The New York Mets' rise to first place in the National League's Eastern Division was, well, amazing, but it gave predictable birth to a flood of God-awful hokum in the press and on radio and TV, particularly in supposedly sophisticated New York. The day-in-and-day-out Met fans, who have thoroughly enjoyed this season since that first stunning 11-game win streak last May and June, were joined in September by the politicians (New York City has three mayoral candidates, all terribly interested in baseball right now, though none seems to give the tiniest damn for the other team in New York—and won't until the Yankees start winning). Worse, the editorial pundits weighed in, with the most grievous offenses being committed by the New York Post and The New York Times. The Post ran—stand back now—a poem on the Mets as an editorial (an unbelievably coy parody of Milton's Paradise Lost). The Times trotted out its senior political deep-thinker, James Reston, who can't seem to forget that 35 years ago he was publicity man with the Cincinnati Reds for a few months. Reston tediously cranked out 800 words of pseudophilosophic banality about sports and politics (sports are more fun, he decided).
Really, gentlemen, it's only a game. Relax and enjoy it.
Harness racing officials in Illinois disagree sharply with Mrs. Marje Lindheimer Everett's statement (SI, Sept. 15) that night Thoroughbred racing would not hurt night harness racing because the sports have two different followings. The harness people say the betting handle at harness tracks in the Chicago area had been up from 1.32% to 10.30% until Arlington Park's eight-night experiment with flat racing earlier this month. Then, in direct competition with the Thoroughbreds, the harness track handle dropped 9.67%. While this was going on, the harness people pointed out with grim satisfaction, night racing did not help the Arlington handle, either. Two earlier daytime meetings at Arlington and Washington Park had been down 8.8% and 9.2% from 1968; the night meeting was down 8.95%.
Dr. Robert Cade, the not-so-mad scientist who gave the world Gatorade (SI, July 1, 1968), may have done it again. This week in Tampa he introduced Hop'n Gator, which is not a new battery-operated toy but an elixir brewed by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. Indeed. Hop'n Gator looks like beer—but it doesn't taste like beer. It has this sort of champagne-type flavor and, like Gatorade, extra added attractions. Hop'n Gator is less filling than beer, can be served over the rocks, can not be detected on the breath and, reputedly, produces no hangover. So what has all this to do with sport? Aha! According to Wilton R. Miller, Dr. Cade's genial attorney, "When you drink this stuff you don't get alcohol fatigue. You can drink Hop'n Gator and continue to play tennis or golf without physical impairment. Of course, your judgment may be a little off."
Hockey is off on another expansion kick: Vancouver and either Buffalo or Baltimore will join the National Hockey League next year in time for the 1970-71 season. The NHL's first bold six-team expansion three years ago made excellent sense; it broke hockey out of its Canadian-Northern U.S. regionalism and made it a major sport from coast to coast. But this new move has the odor of quick-buck expediency. By charging a $6 million entry fee (when the league first expanded, the new-member fees were only $2 million), each of the 12 existing NHL clubs picks up a sweet $1 million.
While any expansion would pose realignment problems, the NHL's present plan could scarcely be more awkward. The two new clubs will join the East where, barring miracles, they will be hopelessly outclassed for years, and the Chicago Black Hawks will shift to the West, a division Bobby Hull and his teammates are a good bet to dominate, although at the moment player discontent has damaged the Hawks' morale.
One praiseworthy thing coming out of the move is the NHL's plan to revise the Stanley Cup playoffs so that once again two strong teams will meet in the Cup finals. In 1971, semifinals will be played across division lines, instead of within them, thus doing away with the prospect of a weak West champion being humiliated every year by a powerful East club, as happened last spring in Montreal's slaughter of St. Louis.
CALL ME SPUD PALMER
In the wake of Arnold Palmer's momentary (it is hoped) retirement from the golfing wars has come an armada of suggestions from concerned admirers, recommending sure cures for his ailing hip. "One letter suggested I drink a bottle of Squirt every day," Palmer said. "That was it. Just one bottle of Squirt daily." Since one of Palmer's many commercial affiliations is with Coca-Cola, he passed up the Squirt. Besides, he had plenty of other cures to try, if he wanted. One lady told him that she got over bursitis by taking a cod-liver oil capsule each day. She thinks it lubricated her joints. A Pennsylvania woman phoned to recommend one-fourth of a teaspoon of Sal Hepatica before each meal and at bedtime. She emphasized that she was a medical technician and not a nut and that she herself had obtained complete relief from bursitis in both shoulders and hips with the treatment. A man from Oregon said the bursitis pain in his shoulders eased off when he began eating grapefruit each morning, but he said he didn't know if grapefruit worked for hips.
