It's been a cold winter, the cost of living is up, and the front-page news that a citizen has an obligation to ponder involves such gritty matters as Berlin, Iraq, Red China and a possible steel strike. But there are ancient reassurances in the air. The sun is definitely warmer, grass is sprouting, buds are shaping up and quiet reports have been coming in of the annual crocus miracle. All these reassurances arrive not a moment too soon, and we are delighted to add a fresh one, most timely at this season: baseballs really do curve.
The authority for this is your government in Washington, which announced it this week in a bulletin of the Department of Commerce, Lewis L. Strauss, Secretary. Not only do baseballs curve, says Commerce, but they curve in relation to the spin on the ball, not the speed behind it. And no ball, regardless of what the .200 hitters will tell you, curves more than 17.5 inches off the true plane between mound and plate.
The scientific source for it all is Dr. Lyman J. Briggs, director emeritus of the Bureau of Standards. Dr. Briggs, an 84-year-old atomic scientist and baseball fan, conducted his overdue investigations at the bureau and at that shrine of experimental baseball, Griffith Stadium. And the best curves, he says (you can paste this in your hat), result in a ball spinning 1,800 rpm and traveling 68 mph. More speed, within the reach of any major league pitcher, helps not a jot.
April 6, 1959
What Frank Lane wants Frank Lane does not always get. What Frank Lane wants right now, among oh, so many other things, is a third baseman for his Cleveland Indians, and he may have one in young Gene Leek. Leek had played seven college games this spring (and was batting .408) until Lane talked him off the University of Arizona campus and ball team. In 10 games with Cleveland he has batted .307 and fielded flawlessly. But there is no joy in Tucson, where Leek's old coach, Frank Sancet, is rankling over Lane's fast rustle. Sancet thought that the least Lane could have done was to wait until the college season was over.
"What were we supposed to do?" retorted Lane. "Let somebody else grab him?"
College baseball coaches have long regarded major league scouts the way cattlemen used to regard sheepherders when they heard the first bleat coming—with, well, antipathy. Their ranges have been invaded before and they will be in the future. The most sensible words on the general subject were spoken last week in a letter from a college official quoted in The New York Times. "If a boy is in college primarily to get an education and plays ball on the side," the letter said, "it's not likely that he'll sign a contract before he graduates. The fault lies with the colleges that make their athletes think that their mission in life is baseball.... If a boy thinks his mission on a campus is baseball, why shouldn't he go somewhere else if he can do better for himself?"
Leek got a $30,000 bonus for going somewhere else. Among the lessons of this is maybe one for boys who think their mission on a campus is to play football. Who ever heard, yet, of the National Football League paying such a bonus? Could be enough to make a fellow switch to baseball.
The Ring of the Future
It is, perhaps, too much to hope of the nation's normally public-spirited telephone companies that they would go all-out in enthusiasm for the latest collegiate fad—stuffing telephone booths. With some 500,000 booths threatening to burst at their seams throughout the nation, phone company officials last week were facing an uncertain future with the same kind of resignation they had long since learned to muster in the face of athletic young men determined to test their strength by tearing up telephone directories. "With so many booths available," said one phone company spokesman in New York, "we don't see why these young men want to crowd together."
For the enterprising American youth of today the answer to that (quite reasonable) question is that an unstuffed telephone booth, like an unclimbed mountain or an un-swallowed goldfish, represents a challenge. And a challenge, like a ringing telephone, must not go unanswered. When nature, as someone once put it, whispers loud, "Thou must," the youth replies, "I can."
Take the case of the booth-stuffers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for instance. Latecomers to the people-packing picture, their first effort was a perfunctory and sluggish one, made at the behest of a news photographer eager only to please his editor.
"How about getting into the phone booth, men?" he asked a group of future scientists at Theta Chi fraternity, and within moments 31 of the fraternity brethren were crammed into a booth three feet eight inches wide, four feet one inch deep and eight feet seven inches high.
The significant fact about the Tech men's introduction to the booth-stuffing sweepstakes, however, was not the easy triumph it represented but the challenge it presented to a group of young men in whose hands the future security of the world may well rest. Long after the news photog's print was on the presses, the young scientists were huddled together over their newest problem. "We realized," said one of them later, "that some fundamental laws* had to apply. Our hypothesis now is that we can stuff more people in a phone booth than anyone else. Last night we collected the data by direct experiment. Now we have to derive the formula."
"We have, for instance," said another, "to determine the pain-probability factor."
"Oh, that's a constant," said the first young thinker. "After a certain number of guys have piled up on another guy, he doesn't have the strength to yell."
