FAREWELL, NO. 15
Last Wednesday night Thurman Munson was the only starter in the New York Yankee lineup who failed to get a hit in a 9-1 rout of the Chicago White Sox. But then, nothing much was needed of the Yankee captain. In pressure games, Munson had come through often enough. A clutch player in the best Yankee tradition, he was Rookie of the Year in 1970, the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1976 and a six-time Ail-Star catcher. Significantly, he exceeded his lifetime regular-season average of .292 by hitting .339 in American League playoffs and .373 in World Series competition.
Like Lou Gehrig, the Yankees' only previous captain, Munson was fated to die young. On the day after they walloped the White Sox, the Yankees had no game scheduled, and Munson spent the afternoon practicing takeoffs and landings in his brand-new Cessna Citation near his hometown of Canton, Ohio. Apparently losing power on its last descent, the jet crashed short of an airport runway. Two passengers survived but Munson died almost immediately. He was 32.
Munson was a private man in a public profession. An enormous pride drove him; a fragile ego demanded recognition. When a rival catcher like Boston's Carlton Fisk or a teammate like Reggie Jackson was said to outperform him, or when a sportswriter or opposing manager like Sparky Anderson ventured even the mildest criticism, he could be angry, rude and combative. Munson worked hard, got dirty and ignored pain. But tough as he was, he also seemed oddly vulnerable. He was better at seeking glory than at enjoying it. He never seemed comfortable with the celebrity he attained.
August 12, 1979
Ovations do not usually occur at such moments, but after New York's Cardinal Cooke offered a brief prayer for Munson during a memorial ceremony at Yankee Stadium Friday night, the crowd of 51,151 cheered lustily. Eight Yankees were on the field at the time, but until the game against Baltimore began a few minutes later, the catcher's box was intentionally left empty in tribute to him. In another tribute, his uniform bearing the familiar No. 15 was hanging neatly in place in his locker.
Munson was a bit of a curmudgeon, but no one played the game harder, and beneath the welts and the scars from the foul tips and the collisions at the plate was a well-hidden vein of sensitivity. Consider the night in Detroit when the Tigers' Ron LeFlore came up against the Yankees with a 30-game hitting streak going. Munson called breaking stuff, and Yankee pitchers retired LeFlore three straight times. In the eighth inning, with the Yankees ahead 9-5 and an 0-2 count on LeFlore, Munson suddenly signaled for a fastball. LeFlore must have been surprised, because he took Tippy Martinez' pitch for a called third strike. The streak was over. Afterward Munson reluctantly admitted to SI's Larry Keith that he had called for a pitch he felt might be more to LeFlore's liking to give him one last chance at keeping the streak alive.
The fifth International Special Olympics will be held this week in Brockport, N.Y., with 3,500 mentally retarded athletes from the U.S. and 30 other countries expected to participate. The Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation is staging the five-day event, and ABC-TV plans to tape some of the action for showing on Wide World of Sports on Sept. 1. In the glitzy, commercial world of televised sport, competition involving the retarded is highly unusual fare.
It may also be highly instructive. Many big names in sports assist the Kennedy Foundation in its commendable work with the retarded, including Notre Dame basketball Coach Digger Phelps, who uses a standard line when Irish players gripe about problems at practice or in the classroom. "You think you've got trouble, you should go see the kids at the Logan Center," Phelps tells them, referring to a South Bend facility for the handicapped.
But the Special Olympics offer more than just a reminder to count one's blessings. The event provides competition in 14 sports, and many of the mildly retarded participants are talented. The severely retarded are usually less skilled, but they frequently exhibit a sense of joy too often lacking in big-time sport. In the Special Olympics, cheating is virtually unknown, nobody plays out his option, and if somebody falls during a race, his competitors can usually be counted on to stop and lend a hand.
There's no need to wait for the Nielsens on this one: for presenting the International Special Olympics, ABC-TV rates high.
THE HAWTHORNE EFFECT
Baseball teams are sometimes accused of being too quick to fire their managers. In fact, if the recent experience of the Cleveland Indians means anything, they may be too slow to do so. After Frank Robinson was sacked as manager in 1977, the Indians won their first seven games under his successor, Jeff Torborg. Things eventually soured for Torborg, and two weeks ago he was replaced as manager by Dave Garcia. The Indians promptly won 10 straight games.
One possible explanation for the Indians' dramatic postfiring turnarounds can be found in experiments conducted in the late 1920s and early '30s with a group of women employees at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Ill. Researchers kept altering the women's working conditions and found that regardless of the nature of the changes, their productivity seemed to increase. The simplified conclusion was that the very act of their being singled out for special treatment was psychologically beneficial—in other words, that change for change's sake is often a good thing.
