The Silent Type
The strain oftelling the truth under oath could be fatal for James D. Norris and so, in alllikelihood, he will not be required to tell a New York grand jury what he knowsabout corruption in boxing.
Norris, a keywitness in District Attorney Frank Hogan's probe of Fixer Frankie Carbo andfriends, has fought for months to win a certificate of ill health that wouldpermit him to refuse his testimony despite promises of solicitous treatment atthe hands of the district attorney and even immunity from prosecution. Lastweek he got the certificate from a court-appointed doctor who found that sinceNorris has had two heart attacks, of a "rather severe" nature, "theemotional stress of a court appearance could readily produce another myocardialinfarction [a type of heart attack] which in itself could be fatal."
Alfred J. Scotti,who is the assistant district attorney, has challenged the authority of thecourt to quash the subpoena and is appealing its decision. But it looks now asif Norris has won legal permission to observe omert√†, the Mafia code ofsilence.
December 1, 1958
If Norris is soprudent about his health that he cannot risk even answering questions about hissporting interests, one might expect that he would, in all consistency, abandonthese interests. He did in fact resign as president of the International BoxingClub, but that was only after the district attorney began flinging subpoenas.Norris still is president of Madison Square Garden, which controls the IBC. Afederal court has ordered him to get out of the Garden, thus ending his boxingmonopoly, but Norris, with a fine disregard for his health, has continued tolabor in the Garden and has fought that order to the Supreme Court of theUnited States.
It would seem thatthere are some things, like money and power, for which Norris is willing torisk a myocardial infarction and then again there are some things, like theelimination of boxing's corrupt elements, for which he is willing to risknothing.
Look Now, Buddy
Just about thistime last year, Congressman William J. Green Jr. of Philadelphia got a plea, asort of old-buddy plea, from a constituent for two tickets to the Army-Navygame. It took some doing, even for Green, but at last he got two tickets nearhis own and sent them off to old buddy. Congressman Green remembers, withnatural vividness, that nobody showed up to use those seats.
Now 12 months havegone by, and Congressman Green has been handsomely re-elected, and he has justhad another old-buddy plea from the same constituent for two tickets to thisweek's Army-Navy game. Well, it took some doing, but the Congressman hassucceeded in getting the pair he asked for and has sent them off. You may saythat this is a fine example of forgiving charity, but the word aroundPhiladelphia is that if the constituent looks now, and closely, he will find heis holding two coveted pasteboards for last year's game.
The death of MelOtt last week after an auto accident was an event of only minor historicalimportance to baseball fans whose rooting interest in the game has beenstrictly bounded by television. For while Ott was still on the active roster ofthe New York Giants in 1947, when TV was beginning to establish a beachhead inmajor league parks, his career as a great player had ended, practicallyspeaking, three or four years earlier, when TV cameras were still in thelaboratories.
It's a shame,really, that more people didn't get to see Ott play. He was good, very good, apower hitter of genuine authority, a thoroughly competent outfielder, aprofessional ballplayer. Beyond his skills as a player, he brought to the gamea quality that was too often lacking in major league baseball: an element oftaste, of decency. Ott could use the rough, profane language of the ballplayer,and he was a hard, driving, sometimes irate competitor; but he had something inhis personality beyond all this that endeared him to people sitting in thestands a hundred feet and more away. He was boyish, mannerly, square. He lookedlike the beau ideal of American youth: the rugged kid who could win ball gamesbut who would stand up when a woman came into the room.
Certainly, for yearafter year, Ott and Carl Hubbell, his close friend and teammate, were far andaway the most popular ballplayers in the world for the inhabitants of NewYork's Polo Grounds. Someone commented the other day that even Brooklyn fansused to applaud Mel Ott.
The most famousbaseball use of the phrase "nice guy" applies to Ott. "Nice guysfinish last," is what Leo Durocher is supposed to have said when Ott wasmanaging the Giants and Leo the Brooklyn Dodgers. Frank Graham, thesportswriter who first wrote the story, said that Red Barber had chided Leoabout not being a "nice guy." Durocher scoffed. "Nice guys. Look atOtt. There's not a nicer guy in the world than Mel Ott. But he's in lastplace."
Durocher was, ofcourse, wrong in his implication that Ott was a loser. A poor manager, yes, butin his playing days he was a winner, all the way. The point is, even rowdy LeoDurocher recognized the fact that Mel Ott was a man to admire. He was anawfully nice guy.
College footballcoaches are hanged these days with the regularity of laundry in a tidyhousewife's backyard. As articulate Duffy Daugherty, coach of Michigan State,put it, "It used to be that a coach's qualifications were an ability to getalong with players, a sound knowledge of the game and a great desire to win,but now it seems a coach must also have a thick neck."
