IN OUT OF THE COLD
Now that it is all over and Henry Aaron is soaring off into uncharted space, the question arises, why did the ruckus over where Aaron should try for the equalizer and the tie breaker occur in the first place? Apparently the Braves gambled that Henry would not be making history in the opening week of the season and passed up the chance to start off with a long home stand in Atlanta. But the 1974 NL schedule was drawn up in midsummer last year when Aaron was still considerably behind the Babe's historic mark. The Braves were thinking it would be the second or third series this year before Henry neared Ruth's record. Then Aaron got into the wondrous hot streak that almost took him past the Babe before the 1973 season ended.
"It would have been a simple adjustment to reschedule the Braves into Atlanta," says Fred Fleig, the league's secretary in charge of scheduling. "And we could have let the Reds open the season at home, as they always do, against anybody—Montreal, for instance. But nobody brought it up. Not the Braves, not the commissioner."
Pity. Think of the people who would have been spared the embarrassment of wiping egg off their faces even as the Expos were wiping snow off their shoulders in Montreal. Because of the raw weather, the Expos never did get in a lick against the Cubs in their postponed two-game series and Charles Bronfman, chairman of the board, vowed never again to accept a schedule that called for playing at home before April 15.
April 21, 1974
Last week Cincinnati Manager Sparky Anderson said he would extend Bronfman's ban to all cold-weather cities in the National League. "Except for our traditional opener at home, there is no reason at all why we shouldn't play the first couple of weeks in Atlanta, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco," he said, adding that the season opens too early, anyway, and that there are too many off days through the first month. The Reds, for instance, have seven open dates in April and only 20 more through the rest of the season. "We don't need that many days off in April," he said. "The players are in shape and the hot weather hasn't hit yet."
There would be at least one problem. The league—the American, too—probably would have to abandon compartmentalizing the schedule neatly into intradivision and interdivision sections in the early part of the season, but that has always been somewhat of an artificial device that has gone unnoticed by the fans it was supposed to interest most. And losing the perfect symmetry of the schedule is a sacrifice almost anybody who has ever sat huddled under Hudson's Bay blankets at a season's opener in Minneapolis or Milwaukee or Chicago will gladly make, Henry Aaron included.
As the saying goes, it comes as no surprise in this corner that football is dangerous. It does, however, come as a distinct surprise to learn how dangerous football really is. Two researchers at the University of North Carolina, Carl S. Blyth and Frederick O. Mueller, followed the careers of 8,776 players at 43 North Carolina high schools through four seasons and discovered that 4,287, or almost half, sustained injuries either in practice or games.
The researchers, both with doctorates in physical education, concluded, not surprisingly, that the most frequent injuries are to knee, ankle, head or neck. More surprising was when most injuries occur: in September during practice and in the second quarter of a game. The player running a maximum risk is an experienced senior in a small school coached by a young man who never played college football. Three out of 10 injuries were the result of a blow from a piece of equipment, and the helmet, causing 38.8% of those injuries, was the main culprit. Next most dangerous were shoes and shoulder pads.
Drs. Blyth and Mueller saw a need for safer equipment—primarily softer internal padding for helmets and shoulder pads—and a more stringent enforcement of the rules already on the books. Deaths will never be eliminated in a hard body-contact sport like football, they said, but they can be sharply reduced by "well-trained coaches, better supervision and safety-minded game officials."
ONE MAN'S FAMILY
Fred Pieper, a traffic cop with 24 years' experience on the Millburn, N.J. police force, has 12 children and an absolute mania for golf. Pieper, in fact, feels he owes his job to the game, having been hired partly because the chief needed a strong fourth on the department team. And there is this other thing about Fred Pieper. When he owes, he pays—in this case by naming his children after golfers. Beginning with Freddie Haas Pieper, now 30, there are Jimmy Demaret, Bobby Jones, Susan, Dick Mayer, Arnold Palmer, Carol Mann, Mickey Wright, Sam Snead, Patty Berg, Ben Hogan and Betsy Rawls, who is 11.
Susan? She was supposed to be Babe Didrikson, but the priest objected, says Pieper, "because the name might affect her when she grew up. I should have gotten a golfer priest. From then on we tried to clue the priests in first to see whether they might have any objection or didn't understand the greatness of golf."
Pieper says his wife Charlotte "didn't care what we called the kids as long as I fed them. I taught them golf and none refused to learn. The game kept the family together. We would all take a ride and hit shots. My wife didn't care too much for the game herself, but she'd come with us and watch."
Pieper made the U.S. Open six years ago when he finished 11th in an Eastern section, but he says probably the best golfer is Bobby Jones. It figures. Bobby has two children of his own, Bobby Jones II and Johnny Farrell. That figures, too.
Expansion leagues always have been a haven for superannuated athletes on the verge of being tossed overboard. That fledgling enterprise, World Team Tennis, which begins play May 6, will be, too, though with a difference. With promises of big money for little work (May-August), it has coaxed back into the arena not only the oldtimers but wives and mothers and some youngsters, comparatively speaking, who once had a bright future before becoming disenchanted with the sport. The result is an assemblage of players on the league's 16 rosters that is at once fascinating and motley.
