Not within memory has a sporting enterprise been attended by so much rancor, recrimination and confusion as New York City's effort to get a home built for its new ball club. Mayor Wagner's bill authorizing the city to raise money to build a stadium in Flushing Meadow Park was resoundingly rejected by the State Assembly—an upset that horrified Metropolitan Baseball Club officials and National League President Warren Giles, who had been promised a stadium would be built. Then, amid cries of "pressure" and "ouch," the bill was presented again and gunned through as at least 35 assemblymen had sudden changes of mind.
The timing was good because the club had just signed a president—former Yankee general manager George Weiss—and the rumor was that he might lure Casey Stengel away from his bank to manage the team. Since the legislature was about to adjourn, if the bill hadn't been passed the New York club might find itself in Toronto or Kodiak.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are not at all pleased that Weiss has accepted the new job, and Mayor Wagner, his legal problems far from over, continues to squabble with Comptroller Lawrence E. Gerosa about the cost to the city of a stadium. It has become, as somebody pointed out, a political forkball.
We'd like to see a new stadium and a New York NL ball club. The stadium will have many uses (it may become the home of the football Titans), and a new ball club will help fill the vacuum left by the Giants and Dodgers. Too bad, though, that compared with Houston, where plans for 1962 in the big leagues are proceeding without a hitch, and cities like Milwaukee and L.A., which are wildly enthusiastic about their teams, N.Y. seems uncertain as to whether it wants a National League club or not. Maybe it doesn't deserve one.
The Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission met in Harrisburg last week to issue the four licenses for trotting tracks approved by the legislature and local option elections last year. The meeting lasted only 10 minutes, no applications for licenses were considered and none were granted. Instead, there will be another meeting on April 5.
Behind this delay is an attempt to thwart powerful politicians in the state who hope to gain a monopoly over Pennsylvania harness racing, with multimillion-dollar profits clearly in view. These interests had hoped to railroad through the commission a decision to issue only one license in the Philadelphia area. It is the same kind of scheme that led to harness racing scandals in New York and Illinois in the early 1950s.
Fortunately for Pennsylvanians, the commission chairman is Lawrence Sheppard (SI, April 18), a lifelong participant and official in the sport and a man of high and stubborn principle. Sheppard has been supported by Governor David Lawrence in his refusal to go along with the single-license idea. The delay in issuing licenses was arranged so that Sheppard could alert the two other commission members to the potential dangers of a monopoly situation in the sport.
But the battle is not yet won. If, on April 5, the commission grants only one license, the citizens of Pennsylvania are hereby warned that trotting trouble is brewing. And Lawrence Sheppard probably will resign in protest.
A FAR CRY FROM GAUGUIN
Tahiti makes one think of Paul Gauguin's colorful postimpressionist paintings, the mutiny on the Bounty, Herman Melville's Omoo, and a grass skirt or two. By next May those who want to get away from it all and have the money will be able to reach the South Sea isle by jet, and by 1962 they will be able to live as if under the tent of Conrad Hilton.
Transports Aériens Intercontinentaux ran an experimental DC-8 jet flight from Los Angeles to Papeete March 5. Regular twice-a-week service begins in May, and the 4,156 statute miles will be covered nonstop in about eight hours, as compared with the 20½ hours (with a stopover at Honolulu) now required. Plane fares: L.A. to Papeete, $1,022.40 first-class, $754.20 economy (two-way). Jets will carry 28 first-class, 100 economy.
At the other end, John Volz, an enterprising southern California engineer and contractor, is planning the Riviera Tahitien in Taravao on Tahiti, two thirds of the way around the island from the capital city, Papeete. On 260 acres of rolling, mosquito-free land, Volz and two American partners intend to build this 200-room tourist hotel, with 50 cottages scattered around a nine-hole golf course. The project will cost about $5 million. To attract sports-minded tourists, Volz plans to import or build deep-sea fishing cruisers. Dolphins, bonito and Allison tuna abound in Tahitian waters. Outrigger canoes for racing or lolling will be available. On another 1,500 acres Volz's paying guests will be able to go horseback riding or to hunt wild boar, relaxing afterward in their Beverly Hills-type bungalows. Cost: $500 a month for two-bedroom cottages, or leases on same for 30 years for $25,000 in case you never want to go back to Hoboken.
Old beachcombers are fearful that two-a-week jet flights will make their lotus land look like a combination of Miami and Cannes. Polynesian natives now play a little muddy soccer, swim languorously, fish lazily or do some quiet boating. Before long the word "fore" will get into their vocabulary, and many of them may within a few years be caddies, waiters and chauffeurs. You can't stop progress, and all you need is money to play Gauguin de luxe.
HOLD THOSE BETS
A few days after the Caliente Future Book announced its first set of official odds on the May 6 Kentucky Derby, the publicity director for the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore got out a news release. In it he quotes Jack Price, who—as the co-owner and trainer of the eastern Derby favorite—admits to having no scruples about overracing his horses if they bring in the money quickly "His [Carry Back's] next start will be in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on March 22 as a tune-up for the Florida Derby there on April 1.
"If he comes out of the Florida Derby O.K., we'll ship to New York to run in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 22 and, if he comes out of that all right, we will then ship to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby on May 6 and then to Baltimore for the Preakness at Pimlico on May 20.
"Carry Back usually comes out of his races ready to run right back, but if he should show any signs of needing a letup after the Florida Derby, we will skip the New York trip for the Wood and ship from Florida to Louisville for the Derby. On the other hand, if he should go to New York and come off that race tired, we will skip the Kentucky Derby and ship right to Maryland for the Preakness. That big purse is our main objective."
Caliente's Derby odds on Carry Back are 5 to 1. After the statement from Pimlico it would take a heroic bettor to accept such a price. It would exhaust a horse just to know these plans.
