No Whiskey for Silky
This is an article from the May 5, 1958 issue
The year 1938 was significant at Churchill Downs for two reasons. It was the year in which a relatively unknown trainer named Ben Jones saddled his first Kentucky Derby winner, and it was the year in which the Brown-Forman Distillers Corporation began passing out free juleps to Derby goers.
Not all visitors to the famed Kentucky race meeting got a chance to sample the Brown-Forman hospitality. Those who were invited to partake had to thread their way past batteries of hard-working clerks and secretaries at 10 a.m. on the Thursday before Derby Day to reach the oak-paneled Old Forester Room on the second floor of the distillery. But to the 300-odd guests who made it, this rare matutinal ordeal was more than worth it. Once inside, the guests found a platoon of waiters eager to bring them juleps made of the firm's best bourbon, a succulent luncheon that ran the gourmet's gamut from lobster a la Newburg to petits fours and a jug band that set the air atingle with heady melody.
As year followed year and champion followed champion, Whirlaway giving way to Citation, Citation to Iron Liege, the excellence of Brown-Forman's Kentucky hospitality became as firm a tradition of the Downs as the excellence of horses trained by the Jones boys, p√®re and fils. And nobody in all of Kentucky seemed to care a jigger that the Old Forester party was in technical violation of a hoary state law forbidding the giving away of free whiskey. Nobody cared, that is, until teetotaling Governor Happy Chandler's legislature got into a spat with the state's distillers over a 100% raise in the whiskey production tax two years ago.
Last summer, in part at least as a result of this spat, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board began re-examining its statute books with a sterner eye. The result was a sad letter dispatched last week by Brown-Forman to all former guests who might expect a free bourbon in honor of Silky Sullivan. "We have been forced," said the letter, "to close the bar we maintained in the Old Forester Room and may no longer permit visitors to sample our fine whiskeys. Consequently, we're forced to discontinue our Kentucky Derby party. We do so sadly, not by choice—but by state decree."
Tit for tat may not be translatable directly into Russian, but it describes, nevertheless, a method of dealing with Soviet diplomats which they seem to understand. Because the Soviet Union closed a large part of its area to American citizens, the U.S. State Department retaliated by putting a similar portion of the United States off limits to Russians. The restricted areas within the U.S. were chosen at random—certain counties here, certain cities there—and were then announced to the Soviet Embassy in a diplomatic note which pointed out that the U.S. will gladly abolish all restricted areas in this country any time the Russians care to do the same in the Soviet Union.
Now it happens that both Tulsa and Stillwater, Okla. are in counties to which Russians may not go. When a Soviet wrestling team came to compete in the U.S. recently, the AAU had to ask special permission for the group to wrestle in those two cities, which are centers of the sport in this country. Permission was granted. But when a correspondent of the Soviet news agency Tass asked for permission to accompany his countrymen and file news stories about them back to Moscow, permission was refused. (The correspondent is Anatoly Saveliev, one of several Russian newsmen stationed in New York.) He had to content himself—and his Soviet readers—with coverage of only one of the three Oklahoma wrestling meets, in Norman, which doesn't happen to be closed to Russians.
Why did the State Department allow the Russian wrestlers to wrestle and not allow the Russian reporter to report? "We do it," said one of its spokesmen, "just to be ornery. If a Russian hockey team came to the United States," he went on, "I suppose we would let it play in Detroit, since Detroit is a big hockey town. But the correspondent wouldn't be allowed to go there. Detroit is a restricted area."
Well, this is an excellent example of tit for tat, but it also seems like a fine method of undoing with the left hand what has just been carefully done by the right. The visit of the wrestlers was part of an elaborate exchange of musicians, scientists and athletes, arranged by the State Department itself and designed to further friendship and understanding between the two countries.
But in denying a Soviet reporter admission to Tulsa and Stillwater, the State Department reduced substantially the flow of news about this friendly meeting to the people of the Soviet Union, and thus nullified much of its effect. At the same time it gave Russian papers an excellent chance to point out, with flourishes of indignation, that the U.S. imposes censorship even on sports events. (The same papers could be counted on to leave out the fact that the Soviet Union started the whole thing.)
The Russians, on the other hand, managed their side of the affair more subtly. When Jeremiah Tax of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED applied for a Soviet visa in order to accompany the American basketball teams to Moscow, he received, day after day, courteous explanations and firm promises, but no visa. The basketball teams flew off without him. Finally the visa came through—hours before the opening game in Moscow, and too late to be useful. Only the Russians actually know whether Tax's visa was delayed in retaliation for Saveliev's being kept out of Stillwater and Tulsa, but a good many Americans will think that the Russians did it—what's the phrase?—"just to be ornery"
"Dreams and illusion are no strangers to the Giant fan. Those passionate partisans following the fortunes of the old New York team through 68 years at the Polo Grounds had often to retire into roseate imagination to keep the faith, but keep it they always did, whether their team was in first or last place.