Coach Daugherty'sremarks were not mere idle reflections. As the principal architect of one ofMSU's most outstandingly unsuccessful seasons (3-5-1), his own neck has beenstretched, albeit in effigy, from a number of impromptu gallows trees. All overthe hallowed land of the free other brave men who make their homes in footballstadiums on Saturday afternoons have suffered the same punishment for crimes nogreater than failure to teach their boys how to score more touchdowns than theopposition. All of which may prove little more than that college students areexuberant youngsters at all times and that if they are not swallowing goldfish,as they did in the '30s, then they'll be doing something else. After all a goodhanging is always fun—particularly when the victim is a stuffed dummy.
On the other hand,the annual executions may at least emphasize another point: the vulnerableposition of each member of that small band of mentors who every year are heldpersonally accountable for the behavior and fortunes of their charges in a waythat not even many military commanders are held. To vast armies of oftenoversentimental, often overenthusiastic, always fiercely partisan fans, alosing team demands a scapegoat, and the coach is the goat. This attitude isunderstandable and even forgivable, but it does tend to obscure the fact thatfootball is both a sport and a team sport. It also tends to beg the question:How important is the mere fact of winning?
"I've been infootball since I was 14 years old and I've never been dumb enough to think youcan win them all," moaned Michigan State's Athletic Director Biggie Munnthrough his (quite real) tears when Coach Daugherty's team lost to Minnesota39-12, "but when you throw a game away like this, it's terrible. Whenyou've scratched and crawled a tenth of an inch at a time to build an empire,it takes a lot out of you to see it crash." Well now! Considering thatWinston Churchill took even the breakup of the British Empire in rather moremanful style, Mr. Munn's remarks seem somewhat excessive. In contrast, therewas the remark of Coach Daugherty himself: "I regret the score, but not theattitude of our players. Their mistakes were honest ones and weren't caused bylack of effort. I am as disappointed as anyone, but especially for theboys."
No football coachworthy of the name likes to lose games any more than his team or his fans do."I am in a losing situation," said Columbia's magnificentlyunsuccessful Coach Buff Donelli recently, "and I would venture to say thatmy boys are learning very little by constantly losing in the way of characterbuilding." But there are those, possibly less intimately involved, who evenplump for losses. The president of sentimental Biggie Munn's own university hasgone on record as saying that one good losing year is a fine thing, and theathletic director at Yale, whose gridmen have enjoyed their least distinguishedseason in years, says bluntly: "I think, in a way, that it is veryencouraging that we have had such a bad time." His point, and a well-takenone, was that Ivy League competition at least was the better for some show ofvariety.
We don't supposefor a moment that all of this will stop the fans from yelling for victories,nor do we want them to. Nor, for the matter of that, do we intend to stopourselves. "We want a touchdown!" is a good and wholesome refrain. Butwe can't help feeling a degree of compassion even for those coaches who deny usthe boon. "I'll say it affects you," said haggard Coach Hal Lahar,speaking of losses in general after a four-game losing streak at the Universityof Houston. "Fatigue, loss of weight, loss of sleep. You start putting somuch pressure on yourself, you can't think straight. Then you start puttingpressure on your assistants, and they start on the players, then—bang—the wholething blows up." It does seem a pity to hang a man in such straits, even ineffigy, but they hanged Hal anyway.
Maybe, when thetide turns at last and the score starts rolling up again, even the coachesforget the pains in their necks. "I've followed you and your Blue Devilsfor years," wrote a student at Duke to Coach Bill Murray shortly after hishanging at the end of a disastrous defeat by LSU. "Since I'm such a rabidfan of yours, I know some of my classmates expected me to defend you, but Idon't think you need my defense. Your record of the past can stand for itself.You're a coach. Nobody forced you to become one. You're there because you loveit, you love football and the youngsters who play it."
The letter wassigned Carolyn Kirky (Mrs. Bill) Murray, and we can think of nothing to add toit.
At one time, theearth of the English Midlands made comfortable walking for Roman soldiers andgood building material for Roman roads. Now, less than 2,000 years later, thesame old soil plays a new part in the making of history; mixed in certainproportion and treated in certain ways, it is the best surface known on whichto run the mile in less than four minutes or to break records in almost anytrack event, from the 100-yard dash to the 10,000-meter run.
In the last fewyears, hundreds of tons of the English Midlands have been dug up, shipped outand spread onto running tracks in such places as Australia, Arabia and Ireland.Now the next corner of a foreign field scheduled to be made forever England islocated—of all places—in Chicago, U.S.A.
The field isSoldier Field, on the Chicago lake front, where the track and field events ofthe Pan-American Games will be held next summer. Needing a good track for theoccasion, Chicagoans decided to get the best, and so they applied to the EnTout Cas Co. of Leicester, England. Soon there appeared in Chicago a stocky,middle-aged, businesslike English architect named Cecil George Jones, whodesigns running tracks, cricket pitches, tennis courts and other sportsinstallations for the En Tout Cas Co.