Palmer's favorite suggestion was first recommended to him in 1966, when he began to have his hip trouble. A man wrote and said he had cured his bursitis by carrying a potato in his pocket. Palmer politely thanked him at the time, said his hip was feeling better but that he would keep the remedy in mind in case the trouble recurred. After it did recur and Palmer had to withdraw from the PGA tournament, the man wrote again, resuggesting the potato treatment. He admitted that it "isn't a quick cure and might not work for you. You would know it in a couple of weeks. But, if the potato does calcify, you might use about four or five of them by the end of the year and you might just possibly be ready for the Masters next year."
Still having trouble at your course with golfers who dawdle over every shot? You might take a tip from the Wollaston Golf Club near Boston, which has a sign at the first tee that reads: SLOW PLAY UNNECESSARY. ONLY LAST FOUR HOLES TELEVISED.
OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE
Motorcycle fans at Ascot Park in Los Angeles were treated to a race the other night that definitely was not listed in their programs. The entrants were two ambulances, the ones that are always at the ready in front of the grandstand. (Two are kept on hand so that one will be available when the other is off on its way to the hospital.)
"The drivers must have been bored," said a spectator. "There hadn't been a crash on the track for quite a while." In any case, when a cycle finally did spill, both ambulances roared into action and sped around the track. Their race ended in a tie, sort of, when one smacked into the side of the other, causing a couple of hundred dollars worth of damage.
The slightly injured motorcycle driver waited patiently as things were straight ened out and then was tooled off to the hospital in a slightly damaged and—one hopes—contrite vehicle of mercy.
OBLATE SPHEROID ODDS
From Jimmy the Greek in Las Vegas comes the following odds on the pro football season:
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
AMERICAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE
New York by 7 over Kansas City
SUPER BOWL: Dallas by 11 over Oakland
Nevada, the gambling state, is really unique. Last week Governor Paul Laxalt appointed Sammy Cohen, a bookmaker from Las Vegas, to the State Racing Commission.
Well, why not? Bookmaking is a legal occupation in Nevada, and who knows more about racing from a bettor's point of view than a bookie? Besides, Cohen has announced that none of the Las Vegas books will handle betting at the new local track when it opens next year.
Ken MacKenzie, Yale's baseball coach, was a major league pitcher for 661 days from 1960 through 1965, which left him 27 days short of the four years (baseball's years are shorter than ordinary years) he needed to be eligible to collect from the baseball players' pension fund. So this summer, after dismissing his Eli charges for the season, the 35-year-old MacKenzie, a Yale graduate himself, sat down and wrote letters to the five major league teams he had played with (Braves, Mets, Giants, Astros and Cardinals) and explained his plight. He also wrote to John McHale, president of the Montreal Expos. "He was with the Braves when I was with them," explains MacKenzie, "and I knew him pretty well."
Apparently, he did. McHale said he would be happy to have MacKenzie join the Expos after Sept. 1, when big league clubs are allowed to increase their rosters to 40 players. And now MacKenzie is an Expo—though he doesn't do anything except pitch batting practice—and by the end of the season he will have his 27 days. McHale also asked MacKenzie what sort of salary he expected. "I told him I didn't expect anything," MacKenzie says. "They're treating me like a ballplayer, and that's all I want."
The whole thing seems so right, somehow. Who else but an expansion club in its first year, a club doing dismally on the field and splendidly at the gate, one that excites wild and irrational loyalties, could have signed Yale's baseball coach to a player contract for nothing to do nothing?
It takes away the sting of the Mets' going legitimate.
THEY SAID IT
•Harry Walker, Houston Astros manager, insisting that he would not trade his wife for Elizabeth Taylor: "Miss Taylor is a beautiful woman, sure. But how do I know she won't nag me? Can she cook? Can she handle money? Can she keep the house neat? Can I talk baseball with her?"
•Red Schoendienst, St. Louis Cardinals manager, after Roberto Clemente robbed the Cardinals of victory with an amazing catch: "I'll bet he couldn't make that same play again—not even on instant replay."
•Frank Broyles, football coach at Arkansas, where synthetic turf has been installed, on an unanticipated problem: "We'll have to bring in real grass for the coin toss so that we can tell which way the wind is blowing."