THE RICHARD CASE
Houston Pitcher J.R. Richard collapsed during a workout last week and underwent emergency surgery for removal of a blood clot in his neck. Though the operation was deemed a success, Richard's left side was weakened, suggesting that he had suffered a stroke. He probably won't pitch again this season and his career may be over.
There are puzzling aspects to the Richard case. Until his collapse, many Astro observers doubted he was sick at all—except possibly in the head. When baseball players have unusual personalities, psychological problems or, as in Richard's case, injuries that can't be easily diagnosed, the tendency is to pass them off as "head cases" and take no action.
It's an unfortunate tendency at best. In 1977 a Milwaukee outfielder named Danny Thomas was obviously suffering from depression. At one point he swallowed several muscle relaxants, thinking wrongly that they were sleeping pills. Because Thomas belonged to a fundamentalist church and refused to play ball from Friday evening through Saturday, teammates merely laughed at him and called him "The Sundown Kid." Two months ago, in jail in Mobile on a rape charge after dropping out of baseball, Thomas hanged himself in his cell. In July, Giant First Baseman Mike Ivie returned from a brief retirement. Though Ivie had a history of personal problems, teammates whispered that he had better "produce." Particularly sensitive to such slights are high-salaried blacks—Richard, for instance, earns $800,000 a year—who are generally reluctant to complain for fear they will immediately be typecast as malingerers.
August 10, 1980
Richard, however, did complain, and in such fashion as to arouse considerable hostility among some of his teammates. He removed himself from many of his 17 starts, using explanations that ranged from a tired arm to an upset stomach. How tired could his arm really be, observers wondered, if he had a 10-4 record and a 1.89 earned-run average? After taking himself out of a game on July 14 because of a stomach problem, Richard consumed a large meal in the clubhouse. On another occasion, claiming his arm was dead, Richard visited orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe in Los Angeles and reported that Jobe asked him to take a month off, which wasn't true. Before collapsing last week, Richard was cleared for action following a week of tests at a hospital.
But Richard is a complicated man, and there is doubt as to how seriously the Astros attempted to understand him. Two weeks before the operation, team doctor Harold Brelsford suggested that J.R. "cut down on his social life." Some observers of Richard's vague behavior insinuated that he was a drug addict. And few reporters bothered to interview Richard's buddy, Infielder Enos Cabell—until after the operation.
"Jay can be arrogant, loving, hateful and mean," says Cabell. "The next minute he can be happy and buying everyone food. He has so many personalities. If you could talk to him, really get down with him, you could learn a whole lot about him. Nobody tried."
It wasn't enough that Jacksonville's Jay Birmingham set a world record last week by completing his run from Los Angeles to New York—a distance of 2,950 miles—in 71 days, 22 hours and 59 minutes. To set the record he was required to do it without a support crew.
But never having traversed the wilds of Brooklyn, Birmingham decided to accept some minor assistance as he neared the finish. The New York Road Runners Club arranged to have the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge closed, and The Runner magazine helped him map out the easiest route through Brooklyn.
Birmingham, a 35-year-old high school track coach, thought the directions were intended for him alone; he didn't realize that the route also was given to representatives of the news media. Later, a New York City cop suggested a different route, and Birmingham took him up on it. "I undershot the spot where I was supposed to turn," he said, "and zigzagged a bit to the Brooklyn Bridge."
Left standing on the corner of Flatbush and Fourth, the official directions in mind, was a hometown television announcer who had just flown in from Jacksonville.
HOW TO WIN AT CHESS
Viktor Korchnoi is again the talk of the chess world. You remember Viktor, the volatile Soviet defector who astounded experts by nearly upsetting Anatoly Karpov in the 1978 world championships in the Philippines. Well, last week, having whipped former world champion Tigran Petrosian in the quarters, Korchnoi was holding his own—3½-3½ after seven games of a 12-game match—against highly regarded Lev Polugayevsky in the semifinal Candidates Match for the next world championships. "Korchnoi has lost none of his profound touch," wrote Robert Byrne in The New York Times.
That the 49-year-old Korchnoi could remain at the top of his game is testimony to a little-appreciated but critical aspect of chess—the physical side. Normally, even expert players begin to decline in their 40s because they lose the stamina required to concentrate throughout five-hour matches. Korchnoi stayed close to Karpov in part because he had followed a rigorous conditioning program. And according to reports from Buenos Aires, where he is playing Polugayevsky, Viktor the Terrible is exhausting his young aides with 14-hour days of chess, analysis, jogging and calisthenics.
The idea that "games" are purely mental is every bit as wrong as the notion that "sports" are entirely physical. "It's not a question of game or sport but degree of sport," said Shelby Lyman, the noted chess author and commentator. "Karpov has written that you must be in excellent physical condition to win at chess. It has been found that at peak moments, the heart and pulse rates are as high as in much more rigorous sports. That's because chess involves a tremendous expenditure of energy. It's a struggle par excellence: two organisms straining against each other, taxing the mind and body to the extreme. The physical side can't be overemphasized."
