On the Eve of the football season, there is evidence, in the Big Ten Conference anyway, that conditions have shaken down to normal. Tension is high at Ohio State and the laughs are building at Michigan State. Specifically, Coach Woody Hayes has blown his top at Columbus and Coach Duffy Daugherty has executed one of his more elaborate gags at East Lansing.
But Duffy couldn't have done it without Woody. And both are indebted to a score of touring sports-writers known as the Skywriters.
Every year at this time, the Skywriters fly around the Big Ten circuit in a chartered plane with Commissioner K. L. (Tug) Wilson as tour director. The arrival of the writers is a big event at most camps, with eager university publicity men pouring drinks and passing hors d'oeuvres and the head coach himself acting as genial host at a scrimmage and a press conference later on.
The routine is pretty much the same all around the conference, but the other day, Coach Hayes added a little something extra. After suffering the writers (and Commissioner Wilson) to witness about 10 minutes of scrimmage, he suddenly shouted to an assistant to get them (the writers and the commissioner) the hell out of there. And out they went.
Later, at the press conference, Coach Hayes apologized. He said a situation had arisen on the field that made it necessary for him to rebuke (as only Coach Hayes can rebuke) his players. He did not, said Coach Hayes, like to do that in front of people.
Next day, the Skywriters flew into East Lansing. They were met at the airport by the publicity men, driven to the practice field behind the 76,000-seat Michigan State Stadium. As they reached the gate, they were stopped by a guard. "Nobody allowed in here," the guard declared, "I don't care who you are. Nobody allowed in, that's Duffy's orders."
The writers cooled their heels for about 10 minutes while Fred Stabley and Nick Vista, the publicity men, looked for Duffy. They finally found him hiding in the equipment room. Duffy followed them down to the gate and faced the writers.
"I am sorry, men," he said, "You can't come in. I got to say something nice to my players, and I don't like to say anything nice to them in front of people."
P.S. Duffy doesn't play Woody this year—and maybe it's just as well.
Another Opening, Another Etc.
As the Lake Michigan herring gull flies, it is a half mile between Milwaukee County Stadium and McCormick Field, but, poetically, they are light-years apart. In the stadium, the Braves have won a pennant and a World Series and expect to win more of the same. On McCormick Field, 60 Marquette University football players practice with only hope as their insubstantial banner. No one cheers from the Wisconsin Viaduct above them. No one tries to peek through the soiled canvas screen lashed to the cyclone fence. As the old September sun approaches the horizon it throws the stadium—the Braves are taking batting practice preparatory to pasting yet another opponent—into deep shadow. But even in brilliant sunlight, the splendid prospect of the Braves' temple would not inspire the ragtag Marquette squad as they scuff, weary and parched, through the elm-leaf dust toward the showers.
Not one of the four seniors has ever been on a winning Marquette team. Caustic Milwaukeeans have turned their name like a rusty knife from Warriors into Worriers. Marquette has the longest losing streak in college football—20 consecutive games.
It would be heartening to relate that the student body and the Milwaukee fans have stuck with the Worriers through little thick and much thin, but such is not the case; attendance has sorrowfully declined. The faculty have stood staunch, if a little distant, but the alumni are exercising their mutinous privilege; last year Coach John Druze was hanged in effigy. Druze may take solace: Braves Manager Fred Haney was strung up last year, too.
"This squad has never let down," Druze sighs, searching for something positive to say. "It's been quite an experience, but then it's been a lesson in life."
So what if four injured backfield men, three of them veterans, won't start against South Dakota State Saturday. So what about Guard Mike Kirby's newly discovered ulcer ("They say they come from worrying," quips Mike soulfully). "It's there," says Captain Bill O'Connell mystically. "You just can't put your finger on it, but it's there. We've got it this year."
Intangibles, alas, only win ball games on the playing fields of Hollywood. South Dakota looks like Marquette's easiest game, but Coach Druze is not even promising a win Saturday.
