There were a couple of badly confused men in sport last week. Denny McLain, who last spring was suspended for all of three months for investing in a book-making business, got hit with an "up to one month" suspension for playing a practical joke on a couple of sports-writers. Baron Marcel Bich of France, who made a fortune manufacturing ballpoint pens, took over the helm of his America's Cup yacht France (page 12) after his boat had lost three straight races and got lost in a fog. This may demonstrate that there is no justice in this precarious world, or it may mean only that businessmen should always remember to be serious and dignified and that penmen should stick to their points.
It was a rough week for bookies and bettors. In Wilmington, Del. police discovered that someone in the composing room of the Wilmington Morning News had been quietly changing results from Laurel Raceway, a harness track, before the paper went to press. A $19.80 winner in the paper had not even started the race it was supposed to have run, and a $24 Exacta payoff at the track became $124 in print. The changes were made to bilk local bookies, who have to rely on newspaper reports for results from smaller tracks. Moreover, the Morning News was the only paper in the area that carried the results from the night racing at Laurel. Changes had been made in the printed results on at least seven different days. The motive, police said, was not so much to win bets as to impoverish independent bookies so that the mob could move in and take over.
In Weymouth, Mass. during a race meeting at the Weymouth Fair a horse stumbled and fell, and three others in the eight-horse field fell over him. The track announcer, trying to forestall an even more serious accident, turned up the volume on the P.A. system and shouted to the jockeys on the four horses still upright and moving, "Slow down! Slow down! Watch out for those riders!" Three of the jocks heard the warning, dutifully reined in their mounts and skirted the tangle of fallen horses and men. But Maurice Deboise, riding Colonel Henry, the long shot of the field and last in the race at the time, kept right on going and won handily, paying $78.20 but disturbing the equanimity of those who had bet on the other seven horses. An outraged mob of 150 (they don't draw Aqueduct crowds at Weymouth) stormed from the grandstand and mobbed track officials until police were able to restore order.
MOUTH TO MOUTH
Keith Jackson, who will do the play-by-play on ABC's Monday night telecasts of NFL games, was asked how he expected to get along with the outspoken Howard Cosell, who will do the color commentary. Jackson diplomatically praised Cosell, pointed out that Cosell's job was more difficult than his own play-by-play responsibility and added, "He will not be the dominant personality on the telecast."
And all we can think to say is: Wanna bet?
A schoolteacher in Catonsville, Md. named Dominick Piledggi is leading a revolt you might be interested in. Piledggi and some of his friends have formed the Sports Fans of America, an organization designed to give fans, particularly those who follow pro football, a cohesive, influential voice. "The fan never gets a break," says Piledggi, who started the group as an aftermath of the pro football players' strike. "I don't care if they pay a player a zillion dollars, if the owner is a zillionaire and wants to pay it himself. But I want him to understand that he's not to ask the public to pay it. Every time the television sponsors are asked to pay more money for the games, we wind up paying that, too."
Piledggi says the fan is being taken advantage of. He mentioned various injustices and inconveniences, like overpriced tickets, overpriced concessions, poor traffic management and inadequate rest rooms and even included announcers, arguing that fans should help determine who will broadcast the games, since they are the ones who have to sit there and listen.
"The fans are the most important group," Piledggi declares. "We have been kicked around enough. It's about time we take a stand."
People who live near airports have long been tortured by the incessant roar of airplanes, and now the nuisance is so bad that it has even bothered people in Post, a small town out in West Texas, miles and miles from the nearest major airport. David Pierce of the town writes, "During the NBC Game of the Week between the Reds and the Mets at Shea Stadium, my father and I counted 43 planes interrupting the telecast's audio portion while landing at La Guardia Airport. Divided into periods of half innings, the top of the fourth had the honor of being the busiest, with five jets and one prop plane. The top of the second and third innings were the slowest, with one each. I must admit that due to an errand we both had to run for my mother, we missed the bottom of the first."
THE MANY AND THE FEW
The National Basketball Association is on the verge of the new season and there still is a question of how the playoffs will work under the new 17-team alignment. The owners met in Chicago a few months ago and reportedly voted 15-2 to have the first- and second-place teams in each of the league's four divisions meet in the postseason free-for-all. Now it is beginning to appear that there are second thoughts. Some of the owners want the top three teams from each division in the playoffs, meaning that after five months of constant competition only five of the 17 teams would be eliminated. And if you assume that the three new expansion clubs, Cleveland, Buffalo and Portland, are sure-pop to be at the bottom of the standings, only two of the 14 old NBA clubs would be missing at playoff time. Irv Kosloff, owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, says, "I'm in favor of the eight-team playoff, even if it means we miss out. I'll vote for anything that gives the regular season more meaning, and I'll encourage others to do the same. If we aren't first or second after 82 games, it's just too bad."
