INDIGNATION AND REALITY
After Peter Seitz, the outside member of baseball's three-man arbitration panel, cast the deciding vote in the 2-to-l decision to declare Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally free agents, management's reaction was swift and angry. Baseball's brass said Seitz' decision had shaken the very foundation of the game, immediately fired him from the arbitration board and turned their attention to the suit they have before Federal Judge John W. Oliver in Kansas City, which asks that the issue of the reserve clause be ruled not a proper subject for arbitration in the first place.
What had happened is this. Last year Messersmith, a Los Angeles Dodger, and McNally, a Montreal Expo, refused to sign new contracts for the 1975 season. Their clubs thereupon invoked a clause in the standard player contract that permits a team to renew a contract unilaterally "for a period of one year on the same terms." At the end of the 1975 season Messersmith and McNally still refused to sign new contracts, and the clubs again invoked the renewal clause, claiming that they could continue one-year renewals indefinitely. Indeed, this is what baseball understands "reserve clause" to mean; it binds a player forever to the team that owns his contract.
But Seitz ruled that one unilateral renewal was all the contract called for. And what that means, if Seitz' ruling holds, is the end of the reserve clause as it now stands.
January 5, 1976
Management's outraged reaction was predictable but shortsighted. It has been obvious for some time that the reserve clause, far more binding than similar restrictions in other sports contracts, is bound to be changed sooner or later. All that has happened is that the change may come sooner than baseball anticipated, and from an unexpected quarter—arbitration instead of the courts. Even if Seitz' decision were to be overturned by Judge Oliver, baseball's owners should face up to reality. Instead of appealing the issue in court after court, they should accept the inevitable, sit down with the players' representatives and work out a new arrangement, one that would bind a player to his club for a reasonable period of time but would still give him some freedom of choice. It is in this direction that football, basketball and hockey have made some progress. Why not baseball?
As a start, the owners might recognize one cause of their own fears. The reserve clause really protects them as much from each other as it does from the players. Without some such restrictive device, the richer owners could raid the poorer clubs' rosters at will. Baseball also complains that it must go to enormous expense to find and train young players (one estimate puts the figure at $400,000 for each man who makes it to the majors) since, unlike football and basketball, it does not have a large pool of trained college athletes to draw from. The owners could reduce this expense by combining their myriad scouting and farm systems under one central management and then draft players each year from that minor league pool.
In any case, baseball must move quickly now to resolve the problem. Spring training begins in seven weeks, and a new agreement between owners and players is supposed to be signed by then. The worst thing that could happen—for owners, players and fans—would be for the situation to disintegrate into a strike.
Team nicknames delight John Jay Wilheim of East Windsor, N. J., who has devised his own Tom Swiftian game with them. Ignoring differences of leagues and sports, Wilheim asks such questions as:
If the 76ers played the 49ers, would it be the game of the years?
If the Sabres played the Knicks, would there be a clear-cut decision?
If the Bills played the Bucks, would they cash in at the gate?
If the Blues played the Jazz, would it be a game of note?
If the Flyers played the Jets, would the game be aired nationally?
If the Reds played the Browns, would the network assign a color man?
If the Kings played the Royals, would it pack the Palace?
If the Suns played the Flames, would the teams burn themselves out?
If the Padres played the Saints, would it be a matchup made in heaven?
If the Angels played the Spirits, would either team have a ghost of a chance?
If the Cubs played the Bruins, could the public bear it?
'TIS THE SEASON TO BE WARY
It is snow-shoveling time in parts of our land, and would-be shovelers would do well to pay heed to the words of Paul Lessack, director of cardiac prevention and rehabilitation at Rutgers Medical School. Lessack, who says only 4% of middle-aged men and women are physically fit, declares that people who are over 40, or out of shape or not usually physically active, should not shovel snow. Even those up to the job should warm up first by jogging in place or doing a few calisthenics before picking up the shovel. That will get the heart muscles pumping blood in preparation for the exertion of work. The heart area should be protected with warm clothes, since cold weather constricts the arteries at a time when the shoveler's body most needs a full and increased supply of blood.
IFS, BUTS AND MAYBES
No sooner had the Mexicans knocked the U.S. out of 1976 Davis Cup competition—when Raul Ramirez, playing before a home crowd in Mexico City, won two singles matches and teamed with Marcelo Lara to take the doubles—than the second-guessing began. After all, it was the second straight time that Mexico had eliminated the U.S., and Colombia had done it a year earlier. This time it was especially embarrassing because we had a new Davis Cup captain, Tony Trabert, who had persuaded Jimmy Connors to join the team.
But Mexico won anyway, and the second-guessing went this way. We would have won...
•If Arthur Ashe, currently No. 1 in the world, had played singles. (But Ashe is far from No. 1 on clay, which these matches were played on.)
