THE WALTON SHUFFLE
In 1974, when Bill Walton was a rookie with the Portland Trail Blazers, Tom Meschery was one of the team's assistant coaches. As a player, Meschery had been a brawler; off the court, he was a poet, and a sensitive man. So Meschery knew that Bill Walton, the All-America center from UCLA, was in for a rough professional career unless he became tougher, mentally as well as physically. Walton missed a number of games during his first two seasons because of injuries. Some of his teammates suspected him of dogging it and Meschery constantly had to remind Walton that playing in pain—though a questionable practice—was a fact of life in the pros.
Eventually Walton embraced the code. Once scorned by the press and fans for his attitude, he became the embodiment of the perfect center as the Blazers won the NBA title in 1977.
Last season Walton was plagued again with injuries, missing much of the second half of the schedule because of pain in his right foot, which was alleviated by minor surgery. He came back for the playoffs, limping through the first game against Seattle because of pain in his left foot, which became so severe that it was injected with a drug before the second game. In the first half of that game, Walton supposedly suffered the break in his left foot that has had him hobbling ever since. However, reports indicate that Walton subsequently learned that X rays may have shown that his foot was already broken when a team doctor injected him before the second Seattle playoff game.
Last week he insisted that he be traded. The reason, it seems, was the medical treatment he received in Portland. Pain-killing injections are apparently responsible for Walton's disaffection with the Blazers. Said John Bassett, a Portland attorney who is acting as a Walton spokesman, "He felt that his enthusiasm for playing basketball was taken advantage of."
By quickly agreeing to Walton's demand, the Blazers made a murky situation even murkier. Now there is even talk of a possible lawsuit against the Blazers if there is no trade. It seems unlikely that the team wants to provoke any lawsuit in which medical practices would be publicly aired.
The Walton case is intriguing because the question of playing in pain is evidently at its core. After the Blazers won the '77 title, the assumption was that Walton had accepted the idea and he was praised for his maturity and newfound wisdom. Now the debate over medical practices in professional sports may start again. Which isn't all bad.
The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics have never stirred much interest even among some of those eligible to compete—Siberian Eskimos have been invited to participate since the Games began in 1971, but they have so far disdained to cross the Bering Strait to Alaska, where the Olympics are held—but what the Games lack in scope, they make up for in color.
The competitors in this year's Olympics, which took place in Fairbanks two weeks ago, were Inuit Eskimos from the North Slope, Yupik Eskimos from western Alaska, Aleuts from the Aleutians (a separate group, neither Indian nor Eskimo), Athabascan Indians from the interior, and Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians from southeastern Alaska. Six seal-oil lamps are lighted to start the Games, the last one by two women—one Eskimo, one Indian, to symbolize the new unity between the two peoples. Not so long ago they used to kill each other.
The events are a mixed bag of native contests, with an occasional grudging nod to the outside world. This year the Nome dance team introduced a step called the Iceberg Bump, a disco version of a dance performed by Eskimos for centuries. Also on the schedule were the greased-pole walk; the blanket toss; seal skinning (the seal must be skinned as quickly as possible, with points being deducted for holes and thin spots; the record is 57 seconds, held by Rhoda Nageak of northwest Alaska); finger pulling; fish cutting; sewing; the one-and two-foot high kick; and the knuckle hop. In this last event contestants assume a pushup position on their knuckles and toes and then "hop" as far as they can; this year Gordon Kilbear hopped 75 feet to break the record—and possibly several of his fingers.
Perhaps the most intriguing event of all is the ear-weight competition, where a string with a weight suspended is looped around a contestant's ear and he walks as far as he can with it. Donald Ahsoak of Barrow set a record for the event by carrying 16 pounds 1,542'3", then was taken away to be fitted for a new set of stretch earmuffs.
DAY OF WHINE AND ROSE
When his illustrious hitting streak finally ended at 44 games in Atlanta last week, Pete Rose reacted not with disappointment or resignation but with an uncharacteristic fit of pique. Rose felt Atlanta reliever Gene Garber had pitched him very cute, and had cost Rose a fair shot at Joe DiMaggio's 56-game record by striking him out in the ninth inning on a 2-and-2 changeup. "Garber was pitching like it was the seventh game of the World Series," Rose said. "I had one pitch to swing at that was a strike. Most pitchers in baseball just challenge a guy in that situation. If Phil Niekro had been pitching and I got five pitches, I guarantee you three would have been fastballs. I wouldn't have seen the knuckleball, his best pitch."
Well, since when does Pete Rose expect favors from pitchers? And what sort of achievement would it have been had Rose beaten DiMaggio's record on a diet of nothing but fastballs and whatever other pitches Rose deemed a suitable challenge?
Gene Garber is paid by the Atlanta Braves and supported by Atlanta fans for getting hitters like Rose out the best way he can, and the best way Garber can is by throwing his best pitch, the change.
Few players have pursued the crystallization of excellence more doggedly than Rose. He should recognize that pursuit when he sees it in others.
