THE FIX THAT WASN'T
The Senate hearings on boxing clarified some issues and confused others. Intentionally or not, they encouraged public suspicion that the Clay-Liston fight was a fix—that the champion threw it.
It is a shrewd observer who suspects every upset in prizefighting, but a callow one who assumes that all upsets are crooked. Neither logic nor evidence supports such cynicism about the Liston-Clay fight. Liston was outboxed and took a thorough beating. He quit on his stool for reasons that will be found only in his strangely confused character. There was very little betting on the fight, and the odds appear to have held steady (at 5 or 6 to 1) for weeks before the match—conclusive evidence that there was no betting coup. Only such a coup could have provided reason for a fix.
Why, then, do so many of prizefighting's followers continue to believe that there was a fix? A big reason is the newspaper reports, in which not all, but not a few, sportswriters sought to justify predictions, made without reservation, that Liston would demolish Clay. Then there was a wonderfully inept radio broadcast in which Clay, light of foot and in full control of the situation, was described repeatedly, from the third round on, as seemingly "running out of gas." In the fifth round Liston was said to be "close to finishing it now." No radio listener got even a hint that Clay was winning until near the very end, when Liston quit. It is small wonder that distorted impressions of the fight persist.
April 13, 1964
All Clay did in this bout was to follow corner instructions to box Liston and stay out of range of his punch—something Floyd Patterson had been too foolishly vainglorious to do in his two brief encounters with the ex-champion.
As for the subsidiary contract giving Liston the right to share in the promotion of Clay's next fight and to pick his opponent, it was nothing more than a transparent (and prudent) subterfuge to get around the World Boxing Association's feckless opposition to return-bout clauses. This issue also was academic—if Liston gets back in shape, fans will demand a return bout and will pay to see it. No other obligation will be required.
The hearings demonstrated in greater detail than was known that Liston was not so much associated as festooned with bosses and hangers-on who might be flatteringly described as dubious characters. The New York and California state commissions were quite right to make it clear that Liston & Co. were unwelcome.
Because of the continuing presence of undesirables in boxing, and because of a series of deplorable accidents in the ring, some want boxing abolished. That we regard as a defeatist and even decadent proposal. We much prefer the Senate subcommittee's recommendation, made here long ago, that a federal boxing commission be established to oversee the sport, deny licenses to crooks or those who associate with them, and establish reasonable safety standards. It is good to see that the New York Boxing Writers' Association, among others, now supports this view, though unfortunate that prizefighting has lacked the will and the way to create its own effective self-government. But that is its history.
AT BAY AND AT BAT
As long as there are nine innings and four quarters and desperate situations in sport there will be a Frank Merriwell. Our nomination for the current reincarnation would be Russell Vollmer of Memphis State.
In the fall of 1962 Vollmer returned a punt 88 yards through a great Ole Miss football team. He was just warming up for that year's Mississippi State game, in which his 73-yard kickoff return started his team on its way to its first victory in 41 tries against a Southeastern Conference opponent. Then last fall, in another Mississippi State game, Vollmer was knocked out of bounds, over a bench, over a restraining wire and into a hospital. Came the second half, and Vollmer raced back onto the field to direct a winning touchdown drive.
Now it is spring, and the baseball season is with us. With two men out, one man on base and Kansas State leading 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Vollmer came to bat. What did he hit? He hit a home run, naturally.
Four days later the situation was reversed. Memphis State had the ninth-inning, two-out lead. A University of Kansas batter was up, and he had Vollmer's Merriwell gleam in his eye. He would hit a home run, he thought, and win the ball game. And he actually did hit what looked for all the world like a home run.
But there in the outfield was Russell Vollmer, running through a stream, up a steep hill and way, way back. He made the catch.
