Many baseball fans who are uneasy about the designated hitter rule are watching the American League's experiment with interest, subconsciously assuming that the league is functioning as a laboratory where the rule can be tested and, if found wanting, safely discarded. But it is becoming evident that the DH is spilling out of such controlled confines. For example, the Boston Park League, which is starting its 42nd sandlot season (it is said to be the oldest such league in the country), has adopted the rule. "We polled the team managers and received an overwhelming endorsement of the proposed change," said Bob Cusick, the league director. "Every manager appears to have in mind several men who have slowed down, yet have lost none of their power."
This changing of the game at its roots may be irreversible, and whether that is good or bad is moot. A learned student of baseball, Earnshaw Cook, who wrote the book Percentage Baseball, argues convincingly that baseball officials cannot possibly know what effect the designated hitter will have on the game and criticizes them for adopting the rule precipitously without really exploring the situation.
Baseball conservatives, who hate to see the game changed, can probably live with the DH, but they fear that the traditional fabric of the game will soon be decorated with more gaudy ribbons of change. Indeed, Charles Maher, the urbane columnist of the Los Angeles Times, says flatly that baseball should ape football and adopt the platoon system. Maher may well be writing with his sharp tongue curled into his amused cheek, but he quotes Ted Williams' remark that the DH is "the forerunner of other things. More specialists. More substitutions." Maher says platooning would improve the quality of both hitting and fielding, arguing, "Who wants to watch Frank Howard play left field? Who wants to watch Dal Maxvill bat?"
April 9, 1973
Ominous. If the day of the designated hitter is here, and here to stay, is the era of the complete athlete, the whole man, on the way out?
The president of the student body at Indiana University suggested the school give returned U.S. prisoners of war free tickets to Indiana football games. That was too much for one old grad to take. He wrote to the school, "I am opposed to this. These fellows have suffered enough already."
The deadline has passed for Bill Walton to declare himself a hardship case and sign with the pros, which means that UCLA's 6'11" center was stating the simple truth when he said he would be back with the team for his senior year. He upset newspaper and radio-TV people when he refused to stand still for interviews after UCLA's victory over Memphis State in the NCAA finals, but before that game he had made his position clear to Curry Kirkpatrick (SI, April 2).
Walton apparently sees himself as a college student first, a basketball player second. He is at home in class and in student activities and, in fact, is a bit of a campus radical. He took a prominent part in an antiwar rally last year and was busted as a result. Before the Memphis State game he said, "I'm staying in school, it's as simple as that. I've always planned on going to school for four years, and what I want to do now is associate with young people who share my views. I did think of leaving about midseason when the teams we were playing started stalling. More teams have played us with less basketball this year, and it hasn't been as much fun.
"But there was never really a choice. Everybody who knows me assumed I wouldn't leave. I haven't even told my parents. They know me well enough to know what the answer would be.
"I'm not getting a bunch of press cats together to make an announcement and say, 'Okay, here it is: I'm staying.' My life isn't the biggest thing in the world. I have my reasons for not talking to the press now. I don't want to antagonize anybody because I understand their interest in me, even if I don't agree with it, but that's the way it's got to be. I just want to play basketball and get my degree."
YOU WILL NOW CHEER
The fuss over noise vs. silence at tennis matches (SCORECARD, March 12) continues, although an experiment in crowd cheering conducted by pro tennis at the Union Trust Classic outside Washington, D.C. was a disaster, at least as far as Ken Rosewall was concerned. Before Rosewall's semifinal match with Arthur Ashe, P.A. Announcer Charlie Brotman asked the crowd of nearly 3,000 to cheer and yell as it pleased, and twice during actual play he got on the P.A. system and reminded them again. There was a spate of noise, but most of the fans booed the prematch announcement and booed the reminders.
Rosewall had agreed to the experiment, although reluctantly. "He asked me if I'd go along with it," the player said of Brotman's request. "What am I going to do, say no? That's not me."
But it was obvious the cooperative Rosewall was not happy, particularly when Brotman was making his fairly lengthy appeals to the crowd. "Bloody long-playing recordings," Rosewall muttered as he lost to Ashe 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. He attributed his mistakes to lack of concentration. "The noise obviously upsets some players more than others. But the people were really too interested in the game to cheer. It was only when they were reminded by the guy on the horn that they started again."
Miller Barber, the veteran golf pro who tied Jack Nicklaus in the Greater New Orleans Open a couple of weeks ago, then lost on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff, was more than a little taken aback by the huge gallery's vociferous support of Nicklaus. "I know everyone wanted Jack to win," Barber said. "Heck, I don't blame them. I'd probably be for him, too, if I was in the crowd. But it was the first time in my life I ever hit a putt and heard people say, 'Miss it!'