SPY IN THE SKY
It was straight out of a Harold Lloyd football comedy of the 1920s. When the College All-Stars were practicing for their game with the Kansas City Chiefs they held several secret sessions inside a field house at Northwestern University to prepare surprises that might lead to an upset of the Super Bowl champions. One of the devious maneuvers was an out-of-sight kickoff return in which a running back would receive the kick, run straight up into the center of the blocking wedge, suddenly halt and throw a long lateral pass to the left, where another All-Star would catch the ball and, hopefully, go all the way for a touchdown. In the game itself, after a Kansas City score in the second period, the CIA troops who had been trained in the trick return were sent into action. But Jan Stenerud, the Chiefs' kicking specialist, booted a ground ball that confused things and completely upset the maneuver. Because Stenerud usually kicks the ball into the end zone on the fly, and because it was obviously not an onside kick, it was apparent that the Chiefs were on to the All-Stars' secret weapon.
At a party after the game Walt Corey, one of the All-Star coaches, asked Hank Stram, the Kansas City head coach, how he had learned of the Stars' super undercover plan. Stram, not quite twirling a villain's mustache, said, "Remember the guy who was working up in the scaffolding?" Corey thought at first that Stram was kidding, but then he remembered a workman high in the upper reaches of the building. "I wondered about that guy at the time," he said, "because he wasn't changing light bulbs or anything like that. Sure. How else could they have known about our kickoff?"
THERE'LL ALWAYS BE
The British again seem to be retreating into their favorite national pastime, economic crisis, but individual Britons keep charging ahead. One manufacturing firm is offering disposable sleeping bags that are made of paper, are lined with insulating polystyrene and sell for eight shillings (96¢) each. The manufacturer says, with disarming honesty, "Although the bags are showerproof, they would not stand up to a real storm. But we figure that in a real downpour the occupant would move to shelter anyway."
And a chap named Arthur Pedrick, a retired printer, has patented both a winged golf ball and a club with a complex face that forms a pocket around the ball after it is hit. (This keeps the ball from sliding across the club face which, as you know, causes it to slice or hook.)
"I'm a bit of a crank, really," says Pedrick, in another engaging demonstration of British candor. "I used to play golf and I know a bit about aerodynamics. I was frustrated with my slicing and hooking, and I spent a lot of time looking for the damn ball in the rough. It was infuriating." Pedrick doesn't know whether the club is remotely practical, much less legal, and is sure that the winged ball is neither. But he doesn't care. He doesn't play golf anymore, anyway. His real fun nowadays comes from filing wild ideas with the patent office. "I drive them mad," he says.
HIGH PRICE OF FREEBIES
Pro football scouts usually sit in the press box at college games, and press-box seats are traditionally free. But this fall the University of Houston is charging the professionals $10 each to sit there. Some colleges have barred pro scouts because of the antagonism that often rises between the two major areas of the game, but Houston publicity man Ted Nance says, "We aren't mad at anyone. It's just that we have limited facilities in our press box and by charging $10 perhaps we can cut down on the number of requests for seats. There were 20 pro scouts in the press box at two of our games last year, and we had to do something."
Excellence in academics and mediocrity in football have given the Atlantic Coast Conference an Ivy League of the South reputation. Football and basketball coaches alike complain that ACC recruiting standards are too stringent because they go beyond the NCAA's 1.6 rule. Leading proponent of a change is South Carolina, which last year threatened to withdraw from the conference if the bylaws weren't liberalized. A counting of ACC athletes who averaged at least 3.0 (of a possible 4.0) last year would seem to indicate that the Gamecocks are arguing from strength, at least as far as those two main scholarship sports are concerned. Not only did South Carolina win both regular season championships, it listed a greater percentage of such scholar-athletes in those two sports than any other school. Included was the only ACC football player with a perfect 4.0 and two members of the All-Conference basketball team. But there is one rather embarrassing—and telling—catch to all of this. Overall, South Carolina had fewer 3.0 or better athletes than any of the other schools in the conference.
THEY SAID IT
•Charley Coffey, University of Arkansas assistant football coach, appraising the Razorbacks' important opening game with Stanford: "I personally have taken the approach that if you can't win that first one, you can't possibly have an undefeated season."
•Dick Cavett, discussing the polluted Hudson River and a fisherman who had hooked an undersized fish: "The fish begged the man not to throw him back."
•Byron (Buster) Brannon, explaining how he was named TCU tennis coach: "My predecessor was a professor of religion, and the administration decided that with the players he had he was losing faith."