Last week, the Giants were once again in first place, and to many a still loyal New York fan it was easy to imagine that they were still comfortably established at the old stand instead of far-off San Francisco. For the deserted New Yorkers this illusion was happily abetted by a hardworking broadcaster named Les Keiter, who recounted the feats of the Giants over New York station WINS as if the boys were right next door.
The tools Keiter uses to work his illusions are simple and few. They consist of only a handful of record books, a drumstick, a block of wood, two recordings of noisy crowds (one calm, one excited), a curt play-by-play account of a game by Western Union wire and a vivid imagination. Transmitted directly from Seals Stadium, the Western Union coverage is torn from a teletype machine and handed by the half inning to Keiter as he sits in the studio. It presents only the barest bones of the situation.
Sample: LONG UP BATS LEFT, S 1 C (for strike one, called). But that's plenty for Keiter.
"Dale Long," he cries into the mike, "the Cubs' rangy first baseman, up there now with that club. Bats 'em left-handed." There is scarcely a pause as Keiter steals a quick look at a record book open before him; then he's off again.
"Long stands six-four, weighs 212 pounds. There's John Antonelli now looking down for the sign from Catcher Bob Schmidt. Long steps out, has a few words with plate Umpire Donatelli. Now he's back again. Now Antonelli goes to the rosin bag. There's a breeze blowing in from right field and the crowd is still drifting into the stands. Antonelli fires! Long takes it, strike one; a high, fast ball. He's quick...." If the ball is hit, Keiter strikes the drumstick (the bat) against the block of wood (the ball) and most likely signals the engineer to play the excited-crowd record.
Although he follows the Western Union account faithfully, Keiter doesn't hesitate to invent colorful details. "It's legitimate to embellish," he says. Totally imaginary characters pop up from time to time—perhaps a man in a blue jacket who just missed catching a foul ball, or a dazzling blonde back of the Giants' dugout. The impression is marvelously real, however, for Keiter knows baseball and when he isn't broadcasting he is watching two games on television as fast as he can switch channels, while listening, if possible, to another on his radio. "I study the players' idiosyncrasies," he says, "You must anticipate. The hardest thing is to keep talking. A real, live game would be easy after this. All you have to do is describe. This taps your imagination." Keiter even changes into his "game uniform," a pair of sturdy corduroy pants and a sport shirt, before entering the studio. "I found I was wearing my pants out because I slide around the chair so much," he says. Indeed, like a one-man band, he is in constant motion, gesturing a la Harry Truman, cueing the engineer, winking at an announcer, heaving himself out of his chair, tapping out those base hits, gulping water.
Keiter is an old hand at re-creating, having done it in Hawaii and San Francisco. "They really like baseball in Honolulu," he says. "I used to have live audiences come in to watch me work out there." But his efforts are well-liked in New York, too. His desk is strewn with congratulatory letters and telegrams and his show has achieved, he claims, the highest rating for a single 50-minute block of any local radio program since the advent of television.
"We are lucky," says Keiter, "that the Giants are doing so well. But I felt that the fans would care. They may be mad at Stoneham, they may be mad at O'Malley. But they're not mad at Willie Mays."
The new president of the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, ex-president) called a press conference the other day to discuss matters of substance in The Industry and, without waiting for a question to be fired in anger, sent a warning shell screaming across Frankie Carbo's bowed gray head.
Ex-president Norris once admitted, under pressure of a boxing commission investigation, that he had known the old Murder, Inc. hoodlum for a score of years and in the same breath denied (under oath, yet) that he ever had discussed boxing with him. Since Carbo had been a power in boxing for many years this seemed odd. It seemed, in fact, that Norris, with a little commission prodding, might then and there have been made hoist by his own canard. The commission never did prod him on the point.
Norris' successor, Truman K. Gibson Jr., opened his inaugural press conference by making it appear (in response to no one's question, remember) that he might have a stout mind to rule Carbo off boxing's soggy turf.
"I have never associated with Carbo," Gibson said firmly, "and won't start now."
This would be a poor time for Gibson to start associating with Carbo. A New York grand jury has been quizzing Carbo associates in the IBC. The heat is on Carbo as it has not been in years. It has already blistered the paint in IBC offices.
Billy Brown, IBC matchmaker whose square monicker is Dominick Mordini, has been so reluctant a witness before the grand jury that he had to be called before a judge to get his failing memory strengthened. Brown's principal admission so far has been that he talked to Carbo sometimes "in code," addressing him as "Ambassador" or "Uncle." In these calls, made from a tapped drug store telephone because it was well known that IBC phones had been tapped by investigators, Brown would take orders from Carbo to match certain fighters at Madison Square Garden.
