Amid the furor over repeated and increasingly savage hockey violence (page 22), some sane and insightful thoughts were offered in the Montreal Star by veteran hockey writer Red Fisher:
"They are playing a little boy's game and adults who have been properly forewarned are using their fists and sticks to hurt people. They are using the brutish tools of the mugger and the street gang in what should be no more than an excursion into show biz, and when the judiciary intervenes and threatens reprisals called for by the law, a lot of people who should know better cluck with astonishment and react angrily....
"What in thunderation is going on here? How many times do these people have to be warned and charged before they realize there is no place in hockey for savagery? How many athletes must be hauled into court before they and others understand that the bludgeon is not what rules here? Where is it written that to inflict pain and injury is good and that the game belongs to the thug and the goon?
April 25, 1976
"This is my 22nd year of covering professional hockey and, despite the irritations and the burdens of too many late nights, it has been a love affair of long standing.... There is a beauty in its thud and thwack of body against body. There is breathtaking excitement in its speed and the thunder of its shooters. It is not a sport for the weak of heart and mind, but a Guy LaFleur and others with considerably less talent bring a majesty and grace to the arena....
"Most of the hockey people I know share my love for the game, so why are a few being allowed to bring it down to the gutter level? Don't they realize what they have and what they're doing to it? Does a game have to die before tears are shed?"
PLAY BUT NO PAY
With all this trouble in hockey, it's nice to deal with what is, by comparison, good news: the financial woes of the San Diego Mariners of the WHA.
Until the playoffs, the Mariners hadn't been paid since March 1, when the franchise went bust. In the interim, players on the road have subsisted on $18 a day meal money and at home on their wits. Goalie Russ Gillow confessed things got so bad that he and his wife had to cut out buying cashews and potato chips and fill snack bowls with popcorn.
But Defenseman Joe Noris reached all-league depths by being forced to quaff draft beer instead of the more expensive bottled variety during the payless weeks. If the Mariners go on to win the league championship this year, management might have to pop for champagne—but served in paper cups?
FAR OUT WAGER
Ruth Norman of El Cajon, Calif. is a 76-year-old widow with a lifetime of experiences to relate. Mainly she talks of her life on 32 other planets, her contact over the past 22 years with people on 59 celestial bodies and of her husband who "changed worlds" in 1971.
But before anyone could pat her on the back, suggest two aspirin and recommend she call back in the morning, Mrs. Norman bet $6,000 that a UFO with alien folk aboard will land (or crash) into earth sometime this year. She made the wager with Ladbroke's, the London bookies who are used to exotic bets—and who, if they lose this one, say they will owe Mrs. Norman $600,000.
Technically, the wager extends to March 1, 1977, but she says she knows the exact day the UFO will arrive in 1976 but won't disclose it "because I don't want to cause a panic." Mrs. Norman says she's not wealthy but that when she learned of Ladbroke's, it seemed foolish to pass up a sure thing. "Not one person I've talked to is dubious," she reports. Well, you'll pardon us, Mrs. Norman, if we are.
Anyway, a spokesman for Ladbroke's, Ron Pollard, confirmed that Mrs. Norman has been sending the betting money in international money orders at $500 a throw, and he says, "I hope she's not working on inside information." Do you have inside information, Mrs. Norman? "I certainly do."
With more than 700 schools under NCAA jurisdiction and only a dozen or so currently on probation for athletic indiscretions, Dallas Times Herald writer Frank Luksa says this means 98% of the member schools are squeaky clean.
But before anybody could read any further because of laughing, Luksa wisely added, "Or, if you prefer, nimble enough not to be nabbed." Yes, most of us prefer that a lot.
Still, Luksa offers some interesting thoughts on recruiting violations and what to do about them. And it may be significant that the NCAA thought enough of his views to reprint the story in its own publication.
Luksa suggests that only guilty individuals should be punished, instead of entire teams, as now is the case, and that the untainted players and coaches should be permitted to appear on television, participate in postseason play, and act like honest folks do.
That said, Luksa takes a hard line. He says that guilty players should be expelled and be ineligible to play for any other NCAA school. Guilty coaches should be dismissed and also be ineligible to coach at another school for a certain number of years, depending on the severity of their transgressions.
But how about the alums, for whom the school fight song still engenders tears and whose wallets tend to open quick and often at the mere mention of an athletic slush fund? The innovative Luksa sighs: "Make them ineligible to attend booster club meetings."
George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, intends to make refurbished Yankee Stadium (page 34) a nice place to visit, even if you wouldn't want to live there.
He promises that any usher who is the subject of two complaints of rudeness from fans will be summarily dismissed—which, considering the well-established reputation of New York ushers, could mean the Stadium will have no ushers at all by Memorial Day. Moreover, he has ordered the ball boys to throw all foul balls into the stands, despite a league rule and a fine against it. Says Steinbrenner, "If I can't afford a $50 fine, I shouldn't be in the game."