Garcia had better watch out. Last Wednesday Cleveland's win streak was snapped in a 7-4 loss to Boston. If the Indians take to heart what has come to be known in industrial relations as "the Hawthorne effect," it may soon be time for another change of managers.
A BLUNDER IN BRONZE
The International Olympic Committee keeps promising to curb what it calls the "gigantism" of the summer Olympics. but its efforts have so far been meager. Before the 1976 Games, the IOC eliminated three swimming events, an anti-gigantism move that had this unremarkable result: the number of participants in swimming declined from 551 at the 1972 Games to exactly 547 in Montreal. That fueled suspicions of U.S. officials that swimming had been singled out for a reduction of events only because this was a sport in which Americans traditionally did well.
Now the IOC is making matters worse. Under pressure from the International Swimming Federation (FINA), the IOC executive board recently recommended that the three scrapped events (men's and women's 200 individual medley and men's 400 freestyle relay) be reinstated—but only on condition that the number of entrants allowed each country in any individual event be reduced from three to two. FINA balked and is supposed to meet soon with the IOC's program commission in an effort to resolve their differences. Robert Helmick, a Des Moines lawyer and FINA's secretary, complains, "The IOC is trying to make us choose between two alternatives, both of which lower the quality of competition."
FINA is justified in resisting the IOC. In Montreal a single country swept all three medals in six swimming events—the U.S. in four events and the Soviet Union and East Germany in one each. Had a two-entrant-per-event limitation been in effect, the world's third best swimmer in each of those events would have been deprived of a deserved bronze medal.
To reduce the size of its swimming program, the IOC could reduce the overall number of competitors allowed each country, which would deny the U.S. and other powers the luxury of relay alternates and the like. It could also tighten up qualifying-time standards, thereby eliminating swimmers who realistically have no chance of winning medals. A country is permitted up to three entrants in every event at the Olympics in track and field. Swimming deserves no less.
NEW CHARGES, OLD FRIENDSHIPS
Authorities investigating Connecticut's mounting jai alai scandal (SI, June 11, et seq.) say they plan to look into questionable activities at all three of the state's frontons. For now, however, the probe at the one in Milford is keeping them so busy that Hartford and Bridgeport will have to wait. In June officials charged three gamblers and a player with rigging and conspiring to rig games in 1977 at Milford. Last week warrants were issued for the arrest of six other persons on charges rising out of suspected fixes at Milford. A source close to the investigation says, "We haven't even scratched the surface."
Those charged last week included four players, three of whom, known on the courts as Garcia, Iriondo and Arana, were accused of perjury; the fourth, known as Kirby, was accused of rigging and conspiring to rig games. The others charged were Floridians David Herman, accused of perjury, and Robert Moore, accused of rigging and conspiring to rig games.
Herman, a principal member of a gambling ring called the Miami Syndicate, is known to have spent 10 days recently betting at the fronton in Newport, R.I., whose operations have been the subject of a state inquiry. The latest crackdown in Connecticut prompted pledges by Rhode Island authorities to step up their investigation. The gathering cloud over the nation's jai alai industry hadn't prevented the state Racing and Athletics Commission from deciding last month to extend the Newport fronton's season by six weeks. "The fronton operator and state both can use the additional revenue," explained commission chairman Kevin Coleman, but Robert Gentile, a commission counsel, admitted that the extension was "a calculated risk."
The latest Connecticut arrests again focus attention on jai alai in Florida, where Herman's betting syndicate has been active. The players charged last week regularly competed at the fronton in Dania, which is owned by the company that owns the one in Milford. Moore operates an amateur fronton in Miami. While Connecticut presses ahead, Florida officials seem loath to disturb the state's lucrative jai alai industry. Governor Robert Graham recently assured the state's worried fronton officials that "Florida's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering is going to renew their friendship with the pari-mutuel industry." That was an obvious slap at Leigh Somers, chief investigator for the division, who had vainly proposed that a grand jury look into possible irregularities at the state's 10 frontons. Last week Somers quit his job in frustration. He charged that state authorities had systematically reduced his investigatory powers, making him feel "like a tree being chopped away limb by limb."
The official NCAA line that college athletes are also students apparently isn't being bought by the University of Arizona's equipment managers. They recently put up a sign in a locker room reading: OFF LIMITS TO ALL STUDENTS AND VISITORS. FOR VARSITY ATHLETES ONLY!
THEY SAID IT
•Jimmy Gabriel, coach of the Seattle Sounders, complaining about the officiating in the NASL: "If you painted our soccer balls orange and threw one to a linesman, he'd probably try to peel it."
•Jeanette Spiess, to her son Gerry, following his 54-day solo crossing of the Atlantic in his 10-foot sailboat Yankee Girl: "Your housekeeping looks superb. The boat looks clean and tidy. You must have had a nice trip."