To Each His Own
Despite a general impression to the contrary among certain salty types, that yacht race off Newport, R.I. was not everyone's cup of tea. There is a tendency, maybe regrettable, maybe not, toward the fanatic in most sports fans, and some of them are just cussed enough to be more interested in their own pet pastime, whether it be skittles or skeet, than in even the America's Cup.
There was a good deal going on in the sporting world last week as the great 12-meters Sceptre and Columbia maneuvered for a start off Newport. The football season was just beginning and, with the fateful perversity that usually marks it, this paramount autumnal pastime was already engaging the hypnotic attention of thousands of fans from coast to coast.
In stadiums not filled by football fans, baseball's pennant race was drawing to a close, but there was still plenty of excitement left to thrill the faithful. In far-off Baltimore, even as the cup boats were rounding their marks, Hoyt Wilhelm was busily engaged in hurling the underdog Orioles to the first authentic no-hit big league ball game enjoyed by Baltimore in 60 years (see below).
September 28, 1958
We regret to say (or do we?) that even the most distinguished of the 10,000-odd spectators who braved the seas off Brenton Reef to watch the first America's Cup race in 21 years had at least a part of his mind on other things. A Kansas-bred boy who worked his way up to a grandstand seat at the race (aboard the destroyer Mitscher) via West Point and the White House, Dwight Eisenhower from the start professed himself pretty mystified by what he was watching. After about 35 minutes, he ordered the destroyer back to port. Then he leaned over a rail and called down to Norman Palmer, the golf pro at the Newport Country Club. "Let's hurry back now," suggested the President. "I'd like to play a few holes unless there's too much wind."
A Black Week
The New York Yankees, pennant in hand and visions of World Series sugarplums dancing in their heads, nonetheless had a hard week—ending in mild disaster at Baltimore. They blew a 4-0 lead in the ninth inning Friday, were smacked with a, no-hit, no-run game at the hands of harmless old Hoyt Wilhelm on Saturday and suffered a series sweep when the Orioles won a 3-2 game on Sunday.
How simply frightful, said the loyal legion of Yankee haters. How humiliating. How delightful!
The miserable showing in Baltimore was the last but not the worst thing that happened to the New Yorkers during the week. On the Sunday previous, after clinching the pennant, they celebrated on the train from Kansas City to Detroit. Champagne was opened and so, apparently, was that sly stuff, vodka. Ryne Duren, the big, blond, glasses-wearing, right-handed, fast-balling relief pitcher, apparently does not include teetotaling among his adjectives. At any rate, he spotted Coach Ralph Houk with an unlighted cigar in his mouth and, remembering his Laurel and Hardy movies, playfully squashed, it against Houk's face. For some reason Houk did not smile. Instead he sent an angry backhand swat across Duren's face, and the World Series ring he was wearing opened a gash over Duren's eye. Others decided it was time for old Ryne to hit the sack. Old Ryne didn't agree. Don Larsen (six feet four, 220 pounds, and, the papers reported with unprinted exclamation points, sober) tried to stuff Duren into bed and got a knee against his lip for his trouble. But finally Ryne drifted off to slumberland, and the party ended.
In the best traditions of what might be called the captive-parrot school of baseball writing (SI, Sept. 22) the New York writers accompanying the team made a gentleman's agreement not to write anything about all this spirited fun. Naturally, however, the news leaked out just three days later.
First reports made it sound like a bloody brawl, and the parrots leaped to reply that it wasn't either bloody (or, anyway, it wasn't a brawl), and it wasn't much of a fight, and Babe Ruth did worse, and why do people insist on printing stories like that?
Well, of course, if they had been alert to the news value of the story when it happened and had written what happened and how and why, the tempest would have been much milder. In "protecting the players from undeserved publicity" they succeeded in making the publicity twice as bad.
Yes, sir, it was a bad week all around—for the Yankee players, the Yankee management and the Yankees writers.
