SAY IT ISN'T SO
To the Columbia Broadcasting System, which put up less than 2% of its 1963 revenue to buy 80% of the New York Yankees (see page 12), the transaction may have been a piddling deal, financially speaking. To the sports fan the implications are far from trivial.
There is no question that television can be, and to a great extent has been, a friend of the fan. Certainly it has vastly expanded the sporting horizons of the entire nation. But when it controls sport it ruins it. Only a few years ago it took over boxing, saturated the nation's screens with it and, once it was no longer profitable, abandoned it. It will be years before boxing climbs back.
We are already nervous about the grip TV is acquiring on professional football, but the grip has at least been less than outright ownership. (Up to now, that is.) We are apprehensive because a sport controlled by TV could evolve into a tasteless form of entertainment. The distinction between sport and entertainment may not be apparent to the world of show business but it is to us. And if you want to sense the distinction, watch The Beverly Hillbillies some night and then watch a baseball game.
August 23, 1964
The fact is that the television industry has yet to establish that it cares a whit about the integrity of the sports it presents—whether professional wrestling or prizefighting. Nor have the quiz scandals of a few years ago been altogether forgotten. Entrust baseball to such an environment? Say it isn't so.
The very manner in which the sale was rammed through in a secret power play, involving a previously mysterious extension of Ford Frick's tenure as baseball commissioner (Ford said yes again), gives no occasion for confidence in the American League's new look. Arthur Allyn, owner of the Chicago White Sox and one of the two American League owners to vote against the sale, holds, in fact, that league approval of the sale was "illegal under our constitution," which requires "a unanimous vote on a vote by telephone, a unanimous vote on a vote by telegraph and three days' notice on any vote unless there is unanimous consent to consider the question." None of these conditions were fulfilled.
To be sure, there is nothing new about the involvement of TV interests in baseball. On regional or statewide scales such interests are involved in the Detroit Tigers, the Houston Colts and the Los Angeles Angels. But none of these are to be compared with the magnitude of CBS and none of their teams are to be compared with the Yankees.
The Yankees have long dominated the American League, in part because they draw so well on the road—they have pulled many lesser teams out of financial holes. Now, it would seem, CBS must dominate the league.
If TV ownership of the Yankees is proper, what would be wrong with CBS and other networks bidding for the best hockey teams, the best basketball teams and the best pro football teams? What would be wrong then with show business taking over all profitable aspects of sport? One thing that would be wrong is that sport might well end up where Milton Berle and boxing are now.
One must wonder, too, what effect this arrangement will have on other tenants of Yankee Stadium. Would CBS refuse to rent out the Stadium for a heavyweight championship fight unless it were given the broadcasting rights? It very well could. How much would CBS have to say about pro football teams anxious to play in the Stadium? Quite a bit.
It is reasonably apparent, though denied, that one of the network's motivations in buying the Yankees derived from a farsighted look at pay television, which already is peddling baseball on the West Coast. In a dominant position in the American League, CBS will be in fine shape to bat from either side of the plate, pay or free. It could just about tell the league what to do when the question arises. And it could leave pay TV holding the Mets.
The only good thing about the sale is that it does not become final until November. Much could happen in the meantime. The rumbles of angry reaction are already being heard—in Congress and in baseball itself. Thus, Roy Hofheinz, president of the National League's Houston Colt .45s, called for opposition by "every ballplayer, fan, baseball club owner, Congressman and Senator," both on grounds of financial self-interest and ethical considerations.
"The fight has just begun," Hofheinz said. "It should be carried to every form and every level to assure American baseball fans the continuation of baseball as a sport and not as a show or a Madison Avenue production."
That prolonged applause is coming from these bleachers.
When the third—and present—Madison Square Garden was built in 1925, the architects were embarrassed to discover that they had not allowed for a lobby. When Boston Garden—patterned after Madison Square—was built in 1928, it was discovered just in time that there were no provisions for ticket wickets.
Now the new multimillion-dollar fourth Madison Square Garden is awaiting construction on the site of Pennsylvania Station. Plans, you may be sure, call for a lobby and ticket wickets.
No press box, though.
VERY FUNNY, BIBB
Among the businessmen of Lawrence, Kans., site of the University of Kansas, sports are no laughing matter. Sport, in fact, is venerated there. So, at a recent luncheon meeting in Lawrence, Rotarians scarcely knew whether to laugh or not when James Bibb, the state's budget director, suggested that the university system be expanded to include a School for Professional Athletes. Serving the same purpose as a school of law or a school of medicine, Bibb said, it would "insure proper preparation of the athlete for his future job." Eight of the 10 schools that make up the university, he pointed out, are geared to prepare their graduates for specific jobs. A school for pros, he observed, would fill an obvious gap.
It would also, he went on in the face of many a glower, just about eliminate losses of athletes because of scholastic ineligibility. There would be few failures in such courses as Free Throwing or Running the Split T. And it was unlikely, he said, that Kansas would have lost two of its greatest basketball players, Wilt Chamberlain and Wayne Hightower, if a School for Professional Athletes had been in existence at the time they left Kansas, each with eligibility remaining.
