YOU PLAY BALL WITH ME
Next week is when spring training seriously begins for major league baseball, or was supposed to begin, or, God forbid, gets delayed indefinitely. The effulgence of spring—in the form of pitchers loosening up, batters swinging rustily, shortstops cautiously trying that first long throw across the infield—can be dimmed and lost if the infighting between the owners and the players gets in the way.
But hope springs eternal, the pun probably being intentional. Spring is the season to be optimistic. Agreement has yet to be reached in baseball's big contract dispute, but some signs of settlement can be found. The owners, traditionally intractable, made an offer to the players that showed management is at last willing to accept the principle that the reserve clause has to be changed. In other words, litigation is no longer necessarily the last word on the subject. The players, while countering the offer, used temperate language, made it clear that they were willing to accept some restriction on their freedom of movement from club to club, made no instant threat to strike and reaffirmed that they were willing to go to spring training without a contract.
In other words, even though we're negotiating, let's play ball. Right. It would be a dreadful mistake for the owners to lock the players out of the training camps, as they are seriously threatening to do. After the upbeat note of last season, culminating in a splendid World Series, spring training this year is essential, as much for the continued goodwill of the fans as for the conditioning of the players. Neither side compromises itself by taking part in this warm, welcome rite of spring, and "play ball" is not just an idle phrase.
People disturbed by stories of declining interest in sport might be interested to know that tickets for the 1977 NCAA basketball championship, which will be played in Atlanta late in March, will go on sale April 1—this year. Stan Watts, chairman of the NCAA's Division I basketball committee, says, "There has been such a demand for tickets to the championship the past few years that we have to hold a lottery." All public sales are by mail only (maximum: four tickets per customer), and to have your order even considered it must be postmarked April 1 or later. Except later may be too late. The April 1 letters are put in a pool and drawings are made until all tickets are gone. If tickets are left over, April 2 postmarks go in the pool. "However," Watts warned, "we had to return many April 1 orders last year."
IT PASSETH UNDERSTANDING
Sport as a bellwether of international goodwill was at its finest in a recent diplomatic discussion between France and Italy. The boundary separating the two countries twists and turns through the Alpine hills and mountains, and it was discovered that while the 1st tee of a golf course near Montg√®nevre was in Italy, the 18th green was in France. Similarly, a ski lift rising to a French slope had its bottom stations in Italy.
Consultation and, voil√†, a sporting exchange: the boundary has been formally straightened. Italy got the golf course, France the ski lift. Peace.
The Philadelphia Phillies, given to extravagant promotional stunts on opening day, have worked out a complex Bicentennial revue for this season's home opener on April 10. A baseball will be carried by riders on horseback all the way from Boston to Philadelphia and into Veterans Stadium, where it will be transferred to someone called Rocket Man, who will jet pack his way around the stadium before presenting the ball to Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, who will, after all this effort, toss out the first ball.
A sportswriter listening as the complex plan was outlined asked, "What's the rider going to shout as he goes by—one if by fastball, two if by curve?"
In Bicentennial Boston, that city of midnight rides and floating tea parties, the revolutionary fervor yet lives. Boston is a town of hockey madness, with rinks open round the clock, Zambonis gulping gas like Cadillacs, and the annual Beanpot Hockey Tournament. For 24 winters four metropolitan schools (Boston University, Boston College, Harvard, Northeastern) have met in short, furious battle for the unofficial city championship. First prize is an actual honest-to-Cabot beanpot.
Boston University, victor eight of the past 10 years and ranked No. 1 in the East this season, was expected to win the tournament again, in good part because of the numerous skilled Canadian players on its roster. There are 16 collegians from north of the border on the Terriers' 27-man squad.
But Boston College, twice defeated this year by BU in regular-season play, possibly because its squad is totally American, showed the old patriotic spirit in the 1976 Beanpot by upsetting the favored Terriers 6-3 in the tournament final. Not only are the Eagles all homegrown, 80% of them are from greater Boston. BC's nationalistic approach to hockey is explained by John (Snooks) Kelley, who retired in 1972 after coaching BC for 36 years. "It's not that we're anti-Canadian," says Kelley. "We're just pro-American. The kid who delivers your paper, who takes your daughter to the prom—that's who we want at BC. There are plenty of good hockey players right here in this country."
After the splendid triumph a soaring Eagle fan, savoring the taste of Bean for the first time in 11 years, cried, "Well, we've beaten the Canadians. Bring on the Russians!"
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A...
Several people in various parts of the country have popped up with the same lively suggestion: Hey, they say, why not raise money for the U.S. Olympic team by having a check-off box on Federal income tax returns? You know, like the one that lets you contribute $1 to your favorite presidential election campaign fund. Boy, what an idea! So simple and easy. We could raise a bunch of money for the Olympics that way.
