Despite the success of Ping-Pong diplomacy with China, the Ford administration has said, at least for the moment, that it will not go along with a plan to initiate baseball diplomacy (SI, Nov. 24) with Cuba. The proposal to send a group of major-leaguers to Havana in March to perform against a Cuban all-star team may have been vetoed for the poorest of reasons: domestic politics.
Secretary of State Kissinger has acknowledged that the Havana trip, organized by two young independent television producers, Barry Jagoda and Richard Cohen, with the support of Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, has been shelved, but he has given no reason for that decision. State Department officials say that Kissinger has rejected the idea because of Cuban military involvement in the Angolan civil war, the Castro government's persistent support of Puerto Rican independence and Cuba's vote in favor of last month's United Nations resolution that declared Zionism a form of racism.
But the use of these international considerations as an excuse to prevent the baseball trip is suspect, particularly when it is remembered that the U.S. table tennis team was allowed to visit China at the same time the People's Republic was supplying arms to North Vietnamese forces that were involved in a shooting war with American troops.
December 15, 1975
State Department officials also revealed another—and perhaps the real—reason for disapproval of the Havana visit when they told George Gedda of the Associated Press that Ford is reluctant to make a sporting gesture of friendship toward Cuba at a time when it might cost him conservative votes in Republican Presidential primaries next February and March.
The State Department has indicated that the antitrip decision might yet be reversed, and it should be, especially if it did indeed arise from domestic political concerns. No one expects a visit to Cuba by American big-leaguers to create an instant atmosphere of universal good will—in sport or in politics—but at least it would be a welcome step in that direction.
'TIS THE SEASON
The war between some motorcyclists and such conservationist groups as the Sierra Club moves on. Bikers who bristle at proposals that would restrict their freedom of movement are being urged in ads appearing in Cycle News and other publications to buy special T shirts "just in time for Christmas." The T shirts bear the message IMPROVE THE DESERT. PLANT A SIERRA CLUBBER.
American track coaches at the NCAA cross-country championships two weeks ago (SI, Dec. 8) were griping again about foreign athletes running for U.S. colleges. The University of Texas at El Paso and Washington State, which finished one-two, had eight foreigners among their 10 scoring runners.
What is remarkable about this is not so much that these top runners are foreign as that seven are Kenyans and, moreover, that five of the seven come from the same section of Kenya (Rift Valley, one of that country's eight provinces). The five had competed against one another in the Rift Valley high school cross-country championships in 1971, and three of them (John Ngeno and Joshua Kimeto of Washington State and Sammy Maritim of UTEP) finished one-two-three in Kenya's national high school championship the same year. Indeed, Rift Valley runners took eight of the first nine places in that race.
Kenya, which is slightly smaller than Texas in area, has a population of more than 13 million, but of the 25 or so Kenyans now on track scholarships in the U.S., 17 are from Rift Valley. Kenya has more than 40 tribal groups, but runners from just two of these tribes—including such heroes as Kipchoge Keino and Ben Jipcho—have accounted for all 45 track medals that Kenya has won in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. Furthermore, outstanding runners from neighboring Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda come from tribes that are closely related to these two.
HOMAGE TO GOTHAM
An approving comment on New York comes from our Kansas City correspondent Ted O'Leary, who says, "Out here in the hinterlands New York has been getting a bad press. We are led to believe that its people are either bums who live off the public trough or the pampered rich. But now we hear about the Brooklyn College football team, and our attitude changes. We read that Vince Gargano, the head coach, had his salary reduced from $3,200 to nothing because of the city's budget crisis, and that his players buy their own shoes and practice in their old high school jerseys. We note that the team's budget this season was $8,500, a sum that wouldn't pay the recruiting phone bill at a lot of big colleges. Gargano said that the school got its players the best helmets money could buy, but had to scrimp on other things, such as buying meals for the team on game days. Yet Brooklyn got through its season (six wins, one defeat) and was invited to play in the Coco Bowl in San Juan against the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico (Brooklyn won 50-12). To accustom themselves to San Juan's tropical heat, the players worked out in the furnace room at Roosevelt Hall on the Brooklyn campus.
" 'There is a nice spirit,' said Dr. Charles Tobey, the school's athletic director. 'Maybe that's the way athletics should be.'
"Maybe so," our correspondent concludes, "and maybe such football hotbeds as Norman, Okla.; Columbus, Ohio; Tuscaloosa, Ala.; South Bend, Ind. and Lincoln, Neb. could learn something positive about their favorite sport from much-maligned New York."
HEY, WHAT'S HAPPENING?
Here is a report from Golf and Football Writer Dan Jenkins' Department of Tracking Down Spicy Rumors at the Close of the Year.
Rumor: the NFL is sure to go to a 16-game regular season in 1976. Some players are in favor of it. By adding to the season's games they would lose two of those hated exhibitions and make more money.