THE METS THINK BIG
Carried away, no doubt, by the heady excitement of the neighboring World's Fair, the New York Mets have come up with a seven-story gimmick—a sing-along scoreboard—to attract nocturnal Fairgoers to new Shea Stadium. Situated in right field in full view of the fair, the board will flash song lyrics to the fans in the park. Simultaneously, a gigantic band shell behind the board will cast a rhythmic glow over Shea Stadium and surrounding Flushing Meadow. As if this were not enough, the shell will change colors like an electronic chameleon as the notes of a song slide up and down the scale, from a high-C red to a blue bass. Atop scoreboard and shell will be a separate movie screen to project to the fans an 18-foot-by-24-foot color close-up of a player as he takes his turn at bat. The Mets, the sign sponsor (Rheingold) and the sign's designer (General Indicator of New York) all deny that batters will be distracted by the pulsating colossus in right field. The sing-alongs and the color screen will be used only to warm up the crowds before gametime or to amuse them when play is delayed by rain. The movie screen can be used to show sports films or, appropriately enough, cartoons. And it is good to know that this million-dollar baby can keep score, too.
SQUARING THE DEAL
The casinos of Las Vegas, hard-pressed by disciples of Dr. Edward O. Thorp and his IBM 704 computer, changed the rules of blackjack on April Fool's Day in a desperate effort to restore the modest edge they once enjoyed so profitably. Dr. Thorp's book, Beat the Dealer (SI, Jan. 13), had armed rustics with an irresistible mathematical formula by which the game could be beaten. Furthermore, they were beating it.
To counter them, the casinos now have barred such ploys as the doubling of bets on anything but a two-card 11 and the splitting of aces (northern Nevada casinos have long had their own similar house-favoring variations on the rules). The idea was to restore the casinos' usual advantage of 2% to 5%.
Casino operators may be surprised to learn that, according to Dr. Thorp, who is an associate professor of mathematics at New Mexico State University and is some $25,000 ahead of the game, it will not work.
"These new rules," he said happily, "show that the casino owners still do not understand the system."
The only way to beat the system, he suggested, is to ban blackjack.
Though Pitcher Russ Kemmerer, 32, and Outfielder Carroll Hardy, 30, finished the 1963 season in the minor leagues, the desperate Houston Colts invited them to spring training. They were in a melancholy mood the other day as they watched a billiard game in the Colts' recreation room.
"The day of the minor leaguer, of the fellow who played baseball because he loved it, is gone forever," Hardy said. "Now you either make it to the majors in two years or you quit. Whenever a choice has to be made they send the older guy out and keep the kid. It used to be the other way around."
"If it had been like this when I came up," Kemmerer agreed, "I'd have made the majors three years sooner. When I broke in with the Red Sox they had pitchers like Willard Nixon and Bob Porterfield, who were hurt and hadn't been pitching much. But they kept them, because they would rather wait for an experienced pitcher to get well than take a chance on a young one."
"If you don't like it you can quit," Hardy said. "In fact, they hope that you do quit, to make room for more kids."
Kemmerer had a 6-2 record last year at Oklahoma City.
"Pitchers seem to have the best chance of coming back," he observed, "and I might get another shot. Anyway, you never quit hoping."
"I have," Hardy said. "I've quit hoping."
ONE DOUBLE IS PLENTY
At two of Miami's big racetracks, Tropical Park and Gulfstream, the twin double was introduced this year with considerable (financial) success. At Tropical the handle jumped 5%, and at the current Gulfstream meeting it is up 13%. Hialeah held out against the innovation. Now we hear that, despite mounting pressure, Hialeah will again reject the twin double next winter. The reason: the men who run the track are convinced that this form of betting is contrary to the best interests of the sport.
Hooray for Hialeah.
THE PLAYING FIELDS OF WEST POINT
One of the last services General Douglas MacArthur performed for his country was an attempt to resolve the differences between the AAU and the NCAA. President Kennedy had foreseen that their war would jeopardize U.S. teams and individual athletes in international competition.
