THE NATIONAL GAME
This is an article from the Dec. 18, 1961 issue
A number of people, some of them distinguished, are trumpeting the claim that pro football is replacing baseball as the national game. Branch Rickey, for one, a brilliant baseball figure but evidently a disenchanted one, has taken the new position. Oliver Kuechle, the respected sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal, recently told a convention of newspaper brasshats: "Baseball is a moribund sport, and football, specifically pro football, will shortly become our national pastime." Perhaps bedazzled by the strong light coming from Green Bay, 100 miles to the north, Kuechle predicted that pro football will expand its league schedule, play midweek games and knock baseball all but out of the box in a mere 10 or 20 years. George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins, takes a predictably similar position.
Sorry, but we are not quite ready to attend the last rites of the great game of baseball. There is plenty of evidence that the corpse is still lively. Television ratings (admittedly slippery items to deal with) show that the average weekend World Series game pulls 5 million more viewers than the average National Football League championship game. Furthermore, there are some tiny seeds of apathy growing in football's garden, although you'd never get a pro football booster to admit it. In Washington, for example, Mr. Marshall's Redskins have excited no citywide swell of enthusiasm, and are considered far more inept, in their own league, than baseball's Kansas City A's or Philadelphia Phillies in theirs. To be sure, baseball has suffered recently from money-grubbing tactics by its owners. But football owners are not in business for their health, either, and their tendency to write schedules which artificially guarantee climactic game after climactic game eventually will begin to wear thin with the fans.
So for all those polemicists on each side, we offer a palatable compromise. Pro football, for four months of the year, is the national game. But baseball remains the national game for 12.
We await word from the horseplayers.
It's not a new joke, but we admire President Kennedy's finesse in working it into a speech before the AFL-CIO in Bal Harbour, Fla. "I am delighted to be here with you and with the Secretary of Labor, Arthur Goldberg," the President said. "I was up in New York stressing physical fitness, and in line with that Arthur went over with a group to Switzerland to climb some mountains there. They all got up, but when they all came back at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, he didn't come back with them.
"They sent out search parties, and there was no sign of him that afternoon or night. The next day the Red Cross went out and around calling 'Goldberg! Goldberg! It's the Red Cross!"
"Then this voice came down the mountain: 'I gave at the office.' "
THE THANKS YOU GET
The Pennsylvania Fish Commission may be excused if it comes to the conclusion that some anglers are not worth helping. Recently a mining company pumped toxic waste into the north branch of the Susquehanna River, killing I 16,280 bass and walleyes and ruining the stream for at least three years (SI, Nov. 6). Instead of twiddling its thumbs in the manner of some fish commissions, the Pennsylvania group landed on the mining company with every legal means at its command and intends to bill it for the exact amount offish killed.
For its pains, the commission now finds itself inundated with demands by Susquehanna anglers for refunds of their license fees. We admire Executive Director Albert Day's forthright stand on this matter, too. He told the anglers, in a nice way, to go whistle up a rainspout. "The position which you appear to take," he wrote each fisherman, "is that the unfortunate disaster can in some strange fashion be improved by financially penalizing the agency that has been working tirelessly to force those who are responsible for the tragedy to repair their damage to the river." He returned all the licenses and denied all the refunds. A tough cookie, Albert Day, and Pennsylvania is lucky to have him around.
DEATH OF POOL
The image-makers are moving in on another sport. This time it's pool—oops, we mean pocket billiards. The agency that will reshape pool in the national consciousness calls itself the Billiard Room Proprietors Association of America. Get a load of a few of the things the BRPAA intends to do:
"Cooperate fully with civic and law enforcement officials and agencies in every manner possible to solve a major problem of today's youth—what to do with leisure time.
"Maintain uniformly high standards of conduct and deportment and provide a wholesome recreational atmosphere at all times."
If that isn't enough to turn your stomach, here's the clincher: BRPAA will attempt to "attract potential women players to the game." In this connection the new organization is already gloating over widely printed newspaper pictures of Queen Mother Elizabeth wielding a cue at London's Press Club.
