Of Machines and Men
As warmer weather advanced over the Northern Hemisphere, a certain dreaminess and languor became evident in the pronouncements of eminent scientists: a young student was said to have solved a complex mathematical equation deemed unsolvable for generations; a Soviet thinker named Dr. I. Shklovsky announced that after prolonged study he has concluded that the two tiny moons circulating around Mars are really Martian-made satellites, put into orbit by highly intellectual beings, now extinct, who inhabited that planet two or three billion years ago; and an astronomer from Wisconsin told a scientific gathering in Washington that after extensive study he had decided there might be diamonds in the craters of the moon. A kind of scientific wool-gathering, speculations well-nigh poetic in their extravagance, suffused the scientific imagination, and it hardly seemed surprising, therefore, when Univac began to play the races and tried to pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby.
The experiment took place in a big, bare, scrubbed and dustless room on the second floor of the Remington Rand Building in downtown Manhattan, where Univac disgorged its conclusions, the day before the Derby was run, after five months of study. The atmosphere of the occasion was so calm that it seemed well-nigh irresponsible. Obviously much, including perhaps the survival of horse racing, hinged on which horse Univac picked, but only a few unhurried, deliberately voiced, neatly dressed technicians and engineers were on hand, and the machine itself, humming and buzzing in the middle of the room, tapes spinning merrily in a row of glass containers, and lights glowing in the bank-vaultlike structure of the brain, gave an impression of utter indifference. One odd circumstance of the Univac-Kentucky Derby experiment was that most of the people connected with it knew nothing about horse racing. Rom Slimak, a Polish-born, English-educated mathematical genius, manager of Univac operations, never saw a horse race in his life. William Mickelfelder, a New York newspaperman who handled the operation for the New York World-Telegram and Sun, was once taken to Aqueduct when he was a boy but had never bet on a race; his specialty has been medicine. Last December Richard Starnes, the managing editor of the World-Telegram, put Mickelfelder on the Univac experiment for just those reasons.
The exception among these racing innocents was Bill Bloome, the newspaper's specialist. He prepared the material on past performances that was codified, put on tape and stored in Univac's memory: the distances run by all the entries in all their previous races, how they finished and against what competition; their speed ratings (best time against track records) and all such variables as track conditions and jockeys' performances as could be translated into the symbols used by the computer.
May 10, 1959
Now, it would be gratifying to be able to relate that all this professional background, freshness of approach and scientific acumen resulted in a clear-cut finding on the degree to which science can determine in advance the outcome of a horse race. What really happened was that the Remington Rand scientists worked on the material Handicapper Bloome provided, and evolved a weighted point-score system that came out right much of the time. That is, they took old races run in the long ago and, without knowing the outcomes (not being race fans), fed the relevant material into Univac, and compared Univac's decision with the real outcome. When Univac's choice wasn't on the nose, the weighing of factors started over. When Univac began to win these ancient races, the operation was returned to the Derby experiment, together with a few warm-up races in the days before the Derby.
Maybe there are diamonds in the craters of the moon. Perhaps Dr. I. Shklovsky is on solid ground when he says the moons of Mars are really hollow metal spheres which the ancient Martians sent aloft a few billion years ago. These are still agreeable scientific speculations. It appears, however, that it is now a good hypothesis that a machine is no better than the generality of mankind in predicting the outcome of a horse race. Human brains generally picked First Landing, Tomy Lee and Sword Dancer in the Derby, in that order. Univac picked First Landing, Tomy Lee and Royal Orbit, and put Sword Dancer well down the list, below Silver Spoon and Easy Spur. And yet, at this season of the year, it is difficult to evade a suspicion of a bit of springtime carelessness and irresponsibility in Univac; perhaps a devil-may-care spirit entirely different from what the machine might have felt if it had had some of its own money riding.
Words of the Week
The executive director of the United States Golf Association is called Joe Dey. He is also called taciturn, button-lipped and laconic. He was, at least, up until last week when he opened his mouth on two separate occasions to say something. And when he was done, everybody else was talking at once.
Dey first broke his customary silence on Monday for Oscar Fraley, a sportswriter for United Press International. "What percentage of golfers play by the rules?" asked Fraley in a story-fishing telephone call to Dey. "Ohhh," said Dey guardedly, "probably not more than 2%." Fraley pressed on: "Does that mean 98% do not play by the rules?" Dey, sensing the logic of that, admitted: "Ahhh...ummmm...yes." And before Dey could hang up, he had allowed that indeed 98% might be low, that 98 out of 100 golfers will somehow break a rule before reaching the sixth tee, and that, contrary to common practice, old balls may not be substituted for water-hazard shots and winter rules do not apply on the Fourth of July. Next day Oscar Fraley's story whistled out over the UPI system, and 98 out of 100 readers sat up, stiffened, and said, "He's right, of course, but he can't be talking about me."
