HOW TO KILL A GOLDEN GOOSE
Baseball made a stupidly self-defeating decision in allowing commercial television to dictate its scheduling of the World Series (page 20). The glitter of TV gold made baseball's brass forget that for all its faults, the quondam national pastime still exercises a powerful hold on the public. Baseball at its best is a marvelous show that almost everyone enjoys. Proof of this is found in surveys of past World Series telecasts. Even when games were spread over a week or more and were played in the afternoon rather than at night, the Series consistently drew the largest sustained audiences for anything—not just sports—shown on the tube.
But these astonishing audiences on weekday afternoons were not enough. "Prime time" became the shibboleth. Baseball, letting itself be conned by TV, began to look upon the Series as a new kind of low-suds detergent. The schedule was warped and twisted so that a maximum number of games could be aimed at the optimum "prime time" selling moments. It no longer mattered that what baseball was selling was competition, a showdown between the two best teams in the sport. Games began at 5 p.m., twi-night doubleheader time, gimmick time. Players were flown 2,000 miles and rushed to the ball park with five hours' sleep in order to squeeze in a Saturday game in Cincinnati barely 18 hours after they had played in Oakland. Display rather than quality had become baseball's criterion.
Baseball forgot that the World Series is a Special Event, something that makes people leave their desks to gather around a TV set for a couple of hours. It creates its own audience; it does not have to lure viewers away from the daily products of show biz. Putting the Series into the rat race of nighttime programming diminishes that special quality, and eventually it will be lost. Then the World Series will be just one more TV show, competing for popularity with All in the Family and Carol Burnett. And you can bet your TV Guide that in time it will be shoved onto a back shelf. Even in the flush of today's success, the TV executive is always looking for tomorrow's prime-time winner.
October 30, 1972
Bow and arrow hunters, those glamorous figures, were practically shut out in Texas this past hunting season. Only 20 deer were killed with arrows during the special periods set aside for archers in four Texas areas. In one such place the Robin Hoods shot 101 arrows and hit three deer. In another, 140 hunters sent arrows flying at a total of 93 deer and killed only four.
All of which seemed to point up the wisdom of a cynical oldtimer who said, "If the bow and arrow was worth a damn, the Indians would still own this country."
FOR THE PLAINTIFF
The chairman of the U.S. Olympic basketball committee, M. K. (Bill) Summers, said last week that he hoped Avery Brundage—you remember him—would represent the U.S. before the International Olympic Committee next February in its appeal of the controversial Russia-U.S. basketball game. "Mr. Brundage was very upset about what happened," Summers said, "and he asked that we get all the evidence we could."
Summers thinks the U.S. case is airtight, with or without Avery. He says sworn, notarized statements have been obtained from the scorer, the timer, the 30-second-clock operator, a spotter and the man who ran the Longines clock in the basketball hall at the Munich Games. "The referee has also promised us a statement," Summers said, "but the umpire told us that if he gave us one he would never get out of Bulgaria."
The affidavits, according to Summers, are all to the effect that the replay of the final three seconds, which allowed the Russians to score the winning basket, was not legal under the rules. Turning the clock back, he says, was an unsanctioned decision by R. William Jones, secretary-general of the International Amateur Basketball Federation and a courtside observer.
It would be nice if the hearing were in open court. The idea of Brundage appearing before the IOC, unlikely as that prospect is, is a fascinating one.
One of the sillier customs in American football is that of players hoisting the coach to their shoulders after a victory and carrying him off the field. This indicates the win is properly his and seems to support Avery Brundage's contention that football has become a chess game played by coaches. Really, why should the coach be carried? It would seem more logical for the coach and his assistants to run out on the field and lift the quarterback or the middle linebacker, or whichever player did most to enhance the coaches' position and reputation and, not incidentally, income.
The practice produces some bizarre moments, such as that which occurred recently at Florida's Miami Military Academy. The academy's team is sort of a throwback, first in that it uses the old-fashioned single wing and second in that the squad averages only about 150 pounds a man. Despite its diminutive size and antique offense, it scored a signal triumph by breaking Dade Christian's 17-game winning streak, 40-20. As the game ended, several players gleefully attempted to lift Coach Jim Thomas. The problem was, Thomas weighs 250 pounds. They managed only a couple of tottering steps before Thomas was back on his feet. In a gallant second effort they tried again—and Thomas fell on his head. Maybe next time the coach will pick up a couple of his watch-charm guards and carry one on each shoulder.