Practice over, an assistant manager doles out dark-brown vitamin pills at the dressing room entrance. Each man dutifully pops one into his mouth as he enters the shower, as though concealed in the wondrous mixture of chemicals was the elixir of victory. Later, they go out into the soft twilight, where a Braves pitcher on the other side of the valley confidently throws his warmup pitches in front of the Milwaukee dugout, and comes the young sound of laughter.
The Name Is Johansson
Impending Autumn, the first stirrings of the black bass after summer's long lull, the Yankees and the Braves, Columbia and Sceptre, the soft sighs of football coaches contemplating Material vs. Schedule—these have set the mood of early September 1958. There was a time when a big fight—Rocky Marciano vs. Archie Moore, Carmen Basilio vs. Sugar Ray Robinson—would have been a major theme. This September: no fight of anything resembling title stature.
No one but a wet-eared, Ivy League-clad young fellow named Bill Rosensohn, virgin promoter of the Floyd Patterson-Roy Harris fight, was paying any serious attention to Goteborg, Sweden, where a big Swede by the name of, naturally, Ingemar Johansson, was taking on the No. 2 heavyweight challenger, Eddie Machen, in a fight that could attract only Swedes. Ingemar was an underdog in his own home town.
But the fight attracted, as a matter of fact, $280,000 worth of Swedes, and every one of them got his patriotic kroner's worth. Sugar Ingemar knocked out Machen in two minutes and 16 seconds of the very first round, putting him on the canvas three times to do it.
This made Pretty Boy Rosensohn's offer of $100,000 for Johansson to fight Champion Patterson look like very serious money. It boosted Johansson, hitherto No. 6 in very speculative ratings, to a position of equality with Zora Folley, No. 1 contender if you can forget how Machen and Folley evaded each other at San Francisco. It made it seem very likely that, perhaps late next spring, Floyd Patterson will be fighting Ingemar Johansson for the heavyweight championship of the world. It made September on Stillman's Stoop seem almost like old times.
Last week the Commissioner of Baseball took the trouble to list—along with members of the New York Yankees and the Milwaukee Braves—those members of the Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, Pittsburgh Pirates) who will be eligible to play in the World Series if their team wins the National League pennant. It was hardly more than a gesture in recognition of a mathematical possibility; as of that day, the Pirates would have to win all their 13 remaining games while the Braves were losing eight out of 13. But for a team that was seventh in July, that has spent most of the last decade in the cellar, and that hasn't won a pennant in 31 years, it was a moment of sorts.
The climb of the Pirates has made Pittsburgh as happy a city as you can find in America just now. For the last two weeks, while many a major league team has been playing to crowds of only 5,000 to 6,000, euphoric gatherings of 20,000 and 30,000 have been turning up at Forbes Field to cheer their favorites: Second Baseman Bill Mazeroski, Pitcher Bob Friend (21-game winner), Slugger Frank Thomas (35 home runs), and Rookie Dick Stuart, whose 15 homers since he joined the club July 10 won six games. Business ground to a halt when the Pirates played day games; cab drivers neglected passengers to listen to their radios; a clerk put a sign in the dog license window of the City Treasurer's Office—WORLD SERIES TICKETS SOLD HERE—but had to take it down because there were so many requests. Wrote a local financial expert, letting his attention stray from the big board to the scoreboard:
Sizzle, sizzle, Pirates ball club, Now no longer boot-the-ball club; Could you be a take-it-all team, Make Milwaukee be the fall team?
Said Branch Rickey, who set out to rebuild the Pirates eight years ago: "The team has hardened, ripened. It's not a fly-by-night outfit. The Pirate rise is just a natural development. It has tested the patience of a fine public. I'm not predicting a pennant for next year, but we're dangerous."
Next year? Just about everybody in Pittsburgh took it for granted. Meanwhile, next week, the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce is staging a grand civic parade for the Pirates, just for finishing second.
