At midseason only eight of the 20 major league baseball teams had shown increases in attendance over last year. Cleveland was up the most, 25%, partly because it could hardly have failed to improve on last year, when there was talk of moving the franchise. Boston, reaping the residual benefits of its championship, was up 19%, and Minnesota, Philadelphia, St. Louis, the Mets and the Cubs showed slight gains. Clubs such as Cincinnati (down 36%), the Chicago White Sox (down 31%), Atlanta (down 28%) and Washington (down 17%) have been affected, to a considerable degree, by the location of their stadiums in or near ghetto areas or by the general racial unrest. Baltimore, in seventh place a year ago but in second place now, was down 29%. The Athletics have drawn 36% fewer fans in Oakland than they did last season in Kansas City. In fact, in all of baseball, the only really bright spot was Detroit, up 23% despite the tense mood of the city and an eight-month newspaper strike. The Tigers, on their way to a pennant, expect to draw 1.8 million this season, which would be the second best attendance in club history.
But once baseball's administrators look past that cheery fact, the view is indeed a disturbing one. Their sport is faced in midseason of 1968 with the vanishing hitter (SI, June 17). the vanishing pennant race and the vanishing fan.
Consequently, the quiverings in the pocketbook must have been extreme when both leagues agreed to two-divisional play for 1969. The risk in breaking up old patterns of rivalries is obvious. Now there will be four pennant races instead of two, which ought to double the fun, but will it? The NFL thought so, and much of its regular-season play last year turned out to be a big yawn (Green Bay could have won its division with a 7-5-2 record). One has to wonder about the thrill of the race in the American League's West Division between Minnesota, Chicago, California, Oakland Seattle and Kansas City. Right now Minnesota, with its 41-44 record, would be the leader in that one. Will that pull in the fans? Baseball hopes so. They have to start coming from somewhere.
The Canadian town of Centreville. New Brunswick, which lies on the banks of the narrow Presquile River, moved heaven, earth and finally the Canadian and U.S. governments last week to do something about its polluted water. Dead fish were coming down the river, which rises in Maine and flows through Centreville to the St. John, and maggots crawled over the trout and salmon fry littering the banks. Before a potato processing plant in Maine started spilling excessive waste into the Presquile, it had been a fine fishing stream. Now medical authorities considered it a health hazard. Unable to rouse Canadian or U.S. authorities to anything but routine lethargy, the townspeople, led by a former mayor. Robert Caines, decided to dam the river near the Maine border and let the polluted waters back up into Maine. They bulldozed earth, trees and rocks into the stream, and in two hours the Presquile was blocked. Water backed up nearly a mile into Maine before authorities took any action. "I thought they would have been down here to keep us from damming the stream," Caines said. Something had to be done. I don't think there is a fish alive there now due to pollution."
Within 24 hours the attorney general of Maine was investigating the factory causing the pollution of the Presquile. And at week's end the Canadian minister of resources declared, "We have been in contact with the United States Government on this matter and have been given assurance that effective measures are being taken."
Confident that their problem is now getting a hearing, Centreville has broken down its dam and is allowing the tainted Presquile to flow again. It might be wise, however, for the townspeople to keep their bulldozers handy.
As an owner and president of the San Diego expansion team, Buzzie Bavasi had expected to participate in the National League meetings held last week at the Shamrock Hilton in Houston. But while the league was voting to split into two six-team divisions and play a 162-game schedule, Bavasi and the owners of the equally new Montreal franchise were left standing in a hallway. They were not even invited to break bread with the other owners. "We learned that our $10 million admission fee didn't include lunch," Bavasi said.
HIGH OLD TIME
As a publicity gag it probably was inevitable, but it was hard to top. The press and TV gathered at New York's Summit hotel last week to watch a mountain climber rappel down the sheer marble face of the building. To the publicity-conscious group of climbers that is heading for 20,000 foot Mount Koh-i-Marchek in Afghanistan, the 220-foot Summit on Lexington Avenue wasn't much of a challenge. The temperature at the peak was a balmy 80°, blizzards were unlikely and no base camp was needed, except the one in the Presidential Suite. Nonetheless, the venture fell flat when the New York police department intervened. Climbing on the Summit, it said, would be illegal on five counts under three laws: penal, health and labor. Furthermore, the police pointed out, the action was scheduled for lunchtime when peak crowds were on the sidewalks.
It's a good thing the Afghans are more sporting.
In the past three weeks the North American Soccer League staked its reputation and won. What reputation? All right, it didn't have much to lose, but by spending $160,000 to import the legendary Pelé and his team, Santos of Brazil, and then being fortunate enough to have two NASL teams defeat the world-class club, America's fledgling league has achieved recognition as something other than utterly minor.
