AWAY THEY GO
The New York State harness racing commissioners—Robert Glasser, Spencer Eddy and Jim Farley—are making headlines for themselves. Long after everyone else had recognized that the feud between Yonkers and Roosevelt raceways over the acquisition of foreign horses for their plethora of international championships had assumed absurd and undignified proportions, the commissioners are announcing with pride that they intend to do something about the obvious.
What they will do we do not know, although we'll take even money it isn't much. Another of the commission's plans to help the betting public is to get information on the form of foreign horses so that it can be compared to the form of American horses. But if the commission intends to relate foreign form to American form the public will wind up even more confused than it is.
One thing puzzles us. Why should a politician like Jim Farley, who knows nothing about harness racing and has shown little interest in it, be on the commission, anyway?
April 30, 1961
BUT OF COURSE
This story is being told on the professional golf circuit: Lord Shelton was planning a golfing vacation on which he would stop off and play the famous British courses at St. Andrews, Troon and Muirfield. His friends, however, advised him by all means to definitely play Sandringham. "I shall," said Shelton.
When he arrived at Sandringham, Shelton was amazed at the beauty of the course and the challenge it presented. He entered the clubhouse and asked the clerk if it would be possible to play a round. "Member?" asked the clerk.
"No," said Shelton.
"Guest of a member?"
"Sorry," said the clerk.
As he turned to leave, Shelton spied an elderly man sitting in a stuffed chair in the corner reading The London Times. "I wonder if you would be so kind," inquired Shelton, "as to allow me to play this great course as your guest."
"Name?" said the man.
"Oxford, Eton and Harvard, where I roomed with Kennedy."
"French, Spanish, Russian and fluent Greek."
"The Victoria Cross, The Most Noble Order of the Garter, Croix de Guerre."
"France, Germany, Italy and with Monty in Africa."
The old man raised his right index finger to attract the attention of the clerk and said, "Nine holes."
IN BEHALF OF THE CAPERCAILLIE
On April 16 in Germany, the capercaillie season opened. The capercaillie is a sort of supergrouse that lives in the wooded hills of Europe and Asia. In summer, autumn and winter, no hunter can creep within a half mile of this cagey bird. But during the spring mating season, the capercaillie throws off his caution and struts around the top branches of the Berchtesgaden pine trees, giving a mating call that sounds like the cork popping out of a champagne bottle and ends in a throaty gurgle of anticipated ecstasy.
Like all successful lovers, the capercaillie puts everything he's got into the mating call; and during the buildup and taper-off from the soul-stirring pop-gurgle, his eyes are closed and his ear canals blocked. This is the chance for the hunter to move in. The stalk begins sometimes a full mile from the normally sharp-eyed, sharp-eared capercaillie; and the approach takes on the aura of an opéra bouffe as the hunter charges forward at the first pop, then freezes at the end of the gurgle. It takes the gunner about a half hour of furious starts and stops to get within range, if he gets there at all. And if he hits the bird, his guide will insist that he respect an old tradition by sitting for 15 minutes of reflection and esteem beside the corpse.
Well, O.K. Fifteen minutes is more respect than most corpses get. But there is something decidedly off color about this whole thing. It seems to us that when a guy is perched in life's upper branches, feeling that the world is good now and soon going to get even better, no one but a slob would put the blast on him. We suggest that German hunters stop tampering with the universe, and leave the springtime to its proper pursuits.
At the end of last week Wally Moon of the Los Angeles Dodgers was leading the National League in home runs (eight), runs batted in (14) and batting average (.500). Moon, a left-hander, is the first man since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958 to figure out an effective way to exploit the Wall of China, that short (251 feet from home plate) left-field screen at the Coliseum.
Of Moon's 21 hits this season, seven have cleared the left-field screen and four have gone up against it. He has developed a swing, called the Moonshot (above), which is a little bit of a golf shot, and which enables him to hit the ball to left field with power instead of pulling it to right field, as most left-handed hitters do. "I delay the head of the bat," says Moon, "and still use the same wrist action as I do when pulling the ball. Waiting for the pitch, I hold my hands close to the body. Then I swing out [toward left field] instead of around. I step straight ahead and do not shift my feet toward third as most opposite field hitters do. This is not something I sat down and thought up; it just comes from practice and having the Coliseum as my home park. I began to develop a power swing to left field. So far it doesn't matter if I get an outside or an inside pitch. Actually, I like a pitch right over the plate."
Thus far, the Moonshot is about the only thing that is keeping the Dodgers close to the top of the National League.
Alongside the hole-by-hole scoreboard at the Houston Classic last Friday a note was chalked in under the heading NEWS FLASHES. "Gary Player," said one flash, "fired his caddie at the ninth hole." This was talked about—and up—in the press and at the tourney itself, but the truth is that Player was perfectly justified in his action.
