BORSCHT BELT HUMOR
This is an article from the Aug. 4, 1980 issue
The Moscow Olympics have been beset by boycotters, victory-ceremony demonstrations, criticism by dissidents, a gay-rights protest, complaints about censorship, allegations of police brutality, empty hotel rooms, judging controversies, reports of food poisoning, lousy weather and threatened defections of Afghan athletes. All this may be taking its toll on Soviet authorities. According to John Argue, a Los Angeles lawyer who was in Moscow in connection with his city's preparations for hosting the 1984 Games, the following joke was making the rounds of weary U.S.S.R. officials:
First Comrade: Did you hear what President Carter told Brezhnev?
Second Comrade: No, what?
First Comrade: If we don't get our troops out of Afghanistan, he'll make us host the '84 Games, too.
Given the way things were going in Moscow, it was tempting to blame the Soviets for all sorts of awful things. Take, for instance, the brouhaha in the men's three-meter diving competition, in which the gold-medal hopes of Mexico's Carlos Giron soared when the host country's Aleksandr Portnov blew a 2½ reverse pike. But Portnov claimed he had been distracted by a burst of cheering from the adjoining swimming pool and was allowed to repeat the dive. He executed it smartly and went on to win the gold. That touched off a furor among Giron's countrymen back in Mexico, where police had to protect the U.S.S.R. embassy (page 42) and some outraged citizens called for the country to quit the Games to protest what was seen as a Soviet fix.
But in this case the Soviets were being unfairly blamed. The referee who gave Portnov a second chance was Swedish and, in fact, diving rules allow the granting of re-dives under such circumstances. When American diver Jennifer Chandler blew a backward 2½ tuck because she was bothered by the booing and whistling of a savagely anti-U.S. crowd during the three-meter competition at the 1975 Pan-American Games, officials allowed her to repeat the dive. She did a better job on the re-dive and narrowly won the gold medal but not before being reduced to tears by the crowd's taunts. Those memorable Pan-Ams were held in Mexico City.
CHANGE IN ATTITUDE
Under major league rules, a pitcher suspected of deliberately throwing at a batter ordinarily is warned after the first infraction, thrown out of the game after the second one. This protracted procedure is defended on the grounds that it's often difficult to divine whether a pitcher is throwing at a batter on purpose. But is it necessarily any easier to judge the pitcher's intent on a second knockdown pitch than on the first? By refusing to put teeth in its code, baseball's rulesmakers seem to be subscribing to the old notion that such pitches are simply "part of the game."
But many of today's ballplayers apparently consider it an expendable part. As this season's much-publicized bean-ball-related brawls demonstrate, batters and opposing pitchers are increasingly inclined to retaliate for flagrant knockdown pitches. There is also a greater tendency in all sports for on-field violence to land in the courts, as happened with the Forbes-Boucha altercation in the NHL, the Tomjanovich-Washington episode in the NBA and the Hackbart-Clark case in the NFL. Not to be outdone, baseball now has its Cowens-Farmer affair. This one came about when Detroit's Al Cowens grounded out during a game in Chicago on June 20 and charged the mound to attack White Sox Pitcher Ed Farmer, who had broken Cowens' jaw with a pitch 13 months earlier. Chicago authorities have since threatened to arrest Cowens for assault.
But baseball may be awakening to the need for stiffer measures to police itself. SI has learned that National League President Chub Feeney and American League President Lee MacPhail sent a memo last week to field managers, general managers and umpire crew chiefs, clearing the way for umps to eject pitchers without first issuing warnings, which they presumably can do under their blanket authority to punish unsportsmanlike conduct. The memo decreed that from now on ejection could be called for "whenever there is some reason to believe a pitcher is trying to intimidate a hitter." As partial justification, it cited a dangerous "change in attitude" toward fighting among ballplayers.
A STRANGE BRAND OF INDEPENDENCE
Besides hustling themselves up some familiar players (Austin Carr, Tom LaGarde and Kiki Vandeweghe) and a familiar coach (Dick Motta), the NBA's new franchise in Dallas has come up with a familiar nickname. It's the Mavericks, the same moniker proudly borne by the teams, basketball included, at the University of Texas at Arlington, a not-so-small (enrollment: 20,000) school 15 miles west of Dallas. The coincidence in choice of nicknames doesn't sit too well with either UTA Athletic Director Bill Reeves ("My first response was disbelief, speechless disbelief) or many of the school's boosters, whose cars now sport bumper stickers reading, MAVERICKS, NOWHERE BUT UTA."
Somewhat lamely. Norm Sonju, general manager of the NBA club, insists he was unaware the nickname was used by the school, even though he had lived in the Dallas area for a year before it was selected. At any rate, he and other club officials say they have "no thought" of choosing another name, one of them adding, "Obviously, there have been two Cardinal teams in St. Louis." Yet, just as obviously, those two teams don't play the same sport. And it may be a little difficult for Dallas' NBA team to explain the duplication in nicknames in light of the fact that the word "maverick" has come to refer to—besides an unbranded calf—any independent cuss who insists on going his own way. In other words, by using somebody else's nickname, the Dallas Mavericks aren't being mavericks at all.