This was the situation from which Gibson was drawing away his skirts and from which Norris retreated when he resigned a couple of weeks ago.
"I have been accused," Gibson went on, "of having 'capacious pockets and rapacious hands.' I have never had any financial interest in a fighter, manager or promoter, nor taken any gratuity from them."
This could sound like a man boasting of his negative Wassermann but it was not, in the present instance, an uncalled-for denial. It was meant to put down old rumors that Gibson had squeezed illicit dollars out of fighters' purses. Gibson had been accused of it in whispers, and now he was, by inference, recalling the rumors himself and taking an auspicious occasion to deny them. He had not previously seen fit to bring the rumors into the open.
Without precisely repudiating Norris, who is still Gibson's boss because Norris owns Madison Square Garden and Chicago Stadium, which own the IBC, Gibson seemed to be hopefully announcing a new economic policy for the IBC, a new era of statesmanship, and perhaps he was announcing it perforce, because all of television, which rules boxing, has been smirched by the old policies. The graceful Gibson would never be so awkward as to put it in those words, but that seemed to be the tenor of his baritone pronouncement.
He pointed out that he and Harry Markson, IBC managing director, have been given a "free hand" by Norris but he also said that they will "continue" to operate according to the rules. This seemed to be an announcement of the greatest balancing act since Ringling Brothers discovered Unus.
"We have no commitments with anyone," Gibson said. "The proof of the pudding will be in the eating."
COLLEGE FOOTBALL LOSES A LIFELONG CHAMPION
People who knew him, and millions of Americans felt that they did, are trying to share with each other now their memories of Herman Hickman, who died in Washington last week at the age of 46. His colleagues on this magazine are trying, too, and finding it difficult, as everyone is, to tell exactly what Herman meant to them.
He was one of the pioneers of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. When he first heard about plans for publishing the magazine four years ago, he wrote to one of the editors that he was excited about the idea and would like to be a part of it. "I realize," he said deprecatingly, "that I am not a professionally trained writer." The editor wrote back, "If you're not a writer, Herman, you'll do until one comes along." That exchange concluded the negotiations; Herman joined the staff.
He is remembered here, as in so many places, for his great zest for all the good things of life. He is also remembered here as a serious man. The picture in everyone's mind of the jolly fat man with the great fund of stories; the jolly fat man who incongruously drawled Shakespeare, Thackeray, Goethe, Robert W. Service and his own rhythmic jingles in practically the same breath; the jolly fat man with the enormous appetite for good food and drink and tobacco and late hours was not the whole picture by any means.
One of the editors who worked most closely with him says this: "The real Hickman, to me, was the man who had his name on football's Nine Points for Survival [SI, Oct. 29, 1956] and the man who thought up the Silver Anniversary All-America one afternoon as he was flying to a football game in the South. This other Hickman was a very serious fellow indeed, and behind the grin and the twinkling eyes he was thinking earnest thoughts about the subject he considered the most important in the whole world: college football.
"Herman never felt self-conscious about his almost boyish enthusiasm for college football. As a matter of fact, one of the few things that brought his temper to the surface was any display of cynicism toward the sport. Herman could get quite steamed up when he discovered anything that he thought was hurting his game. That's the only reason he could bring himself to criticize—as he did in the Nine Points for Survival—the game that was the focal point of his life."
When the first Silver Anniversary All-America was being selected, letters were sent to the colleges and universities asking them to nominate the players of 25 years ago who had gone on to make their marks in other fields. The University of Tennessee replied promptly and said of its nominee, "He has consistently reflected great credit on the University of Tennessee, the State of Tennessee and football in general."
The candidate was declared ineligible for the award by the man who had thought up the Silver Anniversary idea. For Tennessee had nominated Herman Hickman.
They Said It
Ken Venturi, playing for the first lime in Las Vegas' auction-block golf Tournament of Champions: "People come up to me and feel my legs and arms and pat my stomach. They want to know how I feel and how I'll score, so they can place their bets. The horse writers should cover this thing."
Bob Hoffman, barbell coach for the AAU team meeting Russians in Chicago and Manhattan this month, on the weighty problems of U.S.-Soviet relations: "The one thing that impresses those people is brute strength."
Anonymous U.S. official admitting error in omitting a baseball exhibit (while including a football exhibit) in the nation's pavilion at the Brussels World's Fair: "Our faces are red. We just plain forgot.... We are going to remedy the situation."
Anonymous Russian official admitting bafflement at the pool of water camouflaged as a leisurely beach front in the center of the U.S. pavilion: "You would think America is an island like Japan. What they ought to have there is some machinery."