Call it coincidence, but amateur drafts—or at least actions arising from them—are causing hard feelings right now in three sports. In baseball, the Oakland A's No. 1 choice in last month's draft, Juan Bustabad, a 17-year-old shortstop, says A's owner Charley Finley called and offered him a $25,000 bonus and was annoyed when the Miami native turned it down. Bustabad at first claimed that Finley hung up on him but now says the owner did no such thing. At any rate, noting that some players drafted after him have reportedly signed for far more than $25,000, Bustabad says the A's have not improved on Finley's offer and that he will let his name go back into the pool for the winter draft.
In the NFL, six of the top 13 draft choices remain unsigned and some of them are eyeing the Canadian Football League. They include Tom Cousineau, the NFL's No. 1 overall choice, who has not come to terms with the Buffalo Bills and who huddled recently with the Montreal Alouettes. Why the contract hassles? Apparently because of a hardened take-it-or-leave-it posture on the part of owners.
In the NHL, the annual amateur draft will be held Aug. 9, with the eligible age lowered from 20 to 19. Max McNab, the Washington Capital general manager, claims that by including "underage" players, the NHL is defeating the draft's avowed purpose of helping weaker teams. "Usually the bottom 10 clubs are the ones that really benefit from the draft," McNab explains. "This year, with the inclusion of underage players, even the top teams will get good players. In terms of parity, that's bad."
July 8, 1979
In all three instances, the hard feelings seem to be justified.
BOOT THAT PIGSKIN
The ostrich-skin cowboy boots Coach Bum Phillips wore along the sidelines at Houston Oiler games last season are out and, apparently, so are the ones in powder-blue anteater hide he sometimes sported. Phillips went shopping in El Paso the other day and picked up a pair of boots in gray crocodile skin, another in blue wild turkey hide and three pairs in eelskin—tan, maroon and brown. He says he wishes he had had the crocodile boots to wear during last season's AFC championship game, in which Pittsburgh beat the Oilers in a rainstorm, 34-5. "Crocodiles like water," Bum explains.
The PGA of America will name the U.S. Ryder Cup team after this week's Western Open, and it appears that for the first time since he became eligible for Cup play in 1969, Jack Nicklaus will not make it (see page 20). Points toward selection to the 12-member squad are awarded on the basis of performances in PGA events, and Nicklaus is currently 21st on the list. Unless he wins next month's PGA championship, and with it an automatic spot on the team, he will have to be content with his role as architect. He was retained to renovate the course at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., where the match with a British/European side will be played Sept. 14-16.
Nicklaus' successor as the world's leading golfer may also be absent. Tom Watson has lapped the field of Ryder Cup aspirants—Hubert Green is a distant second—but he and his wife Linda are expecting their first child in early September. Tom has made clear his intention of staying home if she hasn't delivered by Sept. 14.
Jerry Pate is likely to be missing, too. He would have amassed enough points to be No. 2, but only members of the PGA of America are eligible, and Pate didn't get around to applying for membership until it was too late. Like Nicklaus, he can make it only by winning the PGA title.
For the opposing team, which this year has been expanded to include players from the Continent as well as from Britain, all this should be cause for unaccustomed optimism. Of the 22 matches played since 1927, the U.S. has lost only three, the last defeat having come 22 years ago.
When he was coach of the powerful Nashville Aquatic Club, Paul Bergen was in charge of 150 swimmers, including—besides the redoubtable Tracy Caulkins—five sets of identical twins. The odds against finding that many in a random group of 150 are four trillion to one. Last fall Bergen became the women's coach at the University of Texas and brought with him two of those sets of twins. Dian and Jann Girard, who enrolled at Texas as freshmen, and Karen and Kim Nicholson, high school girls who joined Bergen's new Longhorn Aquatic Club. And he was greeted in Austin by another pair, Janet and JoAnn Safely, who swam for his college team as walk-ons.
Bergen, by now an expert on the subject, allows that coaching identical twins "keeps you on your toes," and he insists that for an observant fellow like himself, there are ways to distinguish one from the other. For instance, he claims Dian Girard is more outgoing than Jann, and that Kim Nicholson has deeper dimples than Karen. But Jann Girard says, "Coach Bergen pretends to be able to tell us apart, but you can tell that most of the time he really can't."
The Nicholsons were recently injured in an auto accident and no longer swim for Bergen, and the Safelys have dropped out of competition to become co-managers of the Texas team, so some of Bergen's double vision has cleared up. But he still trains the Girards, both of whom are world class. Dian was runner-up in the 200-yard backstroke at last April's AAU championships, and although Jann, a breaststroker-individual medleyist, has not done quite as well, she vows, "Dian passed me up when I broke my leg skiing a few years ago, but I'm going to catch her." Which would, of course, eliminate one way Bergen can tell them apart.
The Portland Trail Blazers' loss is the bargain hunter's gain. Two sporting goods stores in Portland suburbs ran this forlorn ad last week: "Bill Walton T-shirts, $6.95 value, $1 each."