Bertha, Olaf and Carleton
Bertha the whale and Olaf the walrus live in a tank at Coney Island. Bertha is one year old and Olaf is 2. Bertha is a white whale, but she is not white, she is putty-colored, dowdy and unhappy. She will become white when she grows up. Olaf is brown, furry and happy. He swims—languorous, old-worldly—on his back looking like an elderly Turkish wrestler with his great mustache and the heavy rolls of fat on his neck. Bertha, the melancholy dear, does not eat. Olaf, on the other hand, slurps up 60 pounds of fish and clams a day. Bertha has been offered mackerel, whiting, sand eel, killifish, flounder, butterfish, smelt, shrimp, scallop and squid; she has ignored the bouillabaissian lot. Dr. Carleton Ray, assistant to the director of the New York Aquarium, where Bertha and Olaf live, gives Bertha 6 cc. of B-complex vitamins three times a week to stimulate her appetite and keep her fit. "Holy mackerel," he says, his favorite expletive, "it's quite a struggle getting a needle into her." Dr. Ray also takes Bertha's temperature with a household thermometer. It is 95°, which is normal for Bertha. "The most difficult thing in keeping an animal alive in captivity," Dr. Ray says, "is to find the clue to its happiness. We have not found the clue to Bertha's. But there's plenty of life left in the old girl, yet. She's living off her blubber."
Bertha, the first live whale to be shown in New York in 60 years, arrived at Coney a fortnight ago. There are four other whales in captivity, all on the West Coast. Olaf is the only walrus on exhibition in the Western Hemisphere and behaves as if he knows it; very condescending fellow, Olaf, but friendly in an offhand way.
Bertha was caught in Bristol Bay, Alaska last August on Dr. Ray's birthday, by Dr. Ray and three associates. "Catching a white whale is fun," says Dr. Ray. "Shipping a white whale is a brute." Bertha was caught in the shallow, muddy water off the estuary of the Kvichak River where white whales loaf. The expedition, mounted in two skiffs with out-board motors, cut Bertha out of the herd and, keeping always to her offshore side, drove her inshore; white whales can swim only 10 mph but are deuced tricky. When Bertha was driven into three feet of water, a salmon net was thrown over her. One man jumped in the water to keep her head up—whales are capable of drowning—while another slipped a harness over her. "White whales don't struggle," says Dr. Ray. "They don't want to hurt themselves. They are very docile and have large, folded and complex brains. Aside from primates—us, the great apes and monkeys—small whales and porpoises are the most intelligent mammals." Bertha was hauled into the skiff and run over to a seepage pool. From there she was carried in a sling to a fishing boat. From the fishing boat she was transferred to a truck, from the truck to the first of four planes, where, riding on air and foam mattresses, which buoyed her 400 pounds as though she were in water, and covered with damp, muslin sheeting, she was flown to a California aquarium and thence to New York. Dr. Ray sat up with her, wetting her down and feeling her tail to determine whether she was getting too hot. She did during a two-hour layover in Chicago where it was 90°. Bertha developed a distressingly irritating condition analogous to sunburn there. Now her hide is peeling and splotchy and she feels awful.
Walruses have been known, on occasion, to eat white whales, but Olaf has grandly ignored Bertha; oh, he did give her an inquisitive mustache rub when she arrived. Dr. Ray believes that Olaf may set a good example, since Bertha has proved such a delicate, finicky feeder. "If Bertha sees Olaf eating," he says, "she may want to see what eating's all about." When Bertha gets on her feed, Dr. Ray is going to make an actress out of her. He is going to teach her to take food from the hand, to jump through hoops, to ring a bell and to retrieve on her head which is the way whales fetch, anyway. "The only limit to her learning," he says proudly, "is the ingenuity of the teacher. You can teach her in an hour what it would take a dog days to learn."
But Dr. Ray is disappointed; aquarium visitors have not appreciated Bertha. "Holy mackerel," he says, "I heard one guy say, 'look at the shark!' I mean, he had read the sign, too. They'll like her in time, though. Whales have personality and, people want to see things that imitate themselves. But right now they say, 'So it's a whale. So all right, but what can it do?' People are getting lazy; a whale isn't enough for them anymore. We'll give the people what they want to see but do it with taste. You know, when aquarists go to bed at night they dream about a tank nine miles long with a killer whale in it. It won't have to do anything."
