BASEBALL AND BEANBALL
Last week's beanball incident in St. Louis involving the Mets and the Cards is further evidence of the necessity for far sterner action to stem the tide of violence in sport.
This episode is particularly offensive because, ironically, Card Pitcher Lynn McGlothen did what pitchers rarely do: he admitted throwing at two Met batters, Outfielder Del Unser and Pitcher Jon Matlack, both of whom he hit.
While his honesty is perhaps appealing, his words are chilling because there is every reason to think other pitchers are doing the same thing—and have for years. McGlothen was suspended for five days and fined $300, stiff by baseball standards, a joke by any other.
May 2, 1976
The normally mild-mannered McGlothen was miffed because Unser had been hitting him—nine hits in 17 at bats last season and a first-inning homer in this game. Said McGlothen, "I just can't let a hitter like Unser keep banging on me. If a pitcher feels he has been intimidated by a hitter, he has the right to throw at him." No, he doesn't. It is clearly within baseball tradition for a pitcher to brush back a hitter who has been teeing off on him, but to intentionally hit a batter is a right not granted by God, Bowie Kuhn or Abner Doubleday. It's a dangerous and unpardonable tactic.
In two innings, McGlothen hit Unser on the elbow (Umpire Bruce Froemming thought that was an accident) before throwing one behind Matlack's head (Froemming warned McGlothen), then hitting him. This generated the obligatory bench-emptying tussle. Froemming blamed the rules for not allowing him to discipline McGlothen sooner. They require the umpire to issue a warning before he can eject a pitcher, the effect being that one warning does not serve notice on all pitchers in the game, an absurd restriction that encourages retaliation. A new rule should be enacted that permits an umpire to give one warning that covers all pitchers for both teams for the remainder of the game. Then, any pitcher deemed guilty of throwing at a batter could be ejected forthwith.
Predictably, McGlothen sees little wrong with what he did. "I expected the fine, but I didn't expect to be suspended," he said. "I think I'm the fall guy." Matlack didn't cover himself with glory, either, admitting that in an attempt to retaliate for Unser's being hit he threw at McGlothen. "I wish I'd hit him," Matlack said. It was at this point that, under the rules, Froemming gave his first warning of the night to Matlack. Had that warning also applied to McGlothen, it is unlikely Matlack would have been hit or that the fight would have occurred.
There could even be more at stake here than player safety. It's not unthinkable that the day will come when 50,000 people in a baseball stadium will erupt in violence, triggered by this kind of idiocy. The thought of such a riot should be enough in itself to stir top-level baseball people into action.
"What we've got out here," says Tom Liegler, manager of Anaheim Stadium, home of the California Angels, is "grass in the grass." In the lush three-acre outfield, there used to be a mixture of four varieties of grass—Merion blue, Newport blue, Bermuda and Prato. Now there are five, what with the introduction of marijuana.
The plants got there, says Liegler, after four rock concerts during which thousands of spectators sat on the grass. Make that the real grass. Anyway, as unlikely as it sounds, apparently one or two of the spectators were smoking marijuana. Spillage was blamed, and the weed, which is so hardy folks tell stories of how it grows in cement, thrived.
"At first we thought it was just weeds," says Liegler. "Later we found out we were right." Liegler ordered heavy spraying with herbicides, after issuing orders that nobody besides his trusted assistants was to work on the project—especially those who offered to work for nothing. The marijuana thrived.
The ultimate solution was to clip it off at about 1½ inches and that seems to be succeeding. The same cannot be said of the Angels, who are scarcely flying high with a 3-6 record at home.
SEEING IS UNBELIEVING
Racetrack people often exaggerate. A horse that starts quickly is said to "fall out of the gate"—implying it has the same gathering momentum as a safe dropped from a 20th-floor window. Often a horse that wins by more than one length is said to have "won by a city block."
This tradition of overstatement may explain a strange but wonderful comment by former jockey Johnny Sellers, an otherwise mild and cautious man, on ABC's telecast of the Wood Memorial. In relating why blinkers are put on some horses, Sellers said that the position of the horse's eyes—way out on the sides of the head—affords "practically 380-degree vision."
Since a full circle has only 360 degrees, does Sellers mean that there is an overlapping zone where the horse sees double?
One of his listeners was a New Jersey man who, sad to report, owns a horse known as a "fast quitter"—quick from the gate, likely to set the early pace, but prone to give up when another horse challenges.
He now believes he knows his horse's problem, thanks to Sellers: "As soon as another horse comes up behind him, he sees two horses. He thinks he might beat one of them but certainly not both of them, so he quits."
For all those horses who find running a bore about the time they get to the top of the stretch, one in the field often surprises its owner with a victory in a big race. At Florida's Gulfstream Park, winning owners got a second surprise this season when they discovered they also had won the privilege of paying for their own trophies.
When Honest Pleasure won the Florida Derby, owner Bert Firestone received $91,440—and a debit for $2,149.75 for the trophy. Hail The Pirates won the Gulfstream Park Handicap and $73,560—minus the silverware dun of $1,552. One irate trainer grumped that he would much prefer the money to the trophy.