If chess players stay sharp by exercising, doesn't it follow that athletes could benefit from chess? Lyman finds this increasingly true. At a chess clinic last spring, Tom Marshall, an assistant football coach at C.W. Post, told Lyman that many of his players enjoyed chess. "After playing as tough a game as football, they found it relaxing," said Marshall, now a backfield coach at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. "It's also useful training, especially for players in the defensive secondary, who have to think ahead."
HE'S A HIT UP THE MIDDLE
The Buffalo News' Milt Northrop wrote a column the other day chronicling the college baseball career of George Bush, who was the first baseman and captain of a strong 1948 Yale team. Northrop said it was probably inevitable that a Yale man who batted righthanded but threw lefty should wind up as a middle-of-the-road Republican. He also deemed it significant that Ronald Reagan's No. 2 choice for the No. 2 spot on the G.O.P. ticket wore No. 2 as an Eli ballplayer.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS...
In the fifth inning of a baseball game in the predominantly male West Orange (N.J.) summer recreation league, 11-year-old Claudia Minish singled to right and, thanks to a couple of misplays by the opposing team, made it all the way to third.
"You're so lousy you let a girl get a hit off you," the shortstop yelled to the pitcher. The pitcher yelled back. Their tempers growing as hot as the temperature, which was 101°, the two boys were soon wrestling on the ground. Intervening, the umpire promptly ejected the combatants, whose team consequently forfeited the contest to Claudia's.
The game established Claudia as a heroine and inspiration—by winning, her team reached .500 for the first time all season. The opposing players will long remember the game, too—not because they let a crummy girl get a hit off them, but because they lost the game by refusing to act like, well, gentlemen.
AND BEASTS WILL BE BEASTS
In an annual rite at the University of Georgia, the football players celebrate the end of spring practice by holding something called the Seagraves Initiation. Usually the seniors take the freshmen to nearby Seagraves farm, force them to drink warm beer until they vomit and then make them strip and wallow in the mud. In 1969 the seniors took all the initiates' clothes back to Athens, obliging the tired, sick, muddy and naked players to take a long and embarrassing walk home. That's how the Bulldogs practice character building.
This year the ceremony had a new twist. The seniors in charge stole a 400-pound sow from the university's Swine Research Center and did away with the old girl, Center Hugh Nall performing the sacrifice with his bow and arrow. Then they dressed the animal and hung her on a gate at Seagraves. On arrival, the initiates were required to kiss "Miss Piggy" on the snout.
"The seniors made us strip," said Quarterback John Lastinger, "and they stuck funnels in our mouths and made us drink warm beer till we puked. Then they threw the bottles in the lake and we had to swim after them." When the party broke up, some of the freshmen were put to work loading the pig onto a pickup truck and dumping the carcass in a parking lot outside a school residence hall. "There was a boy and girl standing close by," Lastinger said. "The pig rolled right up to her. I thought she would die."
After a campus police investigation, head coach and athletic director Vince Dooley levied penalties. Five seniors—All-SEC Defensive Back Scott Woerner, Frank Ros, Chris Welton, Nat Hudson and Nall—were required to attend summer school and work three hours a day for the university grounds crew, and the team collected $125 to pay for the price of the animal.
Fair enough. But Dooley's words were considerably more equivocal than his actions. "I don't approve of Seagraves," he said, "because of the danger of it. If you could go to a point and stop, it would be O.K. But it's a Georgia tradition, and at times nothing will come of it."
Earlier this season the New York Daily News began a daily comparison between home runs by the light-hitting 1980 Mets as a team and those amassed by Roger Maris in 1961, the year he wound up with his record 61. The News puckishly made the point that for quite a while there the Mets were running behind Maris' historic pace. But the New Yorkers have surged lately, and at week's end, after 102 games, had pulled ahead of Maris, 43 to 40. A News editor conceded that if the Mets moved too far ahead, the comparison might be quietly dropped.
The News' dilemma was similar to one faced at roughly this point in the 1978 season by Boston's Herald American. The Red Sox were leading the American League East by 10 games, and the newspaper began running the daily "magic number" of combined Boston wins and opponents' losses that would clinch the title. But when the Red Sox collapsed—that was the year the onrushing Yankees, once 14½ games back, ended up beating them in a divisional playoff—the feature was ignominiously discontinued. The Mets would dearly love to see the News' feature suffer the same fate but are only too aware that in 1961 Maris enjoyed a torrid midsummer streak. Which explains why Third Baseman Elliott Maddox recently was overheard telling his teammates, "Gentlemen, we are putting a lot of pressure on Roger Maris now that we are ahead of him, but we can't let up."
THEY SAID IT
•Leon Wandel, Belgian technical official, in response to criticism from Soviet Basketball Coach Aleksandr Gomelsky at the Olympics: "Mr. Gomelsky can say what he wants. It's a free country."
•Reggie Smith, Dodger outfielder, after striking out on a Nolan Ryan fastball: "If I'm going to be struck out, that's the way to go. It may sound strange, but I actually enjoyed that. It was like a surgeon's knife—quick and painless."