Last fall Willy Schaeffler resumed direction of the Denver University ski team, after two years' service as U.S. Olympic ski director. He found a neglected collection of individuals awaiting him. But Schaeffler, who considers losing a hanging offense, quickly bludgeoned his skiers into shape. To the surprise of everyone but Willy, they ran off a string of western victories and climaxed the season by brilliantly winning the recent NCAA championships at Middlebury, Vt. The triumph, however, brought Willy few pats on the back.
"He has a fine team, only they don't speak English," said one eastern rival, referring to the five Norwegians who registered at Denver with the help of the Oslo ski federation.
"He wrote the rules," grumped another official, "and when he doesn't like something, he says it's a misprint."
All this sounded like the old Apfelstrudel to German-born Schaeffler, who doesn't lie awake nights worrying about friendship.
"Yes, I antagonize people, and I know it," he said. "But we came to Middlebury for exactly one thing—to win. I'm not a member of the chamber of commerce for the state of Colorado."
With the social amenities out of the way, Willy went right back to recruiting. Standing at the top of the slalom course with several other coaches, including Colorado's Bob Beattie and Middlebury Coach Bobo Sheehan, Willy's appraising eye spotted a small boy skiing down. The boy stopped. He was Bobo's 11-year-old son Butch.
"Butch," said Sheehan, "this is Willy Schaeffler." Willy shook the boy's hand. "You're a racer, yes?" he said, "and a pretty good one, too. I've been hearing about you."
Beattie, a second behind fast-thinking Schaeffler, broke in. "Oh no you don't, Willy," he said. "This one's going to Colorado."
Bobo Sheehan just smiled.
YOUNG PAPA AND THE SEA
Captain Johnnie Cass, the famous salt-water guide who introduced Martin Kane to permit fishing (see page 58), was lucky enough to be present at still another great moment in history. He was there when Ernest Hemingway fought his first tuna. It was in 1934, when Cass was guiding sports fishermen at Bimini.
"Hemingway arrived in his boat, the Pilar," Cass recalls, "at a time when everyone was taking big tuna. One of the fishermen was having wonderful luck, hanging two or three big ones a day. But this fellow was a bit of a joker and he kept assuring Hemingway that there was nothing to catching tuna, even big ones. No fight in them, he said, and they came up to the boat as easily as you'd whistle in a retriever. After a few days of this Hemingway was convinced. After all, this fellow was an expert. He was bringing in lots of big tuna, though in view of what he had to say you might wonder why he bothered.
"Everyone but Hemingway was in on the joke. So when word came in to the docks one afternoon that Hemingway finally had hooked a big tuna all the boats raced out to watch the fun.
"We watched him fight the fish all afternoon. It was giving him a very hard time and everyone was laughing like mad. When it got too dark to see him we returned to the dock to hear what he would say when he came in.
"He came in, finally, dog-tired after fighting the fish for five hours, and he was as mad as the tuna must have been.
"He was roaring angry at the joker, who left in a hurry after hearing Hemingway bellow what he was going to do to him. The joker just stayed out of sight until Hemingway left Bimini.
"I think he wouldn't have been so mad if it hadn't been for the sharks. That fish would have gone about 450 pounds but just as he got ready to boat it the sharks closed in and stripped it to head, skeleton and tail, just like the big fish in The Old Man and the Sea."
Well, it was another fish in another country and it was nearly 20 years later, but that riddled, remembered tuna gave "Papa" a pretty good novel and a lot of money.
MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN
Englishmen, says a French traveler, M. Jean Bailhache, are mad because, among other reasons, they are so devoted to sports. He has written a paperback called Great Britain. "Sport?" inquires M. Bailhache with a raised psychological eyebrow. "An excellent outlet for aggressive instincts" is his immediate answer to himself. M. Bailhache finds that in England, "Sport is not looked up to as a means of aesthetic improvement, or as a hymn to the beauty of form and movement, but as a school for team spirit and fair play." Sport "has a cathartic or purgative function, whether as a spectacle and an outlet for John Citizen's aggressive instincts or as heroic reading-matter churned out by the popular press for people who like weaving fantasy-lives for themselves as giants of sport, in their armchairs at home."
The Daily Sketch comments on all this: "Even if M. Bailhache felt compelled, on such flimsy understanding, to write a guide book to Britain, you would have expected him to avoid stirring up our aggressive instincts, for fear some irate Briton might up and punch him on the nose. But he knows he is safe. At worst the British will just laugh at him."
THE ANNUAL PUZZLE
Baseball's exhibition season is ending and there are the usual arguments over the significance of the so-called Grapefruit League standings. The fan whose team is doing badly during the exhibition season generally shucks the whole thing off, but the fan whose team is doing well puts quite a bit of faith in the exhibition standings.
A look at the records since 1953 shows that only one American League team, the 1956 Yankees, ever won both the spring title and a league championship in the same year. No National League team has ever managed to win both. Three teams, the 1953 and 1955 Pirates and the 1955 Senators, were first in spring and last in the fall. Against that, consider last season's record: 12 of the 16 major league teams finished in virtually the same position during the regular season as they had in the spring. The major exceptions were the Red Sox, who were second in spring, seventh in the fall, and the Yankees, who were eighth when it didn't count and first when it did.
•Los Angeles won't get a National Hockey League franchise until San Francisco builds an ice arena, thus making the West Coast trip a profitable, two-city jaunt for the NHL.
•Charley Eckman, the cigar-puffing funnyman who once officiated, and then coached, in the National Basketball Association, will be rehired by the league as a referee.
•The West Coast may soon lure the U.S. tennis championships away from Forest Hills; Los Angeles is building a 9,000-seat tennis stadium in Griffith Park.