Will a ballplayer lay down on the job because he's not getting the salary he thinks he deserves? That's the ugly talk in Houston. When Joe Sambito and nine other Astros, mostly pitchers, were unable to come to terms this year, General Manager Tal Smith renewed their 1977 contracts. This prompted Sambito to sound off: "Don't they want us to win? We play 14 of our first 16 games against Los Angeles or Cincinnati, and considering how upset our young pitchers are, it could cost us some games. I know my performance could be affected by the way I'm treated. This is going to show. It will affect our concentration."
Pitcher Floyd Bannister said, "When I go out on the mound knowing I'm not getting what I deserve, sure it'll be on my mind. How can you be expected to do the job?"
Last week such talk led Smith to reprimand the players behind closed doors—and, with their knowledge, Smith taped the words for the press. This is what he told the players: "These comments are going to come back to haunt you. You turned a lot of people off by your statements.
March 13, 1978
"One thing that really disturbs me is the reference that you can't perform well if the club doesn't satisfy your demands. To me, that casts a reflection on your integrity as a professional athlete.
"Your fans, your teammates and your club, I think, are entitled to your best efforts. If you get beat, the fans and your teammates and your club should feel it was because the man or team was better than you on that given day. You've run the risk of leaving the impression that when you get beat, it's because you lay down."
Duane Wood of Licking Valley High School in Newark, Ohio made the dream shot against Big Walnut High. With two seconds to go in the half and Licking Valley trailing by two points, Wood, standing under the basket at the opposite end of the floor, heaved the ball 88 feet and it went through the hoop without touching the rim. A remarkable shot (but one which had no bearing on the outcome: Licking Valley won 86-75), and it brings to mind the 1957 NBA All-Star Game when Bill Sharman of the Celtics tried to pass to Bob Cousy downcourt. Sharman overthrew Cousy and the ball swished through the basket 70 feet away. Nonchalantly turning to Dick Garmaker of the Lakers, who was guarding him, Sharman said, "You never did play very good defense."
ZONE OF CONTENTION
Larry O'Brien, the NBA Commissioner, called a foul on one of his own officials last week. Before a game between the New Jersey Nets and the Atlanta Hawks at Piscataway, N.J., Richie Powers, the lead referee, informed the coaches and captains of both teams that he would not enforce league Rule No. 12, Section I, which prohibits zone defenses. The Nets, who won 97-95, used a thinly disguised 2-3 zone, and the Hawks a zone trap.
O'Brien promptly fined Powers $2,500 and suspended him without pay for three games, stating, "The job of a referee is to enforce the existing playing rules, not to arbitrarily set aside those rules to suit his own views."
Powers is not just another ref. With 20 years in the NBA, he is the senior official in point of service. Many also consider him the best. Moreover, Powers says he has the backing of most of his fellow referees, and the coaches and players. The NBA banned the zone almost 30 years ago on the grounds that it slowed down the game and made it less exciting. But Powers says, "With the 24-second clock the zone doesn't make a difference. As it stands, the rule is easily circumvented. All it does is disturb the concentration of referees who are being constantly baited by coaches to look out for the zone."
Powers acted in the Nets-Hawks game because both teams regularly use zones. They are not alone, however. Powers says he has warned virtually every team and every coach at one time or another.
Powers was wrong in taking the law into his own hands, but if his insurrection brings about a change, the game may be the better for it. "This suspension is the most devastating thing to happen to my career," he says. "I'm not the revolutionary type. But under the same circumstances, I'd probably do it again."
GETTING THE JUMP
Ski jumping may never be the same. There is now an alternative to those costly towers used by skiers to launch themselves into space. Called the speed sling or catapult takeoff, it is the brainchild of Pertti Pasanen, a Finnish comedian and movie producer. For the last three years Pasanen has been urging his invention on the Federation Internationale de Ski; recently, meeting in Finland, the FIS approved the catapult for competition.
Inasmuch as the speed sling is said to offer all kinds of advantages, Gus Raaum of the FIS jumping committee was asked to describe the device. In a cable from Finland, Raaum said, "It needs a long and flat, or slightly inclined, area. The engine is an electric motor with variable speed adjustment, which drives a thin cable along pulleys (inside steel guides) with delayed slow start and then fast acceleration to a constant preset speed along a prepared track. Two short strong pieces of rope are attached to the cable, and the jumper hangs on to these, one in each hand. When the hill is ready, a green light appears next to his boots, where he then touches a small lever which starts the engine. At a certain point he has to let go, so he has time to get set for the takeoff. The rest of the hill, landing area and outrun, are as usual."
Quick, everyone, back to the towers!