Though Pelé is now past his prime, the Brazilian club had a 54-3 won-lost record for the year, which is a significant measure of its strength.
Santos won four of its exhibition games against NASL clubs—in St. Louis, Kansas City, Washington and Boston. But last week Cleveland edged the Brazilians 2-1 and, when a Santos goal was disallowed near the end of the game, a melee ensued. Pelé tried to take on all the officials and Santos players spat and threw dirt at the fans, which gave the spectators a good feel of gritty, big-time soccer competition.
Two nights later the New York Generals upset Santos 5-3 in Yankee Stadium—with one of the Santos goals being scored inadvertently by a New York player.
The exhibition games have been such a success—drawing 109,882—that the NASL intends to schedule more of them during the regular season. The hope is that the games will carry NASL teams financially until the league games can generate the same level of interest.
The Fort Lauderdale Yankees of the Florida State League had 22 games rained out last month. In one stretch the team was rained out on eight consecutive days in four different cities.
Grasping for any lifesaver. General Manager Ed Bastian asked the Seminole Indians to do a "reverse rain dance" prior to a home game. The Indians came but they didn't get to dance. It rained.
KNOWING THE SCORE
A member of Princeton's varsity basketball squad was vitally interested in point spreads last season. But it was not his money that depended on it, just his mark in statistics. John Dodd. a 6'3" forward, decided to do his senior thesis on systems of predicting game results. Using a computer and various sports statistics, he picked the winners in 72% of last season's 57 Ivy League basketball games. He was less successful with the point spreads, picking the correct margin only 3.5% of the time.
Dodd worked with the box scores of all 1966-1967 Ivy League games to calculate the average scoring power of the players on the 1967-1968 Ivy rosters. These averages were based on points per minute played. By totaling individual averages, Dodd was able to estimate average team scores per game. This figure was then adjusted downward by multiplying by .9 "to take into account adjustment to new team situations and to allow for overestimation of scoring due to new players." Another factor computed was the home-court advantage (figured to be 2.5 points per game). Alter each game was played last season team ratings were revised, to accommodate individual improvement or decline in scoring efficiency.
The averages Dodd predicted at the beginning of the season for the league's leading scorers were close (within two points) in 20 of 36 cases. And his forecast that Ivy League Champion Columbia's points-per-game average would be 77.6 was only two-tenths of a point off. But Dodd's finest preseason calculation was his own scoring average—1.4 points per game. That's exactly how he finished the season.
CARRY A BIG STICK
Add to all those theories on the demise of the hitter, one more. Frank Ryan, an official of Hillerich & Bradsby, the Louisville company that makes bats for many major leaguers, says that the trend has been toward lighter bats, but significantly leading hitters in each league—Pittsburgh's Matty Alou and Boston's Ken Harrelson—are now using heavier bats than before.
"The heavier the bat, the better wood you get on the ball," Ryan says. "Today's batters are delaying their swings, trying to hit the ball at the last instant, and to hit it harder. That's why they've gone to lighter bats, hoping to get more whip. They are not hitting the ball where it is pitched. They want to pull the ball for the home run. Harry Walker did a great job with Alou, making him choke up on the bat and let the bat do the work. Alou used a 31-ounce bat when he was in San Francisco; he uses 37-and 38-ounce ones now."
Most major leaguers, obviously enough, disagree with Ryan's thesis, but one who does not is Cardinal Batting Coach Dick Sisler. "The batters went into their hitting coma with light bats, and they're just realizing it now," he says. "With a heavy bat you can hit to all fields better than with a light bat. I've been stressing this for years. I remember in 1948, when I was playing with the Phillies, Manager Ben Chapman wouldn't let anybody on the team order a bat that was under 35 ounces."
Among the lesser-known converts to the big bat are Cardinal Catcher John Edwards (.250). His bats now weigh from 36 to 39 ounces. "Before this year, when I had a .200 or so average, I never swung one that weighed more than 35 ounces," he says.
Chico Ruiz of the Reds is another who has changed to a heavier bat this season. He used to swing a 31-ounce one but has gone up to a 36-ouncer and even occasionally to one that weighs 38 ounces. Last season he hit .220. His average is now .278.
Bat man Ryan may have hit on something.
THEY SAID IT
•Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S.: "I always turn to the sports section first. The sports page records people's accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man's failures."
•Paul Brown, Cincinnati Bengal coach and general manager, to his team at their first meeting: "It isn't going to take me long to recognize the tramp, the boozer, the barroom bum, the ladies' man. We might be an expansion team, but we're not going to be like the French Foreign Legion."