For the first time since World War II both major league pennant races could be determined by military obligations. Before the season ends, 40 top baseball players will have been drafted or will have spent some time training with the armed forces.
The list of players who have been or expect to be called up for two weeks is significant: Pete Richert of the Orioles, Jim Lonborg and Bill Rohr of the Red Sox, Larry Dierker and Joe Morgan of the Astros, Ed Brinkman and Bob Saverine of the Senators, Rod Carew of the Twins, Jim Lefebvre and Don Sutton of the Dodgers and the Cubs' double-play combination of Glenn Beckert and Don Kessinger.
A two-week service stint can be almost as serious for a ballplayer and a ball club as a six-month period. Take, for instance, Tony Conigliaro, who recently returned from two weeks at Camp Drum. When he left Boston he was batting .304. On his return, his timing was off and he managed only three singles in his first 29 at bats. It was his worst slump, and it crimped Boston's first-division hopes.
The Tigers, instead of wringing their hands when Pitcher Mickey Lolich left for his two weeks' training with the Air National Guard last week, sent a catcher along with him and told Lolich to work out for an hour every night. But even this imaginative precaution didn't really solve the immediate problem. With Lolich in service, the normal rotation of the already weak Tiger pitching staff will be badly upset.
Although the Cubs have continued to play well despite the loss of 21-year-old Ken Holtzman—drafted for six months this spring just when he was being heralded as the next Sandy Koufax—their chances of finishing in the first division for the first time since 1946 have to be much less. Holtzman had a 5-0 record at the time of his induction and a 2.33 ERA. Cincinnati, San Francisco and Pittsburgh do not figure to be affected by service obligations, but the contending Cardinals have three players—Tim McCarver, Alex Johnson and Bobby Tolan—who have missed games and will miss several more in meeting Army commitments.
The effects of the draft extend beyond the current season, of course. Clubs now find that high school players are reluctant to sign because they prefer to go to college and gain a draft deferment. Some sign, but only to play bail in the summer recess. Leagues such as the Northern and New York-Penn leagues have cut their schedules to two months because the teams have short rosters.
All of which recalls those other days: gas rationing, swing shifts, Rosie the Riveter and—perish the prospect—the St. Louis Browns.
In the Portuguese colony of Macao, Communist Chinese have been rioting for weeks, plastering up posters everywhere with angry slogans. Last weekend a demonstrator, showing uncommon humor, attached a poster bearing one of the most familiar political phrases—DOWN WITH THE RUNNING DOGS—to the gates of the local dog track.
Opening his mail several weeks ago, Florida State Football Coach Bill Peterson came upon a sample of Astroturf, the plastic grass used in the Houston Astrodome. He fingered it a while and decided that since the Seminoles open their season in Houston on September 15, he would order himself a 7-foot-by-17-foot piece of it. "You hear a lot of things about playing on it—that you can't run fast, that it is slippery, that you come out with fewer knee injuries but more abrasions—so I thought we should find out for ourselves," he says.
The carpet, which cost Peterson $228, is now stretched out in a freshman dressing room where it will remain until fall practice begins. Then Peterson will haul it out and have his backs, pass receivers and linemen practice turning, cutting and charging on it.
Georgia Coach Vince Dooley, whose team will play in the Astrodome later in the season, may also buy a piece of Astroturf. If he does, he will let FSU use it for practice before its game, doubling the area of maneuver. FSU would return the favor later on.
Now if Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Idaho and Memphis State—the other teams that play in Houston this fall—would kick in their share, the carpet might stretch wall to wall.
OLDEST PERMANENT CRAP GAME
In the nave of the Church of All Saints on the banks of the River Ouse in the English Midlands, a group of children gathered on Whit Tuesday to throw dice. Each year the church vicar, clad in his priestly robes, supervises such a sporting contest to meet the terms of a bequest made by a parishioner who died in 1685. A local scholar and philosopher, Dr. Robert Wilde, willed the church $140, the interest on the money to pay for Bibles, which would be given as prizes to children competing in an annual dice game in the 500-year-old Anglican church. In setting the terms, Dr. Wilde was presumably taking a fling at Oliver Cromwell, a former warden of the church who had become the fanatically puritanical ruler of England.
This year, as is the custom, nine boys and nine girls—the oldest of them 12—crouched earnestly around a table inside the church. The children were members of the village churches—Methodist, Church of England, Congregationalist—and the nine with the hottest hands received the Bibles.
"It is not as if we are trying to encourage gambling in the young," said Vicar Ronald Jennings. "After all, there is no risk involved for the children. They are not losing their shirts or anything like that. In fact, you might say our dice game is striking a blow for literacy. According to the terms of the bequest each child in the game must also be able to read."