The Kid from Gothenburg
The right that first knocked Machen down was the heaviest I have ever landed. I felt it right up in my shoulder. It was a long punch, but as it landed I felt it was a perfect one. I felt sorry for Machen then, but boxing is a rough sport and I could not afford to let up. I knew he would have handled me in the same way if the positions had been reversed. Would I like to meet Patterson? Yes, please." Thus spake Ingemar Johannson, 25, the heavyweight champion of Europe, after he had knocked out Eddie Machen in considerably less than one round at his native city of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Johannson spoke in his dressing room at the Nya Ullevi stadium. It was tranquil there and as homey as a living room. His mother Ebba was there, and his sister and his brother and his 19-year-old fiancee Birgit Lundgren. His father Jens is not particularly interested in boxing. Neither are the great majority of Swedes, although 53,684 of them showed up to witness the fight out of a major sense of loyalty. Neither they nor his adviser, Edwin Ahlquist, thought Johannson would win. "The outcome," said Ahlquist evenly, "was a surprise for me. I thought Ingemar would be beaten." Many Swedes, indeed, judged the knockout rather a fluke and felt quite sympathetic about Machen's misfortune.
If Johannson had won a victory of such magnitude in almost any other country he would, at the least, have got a torchlight parade, his life story in the papers and a medal from the government. But what did Ingemar get except several headlines? Why, nothing; or, as the phlegmatic Swedes would say, just what was coming to him. Swedes abhor violence; in fact, they even resent it. So when they get worked up about boxing it is usually to oppose the nasty game.
But what manner of man and fighter is Johannson? Ingemar started boxing as an amateur in 1948 when, as an exceptionally strong fellow for his age, he paved the streets of Gothenburg. He won all his senior amateur matches, including several fights on the streets which he had paved; fights critically recorded in the press. Johannson was disqualified in the finals of the 1952 Olympics and chastened in the press for "cowardly behavior" and "running away from his opponent," the title going to the late Ed Sanders. After turning professional, he won all 21 of his bouts, 12 by knockouts, including victories over Joe Bygraves, Franco Cavicchi, Archie McBride, Joe Erskine, Hein ten Hoff and Heinz Neuhaus. He is quite fast, and a fair boxer with a rather amateurish stand-up style, a straight left paving the way for a fast, short right-hand punch. He knows no other combinations and knows very little of American-style infighting. But he surely can hit. And he is a bear for training. He runs cross-country two hours every weekday, and sometimes on Sundays, spars a minimum of eight rounds each day when training for a fight and ends his training session with 15 minutes of Swedish relaxation calisthenics. He is also good-looking; when he was introduced to Sugar Ray Robinson, Ray said: "You shouldn't be a fighter. You should be in Hollywood."
Cars and airplanes are Johannson's favorite pursuits. He has had many sports cars and now owns a white Thunderbird which is well known in Stockholm as well as Gothenburg. Before the Machen fight he took flying lessons, and he intends to buy a small sports plane when he has obtained his flying certificate. He has, in addition, one interest about which he is extremely sensitive and which, indeed, he wishes to conceal—he has a fondness for modern Swedish and Finnish poetry. A friend caught him once at a bookstore selecting a volume of poetry. Ingemar flushed. "I will shoot you," he said, "if you ever breathe a word about this."
The Fortunes of Wham-O
Since this magazine was perhaps the first in the world to tell of the Hula-Hoop (SI, Aug. 4) and the Frisbee (SI, May 13, 1957), frivolous, polyethylene gizmos manufactured by the Wham-O Manufacturing Co. of San Gabriel, Calif. and elsewhere, we have what amounts to an avuncular interest in the concern. So, last week we dutifully looked in at Wham-O's new hoopery in Newark, N.J., where the Messrs. A. K. (Spud) Melin and Richard Knerr, Props., are getting things spinning.
