SEEKING THE HIDE
Henry Aaron not only restored public faith in the integrity of baseball for a fleeting moment when he clouted No. 714 on Opening Day in Cincinnati. It also appeared that he had launched brilliantly the era of the cow. Then the truth was out. The ball Henry hit and later got back in a brown paper bag was made of old-fashioned horsehide. "We use nothing but horsehide balls," said Jack Billingham, victim of Aaron's homer. "I understand the Reds have enough horsehide balls on hand for the season."
If they do, they are unique, according to officials of Spalding, the company that claims to have manufactured every ball ever used in a major league game. Spalding has not shipped out a box of horse-hides since last September, when it switched to cowhide, and Cincinnati might well consider holding on to its treasure for profitable resale as antiques. The bovine ball—pardon that—is in for a long stay.
Spalding began thinking of the cow as a substitute five years ago, when it became apparent that despite the recent proliferation of pleasure horses, big, tough workhorses, source of the best hides, were becoming scarce. Only 16,000 hides were imported last year, against 142,000 in 1960. Cowhide was selected as the alternative because plenty of it was around and its basic characteristics as they pertain to a baseball—that is, tensile strength, elongation, friction coefficient, appearance and feel—were comparable to the horse's. Sort of.
April 14, 1974
Tests by researchers revealed weaknesses in cowhide, thus the long period for development. Thirteen new tanning processes were tried before one was found that produced the flexibility of horsehide. It took the analysis of 2,000 specimens to show that while thick horse-hides are stronger than thin, the reverse is true of cowhide. And there were problems with wetness. When a cover is sewed on the ball it has to have the correct amount of moisture in it, else the seams will bulge and the leather is apt to tear.
Field tests of the new ball last September in New York and Pittsburgh and this winter in Puerto Rico were pronounced a success by Spalding, so how could it be this spring that some balls raveled after one smack, others became lopsided and still others ripped along the seams in the hands of pitchers and umpires? Embattled Spalding zeros in on a new adhesive it gave its workers in Haiti, who stick and stitch the hides to cores made in Chicopee, Mass. The Haitians are now adept in the use of the stickum, and Spalding is replacing the balls delivered to major league teams this spring. If there are more problems, Spalding says it will solve them. And a word of advice to Cincinnati. Mark those horsehides if you value them. Soon it will be impossible to tell the difference between the new and old balls.
The trouble with trivia, it began to dawn on Seattle Columnist Rod Belcher, was that the best material was becoming too familiar. When an anguished fellow pro cried out one night, "All the good ones are gone!" Belcher knew the time had come to act. He promptly twisted the game around into what he calls Trivia Transposed. As in that unnerving TV quiz show, Belcher is now giving the answer first and then asking the question. For example, he announces, "The answer is Ernie Nevers." You say, if you are any sort of trivialist, "Who was the first NFL player ever to score six touchdowns in one game?" If you are better than that you ask, "What athlete pitched for the St. Louis Browns in 1926 and 1927 and was the player-coach of the NFL's Duluth Eskimos those same years?" But if you are a genius, as Belcher is, you ask, "What member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame served up two home-run balls to Babe Ruth during the 1927 season when the Bambino hit 60?"
For practice we give you another one. The answer is "Ranger, Pacer, Corsair and Citation." The question? "What were the Edsel's four model names?"
And now that you have the picture, your final examination. The answers:
1) Willis Reed, Phil Jackson, Dick Barnett, Don May, Mike Riordan, Butch Komives.
2) Klaus Beer of East Germany.
3) Tom Zachary.
4) Claude Thornhill.
5) Ralph Terry.
6) Terry Baker.
7) Benny Lom.
All you have to do is provide the questions. Good luck.
TIMES THAT TRY MEN'S SOULS
Insect lovers itching for recognition need look no farther than Pennsylvania, where the great firefly debate has ended at last in victory for the people, presuming that Governor Milton J. Shapp goes along with thousands of children and the state legislature.
It all began when Mrs. Dorothy B. Holzwarth's third-grade class of 26 at Highland Park School in Upper Darby decided it was time to make the firefly the state's insect. Doesn't every state have a favorite insect? Pretty soon politicians, scratching around for an issue, were singing the praises of the little glowers in the House, egged on by more than 5,000 pieces of mail from schoolchildren. Representative Frank J. Lynch said that "Passage of the bill will show young people that their legitimate wishes can be enacted into law. I'm not pretending it's the most momentous piece of legislation we'll vote on, but it's important."