WHERE THE BOYS ARE
For 50 years some of the best ballplayers in the majors have come out of California. Walter Johnson was from Fuller-ton, and after him there were such as the DiMaggios, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Eddie Mathews. But it took the recent major league free-agent draft to point out how extreme the California-bred trend has become in baseball. Seven of the 20 youngsters selected in the first round were from there. No other state produced more than two. And of the 1,169 players drafted, 290 were from California. New York was second with 72.
Thirty-one of the 170 players holding Kansas City contracts are from California, and nine of the 25 men on the Astros' roster are from there. Not coincidentally, a quarter of Houston's scouts work exclusively in the state.
The weather that permits year-round baseball, the heavy stress on athletics in schools and the large population are the most obvious causes of the baseball bounty. Al Campanis, the Dodgers' Director of Scouting, says, "High school and college competition is fantastic. Most teams play 40 or more games in school, and then those same kids play on weekends the year round. My son [Dodger Catcher Jim Campanis] is an example. I doubt very much if he'd be in the majors today if we had not moved here 10 years ago. He eliminated his weaknesses with constant competition. I don't believe he could have accelerated his self-development that much in New York." Campanis does not believe the natural attributes of California ballplayers are superior, only that they are "smoother, more adept, better schooled and much fancier. There's no more raw talent, but it certainly gets a higher polish."
From baseball's point of view, there is only one disenchanting element in this latter-day diamond rush. "California players," said one club official, "have an inflated idea of their value."
TEAMING UP FOR TV
Wearing Olympic-style blazers, a team of shopkeepers and clerks from the town of Bridlington in Yorkshire set off recently to represent England in Europe's latest sporting craze. Eurovision, the TV network that links Britain and the Continent, has introduced a show that pits teams from villages in England, France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany in such manly jousts as racing with iced cakes along greased conveyor belts. Last week 40 million viewers watched an event that called for teams to run across a ring and pop a balloon that was guarded by a French heifer.
The English, sadly, finished last, but a BBC official excused their performance saying, "The British man in the street is not very keen on fighting animals." Next, the village of Lytham Saint Anne's will try to recoup English honor by roller-skating over seesaws with trays of glasses. The Euro-Cup Finals are scheduled for September in West Germany.
FURTHERING THE GREEN
A bill to legalize flat racing is pending in the Pennsylvania legislature and is expected to be approved within a fortnight. It is the old story of a state looking for a painless way to balance its books (and in this case, to avoid an income tax) and picking horse racing to be the patsy.
What makes the Pennsylvania bill unusually controversial is the effect it would have in diluting the already marginal quality of racing in the neighboring states of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia. The area is saturated with Thoroughbred tracks—there are 18 operating 1,320 days a year. Now Pennsylvania proposes setting up four new tracks. The competition among the existing meetings for horses has already spread the talent much too thin. Last week Ted McLean, vice-president of Delaware Park, one of the best tracks in the five-state area, said, "We're loaded with manes and tails, but that's all you can say about them."
Advocates of the Pennsylvania bill argue—not without cause—that Pennsylvanians should be able to enjoy the sport at home, and that neighboring states have, for years, been collecting millions of dollars in revenue from Pennsylvanians who travel across state lines looking for action. As reasonable as these arguments may be, in this instance the quality of racing as a whole should be considered.
The multiplicity of racetracks has necessitated the multiplication of horses. A track needs 1,200 animals of one kind or another to stage a 30-day meeting. Consequently, horses that would be better left to plow-pulling are jogged off to the breeding barn to provide pari-mutuel fodder.
There are now 20,000 Thoroughbred foals being produced each year in the U.S. Ten years ago there was half that number. In contrast, 5,500 foals are born annually in Britain, 2,600 in France and 450 in Italy. For two centuries these countries have supplied the world with the best Thoroughbred stock. Quality is the prime consideration. In the U.S. political greed, not the breed, threatens to become racing's chief motivation.
If a tax on gambling is to be preferred to other forms of taxation, we suggest that states legalize lotteries or one-armed bandits instead of trying to transform sport into a roulette wheel.
In order to stimulate tourist business and lure people to the Land of Enchantment, as New Mexico calls itself, the Albuquerque Tribune recently offered prizes to citizens who wrote the best letters to out-of-state relatives inviting them for vacations. The contest was officially named "Ask Them for August."
Perhaps to insure entries, the Tribune ruled that a copy of each letter had to be mailed to the contest judges but the original invitation did not have to be sent to the relatives.
THEY SAID IT
•Frank Howard, Clemson football coach, on Bear Bryant: "The Bear's always been ahead of us humans. Even when we started the two-platoon system, he was using three platoons: one on offense, one on defense and one to go to class."
•Abe Martin, TCU athletic director, explaining why he switched the TCU-Texas A&M football game from day to night: "Call it public relations. I didn't want anyone to be mad at us because they couldn't see the Arkansas-Texas game on TV and ours, too. Besides, we stood to lose $20,000 at the gate."