•If Connors had played doubles as well as singles. (But Dick Stockton and Erik van Dillen, who did play doubles, have been a team since they were 12 years old, and they looked very sharp in practice.)
•If Stan Smith and Bob Lutz had played doubles. (But Smith has arm trouble and would have been a chancy selection at best.)
The plain fact is that the Mexicans, and particularly Ramirez, were inspired. On this occasion, at least, they had the better team.
FORCE VS. FINESSE
Tex Winter, basketball coach at Northwestern, is against the increase in physical force in the college game. "I'm concerned about no-harm, no-foul officiating," he says. "What happens is that one team experiences national success doing one thing or another, and then everyone else mimics it. It happened with UCLA's full-court press, and now everybody is going to the strong physical players, like Indiana's Kent Benson and Kentucky's Mike Phillips and Rick Robey.
"I'm for college basketball remaining a game of finesse, not brute force. As it's played now, it's becoming like the pro game. Every time you try to make a move, you get knocked over. We don't need that. We've got a game like that already—football."
The NCAA rule restricting traveling squads (to 10 in basketball, 48 in football) is unpopular among coaches, probably unfair to individual players and almost certainly destined for revision at the NCAA convention later this month. Before it is changed, one surprising set of statistics must be reported.
When Alabama Coach Bear Bryant carried his protest against the restriction into court and obtained a favorable—if temporary—ruling from Judge Sam C. Pointer in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the judge said among other things that the rule was contrary to NCAA bylaws stressing "fair competition." The implication was that visiting teams, limited to 48 players, would be handicapped in games with home teams, allowed 60 players.
However, the Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger has come up with figures that contradict that assumption. It compared results of road games played by Southeastern Conference teams (Bryant's conference) after the 48-man rule went into effect with road games played by the same teams a season earlier. Bowl games, games played at neutral sites and games played early this season before the rule went into effect were not included. Even though the conference's overall won-lost record was down from 69-37-4 (.650) in 1974 to 63-44-4 (.588) in 1975, road game performances improved greatly. From 15-25-2 (.375) on the road in 1974, the conference teams jumped to 21-14-1 (.600) in the 48-man era.
Why? Shug Jordan, who recently retired as coach at Auburn, says 48 players are enough for a game. "The ones you eliminate," he says, "usually are the ones who stand around and do everything but get their minds on the football game." Yet Jordan is still against the rule as an unwarranted intrusion, and Bryant, who admits he was surprised by the results of the Ledger survey, says his objection to the 48-man limit is not connected with its effect on winning or losing but on its limiting the number of men who get a chance to play.
It is disappointing to report there is no truth to the rumor that Muhammad Ali will fight Mitzi Gaynor in Minsk on Feb. 20, a full 15 rounds for the title. Disappointing because the facts are worse than that: the scheduled opponent is Jean Pierre Coopman of Belgium. Site to be determined.
For those who do not recoil in instant recognition, Coopman is also known as the Lion of Flanders. Seriously. After the first flurry of press releases about the match, the chief of the European Boxing Union banned it, allowing that it wasn't so much a fight as an assassination. Next, Coopman's camp said it would ignore that veto since the Lion holds a World Boxing Association license. He is unranked by the WBA (and the WBC, for that matter).
Before the press agents got to him, Coopman was quoted as saying he feels "beat from the start," but "I promise to do all I can to be in good condition so that the match will not be a mere formality for Ali. It's a great honor, not only for me, but for Belgium."
This is another production by Promoter Don King, the man who brought us Chuck Wepner. King says that CBS will telecast the doings live on home screens. There has been no word about whether it will come during the so-called Family Viewing Hour, when bloodshed and mayhem are on hold. Roar, Lion. Bite him on the kneecap.
For its semifinal game with Milton High in the Florida Class AAA high school football playoffs last month, Ocala Forest had its jug of Gatorade handy, next to a low chain-link fence right behind the bench. During the game someone—possibly a Milton supporter but, considering the results, possibly not—reached over the fence, opened the jug and poured in a generous quantity of vodka. Some of the players noticed a slightly odd taste in the Gatorade, and so did the coaches. No matter. The game was the thing. Ocala Forest, losing 10-0 in the final quarter, rallied to win 13-10.
THEY SAID IT
•Peter Mahovlich, Montreal Canadien forward, told that teammate Yvan Cournoyer said he reminded him of Jean Beliveau: "That's quite a compliment. I didn't realize Yvan was that intelligent."
•Bill Veeck, asked what percentage of the Chicago White Sox he owns: "That's nobody's business, if you forgive me for saying so. And if you won't forgive me, it's still nobody's business."
•Johnny Moore, a 17-year-old freshman starting guard on the University of Texas basketball team: "My only goal right now is to win. That, and maybe start to shave."
•Bill Russell, refusing to reveal how much he is being paid for his telephone company commercials, but winking: "Look for a rate hike."