THE SINKABLE ADMIRAL JOHN
Last week the management of the New York Rangers hockey team dismissed its coach, Alfie Pike. Pike had been criticized by malcontents among the Ranger players who tried to blame him for their own ineptitude. One of them cracked, "Pike couldn't fire up a furnace."
Well, maybe not, but he was certainly eminently Arable. Pike was, in fact, dismissed to appease New York fans who are angry because their city has such a poor team. Admiral John J. Bergen, president of the Rangers and chairman of the board of Madison Square Garden, apparently is not depressed about the Rangers, perhaps because his club plays to a captive audience. (The nearest big league hockey rival is in Boston.) The Rangers charge the highest ticket prices in this country or Canada, and a peculiarity of the National Hockey League is that the home club takes all the receipts for its games. Thus it doesn't worry the Admiral that when his team is on the road it has probably the puniest drawing power of any of the six teams in the league.
The firing of Alfie Pike is not going to tighten Admiral Bergen's ship one bit; but we doubt that he or the Garden Corporation cares whether the Rangers sink or swim as long as the deck is awash with admission money.
The announcement by Sugar Ray Robinson that he intends to fight again gives us a curious little shock of disappointment. For years Robinson has stood far off from failure, examined it and led everyone to believe that he would never be part of it.
Throughout his years, in the ring and out of it, Robinson has been busy building the Robinson illusion. That illusion is a shrewd mixture of Robinson the dancer, Robinson the gag man, Robinson the soft touch, Robinson the boulevardier. But the mixture was always held together by the abilities of Robinson the boxer. He was, as so few boxers ever were, a prize fighter.
Anyone who saw Robinson's recent fights, either in person or on television, came away with the feeling that age had melted away his verve and that the sting was gone from his punches. We hope Robinson hangs up his mittens now. Of all people, he should be able to recognize the fact that the illusion itself is still there, fragile but durable, and probably worth a lot of money in other fields besides boxing. Nothing can really destroy it except two or three bad or embarrassing fights.
PROFIT AND PREJUDICE
George Preston Marshall, the owner of the Washington Redskins, has never employed a Negro football player. Last week, his new landlord (the Interior Department) served notice on Marshall that he would not be allowed to play in the just-completed stadium in Anacostia Park unless he ended discriminatory practices. Asked if Marshall would have to field a Negro player next season to comply, Interior Secretary Stewart L. Udall replied: "I'm not going to sit by an entire season. I may inquire and reach judgment by Oct. 15." That is the tentative date of the Redskins' home opener and dedication of the stadium.
"We have been drafting our players primarily from colleges in the South," Marshall said, "and they don't have Negroes. We have made an effort to appeal for southern business."
Real reason behind Marshall's racial policy may be found in latest population figures for Washington, D.C. which show that more than 50% of the city's population is Negro. Marshall knows that a Negro star on the Redskins would bring out Negro fans by the thousands. He believes this might drive away the hard core of white fans—200% white—he has developed over the years. Worse, his southern TV network might suffer.
Hotels and motels sometimes frown on dogs and even children. So that dogs, at least, may know when they are welcome, the Gaines Dog Research Center has put out a directory entitled Touring with Towser (25¢ postage). It contains the names, addresses and accommodations of 6,000 hotels and motels that allow dogs. There are no stars as in Baedeker, or haute cuisine notations as in the Guide Michelin. But Touring with Towser does give such restrictive warnings about certain places as "small dogs only" and "dogs accepted during annual dog show only." We recommend the directory to tourists who love dogs—and those who hate them.
Minneapolis and St. Paul may be baseball twins, but as cities they are bitter rivals. Now that they are sharing a major league franchise they are jealous of the publicity that will come once the season starts. A grave problem has arisen over whether Minneapolis or St. Paul should come first in the dateline on baseball stories. Mediators recently gathered at A.P. and U.P.I, and arranged for "Minneapolis-St. Paul" to be the dateline for the first half of the season and "St. Paul-Minneapolis" in the second half. The exact changeover days are still to be thrashed out in conference. Fears were expressed in the Twin Cities before the Great Compromise that terse sports copy-desks might chop off one or the other of the rivals in datelines. Now everybody is more or less happy. However, the ball games will be played in Metropolitan Stadium, located in Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb, and patriots in both cities are worrying that the dateline may sooner or later become merely "Bloomington," thus causing confusion with Bloomington, Indiana. If the Twins make a good strong run for the American League pennant it may be necessary to renegotiate Compromise Dateline.
SQUEEZE ON THE PROS
The current college basketball investigation has put the pros in a difficult position, though none of their teams and players are involved. The NBA had scheduled its annual college draft for this Monday. When the news of the fixes broke, NBA owners were strongly inclined to postpone their draft, to avoid choosing players who might later be implicated.
Harlem Globetrotter Owner Abe Saperstein, however, was going right ahead with his plans to set up a new, rival pro league, and was starting to sign players. Caught between Saperstein and the scandal, the NBA decided to go ahead with the draft.
Now, having made their selections, the club owners are sitting around nervously like horseplayers without form sheets, hoping their choices won't be scratched (i.e., jailed) before they are called to the post.
TURNABOUT IN MOSCOW
Mikhail Tal won the chess championship of the world last year (at 23) by decisively beating Mikhail Botvinnik, who had held the title for 11 years. Tal won it by playing a dazzling, imaginative and unorthodox chess that experts said promised a new era—one in which bold sacrifices and daring play would replace the cautious and methodical accuracy of Botvinnik's game. Tal and Botvinnik are currently approaching the mid-point of their return match in Moscow, and while it is too early to do more than guess at the outcome—the match may run 25 games, or two full months—the experts have already been proved correct. Except for one thing.