"That's uncalled for. I don't know what's happening to people today. I know they wanted Jack to win because he's a great player, and it's a draw for the tournament next year. That's fine, I'm all for that, but don't pull against somebody. I'm a Southern boy, raised in Texas, and when the people here pulled against me it really hurt."
BLOCK THAT FOUL
Official basketball statistics of the Southeastern Conference include a stopper of a category: defense against free throws. Vanderbilt, whose opponents sank only 307 of 471 free-throw attempts (65.2%), led the conference, which prompted Roy Skinner, the Vanderbilt coach, to say, "We practice very hard on our defense against foul shots. We spend a lot of time popping our knuckles and snapping our fingers. We also practice looking cross-eyed at the shooter. For the later games we put in something new: coughing and sneezing. We haven't had much experience at this, but the wave of colds and flu helped a lot."
LOOK MA, NO HANDS!
Never mind the designated hitter. Every year baseball comes up with variations on the old themes that you can't hardly believe. Mr. Joseph M. Kapsch Jr., a teacher at St. Jerome's School in Hyattsville, Md., writes to tell us of something he saw in a kids' game at a local park. It was a triple play with no fielder touching the ball. With runners on first and second, the batter popped up. The umpire promptly called the batter out on the infield-fly rule. But the runner on first was confused and raced around second on his way toward third; he was called out for passing the runner at second base. The runner on second, bemused by all this, froze in his tracks, was hit on the shoulder by the descending pop fly and was called out for being hit by a batted ball.
O.K.? Baseball lawyers are now invited to present minority opinions on the umpire's decision.
In most places the ice has cracked and gone, and spring is here, but one ice-fishing story lingers. A true one, too. A Minnesota man named Jim Johnson took his Labrador with him to his fish house on the ice of Eagle Lake. When a huge northern pike suddenly appeared in the hole cut in the ice the dog jumped in after it. And disappeared.
Johnson was understandably upset, assuming that his dog, trapped under the ice, would drown. But the alert animal swam to a hole under a neighboring fish house and struggled up onto the ice through that. The fisherman in the second house was so impressed by this unanticipated visitor that he bolted and ran—right through the wall of the house.
Enthusiasm for high school basketball is high in many sections of the country, but it is difficult to imagine a sector more intense in its interest than Utah, where the rivalry between Orem and Provo high schools reached new peaks this year. Both schools are in Utah's top classification, 4-A. In their first regular-season game they met in Brigham Young University's old Smith Fieldhouse because it was obvious that neither school's gym was anywhere big enough to accommodate the anticipated crowd. They drew 10,011 people, and Provo won 64-61. For their second regular-season game the teams moved to roomier Marriott Center because it was felt Smith Fieldhouse was really too small. They drew 13,813 and Provo won again, 55-54.
Provo finished its regular season undefeated. Orem was undefeated except for the two losses to Provo. Both schools went to the state tournament. They were in different brackets and, inevitably, they met in the finals for the state title. The tournament was played in Utah Arena, and the Provo-Orem game drew 14,521. Again Provo won by a point, this time 58-57. Provo ended up 25-0 for the season, Orem 21-3.
There could not be a more impressive high school rivalry in the country: three games decided by a total of five points with an overall attendance of 38,345.
Some fourth-graders in Edmonds, Wash, were recently asked about first aid. The answers are either cheering or disheartening, depending on whether or not you are a prospective patient:
For fainting: "Rub the person's chest, or if a lady, rub her arms above her head."
For fractures: "To see if the limb is broken, wiggle it gently back and forth."
For head colds: "Use an agonizer to spray nose until it drops in the throat."
For snakebite: "Bleed the wound and rape the victim in a blanket for shock."
For nosebleed: "Put the nose lower than the body."
For asphyxiation: "Apply artificial respiration until the victim is dead."
THEY SAID IT
•Tim Wood, Indianapolis high school senior, who broke the world record for consecutive sit-ups with 15,525 in 10 hours, asked what he wanted to do when he finished: "Go to the bathroom."
•Babe McCarthy, former coach of the Dallas Chaparrals, after recruiting for a few weeks as the University of Georgia's new basketball coach: "I'd forgotten what college coaching was about. I've been on a gravy train for six years."
•Lance Alworth, Dallas Cowboy flanker, on San Diego-bound Johnny Rodgers, the Heisman Trophy winner who was 25th choice in the NFL draft: "I think the pro clubs missed the boat on him. So he weighs only 175. That's what I weighed when I turned pro. Tommy McDonald wasn't any bigger. And Rodgers has more moves than McDonald."
•Lynn (Pappy) Waldorf, former University of California football coach: "I was a college coach for 33 years, and I never believed a boy was too small. If he could play, I'd find a spot for him. You can't have too many good players. Good players win games for you, not big players."