Our spies say: Not likely very soon, and certainly not in 1976.
Rumor: the Masters will eliminate the 18-hole playoff on Monday in case of a tie, and go to "sudden death" on Sunday, starting on hole No. 1. Why? A growing feeling that playoffs are anticlimactic—and that the Monday TV audience is deplorably small.
Our spies say: Very possible.
Rumor: Joe Namath will retire as a player and replace Alex Karras on ABC-TV's Monday Night Football.
Our spies say: If the money can be worked out, probably. Namath was first choice to take over for Don Meredith.
Rumor: Oklahoma's Leroy Selmon, the renowned defensive lineman, and California's Chuck Muncie, the all-purpose back, will be the first two collegians selected in the NFL draft.
Our spies say: Absolutely, if Tampa and Seattle are as smart as the rest of the league.
Philanthropy, historically, is the offspring of great wealth. It is refreshing to note then, that as the salaries of professional athletes have increased, so, too, has their generosity—of a few, anyway. Notable among these is Muhammad Ali. In New York to promote his new book, Ali heard on an evening TV newscast that the city's Hillside Aged Program was to be closed for lack of money. Hillside serves elderly people, including Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution during and before World War II, but the inflation-recession bind had Hillside on the ropes—until Ali appeared the morning after the newscast.
"I understand you need a lot of money to stay open," he said. "I'll give it to you." He pledged $100,000, and Hillside's directors announced later in the day that the center would remain open indefinitely. Ali stayed for an hour or so, chatting with the old folks and kissing the ladies on the cheek. His visit to the home had been spontaneous, and reporters did not hear about it until after he had gone. Asked later to explain, Ali said, "You just don't announce things like that. They're not for publicity. Service to others is the rent I pay for my room here on earth."
SCORE ONE FOR THE AAU
Those who saw the 1972 U.S. men's Olympic Track and Field Trials at Eugene, Ore. will remember a bizarre aspect of that scene: the campus at the University of Oregon resembled a refugee camp. Most of the 500 athletes who were competing had paid their own way to the Trials (many had hitchhiked) and a great number of them were scrounging around for sleeping places anywhere, even on floors in the dormitories.
At the Amateur Athletic Union's 88th annual convention last week in New Orleans one of the priorities was to establish better conditions for the 1976 Trials, which will be in Eugene next June, and it is good to report that the AAU can do some things right. Thanks primarily to the efforts of Dr. Leroy Walker and Pat Rico, who head the men's and women's track and field committees respectively, the USOC has agreed to pay the athletes' transportation costs to the Trials. Living expenses at Eugene will come from gate receipts. Even so, there still may not be sufficient funds for all who meet the Olympic qualifying standards, but that apparently is not a deterrent. "We thought of limiting the fields in order to save money," Dr. Walker says, "but we felt it would not be fair. If we get 60 sprinters who qualify, we want all of them to go to Eugene. If we need more money, we'll just have to find more money." In events in which few, if any, American athletes are likely to meet the standards—as in the women's shot put—a minimum of 12 will be invited to compete.
Last chance to qualify will be in the 1976 AAU championships at UCLA a week before the Trials. For the first time the men's and women's championships will be conducted jointly, as will the Trials themselves. "The women need to be exposed to large crowds, to quality facilities and expertise," says Pat Rico. "In 1972 we had the women's Trials at a high school in Frederick, Md., and only a couple of thousand spectators came."
BIG RED LIVES
Remember Big Red, the mascot pig of the Cooper City (Fla.) High School football team whose big moment was to come at the end of the season when she was to become the main course at the team's barbecue? There was such a protest over Red's intended fate (SCORE-CARD, Oct. 20) that school officials finally moved to spare the suddenly famous sow. Last week at the barbecue Big Red was there, alive, and two other pigs of lesser celebrity were the main course.
And the future? "The principal of Pompano Beach High has some boar hogs," says Cooper City High Principal Donald Linton, "and we're going to mate Big Red and produce some little Reds." Adds the principal, sighing, "I still can't believe a pig can get this much publicity."
THEY SAID IT
•Paul Wiggin, coach of the injury-ridden Kansas City Chiefs, on his search for a healthy defensive back: "He doesn't have to be all-pro. It's now to the point of asking whether he can run backward and yell for help at the same time."
•Jack Riley, coach of the victorious 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team, on America's slim chances of winning again in 1976: "The U.S. team is preparing for the Olympic Games by playing Boston College, New Hampshire, Dartmouth. The Russians are preparing by playing the Bruins, the Flyers, the Canadiens."
•Walt Frazier, of the New York Knicks, on the broadening effect college has had on his brother Keith, now at Kansas State: "He's becoming more open. Last time I talked to him he even said three words: 'Send me money.' "
•Dallas Hickman, Washington Redskin defensive end from the University of California, asked who gave him the nickname "Berkeley": "George Allen. He told me he can't stand Dallas."