There was a smattering of polite applause.
BREAK UP THE PERCENTAGES
The iconoclastic discoveries of Earnshaw Cook, the Baltimore engineer whose study of baseball produced such frightening contradictions of cherished theory (SI, March 23), are now available in book form—Percentage Baseball, Waverly Press, Inc., Baltimore, $10.50. In it he repeats what he told SI readers (the sacrifice bunt should never be used, relief pitchers should start and all that) but in rather more scholarly terms.
Meanwhile, things have been happening which portend that Cook, hooted at for his claims, may yet have a revolutionary impact on the game. Two National League clubs have approached him for more information. And Cook is meeting this week with Richard E. True-man, an operations research scientist from Woodland Hills, Calif., who also has been analyzing baseball strategy. Operating independently of Cook, he has come to quite similar conclusions. Baseball's long-fancied "scientific" percentage game is beginning to look more and more like superstition.
THE RUSSIAN TROT
Bill Fleming, a North Carolina harness driver, took his trotter, Apex Hanover, to Moscow to compete in the 10,000-ruble Stakes for Peace Trot. He is now back in the U.S. without the horse and without any part of the winner's purse he won. He also has a feeling that it is difficult to coexist with the Russians.
"I had to start 27 yards behind the six Russian horses in each of the three heats," Fleming said. "The first heat I fooled them by slipping through on the inside and winning by a length. But in the next two heats they ganged up on me. When I came outside, they bunched up and carried me six wide. I nearly got pushed off the track."
Furthermore, the Russian drivers seemed to Fleming to be swapping signals. But he managed to get Apex Hanover, regarded as a mediocre trotter in this country, to the wire second in both final heats and win the series in overall time. The Russians decided that if they could not beat Apex Hanover, they could buy him for breeding purposes. They traded seven Russian yearling trotters for him.
The first American harness driver to compete in Russia since the revolution of 1917, Fleming had to deposit some of his winnings in a bank in case he accepted a Russian invitation to race again next year. Because of currency restrictions he and his wife spent the rest on Persian lamb hats, watches, perfumes, glasses and jewelry.
SANITATION IS FOR THE BIRDS
In well-manicured forests of the Northwest, especially on tree farms, there has been practiced for several decades what is called "forest sanitation." This involves the removal of dead snags and limbs, the cutting away of thickets and the cleaning out of underbrush and unwanted tree species. In the end one has a "sanitary forest," which appears, on the surface, to be highly efficient.
Unfortunately, time has proved that a sanitary forest is very prone to insect-borne disease. Dirty forests are much healthier. The old-fashioned, cluttered forest is a fine habitat for birds. The new one offers them no shelter. Insects multiply to the maximum, and the forest grows sick. One swallow eats a minimum of 500 flying insects every day. A redstart pair feeds its young from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., approximately every five minutes, for a minimum of 1,200 crawling and flying bugs a day.
The simple, modern way to get rid of the insects would be to spray the forests with insecticides, but the Washington State Department of Natural Resources never has believed, praise be, in large-scale use of sprays and now is helping the birds. It is an old idea in Europe, where the tidy forests of Bavaria have been kept disease-free for 40 years by encouraging birds to live in them. Now in Capitol Forest, southwest of Olympia, Hubert Hoffman, a German immigrant who has been a state forester for the past five years, is well launched on a four-year plan to bring the birds back to the forests. Inmates of the state's youth honor camps are busy building birdhouses from scrap wood.
"The whole project so far has cost less than the price of five pounds of spray," says Hoffman, who has been assisted by the Olympia Audubon Society, Boy Scouts and conservation groups. "This thing you say about 'eating like a bird!' They eat like wolves."
After all these years of Pinellis, Berras, Antonellis, Lazzeris, Crosettis, Colavitos and Amalfitanos—not to mention a couple of DiMaggios—it has at last occurred to the Cincinnati Reds that Italians can play baseball. While other teams plow the recruiting areas of the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada and to a trifling extent Japan, the Reds are going directly to the source of all these sons of Italy, to Italy itself. Reno DeBenedetti, who had a cup of instant coffee with Pittsburgh's Pirates in 1949 and since has been an insurance salesman and Cincy scout, is spending six weeks in Italy to establish what is intended to be the first of a series of baseball schools.
Italian kids will be told how much money Joe DiMaggio made. Using this as inspiration, the Reds expect that in five years, perhaps, they will start to bring their paisanos to the U.S. and may even change their name to the Cincinnati Romans.
THEY SAID IT
•John Bridgers, Baylor football coach, on his school's hopes for its first Southwest Conference football championship since 1924: "It took Moses 40 years to lead the children of Israel out of the wilderness. Our goal is just to tie him; we can't beat him."
•Gene Oliver, Milwaukee infielder, explaining how the Braves beat the Dodgers' Don Drysdale, whom they accused of throwing a spitter: "We hit the dry side of the ball."
•Pepper Martin, ex-Cardinal third baseman, after hearing a speech by Houston Colt .45 President Roy Hofheinz: "He is such an eloquent talker he reminds me of Branch Rickey and Daniel Webster."