The people who control sport—this means players' unions as well as owners, interested fans as well as commissioners—will make a grievous error if they go along with recent proposals for the establishment of a Federal Sports Commission. Past performance charts on Washington show that congressional interest in sport peaks during an election campaign (a man running for office loves to make the sports page) and flags thereafter. More to the point, self-serving politicians and bureaucratic methods aggravate the problems they set out to solve far more often than they alleviate them.
If sports cannot govern themselves, Congress certainly can't.
Lou Harris, the pollster, was himself interviewed recently by Gerald Strine of the Washington Post and had some things to say about the report he issued last winter that indicated football had replaced baseball as the country's favorite sport. The poll, financed by the National Football League, was bitterly criticized by Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who argued that Harris would have found more enthusiasm for baseball if he had interviewed younger people.
June 18, 1972
"I know Bowie Kuhn and have good relations with him," Harris said, "but the fact is, baseball's greatest strength is with the 50-and-over group. Baseball appeals to older people and to people in the lower-income bracket. Those are facts, and I can't make the facts go away. Anyone who takes a systematic cross section of the American public will find this to be a dominant pattern. Golf, interestingly enough, tends to run like baseball. Football is the swinging sport. Auto racing, basketball and hockey follow, and tennis may be on the way up."
Horse racing rates poorly with Harris, even though its premier race, the Kentucky Derby, ties with the Indianapolis 500 behind the World Series and the Super Bowl in a ranking of the nation's most popular single sport events. Harris said he is unimpressed by the annual survey released by the Daily Racing Form that shows horse racing to be the leading sport in terms of total attendance. "The people who go to the races are usually the same people each day," he commented. "I'd advise horse racing to stop counting the same people three times a week and concluding they have more fans than anyone else."
Possibly because love of baseball dies slowly, Harris was asked if more boys were playing baseball today than 20 years ago.
"That would be a great poll to take," he said. "I think maybe we'll ask it. We have done work with black youngsters 12 to 16. I'd guess a lot less baseball is being played by black kids than there was 20 or 30 years ago. Today it's basketball for them. That's the sport that's really taken hold. Football is next. As for whites, we don't really know, but it certainly would be interesting to find out."
HOLIER THAN THOU
Honors that athletes win through the medium of voting—most valuable player awards, all-star teams, halls of fame, things like that—are always suspect because of the arbitrary choices that must be made. It is not so much what an athlete does in the arena that counts as it is the impression he makes on the people voting. This was evident again last week when professional hockey picked new members for its Hall of Fame. The selection committee refused to nominate Doug Harvey, the best "defensive" defenseman in hockey history. As Harvey says, he "likes to hoist a few with the boys now and then," and the selectors apparently felt he did not project an image appropriate to the dignity of the hall. That their consciences bothered them was evident when Frank Selke Sr., chairman of the committee, told Harvey afterward, "We'll get you in next year." Then he added in an admonishing tone, "but you have got to help me."
Harvey, blunt and outspoken, commented later, "I don't want any part of an outfit where you have to be one of the Establishment or you don't qualify. What they're saying is they won't put me in because I'm not averse to sampling the nectar of the gods."
Gordie Howe, one of those who were picked, summed up the inequity of the selections when he said, with Machiavellian innocence, "It's a tremendous honor to be chosen when you consider that someone like Doug Harvey, who has contributed so much to the game, isn't in the Hall of Fame."
This may not be a fair indication of the quality of the young pitchers organized baseball is nurturing down on the farm, but Orlando Pena, a skinny guy in his late 30s who in an undistinguished major league career won only 46 games against 68 losses, is giving the Class A Florida State League fits this year. A player-coach for the Miami Orioles, Pena has a 9-2 record and a 1.17 earned run average. Opposing teams, concerned that the aging Pena's success was making their kid pitchers look bad, objected to his presence as an active player. Their distress was alleviated temporarily when Pena, pitching batting practice, was hit in the face by an erratic line drive that caromed off a post in the batting cage. He suffered a broken nose and was sidelined for a bit. The rest of the league hurried to take advantage of the break.
BIG LITTLE TOWN
You may never have heard of McKees Rocks, Pa., but if you follow college football next fall there is a good chance you will. Notre Dame's starting quarterback is expected to be Tom Clements of McKees Rocks. Penn State's quarterback will be John Hufnagel, also of McKees Rocks. Pitt is not yet sure whether Bob Medwid or Bill Daniels will start at quarterback, but what does it matter? Both are from McKees Rocks. Not bad for a town whose population dropped from 13,185 in 1960 to 11,814 in 1970. Probably the result of quarterbacks leaving town.