To all of this nonsense, we say: BRPAA, go home. Or go out and organize the Tiddly-Winkers. Let pool alone. Pool is the last refuge of the harassed male. The pool hall is the last place you can tell a gamy joke without lowering your voice. It is the last place you can tell a guy what you really think of him and then whip him on the table at a nickel a ball. Pool shooters don't want "a wholesome recreational atmosphere at all times." They revel in the thick pall of blue smoke and the shiny spittoons and the seedy hustlers and bums sitting around lending local color.
We realize, alas, that the press agents probably will prevail. Just as they changed bowling alleys to lanes and gutters to channels, they will change pool halls to "billiard rooms" and cue sticks to "directional rods" and cue balls to "primary spheres." We can see their slogan of the future already:
"Fight juvenile delinquency! Take a child to a billiard room today." A catastrophe has befallen a grand old game.
Clarence Campbell, the president of the National Hockey League, last week suspended George Hayes, a linesman of 16 years' standing, for riding in coaches, billing the league for Pullman fare and pocketing the difference. The case brought to light once again that the NHL owners are as cheap a bunch as can be found anywhere in sports. Hayes was paid about $40 a game by the NHL and his seasonal salary came to about $4,400. This figure is the highest paid to any linesman in the NHL. Most of them make between $2,500 and $3,000, hardly commensurate with the NHL's profits.
In suspending Hayes, Campbell said, "We want officials who are fit and in proper condition to work." We suggest to Campbell and the owners of "big league" hockey clubs that the first step in achieving this laudable aim would be to pay fitting and proper salaries.
HEARTY PERENNIAL POACHER
James Hawker, an appropriately named Englishman, started poaching in the rural Midlands in 1850 when he was 14. He continued poaching until a few months before his death in 1921. Hawker's reminiscences now have been published in England under the title A Victorian Poacher (Oxford University Press). A tailor's son, he earned a bad living as a cobbler but did all right as a poacher. Although he probably never heard of Karl Marx, Hawker personified the class struggle. He called the landed gentry the Class, and took delight in evening up scores with them in Leicestershire.
Hawker wore a long covert coat that came down over his legs and contained secret pockets to hide hares and pheasants. He walked with a slight limp, not because he was lame, but because a sawed-off rifle was usually in his trouser leg. Drink, he felt, was a curse. He once laid out a batch of raisins soaked in rum or gin and quickly caught a score of pheasants as they stumbled along in the woods. He said sternly to the boy he was teaching to poach: "Now, young master, you see what drink does to you."
The penalty for poaching was 14 years' transportation to the colonies and although Hawker was sometimes caught, he managed to escape frequently, for he was a fleet runner as well as a good shot. He maintained "no man has been in more Danger and Suffered less than I have done." He lost only one rifle and one net in his 70 years as a poacher and got plenty of fresh air as well as game. There were some hardships. "Nothing smells worse than Rabbetts," Hawker wrote. He learned a lot about animals and claimed the fox was among the laziest of all. He regarded the stoat as the sanitary officer of the woods, keeping down the population of diseased rabbits.
Poverty, Hawker claimed, made him a poacher: "With respect to a bit of meat, I never se any the First 10 years of my Life, only on Sunday." He defended poaching as a right and an art and his maxim for aspiring poachers was "Never do anything at Random."
THE INSIDE TRACK
•Watch for Avelino Gomez, long regarded as the best jockey in Canada, to emerge as one of the top U.S. jockeys this winter. In his first stakes race in this country in 10 years, he won last Saturday's Dade Metropolitan Handicap at Tropical Park with a 16-to-1 shot. Gomez, a hawk-faced Cuban, has ridden many of the top Canadian horses of recent seasons and in 1960 won with a third of his mounts. American jockeys who have ridden against him in Canadian stakes races maintain that he is an uncanny judge of pace and that he is not fearful of sending his mounts through tight openings.