ONE, TWO, THREE
Ruzek to Shoemaker to Kaage? It doesn't exactly have the rhythm of Tinker to Evers to Chance. How about Drake to Shoemaker to Kaage? Still doesn't sing? Two weeks ago the above-mentioned no-names from the Lodi Dodgers of the California League made history by completing two triple plays in one game. The only other double triple play in all of recorded professional baseball—it has never happened in the majors—was executed in 1904 by Kansas City of the old American Association.
Oh, yes, Lodi won, 11-6 over Fresno. No one seems to remember what Kansas City did.
KICKING THE HAND
This year, for the first time, more Charlotte, N.C. youngsters are expected to play soccer than Pop Warner football. "Pop Warner, it's no secret, is suffering, and soccer is the reason," says Doug Meelan, director of the Starclaire Athletic Association in Charlotte. That city's Park Sharon Athletic Association dropped football this year when participation declined in three years from 200 youngsters to 75. During the same period, the soccer program grew from zero to 500. Charlotte's Olde Providence Recreation Association dropped football three years ago and started a soccer program with 160 youngsters. It now has 600. On the other hand, Charlotte's SouthPark program dropped soccer to protect its $25,000 investment in football equipment. "One sport dilutes the other," says Tom Little, SouthPark's director. But it's clear which one is winning. At least in Charlotte, N.C.
And at least one former pro footballer is kicking the hand that fed him—although perhaps that's not so surprising when one considers that he played soccer as a child in Hungary long before he even heard of American football. Pete Gogolak, former placekicker and alltime leading scorer for the New York Giants, is running a soccer camp in New Canaan, Conn. for more than 300 youngsters. "This sport hasn't even scratched the surface," says Gogolak. "To put an 8-year-old in a helmet and shoulder pads and tell him to start hitting is madness. Football has been great to me, but for this age group, soccer is the only sport."
TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO SCREAM
If you are thinking of attending the Ali-Spinks rematch in the New Orleans Superdome on Sept. 15, you had better plan on floating a bond issue to finance the trip. Ringside seats (all 13,000 of them) are going for $200 and the cheapest seats cost $25. Most hotels and motels are raising their rates for the week of the fight beyond even what they charge during Mardi Gras and are demanding a minimum reservation of three to four days.
The Delta Towers Hotel, at which a single room costs between $28 and $45, is charging $100 a night, with a three-night minimum. The Dauphine Orleans Motor Hotel will raise its premium rate from $52.65 to $85 a night with a four-night minimum. Commendably, some hotels, such as the Royal Orleans, Fairmont, Hyatt Regency and Royal Sonesta are maintaining their policies of never altering year-round rates.
Ray Liuzza, president of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Motel Association, has called "unfortunate" the fact that some hotels have raised rates "beyond what would be necessary to cover the additional expenses during this special period." Nonetheless, New Orleans hoteliers are predicting there will be little room at the inns.
YOU SPELL RELIEF W-I-L-H-E-L-M
This week the Rolaids Relief Man Award was placed on permanent display in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., and it was interesting to note that the trophy got into the Hall before any relief pitcher did. Although 41 starting pitchers have been inducted, no reliever ever has. In the most recent balloting, Hoyt Wilhelm received 158 votes, but 285 votes are needed for induction.
Wilhelm, who still has 19 years to get the requisite number of votes, made his major league debut in 1952 as a 28-year-old rookie with the New York Giants. That year he became the first reliever to win a league ERA title with a mark of 2.43, and his 15-3 record was the best in both leagues. In 1959 his 2.19 ERA for the Baltimore Orioles made him the only pitcher—starter or reliever—ever to win the earned run championship in both leagues, a record that still stands. During his 21-year major league career (Wilhelm was 49 when he retired), he set six other records, one of them unofficial and all of which still exist. Among them are most saves (227), most relief wins (124), most games pitched (1,070). He retired with a lifetime ERA of 2.52, allowed only 150 home runs in his major league career, and in 1958 pitched a no-hitter for Baltimore against the New York Yankees in one of only 52 starting appearances.
That's some relief.
Consider for a moment the "oooooo" in baseball cheering. Remember how Baltimore fans greeted John (Boog) Powell? "They're not booing," Curt Gowdy would always say, "they're going 'Boooooog.' " Logic would dictate that the practice started with David (Boo) Ferriss, the Red Sox pitcher of the mid-'40s, particularly when he was having a bad day. It caught on. When Moose Skowron came to bat in Yankee Stadium in the '50s, the fans would give out with a big "Moooooose!" When Phil Roof was in Oakland, it was "Roooooof!" When Lou Brock is on base in St. Louis, it is "Loooooo!" And when Vida Blue is pitching in San Francisco, it is "Bloooooo!" The trend may have been taken to its ultimate in Oakland this season when Larry Wolfe, a utility infielder for the Minnesota Twins, was announced. Wolfe? Of course. "Owwooooooo!"
THEY SAID IT
•Ron Fairly, of the California Angels, explaining why he has lost none of his speed at age 40: "There was nothing to lose."
•Willie McCovey, asked if he is a superstar: "I don't think baseball has a superstar today, regardless of what the salaries say. Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio were superstars."
•E. J. Holub, former Kansas City Chief linebacker, on his 12 knee operations: "My knees look like they lost a knife fight with a midget."