One of the sad things made evident in the latest bickering between baseball players and owners is the decline in status of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who seems now to be little more than an exalted public-relations man—and not a very successful one at that. A curious, even paradoxical, byproduct of Kuhn's abdication of executive control is the renaissance of the league presidents. A few years ago, soon after the apparently energetic Kuhn took over, it was accepted in baseball circles that league presidents were a dying species and would in time disappear, their offices becoming little more than administrative branches of the central baseball structure. But it seems to be working the other way round. The commissioner's office has less authority, while in matters of substance, like labor negotiations, Joe Cronin of the American League and Chub Feeney of the National appear to be playing far more influential roles than Kuhn.
The baseball commissioner's relative impotence is even more apparent when the National Football League's Pete Rozelle is considered. Even though he is a P.R. man at heart, the smooth, glib Rozelle runs pro football. If underneath it all he is an owner's man, he nonetheless makes forceful decisions from time to time that are not at all popular with some of his bosses. The most recent case in point is Rozelle's ruling that New Orleans Saints Owner John Mecom Jr. must pay his former general manager, Vic Schwenk, the profit that Schwenk would have realized had he exercised an option to buy and then sell a 5% share of the club. Mecom disputed Schwenk's right to the option and the ex-general manager went to Rozelle, who said the evidence indicated "an agreement between Schwenk and Mecom on the essential terms" and ruled that Mecom should pay. Since the amount involved is said to be more than $200,000, Mecom at first muttered something about going to court but later said, "I have no comment on the matter."
It will be to Mecom's credit and pro football's, too, if the dispute is thus settled in camera, so to speak. What is the point of having a commissioner in the first place if he does not have authority and the right to exercise it?
Byron Nelson, who won the New York Metropolitan Golf Writers' Gold Tee award this year for his services to golf, took his 61 years out to a par-3 course in Arizona last week and gave a small demonstration of the skills that made him the best in the world 30 years ago. It had been raining, but Nelson played the first six holes in 1-2-3-2-3-1 and finished the 18 in 46, eight under par.
Polls, particularly those staged by amateurs in the field, are risky things to lay much store by. Saying that, we boldly turn to one conducted by Sports Editor Chuck Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal. Johnson asked his readers to rate TV sports announcers, good and bad. When the mail subsided, 1,812 ballots had come to the paper, the greatest response the Journal had had since 2,500 readers wrote for free seeds two years ago. After the counting job was completed, the results were revealed to a waiting world.
The favorite play-by-play announcer, at least in Wisconsin, was Ray Scott. The fact that Scott for years did play-by-play for the Green Bay Packers might have had a little something to do with his nearly 2-to-1 margin over runner-up Keith Jackson. Curt Gowdy was a distant third, Chris Schenkel fourth.
In balloting for worst play-by-play announcer, Frank Gifford eked out a win over Lindsey Nelson, with Jack Buck and Jack Drees in a virtual tie for third. Schenkel was fifth.
As for color commentators, the favorite was Bill Russell, with Pat Summerall second. Tony Kubek, a Milwaukee boy, finished third, just ahead of the team of Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. Like Schenkel, Cosell and Meredith go both ways: they finished third in the voting for worst color commentators, though well behind Alex Hawkins and Tom Brookshier, who were a decisive one-two.
Now, would you like to hear what Journal readers think of the seeds the paper sent them?
WAR OF THE RACKETS
Billie Jean King has turned down the challenge hurled at her by Bobby Riggs, the 55-year-old former U.S. men's champion, but Margaret Court, the Australian star, has picked it up. Now tennis fans are buzzing over the prospect of a three-set, $10,000 showdown between the two. Riggs, who won at Wimbledon and Forest Hills 34 years ago, had told Mrs. King, "You insist that top women players provide a brand of tennis comparable to men. I challenge you to prove it. I contend that you, the top woman tennis player in the world, not only cannot beat a top male player but that you can't beat me, a 55-year-old."
As far as tennis reputations are concerned, Riggs had little to lose, King a great deal, and her rejection of the challenge was justified. But Court, the No. 2 woman player in the world, is in a much better position to accept the challenge. The publicity, win or lose, can only help her.
Now the question is: if the match comes off, who will win? One tennis expert, about Riggs' age, says, "Bobby, no question about it. Court doesn't have a chance." Another, younger and perhaps more in tune with the women's movement, says, "Margaret would win, although I think it would be a good match. Riggs is in shape and he's a retriever. But Court has a big, powerful game and her shots would be too much for him."