QUESTIONS OF ABUSE
Last week's opening session of congressional hearings into the NCAA's enforcement operations produced enough sparks to make headlines and raised enough questions of abuse to make the hearings well worth monitoring in the weeks to come. The most lurid testimony came from Brent Clark, the defector from the NCAA enforcement staff who popped up on the staff of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations as its "star witness" just weeks before the hearings got under way (SI, Feb. 27). He testified that NCAA investigators used "bribery" to get information and that one investigator dropped a case when provided with a woman. His memory of these titillating events was vigorously discounted by those named, and by NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers. Moreover, Clark's testimony on "selective enforcement," a term he has used to describe Byers' alleged protection of certain schools as "untouchable." was weak.
Not so easily dismissed, however, was testimony about Michigan State and Mississippi State, schools which had been recently penalized for NCAA violations. Witnesses condemned the manner by which the NCAA obtains evidence (by hook or crook, was the general theme) and the way evidence is evaluated and penalties rendered.
Defensive Tackle Larry Gillard of Mississippi State testified that the NCAA took away three years of his eligibility (he got two years back as a result of an appeal to the NCAA and the third year under a court order) because he had received a 20% discount on two pairs of pants and two shirts from a local clothing store. The NCAA prohibits such discounts specifically for athletes, but the penalty was imposed even though the proprietor testified that all students got the same discount that Gillard did.
The most impressive witness was Dr. Clifton Wharton Jr., former president of Michigan State and the new chancellor of the State University of New York, who, though defending the need for effective police work, decried the "Catch 22" nature of a process that allows for "hearsay evidence" and presumes guilt. He testified that in contrast to the NCAA's stated aim for cooperative enforcement, the NCAA staff has a "hostile attitude" when a school that is under investigation asks to see the evidence against it. The process, Wharton said, was indicted by its own complexity. "When you need a book of more than 280 [actually 241] pages to tell you how to conduct intercollegiate athletics," he said, "you are no longer talking about sport."
CHIP OFF THE OLD TEE
A golf driving range near Mount Clemens, Mich. has heated two tees so that golf nuts can whack balls in the snow all winter long. It's called Iceberg's Golf Range, and it is owned and operated by a man named Chip Iceberg. Come now, is his name really Chip Iceberg? As a matter of fact, no. His name is Roy Iceberg. Chip is his nickname.
Stimulated by our recent interest in writers and the sports that their names suggest (such as Jonathan Swift and track—SCORECARD, Dec. 12 and Jan. 16), Luther Lee of New York City points out that a number of operas have sporting themes. There are Tha‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√≤s, which is about an NHL team with a 0-0-80 record; Die Frau ohne Schatten, which is not about the wife of the oldtime Brooklyn manager who is always on the road, but concerns instead the adventures of a young woman in track and field; Der Rosenkavalier, the story of a Cleveland basketball player who to his intense embarrassment fouls out of an important game at a critical moment; Die Walküre, an epic about an Olympic event; Die Zauberfl‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áte, the Rose Bowl Parade; and The Saint of Bleecker Street, in which Archie Manning visits Greenwich Village. Baseball has the most operas. There are Cos‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬Æ Fan Tutte, based on a dramatic incident in the World Series; II Trovatore, or the Mets find a manager; and Manon Lescaut, the saga of hyped-up rooters who cheer their team to victory.
Those long-distance field-goal kickers in the Southwest Conference (SI, Nov. 7, 1977) won't get a boot out of a change made by the NCAA Football Rules Committee. Starting this fall the colleges must use the pro rule: the ball returns to the line of scrimmage after a missed field goal beyond the 20-yard line. Moreover, Dave Nelson, the committee secretary, says, "We won't allow kickers to use their 'pet' balls. They'll have to kick with a new ball, not those pumpkins they've been sneaking on the field."
FITTING THE CRIME
Angered by a referee's call in the Tennessee-Kentucky football game last fall, Robert J. Painter, 22, threw a bottle toward the field from the upper deck of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium. The bottle struck a woman in the stands below, and she suffered a cut that required six stitches. Painter was arrested and charged with wanton endangerment. He pleaded guilty, and a fortnight ago Judge James E. Keller sentenced him to a year in jail and a $250 fine. Judge Keller then waived the fine and granted probation from jail with the following conditions: Painter must pay the victim's medical expenses, and he must not attend a sporting event of any kind in or out of Kentucky for two years. However, Painter will go back to Commonwealth Stadium for the next two seasons. He will be in detention while the games are being played and afterward will help clean up the stadium.
Carole Morse, director of the Spouse Abuse Center in Louisville, was livid when she saw one of the billboards. In big letters it said BEAT YOUR WIFE, and then in smaller letters GO BOWLING. She complained to the Bowling Proprietors Association about this kind of promotional advertising. No problem. A sign painter will touch up each billboard, covering over "wife" and substituting "husband."
Although some people insist that husbands are spouses, too, apparently they aren't as well organized.
THEY SAID IT
•Monte Towe, former Denver Nugget guard, making his debut as a TV color man for his old basketball team's games, after being told by broadcasting partner Al Albert that he was now seeing the game from a whole new perspective: "Actually, Al, we're only a few feet away from where I was sitting last year."