O.K., George, but you should know that your own PR people are emphasizing that the ball boys hand the foul balls to the fans because throwing them could hurt someone. And then, of course, the fans you're trying so hard to please might sue you—for a lot more than $50.
A few weeks ago the U.S. Golf Association announced it had adopted a new system of testing golf balls. Previously, the USGA had insisted only that balls be within certain standards of size, weight and velocity, as tested under laboratory conditions. But because new techniques in manufacture and design can produce balls that conform to these standards and yet travel distinctly farther on the course, the USGA has added a fourth, pragmatic condition. On an outdoor testing range the ball must not carry and roll more than 280 yards—plus a margin of tolerance of 8%, which brings the maximum distance allowed to slightly more than 300 yards.
This does not mean a maximum drive should never exceed 300 yards, or that every hacker can expect to find a golf ball that will regularly give him 280-yard drives. Jim Dent will continue to put them out there in the next county, and the duffer will still need a following wind and a hardpan fairway to reach 200. But 20 years from now, no matter how skillfully golf balls are manufactured then, the Dents and the Nicklauses will be hitting them about the same distances they do now, and the duffer will still be having trouble—unless his dream comes true and he learns to keep the left side firm.
In other words, says the USGA, golf courses in existence today must not be allowed to become obsolete. Championship courses are generally much longer than they were 60 years ago when Harry Vardon, wearing knickers and playing a hickory shaft, was laying stymies on Jim Braid, but the USGA feels the time has come to call a stop. It wants today's courses to be "as valid, difficult and enjoyable" in future decades as they are right now. Thus the hold-down on the liveliness of the ball.
Next, says the USGA, we'll get to woods and irons.
FATHER AND SON
"I'm just going to have to wait and see how motivated I am to play," says J. K. McKay, son of Tampa Bay Buccaneer Coach John McKay. And for John, who drafted his son for the NFL expansion team, that's bad news. For motivation, read: money, money, money.
J.K., wide receiver turned assistant coach at Oregon State, insists he hasn't even talked with his father about playing, doesn't know when he will and seems unhurried about the whole deal. Why? "Well, I didn't have the best time in my life playing last year in the WFL."
John, who coached J.K. at Southern Cal, jokes there may be a good reason for his son to come to gaff: "He does owe me quite a bit of money." And J.K. brightens the old man's day with this: "Whenever we do talk, Dad will have some influence on me."
BASEBALL AND PENNY ANTE
Peter Bavasi, general manager of the San Diego Padres, used to be a member of the retail clerks union and still carries his union card. Which he is quick to show to anyone who wants to see it and a lot who don't in order to indicate his roots.
Says Bavasi, "We've had the Ice Age, the Bronze Age and now the Union Age, and I think baseball players certainly have won the right to say to management, 'O.K., now we've got you by the short hairs.' " In another unmanagementlike statement, Bavasi says of major league baseball ownership, "We really can't plead inability to pay."
But Bavasi does regret the sometimes penny-ante things the players ask for. Like what? Like more meal money, he says, which currently is $23 a day while on the road—and they get free clubhouse sandwiches and drinks. "Look, we all know that $23 is more than enough to eat well on for a day," says Bavasi. "If the players want more money, they should negotiate for it when we work on their individual contracts. But it shouldn't be disguised as meal money.
"Then there's an agreement that when first-class seats are not available on planes, we have to buy three coach seats for every two players, supposedly to give them added room. So what happens? The players all crowd together and play cards. They don't use those extra seats." And, Bavasi says, with plane tickets costing the Padres $220,000 this year, eliminating the extra seat would save 6 to 7%—about the minimum salary ($16,000) for one player.
What Bavasi says is logical, but logic seems to have little to do these days with who gets on first base in the ongoing labor dispute. And logic deserts Bavasi when he speaks his favorite piece to new players: "Remember, Padres spelled backwards is opportunity."
Larry Gottfried, the national tennis champ for boys 16 and under, left his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. recently to attend high school in San Antonio. The reason, he says, was to find stronger practice partners.
But he has found an added benefit, which some might not consider a ringing educational endorsement. "I can miss a month of school and only be a week behind," says Gottfried. "They don't go very fast in school in Texas because they don't talk very fast. In every sentence they say 'Y'all.' "
THEY SAID IT
•Richard Dunn, European heavyweight champ, who is scheduled to fight Muhammad Ali on May 25 and who has suffered nine losses, eight by knockout, in 42 bouts: "It doesn't look very good, does it?"
•Dr. Joyce Brothers, television psychologist, on the addiction of her husband to televised sports: "If we did get a divorce, the only way he would know it is if they would announce it on Wide World of Sports."
•Tom Williams, Houston's black assistant GM, on the Oilers' top draft choice, Mike Barber, who is white: "He weighs 230 pounds, has great hands, runs the 40 in 4.5, does the high hurdles in 13.7 and high-jumps 6'6". Sounds like he was born the wrong color."