yard dashes.
We applaud the desire to increase the comfort of the racing fan. It is possible, also, that there are areas in which racing could be helped by democratization. But it is not to be supposed that the improvement of the breed or of the sport can be left to the votes of horse players. Most of them have enough on their minds already.
While younger men were getting ready to settle the championship of the world he once aspired to, Bob Baker, a 30-year-old heavyweight with 59 fights in nine years of boxing, lay across a row of folding chairs in a Chicago Stadium dressing room, a bloody towel about his head, and slowly admitted he did not have it any longer. A few minutes before, Baker had been defeated by Eddie Machen, who is 25.
"I'm through," he said. "Shouldn't I be? Tell me honestly now."
"Yes, Bob," a listener told him. "You ought to quit."
"I know when I'm through," Baker said, looking at the ceiling.
"It's when your will is gone. I can tell you when I lost my will. It was the night I beat Hurricane Jackson in the ball park in my home town of Pittsburgh and they gave him the decision.
"I got in that ring tonight and I thought, 'Well, here's another one, and if you win it maybe you get another couple of fights and if you don't maybe you're through.' That kid beat me tonight because he wanted to win more than I did and I didn't have the reflexes to stop him. I'm disgusted with myself, my manager's disgusted with me and I'm just sorry.
"A guy ought to quit when he can see the punches coming and can't do anything about them. Five or six years ago this kid wouldn't have done this to me; step in with a couple of feints and jab me on the nose or in the mouth. And do it all the time, and I'd see him doing it and couldn't stop it.
"That kid tonight, I don't know but I don't think he was trying to knock me out. And I'm glad. It'd be an awful thing for a fighter to end up with somebody standing over him counting 10.
"I had good paydays. I went down there to Texas to fight that kid. Roy Harris, that's his name. No colored man is going to beat a white boy in Texas. I knew I was going to lose but they paid me $8,000 or $9,000. Harris is no fighter. I gave him a couple of feints and hit him and he went down and they started counting. I looked over and I saw his father and he was looking at me. And he was thinking, 'You knocked my son down,' and he wasn't looking for me to win the fight. But I heard the crowd and they're counting on this boy. And I said, 'Kid, please get up.' I knew there wasn't going to be no colored fighter beat a white boy down there in Texas. I love my wife and I love my kid and most of all I love me. And I told that kid to get up, and I'm thankful that he did. And after that I was careful not to hit him. So he won.
"There's nothing wrong with the fight game," Baker went on, holding an ice pack on his forehead, on his blackened right eye, on his nose which bled from the sixth round on. "It's been good to me. I got no complaints. I just live and let other people live. I got my good paydays. You can just look at me and see I haven't missed any meals. I'm not broke, and I'm not a fighter."
THIS WAY, DIOGENES
Pat Trottier, a draftsman for the Montana Highway Department, hauled a 10-pound 2½-ounce brown trout out of Canyon River Reservoir early in the morning of a fish derby there. At the day's end, other competitors were ready to concede him the $500 first prize. "No," Trottier apologized, "I caught it before the 9:30 starting time." So the $500 went to a fellow with a three-pound four-ounce rainbow, leaving Trottier simply Montana State Champion of the Unvarnished Fishing Fact.
I'm growing older,
I play a set
And then I quit.
CURRENT WEEK AND WHAT'S AHEAD
•Yellow for Caution
Don Campbell, the British speedboat king, set the week of Aug. 15-22 as the time for his attempt to drive the jet-powered Bluebird II at 250 mph over Lake Canandaigua—but not until Campbell, startled by the discovery that 1,000 other power boats are on Canandaigua this summer, arranged to have his speed course blocked off with 10 miles of yellow plastic tubing.
•Orange for a Free Hand
Miami's Orange Bowl committee, taking a broad hint from the TV networks, scrapped their exclusive New Year's bowl arrangements with the Atlantic Coast Conference. Object: a freer hand in picking top attractions.
•On to Sofia for Avery
The State Department lifted its ban on travel to Bulgaria for Avery Brundage so he can attend September meetings of the International Olympic Committee. One motion to be urged by the Dutch and others is abandonment of team sports (as inconsistent with ancient traditions) at the 1960 games in Rome.
•Unfair to Tomtits
Complaint of Australian bird lovers to Australian airline operators: 17 sea gulls, 11 crested shags, nine tufted tomtits and five migratory honking geese have been killed by aircraft in the past year, whereas there was not a single reported case of a bird downing an aircraft.