Your can get condensed versions of almost anything these days, so it comes as no great surprise that there is now a condensed version of baseball. No bother with such peripheral, if conventional, fascinations as the hit-and-run play, the long sacrifice fly, the baseline bunt, the double steal, the double play, the first-base pickoff on the shoestring catch in center. Beginning next month, a company with the condensed name of Ziv-TV will introduce Home Run Derby, a series of 26 half-hour TV films. Each film pits two big-league sluggers against each other (and against minor league pitching) in a nine-inning game, and anything but a home run counts as an out.
Home Run Derby was filmed at Los Angeles' Wrigley Field in January. "There'll be 20 big-league sluggers in all," a Ziv spokesman says. "We'll have Mickey and Willie and Ernie and Hank. We'll also have Orlando. It's just too bad Orlando doesn't have a nice, short nickname."
"It's a focus on the big moment, starring the big men of the game," adds Ziv Sales Executive Maurice Rifkin. "We're certain the return to the sponsor will be proportionate."
March 28, 1960
First film in the series matches Mickey Mantle (31 homers last year) against Willie Mays (34). After a winter of relaxation, Willie came up with blistered hands during the practice sessions. "Gee whiz," said a producer, "look at those hands." "I don't care," said Willie, "this is fun." Mickey was equally intent. "I've never tried harder," he said, "not even in the World Series." Mickey and Willie had reason for their enthusiasm. Each Home Run Derby winner gets $2,000, the loser $1,000; with bonus arrangements (e.g., $500 for three consecutive home runs), a player can win $10,000 a game.
Who won the first contest? Ziv isn't saying, but the smart money's on Mantle, 9 homers to 8.
When Arnold Palmer won his third straight tournament the other day it was the first time since 1952 that anybody had performed so well on the pro golf tour.
But down in Fort Worth is a chunky 48-year-old chicken farmer who not so many years ago put together a winning streak of his own, and Palmer's feat set him to reminiscing. His name: Byron Nelson.
Lord Byron he'd been called back in that spring and summer of 1945 when his firm wrists were snapping iron shots at the hole with an accuracy that the Hogans, Sneads and Middlecoffs have never quite matched. As he looked back to that era last week he couldn't even remember where golf's greatest string of victories began. (It was Miami on March 11.)
"There wasn't much pressure at first," he recalled, "but it pyramided. It got like an auction. There would be headlines: CAN NELSON WIN AGAIN? WHO CAN STOP NELSON?
"It got to be fantastic. I'd never dreamed of anything like it. If I knew exactly what caused it I'd do it again, but the mechanics of my swing were such that no thought was required. It's like eating. You don't think to feed yourself. All my concentration was on the scoring, not the swing, so I'll never know what caused it.
"The main thing I worried about was my tempo. When galleries start running down the fairways, rushing and shoving, you unconsciously quicken your stride. Some call it timing, but I call it tempo, and it's everything. I was afraid of losing it. But I couldn't lose.
"Things reached the point that I remember one morning I told my wife I didn't think I could stand it any longer. I wished I could blow up. When I came back that day she asked me, 'Well, did you blow up?' and I said, 'Yes. I shot a 66.' "
The victories rolled on. First place at Durham, Atlanta and Philadelphia, the same at the PGA, the Tam O'Shanter, the Canadian Open. The scores would still win today: 269, 269, 268, 263.
Finally it ended. "I remember it was Memphis," said Nelson. "Peculiar thing. It was an amateur, Freddy Haas, who won." But it didn't happen until Lord Byron had won eleven consecutive tournaments against the best: Snead, Demaret, Sarazen, McSpaden.
There is one last note of interest in comparing Nelson's victories with Palmer's. For winning eleven straight times in 1945 Nelson earned $27,000 in war bonds, $7,750 cash. For four wins and six other money finishes in three months this year Arnold Palmer taken home $24,200.
Highwaymen in Hallandale
FACT ONE: The City of Hallandale, Fla. wants a 10¢-a-head tax, just one thin dime, on each customer at Gulfstream Park race track, but the Florida legislature has voted the motion down.
Fact two: Three times in the last two weeks Hallandale police have established roadblocks outside Gulfstream to check drivers' licenses, thereby slowing traffic to a solemn crawl and causing daily-double fans to get to the park too late to get their bets down.
Reason: Police say they are just "attempting to apprehend any lawless elements that flood this area, especially during the winter season."
Tune in next season. If Gulfstream is ponying up 10¢ a head to Hallandale you'll know why.
Mirabel vs. the BBC
For the first time in history this week British televiewers (an estimated 15 million of them) and millions of Europeans as well will get to watch England's most famous steeplechase on their living room screens. Their pleasure represents a triumph by the BBC and the Continental hookup known as Eurovision over the eight-year resistance of a lady named Mirabel Topham.
Mirabel ("Isn't that a silly name?" she says) is a redoubtable sexagenarian of 14 stone who dearly loves the Grand National steeplechase course at Aintree of which she happens to be managing director. The one time showgirl daughter of a somewhat dreamy and unbusinesslike London artist who tried to train her esthetic sense by having her taught bookbinding and decorative leather work, Mirabel began her climb to the top of Aintree by marrying the grandson of its founder, a promotional genius known as Topham the Wizard.
