Four years ago this spring, the baseball team at Patapsco High School outside Baltimore had a pinch hitter who specialized in drawing walks. He was Ron Franklin, now the rider of Spectacular Bid. "Ronnie was only about 4'7" and 72 pounds," says Rich Bartos, who coached the team. "When we got him into a crouched batting stance, it was almost impossible to pitch to him. The one year he played, he came to bat 17 times and walked nine.
"Ronnie was small, but he was tough. In fact, he got into several fights because of his size. I thought baseball would be good for him because he was having an identity problem in school. He became one of the more popular kids once he started playing. In fact, that spring was probably his best semester."
A uniform had to be made for the pintsized player. "Our other uniforms cost $30, but Ronnie's specially made one cost $60," says Bartos. The other players had low numbers on their uniforms, but Franklin wore No. 44, the same as Henry Aaron. Alas, the one time Franklin was allowed to swing away, he struck out.
There's a juicy story behind Dutch soccer star Johan Cruyff's decision to talk contract with the Cosmos and the L.A. Aztecs. Only last year, after he retired from Barcelona, for which he starred for five years, Cruyff rejected a $4 million, two-year contract with the New York/New Jersey club. The onetime Amsterdam street kid, who amassed a fortune estimated at $10 to $14 million, wanted to prove that he could play the role of star business tycoon.
Such was not to be the case. All signs are that Cruyff's business empire is in financial jeopardy as the result of wheeling-dealing by a business partner, Michel George Basilevic, whom he met shortly after signing with Barcelona. According to sources close to Cruyff, Basilevic enrolled his children in the same private school the Cruyffs used, and when they were invited to a birthday party at the Cruyff residence, Basilevic sent along expensive presents, including a fashionable coat for Cruyff's wife, Danny. Basilevic impressed the Cruyffs further by treating them to cruises on a chartered yacht he palmed off as his own.
The ploys worked, Cruyff's friends say. Falling for Basilevic's charm, Danny introduced him to friends as "the most gorgeous man in Spain." Basilevic soon convinced Cruyff that the managerial methods of his father-in-law, Cor Coster, an Amsterdam businessman, were too old-fashioned, and he got Cruyff to invest a large part of his fortune in a number of ventures, including a pig-breeding farm and a garden nursery that was to raise tropical plants for export to Saudi Arabia and other desert states. Cruyff gave Basilevic power of attorney and paid little attention to his partner's huge short-term bank loans calling for interest rates of 10% to 20%.
Six weeks ago, several Spanish banks sounded the alarm. One banker phoned father-in-law Coster in Amsterdam, and he jumped on the first plane to Barcelona to investigate. "Cruyff is ruined," he told the press. "He will have to go back to the soccer field to make money." Coster also accused Basilevic of mismanagement, blackmail and theft.
Basilevic struck back. He said Cruyff and Coster had taken a $250,000 bribe from the president of the Barcelona club and that the two had illegally transferred millions of Spanish pesetas to an account (No. 200518) in the Union de Banque Suisse in Berne. "I kept 30 to 40 photocopies of various shadowy deals," Basilevic added. "I need 10 days to sort them out, but it will mean 10 years in jail for Johan and his father-in-law."
Cruyff and his father-in-law have initiated suit against Basilevic, but exactly how much money Cruyff lost remains to be seen. Informed business sources in Spain are convinced it's in the millions, and that's not counting what Spanish authorities will demand if Basilevic's story about illegal money transfers can be proved.
Besides being one of the PGA tour's best putters, Ben Crenshaw is the tour's only lifetime member of the National Audubon Society. As Crenshaw tells it, he became a birding golfer at about the same time he became a budding golfer. "When I was eight, my older brother Charlie killed a robin with a BB gun," he says. "That upset me so much I buried it in a shoe box in the backyard. Ever since then I've kept up the interest."
Crenshaw finds certain golf courses better suited for bird watching than others. He lists Sawgrass near Jacksonville, Fla. as a fine spot for viewing ospreys, and he likes Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C. for its eastern bluebirds and Silverado in Napa, Calif. for its acorn woodpeckers. Birds of prey hold a particular fascination for Crenshaw, who finds it convenient that the Raptor Preservation Fund, a conservation organization and nature center for birds of prey, is located in Round Rock, Texas, just 17 miles north of his home in Austin. A few days before the Masters he spent several hours viewing the many hawks and eagles there.
Crenshaw despairs of converting his playing partners to the pleasures of birding. He says ruefully, "Fuzzy Zoeller wasn't very interested in the black-chinned hummingbird or the Wilson's snipe that were on the 6th hole when we were playing at La Costa. And last year at Muirfield Village, when I got all excited over seeing a scarlet tanager, Bruce Lietzke, Bill Rogers and Bobby Wadkins teased me a bit. But it gives me a lot of pleasure." Last week Crenshaw was in Italy but said, "I wish I could be home. Austin is in a flyway and the golden-cheeked warblers are coming through."