Knerr, who is 33, quite large and exhilarated, greeted us like a long-lost nephew. "By George," he said straight off, "the Hula-Hoop is the biggest toy to ever hit the United States, but don't ask me how many we sold or how much money we've made. I know, but I won't tell you. But I will tell you that it's the first toy to ever hit both sexes with an equal amount of play value. And, by George, you can start playing with it when you're 3 until...why, we don't know where it ends. It has tremendous play value. Children are better with it, of course, because they're less inhibited and more flexible; grown-ups need two Martinis. The Hula-Hoop's got a long period of fun, too. And it's got great monkey-see, monkey-do value, too, by George. That's important."
Wham-O, of course, has had some notable flops, by George, in its 11 years of existence, too. "We had this fishing lure," Knerr said, wistfully. "It had a battery inside it and an electric bulb on the end of it. The fish could see it from all over hell in the late evening and in the deep water. By George, the fish went for it, too, but for some reason, not the fishermen. And we had our 'machine gun.' It was a single-shot .22 rifle mounted on a Thompson submachine-gun stock. The FBI told us to stop making it, but we couldn't turn it out for the price, anyhow. And we had a flashlight, a long-range flashlight, but it didn't work too well. Tomahawks. You throw them, by George, and they stick in boards. I think that one must have been too dangerous. We used to go in a lot for mayhem stuff like throwing knives and crossbows. Then we put out swing seats, but we couldn't promote them. The trouble was there was nothing to them. There was no imagination. They were too simple. But we put out a little toy ice-cream freezer so the kids could make their own ice cream, you know, and it was too complicated."
Wham-O had its genesis when Knerr and Melin graduated from the University of Southern California. "I had a B.S. in foreign trade," said Knerr, "and Spud had taken a general course. We were futsing around that summer raising falcons—you know, those little hawks—and we made some slingshots to shoot meat up to them. By George, we thought then, why not manufacture slingshots, they're a basic item. We sat around trying to get a name for them, something descriptive like Sling-O or Bing-O, and so we chose Wham-O. Later, we thought we might change the name. It sounded a little too cartoonish, but actually it's what the name represents, not what it sells.
"When we started with the Wham-Os we were broke, but we bought a band saw for $7.50 down and $7 a month and set it up in my folks' garage. I'd work the band saw and Spud would sand them and we'd dip them in a bucket of paint and take them out and sell them. Later we borrowed $64 for an ad in a magazine and then we got going. We moved out of the garage into a grocery store and had our first employee and payroll: a quart of beer for an hour's work.
"But let me show you our latest—the Whing-Ding." A Whing-Ding is two rubber balls attached to the ends of two lengths of cord which are attached to a wooden handle. The idea is to manipulate the handle so that the balls swing in opposite directions. Knerr did it, too, by George.
As Knerr was diligently swinging the Whing-Ding about his head while holding sales conferences with his apprehensive associates, Spud Melin, who is also 33, not so large, but equally as exhilarated, dropped by.
"You really should have two Martinis before you do it," Spud said critically. "Knerr thinks he's good at it, but he can't even get it into orbit." The balls bounced crazily off Knerr's head.
"You can see why they're made of rubber," Knerr said.
"Where do we get our ideas?" said Melin. "Why we got this large gorilla we keep in a closet...."
The big question of whether one can become a champion, in this day of dedicated performers and Spartan training, and still enjoy life has been brought sharply into focus in the career of Alejandro Olmedo y Rodriguez, the brilliant Peruvian tennis prodigy who is now on the Davis Cup team. Whatever else may be said about Olmedo's game—he has one of the softest second serves in tennis—he enjoys it. Watching him in the Pacific Southwest tournament, where he defeated Vic Seixas but bowed in the finals to Ham Richardson, one felt that he was not so much winning as having a good time, sporting about the court with the effortless speed and grace of a cat playing with a string, but liable, if the effort ever bored him, to stretch out and relax in the sun. The legendary will to win, the killer instinct, the fierce, glittering eye, the burning determination, the ceaseless hours of preparation, the feverish tension of the great moment, the whole stern Puritanical tradition of North American champions appeared to be lacking in this good-natured descendant of the Incas: he had a good time, and he beat everybody he met except Richardson.