Wait a minute! If we can give money to politicians and athletes, there would be no reason why we couldn't contribute to other causes. Put a check mark here if you want to contribute a dollar for cancer research, public libraries, reforestation, fighting the common cold, helping New York City avoid default, building shuffleboard courts for the aged, stamping out coyotes and wolves, protecting coyotes and wolves. Our own suggestion is a box that would let you contribute to the construction of a home for retired sportswriters. We know the spot—on Longboat Key in Florida, not too far from fishing, swimming, the baseball camps, horse racing, NFL football, restaurants, bars.
Or put a check mark here if you think a tax form is for taxes.
The subject of money and the Olympics brings us to amateurism, which is so hard to define, since one man's amateur is another man's cheat. Who can blame the athletes, some of whom have a hard time figuring out which table their bread is under? Rules, in a word, vary and some amateurs are able to marry, raise children and live comfortably without apparently doing gainful work. Years ago, before open tennis came into being. Red Smith recognized this when he described the Australian star Frank Sedgman, who had received a ¬£6,000 ($13,260) gift from Aussie fans before he turned professional in 1953, as "the world's most amateur tennis player, pound for pound."
Now we have Cindy Nelson, America's Olympic bronze medal winner in the downhill at Innsbruck. On the same day Nelson made her medal-winning run, several hundred thousand readers of the Sunday New York Times saw her featured in a big, striking, colorful ad for Fabergé. Nelson's name was headlined over a photograph of her in ski clothes, with skis. "I just discovered Fabergé's new LipSlick," burbles the copy, which goes on to stress Nelson's position as a top-ranked international competitor.
How come? How can an amateur endorse a commercial product? The answer is, Nelson received no money for the ad. Instead, the U.S. ski team benefited. Under International Ski Federation rules, she therefore remained an amateur.
Fair enough? Perhaps. But in other sports, an athlete appearing in such an ad would have had his or her amateur status shot down on sight. Four University of Hawaii basketball players who appeared, without pay, in an automobile commercial at the request of their coach, were summarily suspended under NCAA rules. When a photograph of decathlon world-record holder Bruce Jenner appeared in an ad put out by the insurance company he works for, U.S. amateur officials had to go to considerable trouble to prove to the International Amateur Athletic Federation that the photo had been run without Jenner's knowledge and consent.
How can such disparate attitudes be justified? If you can answer that one, you're eligible to run for president of the International Olympic Committee.
GOING TO THE DOGS
Although the poodle is still the most popular dog in the country, leading the American Kennel Club registration figures for the 16th straight year, guard dogs, or "deterrent dogs" as they are delicately termed by the sensitive, are growling their way up the list. German shepherds are second, Doberman pinschers fourth. "There are no toy breeds in the top 10 anymore," says John Mandeville of the AKC. "There is tremendous interest in the larger dogs, including Irish setters, Labradors, golden retrievers, Saint Bernards, English sheepdogs and Siberian huskies, because they are all substantial dogs."
There are some 40 million dogs in the U.S. now—every other American household has one—and the amount of money spent annually on their purchase, care and feeding is more than $2 billion. Kerr Mudgeon, our house grouch, says it's enough to make him go out and buy a cat. Though he prefers goldfish, which never growl and seldom bite.
LET'S GO, LENS
The familiar lose-the-contact-lens-on-the-gym-floor routine took on a new dimension during a high school basketball game in Delaware between Tower Hill and Wilmington Friends. At a tense moment, with the crowd on edge, one of the players called time and indicated he had lost a lens. Next came the tedious hands-and-knees scene, while the bubbling, expectant crowd subsided into silence. It was too much to take. A small cluster of fans began to chant, "FIND that contact! FIND that contact!" and the cry spread to the entire arena. A great cheer of relief went up when the player found the elusive bit of plastic—hidden in a corner of his eye—and the game was able to go on.
Pro golfers seem always to be knocking par to smithereens, with the poor fellow who comes in with a nice neat 70 back there in 37th place. However, an analysis of the 1975 tour shows that in the unlikely event a golfer had played every round of every tournament and had shot even par in every round, he would have won nearly $150,000.
THEY SAID IT
•Leo Nomellini, All-Pro tackle with the San Francisco 49ers and later a professional wrestler, asked which is the tougher sport: "Oh, wrestling is much tougher. Every night you have to drive a lot of miles to another arena."
•Dr. Arthur Beisser, Los Angeles psychiatrist, on violence in sports: "We're seeing a new sort of violence. It's being used not as a means to an end, but for recreational purposes, for pleasure. It's an end in itself."
•Rich Gossage, Chicago White Sox pitcher, on the possibility the team might wear shorts this season: "I don't have bad-looking legs."
•John P. Flanagan, Indiana legislator, explaining that the reason he voted for a bill that would authorize pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in his state was his mother: "When I left home this morning she said, 'Son, it's too far to drive to Louisville.' "