Among the names now dimly remembered on the international circuit but rich in nostalgia is Manuel Santana. At 35 and retired from big-time competition for four years, Spain's 1965 Forest Hills titlist has signed as player-coach with the New York Sets. The Boston Lobsters' player-coach, Ion Tiriac, chose semiretirement from the world circuit after one too many doubles matches with his irrepressible partner and countryman, Ilie Nastase. Carole Graebner, Forest Hills finalist in 1964, mother of two and wife of Clark, signed with her husband to play for the Cleveland Nets. The Nets also got Peaches Bartkowicz, 25, who so dominated U.S. Junior tennis that she never lost to anyone in her age group in the years 1960-67. Kristy Pigeon, only 23, who won the National Juniors in 1968 but retired three years later, will be with the Baltimore Banners. The list goes on: Fred Stolle, Bill and Lesley Bowrey, etc.
How well will the has-beens, almost-weres and still-to-bes fare against the likes of King, Newcombe, Casals, Connors, Rosewall and Goolagong? Well enough, if the experience of Mary Ann Eisel Beattie another retired U.S. Junior champ, counts for anything. Mary Ann, 27 decided to enter the recent U.S. Indoors in New York after being drafted by the Detroit Loves "to see how I'd do." With just two qualifying tournaments under her competitive frock in 18 months, she extended Chris Evert to three sets before losing 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 and announcing she was going home—"to take care of the baby."
A RACE APART
Chauvinistically, it was a hard day at the races for the males a few weeks ago at the Detroit Race Course. There were 10,000 present, a majority of them men, and 2,000 entered the handicapping contest in which they were to select the winners in each of the day's 10 races. Turns out the best handicapper was Mrs. E. B. Rossman of Detroit, with seven correct selections. Next came—a woman. Third—a woman. Fourth—woman again. Fifth? Ah. Michael Ponka salvaged whatever is left of the male reputation in the world of thoroughbreds. But cheer up, fellows. The women probably bet their horses to show. (Something tells us we'll regret that line.)
It was just one of those once-in-a-lifetime things—that happened again. You may recall that seven years ago (SI, April 10, 1967) the coaches of the American Hockey League voted Mike Nykoluk, center for the Hershey Bears, the league's Most Valuable Player, and Gordon Labossiere of the Quebec Aces its All-Star center. Well, a lot of ice has melted since then, and the coaches are in deep water again. This year, polled as usual by the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News, they voted the Rochester Americans' Art Stratton MVP and chose Steve West of the New Haven Nighthawks for the All-Star team—and, you guessed it, both are centers. The vote for All-Star wasn't even close. On the basis of five points for first team and three for second, West received 43 points and Stratton 20. It still doesn't wash.
Pros with all that money. "I could do without them." Pros with all those demands. "I could do without them." Pros living in a style we will never get used to. "I could do without them."
To hear the refrain from the man at the bar, he is tired of all those 21-year-olds asking for $200,000 no-cut contracts and pensions that will guarantee them a new Mercedes-Benz each year for the rest of their lives. His interest is slipping and the professional athlete is not setting a good example for his children.
And yet a curious thing happened when Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield kicked over the traces with the Miami Dolphins to sign up, presumably for the rest of their playing lives, with the Toronto Northmen of the still unborn World Football League. Almost nobody was outraged.
Only a few years ago the majority of fans would have considered a Csonka or Kiick or Warfield a traitor to his team, his adopted city and to the people who loved so much to see him win, except in isolated instances where there was grudging acceptance of the new ways of the business-athletics complex. But in Miami, for the few fans who thought the trio's defection was a disgrace, there were far more who shrugged and said, "For that money you can hardly blame them."
The Miami response was not unique. In Oakland and Dallas and New York, wherever a National Football League team lost star players to the WFL, it was the same: "That's the name of the game Get the money. The owners do the coaches do. Don Shula did when he left Baltimore to coach Miami."
And yet there is that ambivalence. The players themselves, those who pay them and profit by them, and those who pay to watch, all admit, in various ways, to a vague uneasiness over what has become of sport. However understandable the reasons, the fun in sport seems to be fighting a losing battle with economic reality. But the same could be and has been said about other aspects of national life. And who, willingly, would go back to the simpler days before commerce joined sport to spread and expand its pleasures and influence? It is a conundrum that even time may not solve.
THEY SAID IT
•Clifford Roberts, chairman of the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club, asked what he would do if a streaker streaked at the Masters: "Why, naturally, we would take his badge away."
•Earl Weaver, Baltimore Oriole manager, after being booed by fans when making a pitching change: "I'd rather have them out at the park booing than at home kicking the television set or complaining that the movie was lousy."
•Gibby Gilbert, unimpressed by the power of the stars over pro golfers: "If there is anything to this astrology business, Jack Nicklaus must have been born" under every sign."