That same day the Associated Press called Joe Dey. "What," asked a reporter, "do you think of Calcutta tournaments?" The Calcutta pools, such as the recent Tournament of Champions at Las Vegas, answered Dey, were alarming to the golf association. And he said a suggestion had been made to bar Calcutta players from the National Open championship, sponsored by the USGA. "I don't know what action will be taken at our meeting next January," said Dey, "but golf is strongly opposed to any tournaments having the slightest connection with organized gambling. We are presented with a situation in which a golfer [who is auctioned off to gamblers and usually gets 10% of any prize his syndicate wins] might collect more money by throwing a match than by winning it.... Under our present rules we can ban anyone guilty of conduct detrimental to the game. Consorting with known gamblers could fall under this category."
Dey had had his say and then the professionals had theirs. "The Tournament of Champions Calcutta is held in the open, is entirely legal...and 10% goes to charity," said Las Vegas' Howard Capps righteously. "Dey is off his stick," said Gene Sarazen indignantly. "I've been in golf for 40 years and have never seen a dishonest professional." Said Byron Nelson, the unkindest cutter of them all: "The rule might be good for amateurs, but not for PGA members!"
The USGA is expected to take up Joe Dey's Calcutta concerns at their winter meeting. But those unruly 98 out of 100? Well, when you come to a water hazard, and if your friends don't mind....
Tip from Mike
I was getting so fat that it was even uncomfortable to crouch down and try to line up a putt," said Mike Souchak after winning the Tournament of Champions at Las Vegas. He has therefore dieted away 22 pounds. "I was tired and didn't care anything about practicing because that extra weight kept me sluggish. Yet I believe that the more you practice the better you get."
Souchak began his diet last winter when he was thumbing through an album of contemporary photographs of a chubby fellow. The man in the pictures was Mike Souchak, 31.
"Right then and there I decided to put a lock on that refrigerator door," he said. "I knew all those hunks of pie I'd been having every night before bed and all that candy and soda pop I'd been drinking during a round of golf was no good."
In this diet-conscious day Mike Souchak, who has written two TIPS FROM THE TOP (May 7, 1956; June 10, 1957) for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED readers, offers a classic, if deceptively simple, tip on losing weight: put those good old starches and fats out of your mind. "For breakfast I eat half a grapefruit, one piece of dry toast, hot tea and occasionally a couple of poached eggs. A lot of times I just skip lunch. Dinner is my big meal. Steak (but no fried onions), baked potato (yes, baked potato, but no butter), salad (no dressing) and tea."
Result? Well, Souchak lost 22 pounds in three months and won the Tournament of Champions or, roughly speaking, for every pound lost $1,000 gained.
On the Verge
It has been 10 weeks since Jack Kramer's professionals set out on their 1959 U.S. barnstorming tour, and tennis followers can now make a tentative judgment: Lew Hoad is on the verge of overthrowing Pancho Gonzales as the world's No. 1 player.
As of last week the 24-year-old Australian had taken 13 out of 19 matches from the 31-year-old Californian, and Gonzales was shaking his head over the turnabout. During a break in the tour in Cleveland, for this year's professional championship tournament, Gonzales candidly admitted his discomfiture. "I'm in real trouble if I can't shake this slump," he said. "I haven't been hitting against Lew with much confidence."
True, a year ago Hoad also jumped off to a big lead (winning 18 of the first 26 matches), and true, Gonzales beat Hoad in straight sets in Cleveland for the professional tournament title the other day. But the temperamental Hoad did not lose to Gonzales so much as he lost to himself. When the finals were delayed 55 minutes by prematch ceremonies, Hoad fell into a nervous fret, chewed on the frame of his racket and completely lost his competitive edge.
Before he can become No. 1, Hoad must control this temperament; but he has lost his awe of Gonzales, and he has learned to handle Gonzales' terrific speed, sending the ball back as hard as it comes, and more consistently.
Yet the prospect of a new reign in pro tennis has not helped attendance on the tour, which seems to be off about 25% compared with 1958. It would appear that the public, on the second go-round, has tired a bit of Gonzales vs. Hoad. The two newcomers, Ashley Cooper and Mal Anderson, unquestionably had their luster dulled by their Davis Cup losses to Alex Olmedo.
Unless attendance perks up, tennis can expect fresh action from Jack Kramer, an entrepreneur who fiercely and firmly believes that the public is always right. Who's the most colorful amateur around these days? Where you see Alex Olmedo this summer, you may very well expect to see Jack Kramer—not crowding him, just watching, and with fountain pen in pocket.