•The gate at the Sonny Liston-Albert Westphal fight in Philadelphia, announced as only 2,432, was held down by two of the city's biggest papers, the Inquirer and News (combined circulation 889,658). Editors met weeks before the fight and decided not to take any part in publicizing it. They felt that Liston's arrest record makes him the type of person who should not be held in esteem by the youth of Philadelphia.
•Vanderbilt, the "Ivy League School of the South," may revise its football program to regain its onetime stature as a national power. The athletic council is toying with the idea of providing a special football dormitory and increasing the yearly athletic scholarship allotment by 50%.
•The National Hockey League may expand to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Present plans call for the expansion to become effective in 1965.
THE GOLDEN MEAN
The American Bowling Congress has worn out a few computing machines to determine that ABC league members last year knocked down 76 billion pins weighing 250 billion pounds. Of more interest to the bowling bowler, however, is the figure 153.968, which the ABC says is the exact average score rolled by the 4 million ABC members. Al Matzelle, ABC assistant secretary, observes: "You'll find a lot of company at 153."
The All-America football teams get curiouser and curiouser. Take the case of Alex Kroll, center on the strong Rutgers team. Ever since last spring he has been publicized by Rutgers as an "All-America center," although he was no such thing last year. Rutgers went undefeated and got a lot of space and, naturally, the "All-America" center was mentioned often.
The result of all this exposure was Kroll's selection as first-string All-America on just about everybody's team—including A.P., U.P.I., N.E.A., the American Football Coaches Association and Look magazine. We don't blame all these people for selecting Kroll—how can you evaluate some 20,000 college football players without relying on their publicity through the season? We merely want to call their attention to another "all" team, this one the All-conference team selected by the Middle Atlantic Conference, the league that includes Bucknell, Delaware, Lafayette, Lehigh and, of course, Rutgers. These teams have been banging heads with Rutgers all year long, and they know Kroll pretty well. They list him only as "honorable mention," after two other centers.
Kenneth Tertipes, a New Mexican wrestling fan, purchased a ringside seat at a place called the Sports-A-Torium, in Albuquerque, to see Juan (El Toro) Garcia engage Terrible Tom Tomasos. Avidly watching the match, Tertipes suddenly found the 240-pound body of Terrible Tom deposited in his lap.
Now Kenneth Tertipes, ex-wrestling fan, has brought suit for $9,000 damages. In the complaint, the wrestlers are called behemoths. The plaintiff appears to feel that the behemoths were guilty of carelessness and negligence beyond the call of wrestling duty. The document states that Tertipes believes Terrible Tom's body hit the ring ropes, a steel ring post collapsed, and all this caused Terrible Tom's body to fall into plaintiff's lap. Sadly Tertipes adds that he doesn't think he can take any more of the "new rough wrestling." Perhaps some of the $9,000 he wants will compensate him for this mental deprivation—if the judge gives him the legal fall.
ONE STEP TOO MANY
The Eastern College Athletic Conference, largest of the collegiate groups with 134 schools, has taken steps aimed at preventing basketball scandals—or, for that matter, any sports scandals. We applaud their actions—all but one.
Following what is apparently a nationwide trend, the conference has banned participation by its players in summer basketball leagues in camps, playgrounds and resort areas. The theory behind this move is that youngsters are apt to meet undesirable characters in such competition.
In the first place, college officials have absolutely no right to tell a student what he may not do during his summer vacation, except to insist that he remain an amateur if he intends to continue playing for his school. Second, the recent basketball fixes prove that many of the players who took bribes to shave points were reached right on their college campuses. Finally, the vast majority of summer leagues serve highly creditable purposes. They provide wholesome activity for thousands of college and pre-college youngsters who are at loose ends for several months. They provide the opportunity for players to improve their skills under the guidance of expert coaches who often donate their services without pay. They provide pleasure for thousands of spectators, nearly always without admission fees.
The ban is an attempt to direct public attention from the problems colleges face in their own backyards. It should be stricken.