Tennis has never been hard for Olmedo. In the rarefied atmosphere of Arequipa, Peru, where his father was pro of the tennis club, Olmedo played soccer and ran the 100-meter dash; tennis was too much a part of daily life to be taken too seriously.
He was in boarding school in Lima when a Los Angeles professional, imported by the government to teach Peruvian youngsters the game, spotted him and arranged for his trip to the United States. That was four years ago, when Olmedo was 18. He traveled by boat to Cuba, by plane to Miami and by bus to Los Angeles, where he began playing tennis with the likes of Pancho Gonzales, Tony Trabert and Jack Kramer before he knew enough English to murmur "Well played." With a scholarship at USC, where he makes straight C's in business administration, and a job answering the telephone a couple of times a week at the Peruvian consulate to provide him with a living, Olmedo was perhaps in a better position to enjoy life than any gifted amateur at a comparable stage of his career. Slight, with classic features and a pleasantly picturesque broken English that goes to the heart of female fans, he found nothing about tennis difficult enough to justify hard training in preparation for a match.
Two years ago, when he shifted from Modesto Junior College to USC and became No. 1 on the tennis team immediately, a Southern California tennis enthusiast named Myron MacNamara caught him on the way to a dance before the finals of the Pacific Coast Conference tournament.
"Go home and get to bed," ordered Volunteer Coach MacNamara.
"Just three dances?" asked Olmedo.
MacNamara shook his head. Olmedo held up two fingers, pleadingly. Mac shook his head again. Olmedo held up one finger in reduced appeal, but MacNamara again shook his head.
Next day Olmedo raced out on the court and blasted his opponent with a ferocious display of offensive tennis, beamed at Coach MacNamara and went dancing.
We left Bertha last week lugubriously circling her pool at Coney Island. And Bertha, alas, left us last week. Although the little white whale refused to eat during her 10 days at Coney, Bertha had consumed 15 or 20 pounds of fish daily at a California aquarium where she sojourned en route from Alaska to New York. Fish is a proper diet for white whales one year old and up, but when Bertha died it was discovered she was not a yearling but a suckling calf, perhaps only four or five months old.
"You feed an infant hominy grits and corn pone," Dr. Carleton Ray of the New York Aquarium parabled, "and it will get plenty sick. We'll try again next year. We've just begun to fight."
Pigeon Pie √† la Mud
An old trapshooter has a whim:
Whenever he's the winner,
He takes clay pigeons home with him
And bakes a pie for dinner.
—Harvey L. Carter
To kick, or not to kick: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler after scoring to suffer
The slings and arrows of outraged alumni,
Or to run the ball against a sea of linemen,
And against opposing ends? To pass: to run;
No more; and by a single point to hope we end
The heartache and the thousand grandstand wails
That a coach is heir to?
They Said It
Mrs. Roger Bannister, informed that Promoter Leo Leavitt had cabled an offer to her husband proposing that he run professionally against World Record Miler Herb Elliott: "I think it's perfectly sweet of Mr. Leavitt, but so far his cable hasn't arrived. I wonder what he's offered Roger? Not that it makes any difference. My husband would not be interested."
Willie Hoppe, former World Billiard Champion, assessing his abilities on a golf course putting green: "I choke. I punch. I have no touch at all."
Ted Williams, after a spectator, Mrs. Gladys Heffernan, was hit over the eye with a bat he tossed after striking out: "I was mad and I threw the bat, but I didn't mean to throw it that way. I'm very thankful it wasn't a serious injury. I was almost sick...I just almost died." MRS. HEFFERNAN, according to Williams, when the outfielder went to her box: "Don't worry about me, Ted. I'm all right. I know you didn't mean it."