"Excuse me," Dr. Ray interrupted himself, "I've got to go wash my hands. I have a date tonight. They're always complaining I smell of fish."
While Dr. Ray was on his date, Bertha was morosely swimming in circles. When she breached into the mild night, she could hear the waves rolling in from Portugal to Bay 11, the terrible rattle of the roller coaster and the wistful piping of the merry-go-round. Whales are said to have sensitive hearing and Bertha no doubt had heard the salmon net singing in the dark arctic water, too.
Elsewhere in this issue is a story on the major league meeting in Chicago last week, the meetings which were reported in unprecedented detail by Bill Furlong, an ingenious sportswriter who works for the Chicago Daily News. By listening in at an air vent, Furlong managed to score a distinct beat on his sports-writing colleagues. His copy, which made fascinating reading (see page 20), brought a splutter of protest from the baseball brass, which seems only natural, but it also roused the wrath of his fellow sportswriters, which is really incomprehensible. Furlong was called "unethical," "a rabble rouser," "a gent's-room reporter." A Cleveland sportswriter said, "I'm pretty sure the Baseball Writers' Association of America will demand an explanation."
The Chicago Daily News defended its man. A News columnist wrote that Furlong's method abused neither ethics nor law, and that the hubbub was "symbolic of the entertainment industry's attitude toward journalism. The baseball owners want sports reporters to be parrots for their press agents."
Well, bless the Daily News for defending an enterprising reporter, but we feel one point should be made clear. Naturally, the owners would love a cageful of baseball writing parrots, and who can blame them? It seems to us that the responsibility lies with the reporter who holds still and eats the cracker of canned news that the owner (and the owner's publicity man) rations out. When sports-writers lash out at a brother for doing a unique job of reporting while they sat around in the press room drinking coffee and nibbling sandwiches, waiting for a publicity man to tell them what to print, they make themselves sound suspiciously like well-trained members of the genus Psittacus.
End to End
The Coach took all the credit when
The term was doing fine,
But when there was some blame to place
He said it on the line.
CASE AGAINST DIGNITY: NINE IN 10 YEARS
In February 1949, not long after the New York Yankee management startled the baseball world by announcing that a shopworn clown named Casey Stengel had been hired to manage their dignity-conscious New Yorkers, press photographers wheedled the new manager into posing with a "crystal ball" made of a shiny new baseball and a small, bright, light bulb. Casey cooperated with the photographers, hammed it up pleasantly, struck a perfect pose and the resultant picture ran just about everywhere. And just about everywhere critics looked at the picture and snorted, "Isn't that a disgrace? The Yankees being managed by a character like that."
Last Sunday in Kansas City, Mr. Stengel, no longer considered a clown (he's on the board of directors of a bank out in California, isn't he?), said modestly, "I realize I couldn't have done it without the players."
Done what? Why, win his ninth American League pennant in 10 years, by far the best decade of managing in the long history of baseball. Now Mr. Charles Dillon Stengel has won just as many major league pennants as Connie Mack and Joe McCarthy ever did and has only one to go to tie the god of all oldtimers, John McGraw.
No one else saw all this in that crystal ball 10 years ago, but maybe old Casey did. He was pretty smart then, too.
They Said It
Archie Moore, the light heavyweight boxing champion whose age has been a matter of heavy speculation for years, in an interview with Forrest Duke of the Las Vegas Sun: "I'm going to tell you something I've never told any newspaperman and if you print it, on my word of honor, you'll have a scoop. On December 13 I'll be 49 years old."
Gwen Verdon, sinuous dancing star of the musical Damn Yankees, in a telegram to Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick: "It's high time baseball honored American women, many of whom are ardent fans. A fitting tribute would be to have a woman throw out the first ball in the 1958 World Series."
Woody Hayes, Ohio State football coach: "Our boys are not great passers, and I hope I never have one. A great passing game gets you some spectacular victories, but it never wins championships. Here we are going for championships."