Player's caddie, known simply as Ray, had traveled with him through the latter part of the pro winter tour, and Ray believed that Player was making a mistake in using a George Low mallet-head putter, which Player has been using since February. The putter helped Player to his victory in the Masters and to earnings this year of $45,385. These facts did not change Ray's mind, and his uninvited suggestions began to bother Player, who feared they might have an effect on his play. If the same thing happened to a duffer on a weekend round of golf, the duffer, if not a gentleman, might slug his caddie and, if a gentleman, would most assuredly fire him.
A MAN HAS HIS DAY
We may have stirred up a fuss like the one over whether a baseball really curves or not, or the one over Kempel's mechanical chess player (we go along with Poe's explanation—a tiny man inside). We're referring to the puzzle of whether or not the French poodle Peg is as phenomenally intelligent as the evidence suggests. Last week an article in this magazine by Elisabeth Mann Borgese told about the intellectual feats performed by Peg. Owned and trained by Mrs. Ines Giordano Corridori of Chiari in northern Italy, Peg, among other things, gave the right answer to a square-root problem, spelled out answers to questions and asserted when asked that dogs understand one another by means of "lively movements of the ears."
Professor William R. Thompson of the psychology department of Wesleyan University has some views on Peg. Professor Thompson, co-author of Behavior Genetics—a book about human and animal intelligence and behavior in relation to heredity—says he has never heard of a dog (or ape or porpoise or elephant, for that matter) anywhere near as smart as Peg.
"A dog's intelligence is limited by the size of its brain and the convolutions of the cortex," he told us. "Unless Peg is a mutant, whose intelligence is not limited by these factors, the hypothesis must be accepted that she performs her tricks by means of cues—a body movement, a tap of the foot. There's a possibility that the clues are subliminal—that the owner isn't aware that they're being given. In that case, the explanation would lead into the area of hypersensitive sensory acuity rather than the development of extraordinary reasoning powers. But the revelation of a canine culture by Peg—that dogs understand everything humans say to them, that she believes in God—well, there's an odd pathos to it that makes me suspicious. I'd put my money on responses signaled by cues. The dog is remarkably bright but—let's face it—it has the brain of a dog."
"PLAY THE DEVIL"
Gambling has been one of this country's biggest businesses since the first settlers ventured overseas and cleared the wilderness—quite a gamble, that, too. Before then the American Indians gambled with homemade dice, risking their blankets and wives as well as their shirts. Henry Chafetz, an antiquarian book and print shopkeeper, has written the story of American gambling from the wigwams of the Onondagas to the casinos of Las Vegas. Play the Devil, A History of Gambling in the United States from 1492 to 1950 (published by Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.) makes few moral judgments.
Modern gambling, Mr. Chafetz points out, differs from past efforts mainly in its control by syndicates and combines, patterned on development in other forms of big business. "Before the 20th century," he writes, "the professional gambler was an individualist with nothing in common even with other gamblers except a heartfelt dread of honest toil."
For about 300 years lotteries have been enormously popular and profitable as a means of raising money for public and charitable purposes. They even have been used to help private industries, i.e., grape growing and glass blowing. In 1747 a New York lady suggested a lottery to "provide distressed widows and deserving virgins with husbands." Card games for big stakes started early in American history and went on late. The West was settled not only by men with rifles and courage but by men with cards and chips in their luggage and fraud in their hearts. Sometimes they were sentimental. A gambling house in Helena, Mont. put up a sign reading: DON'T FORGET TO WRITE TO DEAR OLD MOTHER SHE IS THINKING OF YOU. WE FURNISH PAPER AND ENVELOPES FREE, AND HAVE THE BEST WHISKY IN TOWN.
With the growth of American cities and millionaires, gambling became lavish and elegant. Play the Devil has many portraits of kingpin operators, such as Richard Canfield, whose taste in art equaled his passion for money, and Beta-Million Gates, who would bet on the progress of a raindrop down a window-pane as well as that of a horse down the stretch at Saratoga.
As gambling became more and more extravagant it was more and more regulated, and some attempts to outlaw forms of it have from time to time been effective. But it has never successfully been eradicated. Gambling today is probably no more extensive in proportion to the population than it was in colonial times. It differs fundamentally only in its syndicates and combines, and its alliances with the underworld. It was always involved in politics. Mr. Chafetz's book is interesting reading for gambler and reformer alike.
THE INSIDE TRACK
•Edwin Ahlquist, adviser to Ingemar Johansson, still awaiting outcome of Johansson's tax fight with United States, has offered No. 1 Heavyweight Challenger Sonny Liston $125,000 for a fight with Ingemar in Sweden.
•Admiral John Bergen and Madison Square Garden Corporation have not announced a replacement for Ranger Coach Alfie Pike, but the best bet is that Hal Laycoe, a former New York defenseman, will get the job.
•Both the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference are being hit with proposals to keep basketball players from participating in the "borscht circuit," i.e., Catskill Mountains' summer basketball programs. Officials feel young players become easy victims of gamblers in these areas.
•Steve Clark, the Los Altos, California high school swim star who has offers from Stanford, Dartmouth, Amherst and Yale, will pick Yale.