Arthur Topham, the Wizard's grandson and Mirabel's husband, was in no sense a chip off the old block. In 1958, after 36 years of contented connubiality and complete inconspicuousness, he bowed gracefully out of this world leaving behind a statement that could well stand as his epitaph: "I am shy and retiring. I am very proud of my clever and capable wife." Mirabel, needless to say, had been running Aintree and the Grand National singlehanded and without his help or hindrance for years, carrying on in the process a running war with bookmakers, broadcasters, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, newspaper reporters and anybody else who dared to cross her path.
Last week one group of Mirabel's foes, who declined to give their names, wrote letters threatening to blow up her race track, and the guards at Aintree were out in force. But the device the BBC used to defeat its old opponent was less drastic: it simply waited her out. Virtually ever since the birth of British television, Mirabel has been coyly and stubbornly resisting its advances. Peter Dimmock, genial BBC man in charge of outside broadcasts, claims he has gone gray attempting to win her over. Mirabel insisted that she had only wanted to be fair, fair to the public, to her paying customers, to the newsreels. "I didn't want to divert to a new love," she said last week, pocketing the BBC's ¬£15,000, "until the old was satisfied."
When Bill Veeck's Chicago White Sox go visiting this season their names—FOX, WYNN, APARICIO, etc.—will be clearly emblazoned on the backs of their uniforms.
When the White Sox are at home, however, things will be different. There, since Bill Veeck is an innovator but not that much of an innovator, uniforms will bear only numbers, and the vendors at Comiskey Park will still be able to go up and down the aisles crying: "Can't tell 'em without a scorecard."
Mr. Rickey Farms New Soil
When Branch Rickey talks about farm teams baseball men have a way of listening, and well they might.
It was Rickey who made the first attempt at a working agreement between major and minor league baseball teams; his St. Louis Browns took an operational interest in Montgomery, Alabama baseball back in 1913. The agreement collapsed, but the idea lingered on, and six years later Rickey was at it again, this time on behalf of the St. Louis Cardinals. He built the Cards a farm system of as many as 33 teams, saw the players it developed win world championships and set a pattern for nurturing young talent which every major league team has long since adopted.
So it was hardly surprising, when news came of a dramatically different kind of relationship between major and minor league baseball teams, that the man with the new idea should turn out to be Branch Rickey.
Instead of having each major league team make arrangements with the minor league clubs of its choice, why not have the whole major league work with an entire minor league, Rickey wondered. And in his post as president of that fledgling new major league, the Continental, Rickey was able to try such a league-to-league farm arrangement.
At his direction the Continental League last week signed an agreement with the Class D Western Carolina League: a traditional working agreement in the baseball sense except that it was between leagues, not teams.
The CL agreed to pay the salary of all managers in the eight-team Carolina league, underwrite a spring-training program, set salary limits for players and pay $60,000 into the league treasury for division among the member clubs as needed. In return it hoped to get first crack at whatever crop sprouted on the farm.
Of even more interest, the Continental League said it might follow the same procedure in starting farm arrangements with minor leagues of higher classification.
Did minor league baseball sound interested? You bet. Three other leagues have already asked about how they might become a part of old Branch Rickey's latest young idea.
Shape of TV to Come (cont.)
Two weeks ago we told you about WGBH-TV, Boston's noncommercial station, which carried the Winter Olympics after the local CBS affiliates turned it down, and received $13,000 in gifts from grateful viewers. Last week in Providence "subscription-TV" took another enlightened giant step. WPRO-TV, a CBS affiliate, tried to find sponsors for the Providence-Utah State National Invitation Tournament semifinal basketball game in Madison Square Garden, but advertisers found the $7,500 tag too steep. The Providence College alumni association thereupon announced a drive to raise the money, with WPRO-TV promising to make up any deficit. Small checks for $1, $2 and $3 poured in, and big ones for $1,000 and for $600 came from the Bishop of Providence and the city respectively. Three-quarters of a million viewers therefore watched the Providence Friars win 68-62.
The Providence fans could hardly wait to watch their beloved Friars in the finals without having to pass the hat. NBC brought it to them commercially sponsored. But alas, and anticlimactically, the Friars lost.
This is what the U.S. Coast Guard said: It shall be the law of this nation that on 1 April 1960 and thereafter all pleasure boats propelled by machinery of more than 10 horsepower must be numbered by a state agency or the Coast Guard, such number to appear, clearly legible, on each side of the bow and in figures at least three inches high. Applications to the Coast Guard for a number shall be accompanied by a $3 Federal Boating Stamp, available in U.S. post offices.
This is what the Coast Guard, which had not been listening, did: It distributed 1 million of the boating stamps, each depicting a cabin cruiser and an outboard runabout slicing saucily through the water. Neither craft, though both easily exceeded the 10 horsepower class, had the benefit of a law-abiding, Coast Guard number on its bow or anywhere else.
Semper paratus (always ready) is the Coast Guard motto. Last week the Guard was ready with excuses. "Numbers would have been too small to see anyhow," said one spokesman lamely, squirming in his swivel chair. Weaseled another: "It was what we call artistic license."
With black shoes and tan shoes,
These horses are playing
A game they call manshoes.
They Said It
Don Newcombe, Cincinnati Red pitcher, asked about his fast ball: "I throw as hard as ever. It just takes longer to get to the plate."
Rodger Ward, Indianapolis "500" champion: "What most people want is comfort. I'm one of them. Believe me, I hate to drive."
Tex Winter, Kansas State basketball coach, on his new book: "When we lost four of our first five, my publisher suggested changing the title from Better Basketball to Character Building."
Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees, donning his old No. 7 after taking a pay cut: "I'm surprised the number wasn't trimmed to 6¾."