"We could of course," a third man explained to our reporter, "have put in more men if we'd stuffed the little guys on the bottom and the big guys on top, but we never even considered this."
"The humanitarian factor," explained the first speaker.
At long last, as the midnight oil flickered low in the fraternity house by the Charles River, a shout of triumph was raised. The young scientists, carefully balancing factor against factor, making due allowance for probability of error and human fallibility, had achieved a formula by which the nation's phone booths could be stuffed with maximum efficiency. Even in rough statement, it was far too complex for any layman's understanding, and the fact that it gave 37* as the maximum figure attainable when the boys themselves had only achieved 31 by experiment bothered them not at all. "The limiting factor," explained one of them in the cold, concise way of the scientist, "was the guys who kept dying on the bottom."
Sprints and Jams
To the six-day bicycle rider, Madison Square Garden is Eden; but the cyclists were cast out of the Garden 20 years ago for the sin of attracting less-than-capacity crowds, and no race has been held there since. Last week, after many a lean year, the riders were wheeling smoothly as a flock of birds around their wooden track again. But not in Madison Square Garden: in the 102nd Engineers Armory, 117 blocks uptown.
The crowds were good in spite of the location, and the oldtimers were talking cheerfully of being back in the Garden by November. "Did I tell you—Ned Irish [president of the Madison Square Garden Corporation] was up here last night? We showed him a good crowd, too." The stars of 1939—some of them—were still on hand, as announcers, trainers and referees. The new crop of riders are mostly in their 20s and come from the cycling countries of Europe.
Six-day bicycle riders operate in two-man teams, and one man must always be on the track. (On Friday the referees announced firmly over the public address system that a team had been fined one lap and $25 cash because both members were off the track at once.) Each man, therefore, has approximately three days off in a six-day race, but much of this free time comes in 30-minute bits and pieces. After 4 a.m., when the public goes home, the lights are dimmed to save current and the riders pedal slowly round and round in the gloom, saving energy. At this time a man may retire to a dormitory and sleep for as much as three hours while his partner rides. In the daytime, though, everybody sticks close to the track. Each team has a trackside headquarters which consists of a wooden hut just big enough to contain a cot. One wall is missing, to give the public an uninterrupted view of its idols sleeping, resting or reading out-of-date European newspapers. (Of the 28 starters only four were Americans, and only one of them finished.)
A rider's chief concern is energy. He accumulates it by eating steadily before, during and after meals; and he conserves it by doing almost nothing when he is off his bicycle. "Tonight," said the cook in the riders' dining room, "I'm giving 'em lamb chops. And I don't mean two apiece, I mean eight." But in the huts for between-meals consumption are fruit, Pepsi-Cola, candy bars and flasks of tea, as well as paper cups full of sugar which some riders eat with a spoon.
In the rubdown room a cardboard sign announces, "Rubbing 10 to 1 and 5 to 7," and two veteran practitioners give each rider a thorough pounding twice a day. The cyclists seem to thrive on their strange way of life. They look healthy, and as they pedal endlessly counterclockwise they chat, laugh, bite their nails and count the paying customers with practiced eyes. When a sprint is announced, they lean far out over their handlebars and go to work. Their speed increases, the crowd screams and after 16 laps (two miles) some rider has won a few extra points.
The other source of excitement is the "jam," when a rider pours on the calories and tries to steal a lap on the entire field. This effort is important; no matter how many points you may win on sprints, you cannot beat a team that has made more laps in the race than you have. The winners Saturday night were Fernando Terruzzi and Leonardo Faggin of Italy, who, at the end of some 18,400 laps, had done one lap more than their nearest competition. Their prize was not cash but simply an enhanced reputation. (According to the management, riders are paid from $100 to $300 a day, but a knowing trackside fan claimed that some younger riders will sign up for $50 a day and say they're getting more.)
There was a capacity crowd for the final night, and the old hands were more hopeful than ever about getting back into that lost paradise, the Garden. Some of them were just glad to get out of the 102nd Engineers Armory. "What's the weather doin' outside?" asked a trainer. "Is it rainin' or snowin'? I ain't been outdoors for a week."
Death in the Darkness
Uncertainty of the kind that beckoned from the dark and foreboding entrance of a newly discovered cave in Britain's Pennine Mountains was the stuff of life to 20-year-old Neil Moss, the sports-loving son of a British cotton executive. Perhaps the philosophers whom Neil studied as a "modern greats" major at Oxford could explain the fascination that caves held for him and his kind, but for Neil himself there was no need to explain. The thing was to explore.
