Adman Lee Wilson, whose refreshing treatise A Fast Pitch for a Faster Game appears in this issue, is the sporting world's answer to industry's efficiency experts. Give him a pitcher of martinis and half an hour and he will figure a way to simplify a baseball bat.
It is inaccurate to call Wilson a sportsman. "I am an observer," he corrects, "unless, of course, you care to consider my performance on the golf course. My handicap in golf is the same as it was in football—no guts. On a good day I'll shoot 110. It takes nerve to tee up."
Wilson, who is executive secretary of Detroit's Adcraft Club and an active member of half a dozen public service groups, is nonetheless looked upon as something of an enjoyable kook in Detroit advertising circles. When he gets started on his favorite subject—how to lop dull minutes off a football or baseball game—he is always running his ideas up the flagpole. The problem, he says, is getting people to salute. "My best friends," he laments, "turn away."
Wilson despises the tyranny of time, clocks and deadlines. "Asking Johnny Unitas or Bart Starr to perform by the clock," he says, "is like ordering Picasso to paint a masterpiece by 2 o'clock Tuesday afternoon. Can you imagine the Yankees behind 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth with a man on third and Mickey Mantle at the plate and a timekeeper shoots a gun and the game is over?"
May 12, 1968
Wilson's antipathy for game-ending time limits goes back to Nov. 3, 1951. Michigan's football team had lost a 7-0 heartbreaker to Illinois after a Michigan drive at the end of the first half was stopped—by the clock—on the Illinois nine-yard line. Wilson, despondent, decided the time had come to change the rules. He grabbed a cocktail napkin and began to doodle. He searched the bottoms of several highball glasses for solutions. At last the inspiration came. Henceforth, he decreed, football should be played not in 15-minute quarters but in 12 innings. An inning would consist of one turn at offense for each team.
Having once passed Fritz Crisler, Michigan's athletic director, in a hallway when he was a student at Ann Arbor, the intrepid Wilson went right to the top with his idea. Twelve years later, after Wilson had worn out ears all over Detroit and Ann Arbor, Crisler finally capitulated ("Did it really take that long?" asks Wilson), and in 1963 Michigan's spring intrasquad game was played by innings—12 of them. TV rights were sold to a hot-dog company, and 2,000 fans showed up to watch. The reaction?
"Nothing," says Wilson. "Two thousand fans, a dozen coaches, 60 players, a TV audience—and nothing. Look, they at least said something after the Wright brothers flew that damned airplane 120 feet. They at least said 'so what?' But after all my work nobody even said 'so what?' "
Having had his innings, so to speak, with college football, Wilson turned to improving the sport of baseball (page 54). "That came right off the top of my head, too," he smiles. "I mean, some people have to think of these things or life would be pretty dull."
Wilson has an answer for golf, too. "Practice," he says. "And help. But you know what it takes most of all?" He smiles again, sadly. "Time."