No, not all the demonstrators who took to the streets when federal draft registration was reinstated across the country last week were expressing opposition. There also were pro-registration pickets, like the fellow seen carrying a placard outside the U.S. Post Office in Cincinnati. It read: UNCLE SAM DRAFTS BETTER THAN THE BENGALS.
And now for a follow-up to one of the biggest sports stories of the year (with apologies to FOR THE RECORD):
FAILED TO SHOW: For the Diet Pepsi 10,000-meter race on July 5 in New York City. Rosie Ruiz, who was the first woman to finish the 1980 Boston Marathon but was subsequently disqualified when it was determined that she had sneaked into the race near the end of the course. Denying that she had cheated. Ruiz vowed to exhibit her running prowess in the Diet Pepsi 10,000, but, alas, was conspicuously absent from that event—and, as far as anyone knows, from all other races since Boston.
LATE BUT GREAT
The NFL's "Team of the 1970s" has been selected, and Oakland's Ray Guy is the top vote-getter, having been chosen as the decade's best punter on 24 of the 25 ballots cast by the Pro Football Hall of Fame's selection committee. The 25 other offensive, defensive, specialty-team and coaching choices included Quarterback Terry Bradshaw (who received 13 votes in a field otherwise so spread out that Roger Staubach and Ken Stabler tied for the second team with just three votes each), running backs O.J. Simpson and Walter Payton (Simpson had 22 votes, second only to Guy overall), tight end Dave Casper, wide receivers Lynn Swann and Drew Pearson, safeties Ken Houston and Cliff Harris and Coach Don Shula (who got the nod over Chuck Noll, 11 to 9). The most impressive vote-getter, though, was Earl Campbell, who received eight votes to gain a berth as running back on the second team with Franco Harris. Campbell was so honored even though he played only two seasons in the decade, '78 and '79.
DOING THE CONTINENTAL
Founded in 1946, the Eastern League quickly became a refuge for NBA has-beens and never-weres, performing before often sparse crowds in high school gyms in an ever-changing cluster of small industrial cities in the Northeast. But the league survived and in recent years even managed to go nationwide, expanding into improbably far-flung locales and, often, new arenas. Along the way, it took on a new name, the Continental Basketball Association. Last season the CBA had teams in Anchorage, Honolulu, Bangor, Maine, Rochester and Utica, N.Y. and Scranton, Allentown and Lancaster, Pa. For next season Honolulu and Lancaster are out but there will be franchises in Billings and Great Falls, Mont., Philadelphia (the club there will be coached by former 76er star Hal Greer) and Lethbridge, Alberta. A team in Fresno, Calif. is also a possibility.
But there has remained one jarringly negative note. Because they received no compensation for the players they occasionally sent to the NBA, Eastern League clubs over the years accused the NBA of pirating its talent. In 1977 the NBA finally began paying the Eastern League a modest sum for referee development and last year started paying compensation for players. Yet, while 18 former Eastern League/CBA players are currently under NBA contract, including Billy Ray Bates, who went from the CBA's Maine Lumberjacks to the Portland Trail Blazers late last season and starred in the NBA playoffs, the arrangements with the NBA yielded a three-year total of just $67,000.
Last week a new deal was worked out under which the NBA will pay the CBA $190,000 for one season regardless of how many (or how few) CBA players it may sign. The NBA will be free to use CBA games for training referees and also for experimenting with new rules and equipment. Thus, all CBA courts will be equipped next season with collapsible, spring-action rims that the NBA is eyeing as a possible antidote to Darryl Dawkins' backboard-smashing slam dunks. Another wrinkle that may be tried out during CBA games: electronically connecting refs' whistles to game clocks as an alternative to human timers, who all too often favor the home team. Although he stops short of referring to the CBA as any kind of NBA farm system, Joe Axelson, the NBA's director of operations, describes the expanding affiliation between the two leagues as "a very serious relationship."
THE BEAR & THE BRUIN
Aleksandr Gomelsky, the Soviet Olympic basketball coach, was talking to SI's Paul Zimmerman last week about Gomelsky's elevation to his current position after the 1976 Olympics. The Soviets had been playing poorly under Coach Vladimir Kondrashin, and Gomelsky, who had coached the national team in the '60s, was called upon to correct the situation. "I was elected," he said. "All the other coaches told me. 'Please come back and work.' "
"He didn't say anything," Gomelsky said. "Look, this is no problem. He went back to coach Spartak [a sports club] in Leningrad, not to Siberia. Coaches lose, they get fired. I talked to Larry Brown of UCLA. He's a good friend of mine. He says this happens all the time in the States, too."
THEY SAID IT
•Cesar Geronimo, Cincinnati Red outfielder, on becoming Nolan Ryan's 3,000th strikeout victim, just as he had been Bob Gibson's 3,000th in 1974: "I was just in the right place at the right time."
•Claude Humphrey, Philadelphia Eagle defensive end, bemoaning the scorching heat that awaited his arrival at training camp in West Chester, Pa.: "If God wanted it so hot, why did He invent people?"
•John O'Leary, Montreal Alouette running back, retiring because of a neck injury: "The doctors told me there are two things I can't do—play football or dive into empty swimming pools."
•Buddy Bell, Texas Ranger third baseman and son of onetime big league outfielder Gus Bell, pointing out Seattle Mariner Coach Vada Pinson to his son David: "That's the guy who took Grandpa's job."