KEEPING THE KINGS
When the roof on Kansas City's Kemper Arena caved in last month (SCORECARD, June 18), the city's hopes of holding on to its NBA franchise buckled a bit, too. In six seasons in Kansas City, the Kings had lost $4.5 million, and only their 30-year lease at Kemper was keeping them in town. But one provision of that lease was that they could terminate it if the city for any reason failed to make the arena available. Because this was now the case, the Kings suddenly had a royal opportunity to move elsewhere.
For a while last week, it looked as though they might just do that. City officials were promising to get Kemper, which seats 16,835, back in operation late in the 1979-80 season. They wanted the Kings to play until then in the old Memorial Auditorium. But that building seats only 9,350, and the Kings were attentive when a Minnesota group expressed interest in buying the club and moving it to the Twin Cities.
To keep the club, anxious Kansas City officials agreed to provide 20 rent-free dates at the auditorium, and local businessmen promised to support an all-out season-ticket drive for next season. At week's end the Kings announced that they would spurn Minnesota and play in Municipal Auditorium next season. If they are to remain in town beyond then, Kansas City no doubt will have to renegotiate the lease for Kemper—and sweeten the pot even more.
Another missing roof is in the news—the retractable one that was supposed to go on Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Owing to soaring costs and lengthy construction delays, the Quebec government decided before the start of the '76 Games to scrap plans for both the roof and an adjacent 24-story tower, which was supposed to house gyms, offices and a panoramic restaurant. A huge orange crane was left at the site, and it has loomed over the stadium as a curious landmark ever since.
Recently the crane swung into action again. Convinced that no city needed a covered stadium more than Montreal, Quebec officials agreed last fall to spend the estimated $65 million required to put up the tower and roof. The project is expected to be completed in 1981, by which time the crane presumably will be removed. Montrealers will believe it when they no longer see it.
Jim Kern, the Texas Rangers' star relief pitcher, eats paper. He says he acquired a taste for it during a hitch in the Marines. "If you got more than two letters a day, you had to eat all of them," he explained the other day to the Los Angeles Times' Alan Greenberg. "I once ate half a Sporting News." On a recent team flight, Kern noticed one of the writers who cover the Rangers reading John Dean's Blind Ambition. As a joke, he grabbed the book, tore out the last few pages, ate them and said, "Now figure out how it ends."
Bad manners, Jim. You should never talk with your mouth full.
PINCHED PENNIES, STRAINED REFS
NBA owners, those freewheeling fellows who pay the game's fancy player salaries, have picked a strange time to pinch pennies. Last week, as a consequence of the owners' decision to drop the three-referee system, which had been in effect for one season, in favor of the old two-official setup, the NBA dismissed 10 of its 38 referees.
The owners decided to go back to two refs despite opposition from coaches, general managers and players. The third official had been added primarily because of the violence that had marred games in the 1977-78 season. Violence was down last season, but NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien attributes the reduction to higher fines, not the third official. But Norm Drucker, the NBA's supervisor of officials, feels that the officials' health and welfare would be better served by the three-ref system. "The game is so fast and the athletes so much better that it's harder to keep up," he says. "I won't say that the two-man system can't be effective, because it's worked before, but I'm concerned." Drucker asserts that the high-pressure work caused four officials to miss significant portions of last season. One of them, Don Murphy, suffered a heart attack.
According to Atlanta General Manager Michael Gearon, the cost of the third ref is "meaningless." Drucker puts the figure at $600,000, which works out to about $30,000 per franchise—the NBA minimum player salary.
Signs reading CLAPPER RAIL XING have gone up at three points along Back Bay Drive, which hugs the shore of Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach, Calif. Lest motorists find that message mystifying, the sign also contains a silhouette of a rather comical-looking bird. This is the light-footed clapper rail (Rallus longirostris levipes), which is on the endangered species list. A colony of 150 of them inhabits the mud flats flanking the road, and the signs are there to protect them.
It seems that light-footed clapper rails are light-footed only in the sense that their legs are skinny. The birds are anything but nimble, and Ralph L. Young, an official of the California Department of Fish and Game, says, "As a matter of fact, they walk like Groucho Marx, sort of tilted forward. And they seldom fly." Which probably explains why at least five of the rare birds were struck and killed by cars over the past year as they tried crossing little-traveled Back Bay Drive. Alarmed by the carnage, officials put the warning signs up three weeks ago. So far as anyone can determine, no light-footed clapper rails have been struck by cars since then.
THEY SAID IT
•Sparky Anderson, the Detroit Tigers' new manager: "It's a terrible thing to have to tell your fans, who have waited like Detroit's have, that their team won't win it this year. But it's better than lying to them."
•Carl Mauck, Houston Oiler center, hearing the news that one of the team's linemen will receive a 25-pound assortment of steaks and sausages after every game in which Earl Campbell rushes for 100 yards next season: "Can they work out something to get us some gas?"