Doug Donn, director of racing, insisted that it was all a result of bookkeeping error. What was supposed to have been done, he said, was to take $20 or so from the nominating fees paid by the owners of each horse named for a stakes race and pool it to buy the trophy. But in view of the bad press the whole deal got—and on the surface it did smack of chipping—Donn said the track would pay for all the trophies itself, about $8,000 worth this year.
Mistake or not, it clearly was an idea left standing backward in the starting gate.
CALLING THE SHOTS
Officials, referees and umpires at sports events are increasingly subjected to a full load of abuse. Sometimes, despite their whimpering, because they deserve it. Still, nowhere has the situation been more acrimonious than in tennis, where the 11 linesmen and an umpire work most championship events at rates ranging from $0 to $2 a day. The players tend to believe they are overpaid, considering the quality of their work.
A veteran umpire in the Washington, D.C. area, Norman Fitz, has been the subject of player harassment, including, he says, an obscene gesture this spring by Eddie Dibbs. "So long as the Nastases and Connorses continue to be top drawing cards and get away with ridiculing officials," says Fitz, "the other players feel a good imitation may work miracles."
Fitz thinks the solution is threefold: make all officials pass the new qualification test that was drawn up two months ago; reduce the number of officials from 12 to four or five professionals earning at least $20,000 each a year (World Team Tennis this year uses five officials per match at $25 to $40 per person); and raise the necessary funds by taking the dollars out of the promoter's pocket or, more likely, out of the prize money.
It's that third point that is sending players' rackets into the air in rage. Still, Fitz' idea is an innovative smash that not one player in 100 will admit hits the line. Which it does.
Yvan Dubois, mayor of Montreal's Olympic Village, where the athletes will stay, describes it as "a place of residence where comfort, which is less important, will give way to a living humanism and continuous animation." Translation: Spartan and crowded.
Each two-bedroom apartment, for example, will house 12 athletes—two to sleep in the kitchen, four in one bedroom, two in the other and four in the living room. Many competitors will use communal toilets and showers at the end of the halls. But Olympic officials recommend that the athletes shower at the venues, because of an expected shortage of hot water in the village.
There will be only 980 apartments for an anticipated 12,000 participants; in Munich in 1972 there were 4,700 apartments for 10,500. And since there is only one elevator for every 1,000 athletes, they will be expected to use the stairs in the 19-story buildings, which would be of some benefit if mountain climbing were an Olympic sport.
But there is a silver lining to all this—or at least a cotton one. The athletes will get regular cotton sheets and pillow cases, the original idea of paper sheets and cases having been crumpled up and discarded.
TALK IS CHEAP
In the current hockey season, the Toronto Toros of the WHA compiled the worst record in the league (24-52-5) and blew $1½ million doing it.
The other day, club president John Bassett called a team meeting and asked the players to help in a telephone campaign to persuade season ticket holders to renew for next year—if there is one for the Toros. Stockholders meet in early June to decide the fate of the club. Bassett stressed two points: that the scheme is strictly voluntary and that the players' futures (average Toro salary is $55,000) are on the line.
It seems to be working. Superstar Frank Mahovlich (salary: $235,000 a year) is among the callers; so is Defense-man Jim Dorey, a former refrigerator salesman, who is terrific at peddling tickets. At week's end, pledges were in for 2,200 tickets (worth approximately $600,000) and the players were getting 85% affirmative answers. But some of the fans were attaching strings. One told Leftwinger Lou Nistico, "I'll buy if you get Mahovlich to call me so I can tell him what I think of him, which isn't much." Nistico promised.
Meanwhile, fans of the more successful NHL Toronto club have organized a drive against buying Maple Leaf season tickets to protest hooliganism in the sport. A citizens group handed out flyers reading, "Let's get back to real hockey so the whole family can enjoy the game."
Former baseball star Jackie Jensen's fear of flying (SI, April 12), which haunted his career as a major-leaguer, has precipitated another crisis in his crisis-filled life. He is now the baseball coach at the University of California, and the players say they are distressed because Jensen's phobia kept them from a trip to Hawaii to play. Not so, says Jensen, the reason was that it cost too much.
Anyway, the players protested and Athletic Director Dave Maggard, who will review Jensen's status later this month, said, "It was not a request to fire Jack but it came close."
The players (22 of the top 25 signed a petition) also complained about Jensen's lack of communication, along with his failure, they said, to teach them fundamentals and make them work hard enough. Jensen countered, "I consider college baseball an activity for the students to have fun."
THEY SAID IT
•Jud Heathcote, comparing the turnout of 50 reporters at his first news conference as Michigan State basketball coach with that at a press conference held when he took over at Montana: "He and I got along just fine."
•James Lovell Jr., chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, on what will happen if people don't exercise more and eat less: "I'm convinced that the last human sound on this continent won't be a bang, but a burp."