Horseplayers have experienced electronic failures, spills and disqualifications in addition to the regular financial upsets that are part of the sport of risks. But never, until the other day in Charlestown, W. Va., had they ever been asked to bankroll a track.
It was clear and fast at Charlestown, but financially it was murky. The track had scheduled a day-night racing double-header, but the vault where its operating cash was stabled was geared to night racing and could not be opened until four p.m. Post time for the first race was two p.m. What to do? Well, despite Lou Harris, no sport has more loyal fans than racing. The track got on the PA system and explained the situation. It asked patrons to hold off cashing winning tickets as long as possible.
Then Bill Schwadron, the track's general manager, got in touch with a dozen or so big bettors of his acquaintance. "I was running my business," said one, "when Bill calls and asks if I could bring all the money I could raise to the track. I said you got to be kidding. He said no, he was serious as could be. And he said hurry. I ran to another little business near mine and emptied him out of a few Gs, and a couple of other guys did the same thing. The track didn't have $200,000 when it opened, as it normally would, but we got $85,000 together, and the first race was only half an hour late.
"I went out to the track myself, and I wanted to make a little bet but I couldn't, I had no cash. The track told me I could put a marker in. I said beautiful. Then I decided to pass the race. The horse ran second."
Shortly after four, when the vault finally opened, the loans were repaid, and by five o'clock things were back to normal. One contributor murmured because his $5,000 was returned to him without interest, but at least he didn't lose the 16% tax-and-track "bite" usually taken out of a bet.
Big Eight basketball will introduce a 30-second clock in nonconference games next winter. Visiting teams will have the option of deciding whether the clock will be used or not. Use of the clock means that a team must take a shot at the basket within 30 seconds or give up possession of the ball. As with the NBA's 24-second rule (the ABA's is 30 seconds), the idea is to speed up play and get rid of freeze-t he-ball tactics. Although experiments with such clocks have been made previously in college basketball, this is the first time a conference will experiment with one through an entire season. If it works out, it could mean that the 30-second rule will become a permanent part of the college basketball scene.
WHAT GOES UP
Even though thunderstorms were in the vicinity, Tony Hamaguchi, a sports parachutist in Colorado, decided to jump anyway. He stepped out of the plane at 7,500 feet, dropped in a free fall to 2,000 feet and then descended with an open chute until he was about 1,200 feet from earth. Things on the ground kept getting larger and larger. Then they stopped getting larger and, to his amazement, began getting smaller. He looked at his altimeter. The hand was spinning, but in the wrong direction. He was going up. A veteran of more than 150 jumps, he realized he was in a powerful updraft, although this was his first experience with one.
"I peaked out at about 5,500 feet," he said. "The updraft seemed to dissipate there. Ordinarily the whole thing wouldn't have bothered me, but my parachute was getting wet. And hailstones were hammering against my body and helmet and obscuring my vision. It was eerie seeing lightning around me and hearing the hailstones hitting the canopy of my chute."
He began twisting the chute to lose altitude and finally came down. He landed a mile and a half off target, 18 minutes after leaving the plane for what should have been a two-minute jump.
"I was worried for a while," he said later, "but, all in all, it was fun."
The cheapening of the national anthem by playing it on every possible occasion (a form of wrapping oneself in the American flag) has been checked, at least in Kansas City, where the Royals announced last week that henceforth The Star-Spangled Banner would be played only on Sundays, holidays and special occasions.
The motive is laudable, but the odds are about 100 to 1 that self-styled patriots will react with rage and threaten to destroy Kansas City and half the state of Missouri if the ball club does not recant. Back in the 1950s when Arthur Ehlers, then general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, tried the same thing, he was quickly howled down. Good luck, Royals. As P. G. Wodehouse might say, we will watch your future career with considerable interest.
THEY SAID IT
•Alan Eagleson, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, discussing the lack of parity in the expanded NHL: "The only thing tougher than getting four tickets for a Montreal-Boston game is getting rid of four tickets for a Montreal-Oakland game."
•Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodger broadcaster, watching Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals whipping through the Dodger lineup in a game that took less than two hours to play: "Gibson pitches as though he's double-parked."
•George Scott, former Boston Red Sox slugger traded to Milwaukee, on walking in from third base after hitting a home run on his first visit to Fenway Park since the trade: "I wanted to walk in because one of my fans might have gone out to get a Coke, and he would have missed it. I wish it could have took two days."
•John Havlicek, on why the Ralston Cereal Company wants him for commercials: "Then they'd have Wheat-Chex, Corn-Chex, Rice-Chex and Havli-Chex."