"Our company isnearly 50 years old," said Mr. Jones the other day, "but we didn'treally get cracking on mixing a special compound for tracks until just beforethe Olympic Games were held in London in 1948. We put down a track in WembleyStadium which worked out very well. Since then we have improved our formula,which of course is a secret.
"RogerBannister ran the first under-four-minute mile on an En Tout Cas track atOxford. Now Cambridge has one too. There's one at Cardiff, where the EmpireGames were held last August, and we finished the one in Melbourne just two daysbefore the opening of the Olympic Games in 1956. The new track in Dublin [SI,Aug. 18] is one of ours too."
According to Jones,as well as other less biased boosters, the advantage of the En Tout Cas surfaceis that it stays crisp and firm on top, yet moist and springy underneath.Spikes come out of the compound easily, so that the runner is not detained byhis shoes. And the track is just as usable after a heavy rain—or even duringone—as it is in the finest weather. (En Tout Cas is French for in anycase.)
Professionalbaseball, interested in being rained out as rarely as possible, once asked theEn Tout Cas people to experiment with a weatherproof baseball diamond. En ToutCas mixed up a new compound (the track mixture wouldn't do—you couldn't slideon it) and built a diamond at the U.S. Air Force Base at Brunting-thorpe,England. Reporting on results, the English builders wrote to their Americanagents that a "baseball match" was held directly after a heavy rain andthat the "running paths" and "base points" were found entirelysatisfactory. As yet, however, no major league team has installed Englishrunning paths on which to play its baseball matches.
The Sheik ofKuwait, who has plenty of oil money, once hired Jones to build a track forKuwait University, on the shores of the Persian Gulf, and Jones did so. Flat onthe blazing desert he spread out tons of earth taken from the damp Englishcountryside, and his highness the Sheik was well pleased. But this is one EnTout Cas track on which no spectacular times have been set: summer temperaturesin Kuwait hit 120° to 140°.
Chicago's Englishtrack will be the first in North America, and Chicago hopes it will continue toattract top-grade athletic events long after the Pan-American Games are over.This hope led the city to vote $85,000 for building a track and fieldinstallation of Olympic caliber. The present asphalt track, which was used forstock-car races at Soldier Field, will be dug up and a base of fine cinderslaid down to settle through the winter. As soon as the Great Lakes thaw nextspring, a ship will bring 450 tons of En Tout Cas compound into Chicago, andMr. Jones will reappear there to supervise its distribution over the base.
This should be doneby June, and Chicagoans are talking now about opening the track with apre-Games invitational meet to which every famous miler in the world would beinvited. Chicago seems to feel that if most future track records are going tobe set on English soil, some of them might as well be made on English soilwithin Chicago's city limits.
This man likes todive
In the cold seasons;
He dives, I suppose,
For divers reasons.
Latest on ElmerLam
Football has runits annual course in the Shenandoah Valley and your attention is again invitedto Elmer Lam of Elkton, Va. His story (SI, Oct. 20), it pleases to report, hasenjoyed satisfactory resolution.
The Elkton HighElks (13 strong) scored 184 points this fall, their opponents 62. Moreprecisely, Elmer Lam scored 112 and passed for 54 more, leaving the 18remaining points to others. And it seems sure Elmer would have scored a fewmore if he had not been injured by resolute pile-on tacklers in the firstquarter of Elkton's final game. A lineman was turned into an emergency back totake his place, and Elkton went down in its only defeat.
As we guessed theywould, college scouts came to the Valley after our first story. Thus far, Elmerhas scholarship offers from the Universities of Virginia, West Virginia andSouth Carolina, from Auburn, Virginia Polytech, George Washington, the VirginiaMilitary Institute and Duke. But if Elmer Lam has made up his mind, he's nottelling. He is much too busy with basketball.
They Said It
Claude Gilstrap, Arlington (Texas) Junior College coach,grumbling over the 1958 points-after-touchdown rule: "It puts too muchpressure on the cheerleaders. Until this season they always knew which yell touse when the other team scored. But now those poor kids don't know whether toshout, 'Block that kick,' 'Stop that pass,' or 'Hold that line.' "
Murray Warmath, regretting no coaching aspect ofMinnesota's worst football record ever (1-8): "If I could start this seasonover again there isn't a thing I would do differently, except prayharder."
Spider Webb, asked after seventh-round TKO ofgore-spurting Joey Giardello, if the sight of all that blood bothered him:"Why should it, it was his."
New Mexico Supreme Court, in ruling cockfighting a legalsport in that state: "While it is true in the minds of some men there isnothing more violent, wanton and cruel...others consider it an honorable sport,mellowed in the crucible of time so as to become an established tradition notunlike calf-roping, steer-riding, bull-dogging and broncobusting."