TO THE RESCUE
Striped-bass fishermen who have been concerned about the swift decline in the numbers of that fish along the Atlantic Coast in the past several years should give thanks to John N. Cole for his new book, Striper (BOOKTALK, April 30), Senator John H. Chafee (R., R.I.), who read it, and Representative Gerry Studds (D., Mass.), who followed up. Alarmed by Cole's thesis that "the striped bass is being destroyed by the effects of toxic chemicals" in spawning rivers, Chafee held hearings this spring and introduced an amendment to the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act calling for a $6.75 million study of striped bass for the next four years. Last week in the House, Studds persuaded the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee to adopt a similar amendment, even though a subcommittee had rejected it by voice vote the week before. Studds' amendment calls for a $4.75 million study over three years, and the prospect now is that both houses are likely to approve their amendments and then iron out the differences in conference.
The study on striped bass can't come soon enough. Bob Pond, the Atom plug manufacturer who has spent a good deal of time and effort calling attention to the plight of the striper, visited a Maryland hatchery run by anxious commercial fishermen last week, just before the House committee voted. "The eggs, which were taken from wild fish, were of poor quality, and most of them died," says Pond. "We saw only one batch of larvae that survived. They were listless, and many of them had broken backs and twisted tails."
Fie on the International Tennis Federation, which last year banned the use of double-strung spaghetti rackets in tournament play. So says Gunter Harz of Omaha, the former partner of Werner Fischer, the West German who invented double stringing. Harz is promoting a series of spaghetti-racket tournaments across the U.S., sponsored by such pasta paisans as San Giorgio, Prince, Skinner and American Beauty. This week's event will be in Philadelphia, and there will be 11 more for a total of 30, all of them leading to a $10,000 "world championship" in Chicago next month, prize money courtesy of Rag‚Äö√†√∂≈ì√Ñ Spaghetti Sauce.
What's sauce for Rag‚Äö√†√∂≈ì√Ñ is spumoni for Harz. He gets to publicize his own spaghetti-stringing kit that can convert any racket for $25 or $30. "Whereas the old, controversial racket that Fischer used was creating really weird shots," says Harz, "my system's main strings are controlled by some plastic cross strips that give the racket a whole, unified face. And my strings are a relief for anybody who has a bad tennis arm."
Harz is asking the players in his tournaments to fill out a questionnaire giving their opinion of the spaghetti racket, and he is thinking of using the sheaf of answers as "evidence" in a possible lawsuit. According to Harz, neither the ITF nor the USTA gave spaghetti rackets a fair test before the ban. Last week Harz attended a board meeting of the Omaha Tennis Association, and as a result the board voted to request that the Missouri Valley Tennis Association allow spaghetti rackets to be tested for a year in tournaments. "I suppose now the Missouri Valley Tennis Association will ask the USTA what to do," Harz says. "If the USTA approves, I won't sue. All I want is a fair test."
Since the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, the future of bullfighting in Spain has been the subject of intense conjecture. Under Franco, bullfighting was in the hands of a small group of powerful operators who winked at shoddy breeding and such practices as the shaving of horns. Consequently, many Spaniards lost their taste for the national spectacle, a reaction that might easily have become more common as post-Franco Spain underwent modernization. In an age of television, motorcycles and la discoteca, it is clearly an anachronism that a man should dress in a suit of lights and ceremonially slay a beast with a sword.
Yet growing numbers of Spaniards apparently consider it an anachronism worth preserving. Bullfighting is an intrinsic part of Spanish culture as well as a major tourist attraction, and as Spain becomes more democratic, the power of the men who controlled the sport has been reduced and their abuses have been exposed. In the process, bullfighting has been enjoying something of a resurgence, a fact underscored by the lumps taken lately by Salvador Raich, founder of the Anti-Bullfight Campaign. Arguing that bullfighting is a "barbarous and ridiculous spectacle" that glamorizes violence in a manner especially harmful to children, last September Raich persuaded authorities in Barcelona to invoke a seldom-enforced 49-year-old law prohibiting anyone under 14 from attending bullfights. Signs barring youngsters went up without warning one Sunday at Barcelona's bullring and 5,000 tickets had to be refunded. But promoters, toreros and tourists protested, and the ban was rescinded the following Sunday.
Since then, Raich has been in retreat, his preachments confined to an occasional TV appearance. Spanish newspapers have editorialized that bullfighting promotes such cherished Iberian virtues as grace and valor, and a Madrid psychiatrist, Dr. Pedro Corrons, has disputed Raich's views on the sport's effects on children. "In a bullfight, a man kills a monster through skill, thus, to some degree justifying the violence," said Corrons. "This violence is less harmful than what he might see on TV, where men attack one another with no such justification." Two weeks ago the Barcelona bullring opened for another season, and one official pointedly said, "Aficionados of all ages are welcome."
THEY SAID IT
•Jimmy Demaret, after golfing with Bob Hope: "Bob has a beautiful short game. Unfortunately, it's off the tee."
•Carol Ann Orem, queen of the 1979 Indianapolis 500 Festival, reminded by her Purdue sorority sisters that she would be expected to kiss the winner of the race: "I don't kiss on the first date. You know that. I'll just shake his hand."
•Representative Joseph Moakley (D., Mass.), after lunching at the White House with Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers: "It's good to have a guy running in my district that I don't have to worry about."