The bill passed 156-22 and awaits the governor's signature, but Representative John B. McCue is not so sure it won't shed some unwanted light on the legislature. He said, "People in my district are asking me, 'Don't you fellows have anything to do besides pass firefly legislation?' "
ANOTHER WAY TO LOSE
Some students of animal nature regard horses as dumb, almost as dumb as horseplayers. New York City's Off-Track Betting Corp. reports that $4,412,000 worth of winning tickets went uncashed last year and that halfway through this fiscal year form was holding with $2,200,000 uncollected. Officials explain that unsophisticated bettors with place or show tickets fail to collect when their horses finish first. Others in a fine frenzy tear tickets into little bits after a close finish, unaware that the race might not be official. Occasionally excitable horseplayers—and most of them are—have heart attacks before they can collect. What a way to go. Unclaimed money reverts to the state, a taxing fate if ever there was one.
Ah, spring, the time for the snails of Burgundy to rise from their winter sleep and get munching. Time, too, for the French vineyard owners to tack up their signs proclaiming, La chasse √† l' escargot est défendue avant le premier septembre—snail hunting forbidden before Sept. 1. As famous in some venues as the wine, Burgundian snails dine out all summer putting on weight and then, zut! they are dined upon. Must be a moral there.
Humorist-playwright George S. Kaufman's celebrated remark—"May I have the bidding repeated, please—with all the original inflections?"—may make about as much sense to future generations as "the bee's knees" does to this one if some reformers in international bridge circles have their way. They aren't saying that cheating has been detected at the major tournaments recently, but they feel strongly that with the rich rewards available today for topflight competitors, it might be a good idea to protect the game from the slightest suspicion.
Last month at the Vanderbilt Cup event in Vancouver, British Columbia, their proposal to conceal partners from each other and have the bids called off by a neutral person got a tryout. Diagonal screens were placed across the tables, the players pointed to their bids, and two were read off at the same time so succeeding bidders could not tell which of the two took longer making up his mind. After the opening lead the screens were removed and play began. This tended to slow up the game, but for the most part the players favored the idea.
World bridge authorities, who maintain in the face of some sticky situations that cheating does not go on, are loath to discuss the subject, and officials at Vancouver refused to permit photographers to snap the panels in action. Yet the reforms will be on the agenda when the World Bridge Federation meets May 4-7 at Las Palmas, Canary Islands, and there is a chance they will be put into effect at the World Championships in Venice May 20-30. Jaime Ortiz-Patino of Geneva, a federation official and one of the world's top players, says, "At this level of bridge there is no reason why one should be in any way in contact with his partner. In Utopia each player should be separated from the other and play his own cards."
Still, most players would restrict use of the reforms to world championships. They believe personal confrontation, psychology and repartee are essential elements of the game. And sometimes a loud voice.
Just couldn't put you through a week of torment of not knowing, so here, if you haven't already guessed, are Belcher's questions to his answers. We print them as a public service:
1) Who were the six lefthanders on the New York Knicks during part of the 1968-69 season?
2) Who finished second behind Bob Beamon in the 1968 Olympics when he set the world long-jump record of 29'2½"?
3) Who served up the pitch Babe Ruth hit for his 60th homer in 1927?
4) What was the name shared by a popular bandleader of the '40s and a Stanford football coach of the '30s?
5) What New York Yankee pitcher lost the seventh game of the 1960 World Series and won the seventh game of the 1962 World Series?
6) Who was the only lefthander among the 10 T-formation quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy?
7) Who tackled Roy Riegels short of the goal line on his wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl game?
SAFETY IN NUMBERS
While memories of the late, unlamented gas shortages are still hot, herewith one of the best of the many stories:
Roman Gabriel, the Philadelphia Eagle quarterback, flew in from the West Coast, picked up a car and headed for Allentown, blissfully unaware of the new rationing program in Pennsylvania. Eventually, he stopped for gas and the following conversation ensued:
"Fill it up, please."
"Are you odd?"
"I beg your pardon."
"Are you odd or even?"
(Desperately) "I'm No. 5."
The attendant must have been a football fan. Gabriel got the gas.
THEY SAID IT
•Fred Taylor, Ohio State basketball coach, asked why it was he could penetrate to midcourt and stand for a full minute and not get a technical foul while Indiana Coach Bobby Knight got two for just sighing: "Bobby sighs a little more profanely than I do."
•Cotton Fitzsimmons, coach of the Atlanta Hawks, on his use of rookies: "I wait until I see a rookie doing a shaving commercial on TV, then I figure he might be ready to play."
•Alex Karras, ex-Iowa and Detroit Lion tackle and now a TV personality: "I never graduated from Iowa, but I was only there for two terms—Truman's and Eisenhower's."
•Jim Katcavage, new Philadelphia Eagle scout who had commuted 18 years to New York as a player and scout for the Giants: "My relatives don't have to root for the Eagles behind my back any more."
•Kyle Rote Sr., after his son won the Superstars contest: "It's not easy to follow in the footsteps of a famous son."
•Earl Williams, Baltimore Oriole catcher, on his troubles with the press and fans last season: "There was an overmagnification of the circumstances, and the communications media created issues. But I'm not blaming anybody."