A new chess era has opened, all right, but it looks as if Botvinnik has become the master of Tal's style of play. They met for the first game at the Variety Theatre in Moscow, with 1,500 spectators cramming the balconies, police pushing back the crowds outside and chess players all over the world discussing and analyzing their games. The crowd was thrilled by the spectacle of Botvinnik, a gray-haired, bespectacled electrical engineer of 49, fluttering and dancing in the breeze of every imaginative inspiration, sacrificing, creating new combinations and freely departing from established practice (much of which he established) with a springtime levity and good nature, while Tal moved woodenly and methodically toward defeat.
Writing in the British publication Chess, Botvinnik recently said that chess is a science and that we shall soon have chess-playing machines. He declared there would be two international championships, one for men and one for robots—"This is not fantasy!" But Botvinnik was ahead in the first week of his return match by playing the least mechanical chess of his long career.
Interest is booming in the eastern U.S. in the 4,000-year-old game of go, which some say was invented by the Chinese Emperor Shun to exercise his son's mind. Whizzes from Japan are scheduled to pay New York City a three-week visit in early April, and a tournament for high-ranking players in the East starts at the Nippon Club on April 22. The winner of the tourney will play for the title of Eastern U.S. Champion (there's no national champion) against the present holder, C. S. Shen, a Formosan studying at the University of Maryland. Shen's likely challenger will be either Kihong Sung, a Korean attending Bates, or Takao Matsuda, a Hawaiian-born commercial artist.
According to Jay Eliasberg, vice-president of the American Go Association, no American stands much chance against the Japanese visitors, all ladies and all pros. They are the Honda sisters, Sachiko and Teruko, and Reiko Kitani. The Honda girls are of the third dan (ninth dan is tops among the pros) and Miss Kitani is of the second. During their American stay the ladies will visit other go hotbeds like Princeton, Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco. America has 5,000 devotees; Japan has 8 million.
Go is played on a cross-ruled board with 19 horizontal and 19 vertical lines. Players take turns placing "stones" (either black or white) on the intersections. The main objective is to acquire territory, the second is to capture pieces—both by encirclement. A game may last as long as 32 hours (with time-outs) and as many as 300 stones may be used. Go is said to be as easy to learn as checkers but it contains all the complexities of a squeeze bunt with men on first and third. Common exclamations by players at the Nippon Club are "Atari!"—meaning something like "Check!"—and "Komatta na!"—meaning "What a mess I'm in." The thumb is not used in placing a stone because it might bump other stones; the forefinger and middle fingers are used. You can always tell a go player, says Mr. Eliasberg, by the way he hands a bus driver a quarter.
THE ACTIVE AMERICAN
Once sports fans were willing to spend many hours in front of their television sets watching baseball games, afternoon or night. Many still do, but not as many as used to. Sponsor, the weekly magazine of TV and radio advertisers, reports that the hunt for sponsors is becoming the advertising agency exercise. Where, previously, two sponsors might split the cost of televising a game, the agencies now have to assemble a whole gaggle of advertisers to get nine innings on the air. Two major league teams have as many as 12 sponsors for their games and many of those that used to have two now have three or four.
While prices for televised baseball are higher, ratings are lower, for these reasons (says Sponsor): "The daytime viewer is playing more golf, boating, hitting the outdoor trail; the nighttime viewer is going out to the trotters, or barbecuing steaks and swatting flies in his backyard." Viewers are also showing interest in other spectator sports: basketball, football, hockey, bowling and even jai alai.
The new major league clubs are considered better buys than the older ones because of the verve in cities which have landed franchises. Such canny characters as Walter O'Malley, Sponsor reports, foresaw the development of new magnets for sporting men. The arrival of the new Yonkers Raceway and the refurbishing of the Roosevelt Raceway were among the reasons the Brooklyn Dodgers became residents of Los Angeles.
Last year 160 stations carried radio broadcasts of daytime baseball on the Mutual network. Forty-five of these have dropped out for 1961. League expansion means there will actually be more baseball available to viewers and listeners this season, but the audience will be spread thinner. Put more brutally, there will be less good baseball this year, and fewer people at home to watch it.
THE REGIMENT'S DISGRACE
The Explorers Club, whose members have been everywhere—the top of "Everest (Sir Edmund Hillary), the bottom of the Pacific Ocean (bathyscaph diver Jacques Piccard) and the White House (Teddy Roosevelt)—held its annual banquet at the Commodore Hotel in New York the other evening. It was evident from the dishes on the buffet table that here, indeed, was a group of men to whom no adventure was too perilous, no risk too great. Spread out in fragrant profusion were platters of fried worms, Alaskan seal flippers, roast monkey, raw calves' eyes, whale steaks, iguana tail, roast South American rodent, fried grasshoppers, fillet of boa constrictor and other toothsome hors d'oeuvres. The Explorers plunged into the delicacies with the courage of, well, Explorers. To a visitor, they seemed to have done handsomely—but after dinner, one of the club's officials rose and, sweeping the room with a truly arctic stare, announced that 18 raw calves' eyes had been returned to the kitchen uneaten. No man moved. No man spoke. But over the banquet hall there lay a sense of shame.
The Elite Turf Club in Reno, a licensed book-making establishment, has published a list of odds on this year's baseball races:
Los Angeles 3-1
San Francisco 5-1
St. Louis 6-1
New York 7-10
Baltimore, Chicago 5-1
Minnesota, Detroit 15-1
Boston, Kansas City 50-1
Los Angeles, Washington 200-1
Even in the eyes of a bookmaker, apparently, the National League has the better balance for 1961.