CHALLENGE TO SEAGREN
Bob Seagren's triumph in the Superstar decathlon (page 20) did not impress a group of John Brodie fans around San Francisco. They say they are willing to give Seagren a chance to double his $39,700 prize money in a winner-take-all duel with Brodie. "John was good enough to play professional golf and he is rated an 'A' club tennis player," said one Brodie backer. "He certainly could bowl higher than the 131 that won in the Superstar contest. He was an all-league baseball player in high school." He contended Brodie could even beat Seagren in the 100-yard dash, supposedly the latter's best event. "If Dick Butkus chased him, Brodie could do the 100 in 9.3," said the confident backer. "Add gin rummy and dominoes to the competition and it would be no contest."
It has become a cliché to refer to an outstanding player as "the franchise." This is hyperbole, of course. The Milwaukee Bucks, for example, really have more going for them than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, although when Philadelphia says the same thing about the Phillies' Steve Carlton the nickname seems nearer the truth.
But before the year is out a new recruit to the professional ranks could be the franchise, or a substantial part of it. UCLA's Bill Walton, the country's outstanding college basketball player, could turn pro after this season. If the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers gain negotiating rights to Walton, it is rumored they will offer him a 55 million deal that will net him $2 million clear after taxes. The rival ABA is preparing something even more heady. The ABA wants to put a new team in Los Angeles, Walton's home base, and its representatives are supposedly ready to give the UCLA star 50% of the new franchise plus 50% off the top of gross gate receipts. Each ABA team would also contribute $100,000 toward an immediate $1 million cash bonus.
Adjectives like ridiculous, unbelievable, fantastic spring to mind, but when you recall that the Los Angeles Lakers are already paying a $300,000 salary to Jerry West and substantially more than that to Wilt Chamberlain, the financial impact of a Walton-Los Angeles combination makes the proposal somewhat more rational.
RUFUS, OLLIE, JOE & CO.
Despite claims that Joe Frazier's style caused his downfall against George Foreman (Frazier would still beat Muhammad Ali, the arguments go, and Ali would beat Foreman and Foreman would beat Frazier again, all because of the disparity in style), his validity as a future challenger is very much in doubt. Evidence of Frazier's abrupt decline as a first-rank fighter is contained in a heavy-handed riddle now in circulation. What, asks the riddle, do Fred Ashew, Sylvester Dullaire, John Carroll, Cookie Wallace, Vernon Clay, Max Martinez, Bob Hazelton, Gary Wiler, Rufus Brassell, Roger Russell, Boone Kirkman, Mel Turnbow, Charlie Boston, Stamford Harris, Vic Smith, Ollie Wilson, Clarence Boone, Murphy Goodwin, Ted Gullick, Terry Sorrels and Joe Frazier have in common?
The answer: all are professional fighters who were knocked out in the first or second round by George Foreman.
QUAIL ARE BAD DRUNKS
In Bradford, England last week 11 Pakistani immigrants were found guilty of holding quail fights. Banned in England, quailfighting is a traditional sport in Pakistan. The normally uncontentious birds are fed brandy-coated birdseed to make them angry.
The only thing that is not clear is whether the quail get angry because there is brandy on their birdseed, or because there is birdseed in their brandy.
SOCCER TO 'EM
Those who insist that soccer popularity is slowly dying in Europe and that American football is the coming game there may have quite a few decades to wait before their prediction comes true, but when it comes they'll be ready. Lynn Ashby, a Houston Post columnist, noting that U.S. businessmen plan to start a European football league in 1974, decided to help them by proposing names for the teams. "Most are obvious," Ashby wrote. "The Roman Gabriels, the London Bridges and the Moscow Mules. I personally like the Buda Pests, although Hungary might not. Then there are the Istan Bulls, the Venetian Blinds, the Brussels Sprouts, the Bergen Edgars and the Geneva Conventions. But the final stamp of approval for this new export to the Continent will be when there is grumbling along the Riviera when the Nice Guys finish last."
Howard Schnellenberger, new head coach of the Baltimore Colts, served 12 seasons as an assistant under Blanton Collier, Bear Bryant, George Allen and Don Shula, four of the most respected football coaches in the country. Asked routinely what he had learned from each of them, Schnellenberger answered in succinct specifics. What had he learned from the scholarly Collier? "Importance of fundamentals and technical stuff." From the personable Bryant? "Motivation." From the intense, single-minded Allen? "Determination, tenacity and a personal relationship with the players." From Super Bowl winner Shula? "The scope of the whole league and a great understanding of what's going on."
All he needs now are some players.
THEY SAID IT
•Marv Harshman, Washington basketball coach, on what it would take to beat UCLA: "A team that combines the talent of Minnesota and Houston, the enthusiasm of North Carolina and a couple of Notre Dame referees."
•Frank Lane, explaining why his Milwaukee Brewers did not make a trade at the winter baseball meetings: "We didn't want to weaken the rest of the league."
•Bill Russell, asked how he would have fared against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: "Young man, you have the question backwards."
•Paul Richards, former major league player, manager and general manager, on the subject of baseball owners: "The owners aren't bad. They're dumb. Marvin Miller thinks about tomorrow. They think about yesterday."