OUT OF THE MOUTH
Pretty soon now someone is going to put together a book of contact lens stories. Here's one more for it. Greg Palchak, a middle guard at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, lost one of the elusive lenses at practice. The usual search followed, with everybody down on hands and knees vainly peering at the turf. That night a group of players used flashlights to continue the hunt. No luck. The search was abandoned. Time passed. The football team scrimmaged again. The field was rolled. The soccer team practiced. The band marched back and forth. Softball and rugby were played. Finally, three weeks later, during another football practice, Cornerback Kevin McGorry found himself on the bottom of a pileup, face down, his mouth tasting dirt. When he got up he spat and brushed the debris from his tongue and lips, and—what else?—into his hand fell Greg Palchak's missing contact lens.
BLACK AND ORANGE
When he joined the staff of the Boston Patriots in 1966, Rommie Loudd became one of the first blacks ever to coach in professional football. A year later he moved up to director of personnel, another first for his race. Now Loudd is quietly working to obtain an NFL expansion franchise, hopefully in or near Orlando, Fla., hopefully for the 1974 season. Last week the 38-year-old Loudd, who is still a Patriot executive, told a group of Orlando civic leaders: "I can't say I have the inside track on a franchise, but I think I have the ability to get the inside track. I've played football, coached and now hold a front-office position. I've worked hard and kept my nose clean. With 25 years of experience in football, if I don't get a chance to head a team, well, they'll have denied me my Ph.D."
Orange County officials responded by offering Loudd a lease on a stadium that has not been built for games that have not been scheduled for a team that has not been born. It may not be quite the Ph.D. that Loudd is looking for, but it is an impressive demonstration of confidence from one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country.
NAMES ON THE HALF SHELL
Talk all you want about SuperSonics and Fighting Saints and Expos, Astros and Mets, the best team names in sport are usually found on the backs of shirts worn by Little Leaguers or bowlers. Our current favorites, from Washington, D.C., are teams in the Robertson's Crab-house Ladies' League (not a bad name in itself). A recent dispatch from the RCLL reports: "Raw Oysters defeated Maryland Crab Cakes 2-1 and took over first place. Mabel Schatz led Raw Oysters, and Nancy Skidmore had high series for Crab Cakes. Other high scorers included June Hillock of Oyster Platter, Donna Stevens of Deviled Crab, Peg Staake of Crab Soup and Ann Ontko of Soft-Shell Crabs."
Meanwhile, in the Parkland Ladies' Metro League, Marge Wells had high series for Sanitation Excavating Aardvark Septic Service. How about a cheer for Sanitation Excavating Aardvark Septic Service? Gimme an S....
New York City's Off-Track Betting program has received the publicity, but a comparatively little-known operation in upstate New York may prove the making or breaking of the OTB concept. Other states toying with the idea of having friendly, neighborhood bet shops are watching closely, for the OTB people in Schenectady, N.Y. have run head-on into truculent Ernest Morris, president of Saratoga Raceway, a harness track. Morris is totally opposed to OTB in its present form, which he says is damaging business at his raceway. Because betting at OTB shops is done from the lists of entries released each day by the track, Morris began to play tricks with the information, such as making last-minute changes in the races that comprise the daily double and lumping all horses entered that night into one big alphabetical list. Only bettors who came to the track and bought the official program had a clear idea of who was racing in what and when. Ray Blanchard, executive director of the Schenectady OTB, had to send a representative to the track to buy a program, duck back out (you can't make phone calls from the track) and phone the proper entry lists back to the OTB high command.
"In spite of Morris' shenanigans," Blanchard said, "we have done in nine weeks what New York City took nine months to do: make money. We are way over the break-even figures and are climbing every day. I project we'll gross $7 million next year and I think that is conservative." OTB "profits" are split 80-20 between Schenectady and the State of New York.
"That's just great." Morris said. "As they go up, we go down. Last year we had a record handle but this season we've fallen off $200,000 a week and are still dropping. We're doomed unless we stop them. In time, every small track will die, and then OTB will devour the big ones. And then there will be nothing. No tracks. No OTB. No money going to the city or the state."
THEY SAID IT
•John Riggins, New York Jet running back from Kansas, asked what his biggest adjustment was in the switch from college to pro football: "Learning to drive in New York City."
•Shecky Greene, comedian, for whom an outstanding 2-year-old colt is named: "Lucky they didn't use my real name. Can you imagine rooting for a horse called Sheldon Greenfield?"
•Bobby Gunn, Houston Oiler trainer, on artificial turf vs. grass: "When artificial turf came along, the players went crazy over it. Now they say grass might be better. But they're talking about playing in ideal weather on an ideal grass field. They vary greatly. At least with artificial turf you're assured of a consistent surface."
•Casey Stengel, comparing old-fashioned baseball gloves with the larger modern ones: "It used to be that you had to catch the ball two-handed because the glove was so small. Why, when I got married I couldn't afford dress gloves, so I wore my baseball mitt to my wedding and nobody even noticed. That took care of my right hand, and I was smart enough to keep my left hand in my pocket."