So it was that one day last week Neil Moss and seven other dedicated British cavers (or potholers as they called themselves) entered the Derbyshire cave and inched their way along its hundreds of yards of mud-and-slime-choked tunnels a thousand feet underground. Sometimes the mud was two feet thick around their bellies as they crawled under rocky ceilings less than a foot above their heads. At one point, the cavers came to a relatively large, open chamber from which a still narrower shaft led almost straight downward. Young Neil was the first to try the descent.
All was quiet for a while as the 20-year-old caver worked his way downward, then suddenly from some 40 feet below came the terrible, factual statement: "I say, I'm stuck, I can't budge an inch."
Such contretemps are not rare in caving and Moss's companions at first took it for granted that rescue would be a mere matter of lowered ropes and heaving. Then gradually the truth dawned: Moss was wedged so tightly in the hole that he could not even move his arms to seize a rope. Moreover, the air in that shaft was dead, foul, and almost unbreathable.
Radio news bulletins were sent out via BBC and within hours volunteers from all over England were responding to the call for help. Police sirens howled at the cave entrance as rescue units from the RAF, the National Coal Board, the Royal Navy and dozens of private caving groups sped in.
At first Moss responded to all this offered aid with characteristic gallantry. "We must have a pint together at the local when you pull me out," he called to some of the first would-be rescuers. But as the situation grew more hopeless, Moss lapsed into the deep drowse of all those deprived of oxygen. "Go away," he muttered, "and leave me alone."
Three volunteers attempting to descend the shaft lost consciousness before they could help the victim. A fourth, Ron Peters, succeeded in getting a rope around his chest only to have the rope itself cut off Moss's breath. As an RAF doctor, waist-deep in mud, pumped oxygen down through a tube, radio pleas were sent out for an experienced caver small enough to negotiate the narrow shaft.
Early in the morning of the second day after Neil's accident, a slip of a girl named June Bailey turned up eager to make the descent. June's instructions were to break Moss's collarbones if necessary to free his shoulders, and gulping hard, she agreed to attempt this grim operation. Before June could reach Moss, the RAF doctor who had monitored his failing breath throughout the night announced that the boy was dead.
At the mouth of the tunnel where he had waited out the 46 hours of his son's ordeal, Eric Moss turned to those who had worked so hard and so long to save his boy. "I don't want anybody else to risk their lives," he said. "Let's leave him where he is."
Hit Away, Casey
As anyone who follows the 19TH HOLE knows, not all of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's readers always agree with everything we say. A case in point is Casey Stengel, who is vastly more adept as a talker than as a letter writer. The other day in St. Petersburg, Stengel ambushed one of our editors with a vigorous assault on a piece we ran Feb. 23 called What Baseball Needs. As you may recall, we said that what baseball needs is freedom for mighty sluggers like Mickey Mantle to slug away, unrestrained by "take" signs relayed from the bench by the third-base coach.
"Your critic," said Case, as we caught his remarkable flow of words, "don't know much about baseball or he wouldn't say I shouldn't tell my feller [the third-base coach] to tell my player [Mantle] what to do to win the ball game. Your critic may think it would be just fine if my player hit away every time, but I do not think it would increase attendance if my players were all hitting away and the New York Yankees were in third or fourth place. I'll tell you what, though. Some game this season we will tell my feller [the third-base coach] to look up in the press box and get the sign from your critic when my player [Mickey] comes up. Then we will see what your critic does."
Not necessary, Case. As we said in the issue of Feb. 23, our critic has already given his sign to your feller (the third-base coach) and your player (Mickey). Hit away.
There's panic in Paris.
The six-day riders
Want a five-day week!
—EDMUND W. PETERS
*One fundamental law the scientists ignored is that which makes willfully busting up a telephone booth malicious destruction of property.
*Thus, 18,500,000 Americans could be stuffed in the nation's telephone booths at the same time.
They Said It
Brian London, 24-year-old British heavyweight, explaining why he plans to accept the $75,000 offered him for a spring match with Floyd Patterson: "That's more than I have earned in four years of professional boxing in Britain. I'm in boxing for security."
Jimmy Piersall, Cleveland Indians outfielder and author of the autobiographical Fear Strikes Out, on the advantages of having been a psychiatric patient: "I'm supposed to throw golf clubs or bats...keep nothing bottled up inside. It costs Ted Williams $500."
Robert Frost, four-time Pulitzer Prizewinning poet, when asked if he had a wish for the country on the occasion of his 85th birthday: "To win at every turn. Games, I hate to lose them. You can't play tennis with someone who doesn't want to win. I even want the Red Sox to win. They say there's always room at the top, but there's not. There's only room for one on the steeple."
FRANK LANE SIGNS UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA THIRD BASEMAN AS COACH MOANS AT LATEST COLLEGE-BOY KIDNAPING BY MAJORS