Valedictory of a Bloke
The bloke is wrong," said Brian London quietly, putting on his elegant brown suede shoes after the weighin at Indianapolis last week. London was taking exception to the announcement that his weight was 14 stones 12 instead of 14 stone 12. Brian London is a very proper, civil and eminently amiable bloke. When he was announced in the ring, he acknowledged the applause with a couple of dancing-school bows. A little more than 10 rounds later, his highly topographic profile somewhat the worse for wear, the bloke met the press.
"Shoot, gentlemen," said Brian London pleasantly.
"How do you feel, Brian?" asked the press.
"I feel great, thank you," said Brian London. "I think I didn't do too bad. I think I did jolly well. I'm very proud to have fought Floyd Patterson. He is absolutely the fastest thing on two feet."
"Is he the fastest fighter you ever met?" asked the press, redundantly.
"What do you think?" asked Brian London quick as you please. "When I went down with that right hand to my temple at the end of the 10th round I was dazed. I told my dad, 'I'm dizzy, dad' but I thought to myself, let's have a hop at it; I'll go out and give it a try."
"Are you going to return to America?" asked the press.
"I want to come over to the States and really learn to fight. I'll come back and I'll learn, I'll learn. But I'd rather not meet Patterson right away. You don't want to go through that twice right now."
"What did you and Floyd talk to each other about in the ring?" asked the press.
"I'd say," said Brian London, " 'Good punch, Floyd. Beautiful punch.' "
"What did Floyd say?"
"He'd smile and give me another crack," said the bloke.
"Did he ever hurt you?" asked the press.
"I didn't feel at all discomfortable until he hit me with that right hand. He never hurt me on my word of honor. But in the 10th round he caught me a beaut. Now, will you please let me shower, gentlemen. I'll talk to you later."
While Brian took his shower-bath, the press talked to the two Mrs. Londons: Agnes, his mother, whose husband, Jack, was also a heavyweight prizefighter; and Veronica, his pregnant wife, who was wearing a green lamé dress she made herself.
"Was it hard, Mrs. London?" the press asked Agnes, solicitously.
"It's bound to be hard, isn't it?" said Agnes London. "We fight all the way with him, we're bound to. But I don't see where it was all so one-sided. You didn't see him knock him out in the first round, now did you? He put up a good show, and that's all that matters."
"He [Brian] has bought me a charm for every fight he's had," said Veronica London, displaying her charm bracelet. "I've got 25. Now he owes me two."
"Is it the same, Mrs. London," asked the press, "watching your son's fights as watching your husband's?"
"This is a regular interrogation now, isn't it?" interrupted Veronica London.
"It doesn't get any better," said Agnes London, a bit wearily. "It's always the same."
Brian London, showered, greeted the press again.
"I'm terribly sorry I didn't go the full 15, gentlemen. But I did do better than Archie Moore and Jackson and Rademacher. I would have liked to have done better than Harris but I just missed. He caught me on the back of the head once, if you gentlemen will feel it."
Brian London bowed his massive, beaten head.
"I've got bruises all over, too," the bloke said cheerfully. "The boy's good. You can't hit him. The boy's good but it's been brought out of him. Would he have been as good if he had grown up in England? I don't think so, believe me. We don't have the coaches, the training camps, the sparring partners."
"Are you returning to England?" asked the press, redundantly.
"Yes, I would like to. It's my home. I don't think I let the Boxing Board of Control down."
"You haven't," murmured the press gallantly.
"Thank you, sir. Now, will that be all, gentlemen?" asked the bloke and, hearing no dissent, retired in his elegant brown suede shoes and red-and-blue bruises.
Bird in Hand
On the green there's so much of a flutter
That the ball isn't easy to hit,
For he putts with a goose-neck putter,
And the goose doesn't like it a bit.
They Said It
Floyd Patterson, on why he left silently, instead of identifying himself after he was refused a dish of ice cream in a segregated Indianapolis candy shop: "I won't always be the champ, but I'll always be a man.... I don't want to go into a place where other Negroes can't go."
Ingemar Johansson, writing in LIFE: "There is something strange about my right hand, something very hard to explain. It is almost as if it was not a part of me at all. I never know when it is coming. The arm works by itself. It is faster than the eye and I cannot even see it. Without my telling it to, the right goes, and when it hits there is this good feeling all down my arm and down through my body.... Something just right has been done."
Casey Stengel of the New York Yankees: "I have written a letter to the commissioner, asking him to break up the Cleveland club."