The general made progress, later pretty much dissipated in continued bickering between the two organizations. An excellent memorial would be a resolution of these differences, especially in honor of a gentleman who wrote these lines, inscribed on the gymnasium wall at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point:
Upon the fields of friendly strife
Are sown the seeds
That, upon other fields, on other days,
Will bear the fruits of victory.
INVITATION TO A CHRISTENING
Rumored for months, it is now a fact. With the election of the University of Oregon and Oregon State to membership, the old Pacific Coast Conference, destroyed by intrigue and jealousy in 1959' has been restored as the Athletic Association of Western Universities. Only Idaho is missing—and will not be missed.
The decision makes both Oregons eligible for a share of the $1 million-plus fee realized each year from the Rose Bowl game. It also means that it would be possible for either Oregon or Oregon State to be in the game next January, since the pact calls for a "representative team," which would not necessarily be the champion.
There is, however, a problem in nomenclature. The conference cannot be called the Big Eight because another conference is so named. The initials AAWU, as well as the spelled-out name, are clumsy—the initials especially sounding like a cross between an organization for alcoholics and a telegraph service. What, one asks, would be wrong with calling it the PCC, or Pacific Coast Conference?
There will be new faces among the Los Angeles Lakers next season and, it begins to appear, one of them will be that of Walt Hazzard, All-America guard from UCLA and NCAA basketball Player of the Year. Laker officials are making no outright declaration that they will draft Hazzard as a territorial late this month, but that is the way to bet.
No more than four of the current Lakers are sure of a place on the club next season. They are the two untouchables, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, plus Rudy La Russo and the rookie guard, Jim King. It would not be surprising if every other member of the club were sold or retired by the start of the National Basketball Association season next fall.
An angler worth his bait knows that he will fill his stringer in the spring most quickly by finding a spawning bed as soon as his quarry finds it. After years of research, Andrew Hulsey, Arkansas Fisheries biologist, has laid down some precise rules for that. Here they are:
White bass spawn when water temperature is 55° to 60° at the first couple of shoals up the inlets of deep lakes; crappie like 60° in shallow water at the edge of lakes; when the water is 62° look for black bass in clear water at depths of three to six feet; bream want the temperature from 65° up, in water from one to six feet deep. Catfish? Seventy-five degrees and up, in shallow water.
As for Hulsey, when he goes fishing he tends to follow rules passed on to him by sages during his boyhood in Mount Ida. Like "When the dogwood blooms, the white bass spawn."
Speaking of fitness, the President's Council on same put out a 35¢ booklet seven months ago called Adult Physical Fitness, Despite that snappy title it has sold well over half a million copies. Now the Council, aware that "the average high school student spends 15 to 30 hours a week watching television and only two hours a week in organized play or exercise," is publishing similar books for teenagers, one called Vim, for girls, the other called Vigor for boys, each priced at 25¢. All three books can be purchased from the U.S. Government Printing Office in Washington, D.C.
LIGHT THAT FAILED
The State of Washington is planning an interstate highway that includes a long dark culvert at one point. The State Department of Fisheries wants the culvert to be lighted so that fish can find their way through. Highway officials think this is pretty silly.
"Fish won't swim through if it is dark," argued Jerry Ward of the fisheries department. "Ridiculous," said Highway Commissioner George Zahn. "Some biologist better have a pretty darn good explanation, if you ask me."
So Ward explained. Anadromous fish, like salmon, rest at night in deep pools and do not swim at all in complete darkness. A long dark culvert under a wide highway would stop their movement up or down stream as surely as a cement wall. The request for lighting in the culvert, to be turned on during the day, is eminently reasonable. Fish just do not go for tunnels of love.
THEY SAID IT
•Tommy Jacobs, golf pro, after missing a three-foot putt at the Greater Greensboro Open tournament: "Six inches from the hole the ball made a U-turn and never even stuck out its hand."
•Dick Farrell, conceding that the 32° Florida temperature might have helped his three-hit pitching for Houston: "It was so cold that ice was forming on my spitter."