THE FIGHT WAS THE THING
The most significant news of the week may have been made in the Orient, but for many Americans the prime subject of conversation was another international matter docketed for debate at the Polo Grounds. Would Ingemar Johansson's right hand destroy Floyd Patterson all over again? Did Patterson really have a new defense doped out? And where could a fellow lay a bet?
These matters were of equal moment to bookies on Broadway and little old ladies in Lonelyville, for it has become a truism that heavyweight championship fights cut across all lines of interest and generate more attention and remembrances of things past than any single event in the world of sport. Who could ever forget the Dempsey-Tunney fight in 1927? And who, by the same token, remembers who won the national singles—or even the World Series—that year?
As it always does, conjecture of the wildest sort filled the air as fight time neared. Certain experts professed to detect the slight odor of "fix," an attention-getting conclusion based on the fact that odds hung at 6 to 5 and pick 'em till shortly before the fight. These experts felt Johansson should have been the favorite at 5 to 1. Such talk conveniently ignored another fact: Johansson and Patterson are practical men, and men with personal and public records not vulnerable to blackmail. No practical man with a clean record would go in the tank in a heavyweight championship fight for anything less than a fortune and a free pass out of court.
The best bet, of course, was on TelePrompTer Corp. to win. In 230 theaters, tons of popcorn were hotted up and 700,000 seats were dusted and ready at $3 to $10 a throw. The very scheduling of the fight—on a Monday night—was a mark of the importance of the theater TV receipts. Monday night is a poor night for less violent forms of entertainment. Ergo, lower rentals for TelePrompTer and a gross of about $1.5 million if it sold only 50% of its seats.
Indeed, the talk about economics almost pre-empted the talk about the fight itself. It seemed certain that 90% of the $100 seats at the Polo Grounds would be bought on the expense account, doled out like old booze and young cigars to good customers from Atlanta and big buyers from Chicago. Thus would the fight become available, and deductible, to more big spenders than ever before.
Is there a clue to the future, even dimly seen, in all this? Well, consider: The luxury liner Carovia steams to an anchorage 15 miles off New York. Aboard are 1,000 tuxedoed and perfumed fight fans who have paid $1,000 each for a ringside seat in the plush grand salon, plus one champagne cocktail, courtesy of the promoter. Having paid 10 times more than ever before, guests naturally are 10 times as impressed as they had been at previous championship fights, and they have 10 times as much to deduct. Across the country—from the dark grottoes of The Bronx to the chalk sands of Coronado—20 million people have paid 50¢ apiece to see the fight on pay-TV. No city, town, village or hamlet is blacked out. The fighters come on, almost as an anticlimax. They bob, and the ship weaves, and everybody makes a buck.
Pondering the plight of the Green Bay Packers, one can only be saddened. Their stadium holds 32,125, and already they've sold 29,000 season tickets. Now they are afraid that loyal Packer fans who can't afford season tickets will be offended when they can't get into the stadium. It is a terrible problem, and one that every team in the National Football League wishes it had.
BOOTS AND SOX
The return to the big leagues of Mike (Pinky) Higgins as Red Sox manager also means the return of his two delightful daughters, Elizabeth (Boots), 17, and Dianne, 19, both of whom specialize in succinct, thumbnail descriptions of ballplayers they have known. Samples:
Ted Williams—"No one in the majors has a lovelier smile."
Jim Piersall—"He used to be a ton of fun. He used to stick a huge wad of Tootsie Rolls in his cheeks so he could look tough, when he walked past the stands, by having brown spit."
Grady Hatton—"All that tobacco in his cheek! Imagine if a line drive ever hit him in the face."
Pete Runnels—"He has the most adorable little ears."
Casey Stengel, who used to hide live birds under his cap and turn hotel lobbies into base-stealing and sliding clinics, has returned to show business. When he led the Yankee sparkler brigade in Lilliputian mimicry of Bill Veeck's $300,000 explosive scoreboard in Chicago last week, baseball—and the Yankees—lit up a little, too.
For some time now, the Stengel approach had been supplanted by the production-line, nothing-for-a-laugh attitude of Yankee General Manager George Weiss. Maybe that's why the Yankees hadn't been doing so well. At any rate, they appear loose now, and they're winning.
After the Chicago game, Stengel jigged up and down the clubhouse in spectacles, sweat socks and little else (well, nothing else) celebrating his coup of lighting the sparklers after Yankee home runs. "Veeck," he exulted, "would probably have kept that scoreboard going for 35 minutes if the Sox hit one. He would have spent $5,000 on it."
He was right. Veeck had prepared a double order of fireworks for each White Sox homer.
LSU Football Coach Paul Dietzel, chief choreographer for the famed Chinese Bandits, has helped clarify some of his team's techniques for a football clinic. "We have a call man, an inside call man, an outside call man, inside-outside blocker and sealer in our principal blocking plan," he said. "If the defensive lineman is playing over the nose of the call man, he becomes the post blocker and the outside call man becomes the drive blocker. This releases the inside call man from principal and the blocks by rule, influencing against the flow." Any questions?
MOTHER GO HOME!
A bunch of mothers were whooping it up at a Little League game in Charlotte, N.C. the other day, when matters got out of hand. One enthusiastic mama questioned the veracity and family lineage of the umpire, whereupon the ump's wife, seated near by, smacked the complainant on the chin. The case wound up in court, where City Judge Howard Arbuckle delivered the last word: "Little Leaguers themselves can have fun whether they're in the infield, the outfield or on the bench. If grownups can't behave themselves as well, they should stay home."
CAST OF CHARACTERS
The Boy Scouts presented a new 50-star flag to the Los Angeles Dodgers last week, moving Dodger Veep Fresco Thompson to remark: "By the time we fly that at Chavez Ravine, they'll need two more stars."
...Baltimore Oriole Outfielder Gene Woodling threw a temper tantrum at a Sunday double-header, stomped out of the park because of "an upset stomach." The slumping, fan-harassed Woodling threatened to quit baseball, and Manager Paul Richards counterthreatened to trade Woodling, and that's where all the trade rumors started.
...Thoroughbred Trainer Mish Tenney (Swaps, California Kid) told a Los Angeles interviewer that horses are "dumb animals" but "as smart as God intended them to be, which isn't very." Added Tenney quickly: "I like them."
...Big Ten Spokesman Bill Reed, regarded in some quarters as both a phrasemaker and a philosopher, enriched the language last week with his explanation of conference dillydallying in the case of Phil Dickens and the Indiana football team. Reed said, "The wheels of the gods grind slowly but with exceeding great progress."
...Archie Moore accepts, with one proviso, Paul Pender's challenge for the light-heavyweight championship. Says Archie: "For me to meet a man like that and face my conscience, I would have to agree to let him carry a pistol."
WHAT? RAIN ON THE QUEEN? SHATTER! BLAST!
Rain, thunder and lightning at the fashionable Ascot meet last week sent racegoers, including the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh (above, as they arrived), scurrying for shelter. It was a meteorologically freakish day all over England, with hail in West Kingsdown and three inches of snow in Wrotham, Kent. And for those who pay attention to such heavenly harbingers, it was a lucrative afternoon at Ascot. The winners of three races were Blast, Shatter and Typhoon.