AGENT KUBAS' CRYSTAL BALL
The California Bureau of Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence is in the practice of placing small bets with bookmakers as a means of gathering evidence against them. During a recent four-month investigation into a suspected illegal gambling ring in San Diego, undercover agent Walter Kubas found it necessary to place two dozen bets on sports events totaling some $30,000, an unusually large sum for the bureau to be wagering. After three suspects were arrested, the bureau revealed that it had prudently, if rather unsportingly, hedged its bets. Every time Kubas placed a wager with the bookies in San Diego, another agent crossed the border into Nevada, where such gambling is legal, and put money on the other team, thereby reducing the bureau's possible loss to the "vigorish" that bookies pocket for accepting bets. A bureau spokesman issued a statement about the case that sounded, no doubt unwittingly, like a ringing vote of no confidence in Agent Kubas' ability to pick winners. The practice of placing offsetting bets, the spokesman said, "certainly saved the state and the taxpayers a lot of money."
CRACKING DOWN ON THE SPRING TOUR
The long arm of the NCAA has put a stranglehold on high school all-star basketball games. These showcases for graduating schoolboy hotshots have inevitably become battlefields in the recruiting war among college coaches. There are scores of such games each spring, and promoters scramble to line up top players to participate in them. It's not unknown for a coveted prospect to go on what amounts to a tour, playing in a dozen or more games. Not surprisingly, the games attract hordes of scouts, coaches, agents and glad-handers.
The NCAA first placed restrictions on all-star games involving high school athletes two decades ago, but only on those scheduled between completion of the players' senior year and the start of college. But last year, the NCAA went further, holding that a college-bound athlete would forfeit his first year of NCAA eligibility if he performed in unapproved high school all-star games scheduled anytime after completion of the season in that sport, which means, in the case of basketball, in March, April and May, the months in which the games usually are held. To be approved, games would have to be sanctioned either by the appropriate state high school federations or the NCAA itself. And the NCAA would only sanction games played for the benefit of charitable or educational organizations. Also, interstate games would be confined to players from two adjacent states. That last proviso puts a crimp in "national" games such as Pittsburgh's Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, which pits a team of, Pennsylvania blue chippers against one consisting of U.S. all-stars. The NCAA also limited high school students to two all-star appearances each.
Rich Hunter, the NCAA's assistant director of championships, says the new rules were designed to reduce classroom absenteeism on the part of high school athletes, which is certainly a commendable objective. But if that were the only concern, the NCAA need only have adopted its new two-games-per-player limitation. By also ruling that sanctioned events must have a charitable or educational beneficiary and must involve only players from neighboring states, the NCAA was obviously trying to deemphasize and decommercialize the games. Bob Geoghan, director of the McDonald's Capital Classic in Landover, Md., a game whose reputation rivals that of the Dapper Dan, says the crackdown may also reflect the fact that "a lot of college coaches are tired of chasing kids all over the country. Even if a boy is signed, coaches feel that they have to put in an appearance just to let him know they're still interested."
Arguing that they couldn't change their plans on such short notice, organizers of several games, including the Dapper Dan and the McDonald's Classic, have received waivers from the NCAA to stage their events as scheduled in 1981. Things could be different next year. Some all-star games may fold, and the Dapper Dan Club, the charity that sponsors Pittsburgh's big game, expects to change its format so that Pennsylvania all-stars henceforth will play not U.S. stars, but a team from, say, neighboring Ohio or New York. Lamenting that the new rules will destroy some of the event's glamour, Ray Burnett, the club's secretary-treasurer, says plaintively, "The national all-star game has become the dinosaur of the 1980s."
It could be as hot as the Prince racket or it could quickly land on the scrap heap next to the tricolored basketball. Either way, the SSK baseball glove now being introduced in this country is certainly distinctive. The pocket of each glove is dotted with 300 tiny holes that are said to halt the spin of the ball, making for a surer catch. SSK markets a full line of pockmarked fielders' gloves for baseball and Softball, and it doesn't just stop there. Also sporting the chicken-pox look is SSK's line of leather grips, which supposedly give a surer grasp and are available for baseball and softball bats as well as for tennis, squash and racquetball rackets. And please don't laugh. SSK America, Inc. is merely trying to accomplish in the United States what its parent company, SSK Sasaki Company. Ltd., has already achieved in Japan. There, thanks largely to what it calls "Dimple Power"—dimples presumably being more marketable than pock-marks—Sasaki has enjoyed a rapid growth in business and now ranks second in the sale of baseball equipment only to the giant Mizuno Corporation.
Newspaper stories reporting the death of John Gerber on Jan. 26 in Houston at the age of 74 accurately described him as a well-known bridge champion and a powerful figure in bridge politics. However, the obituaries didn't relate the story Gerber shared with only a few intimates about what supposedly happened to him in gangster-ridden Chicago on July 6, 1933 after he was announced the winner of a major tournament, the Culbertson Gold Cup.
As Gerber told it, he answered a knock on his hotel-room door late that evening and was greeted by two strangers, who forced him to leave with them. They took Gerber to a room in another hotel, where three men were playing bridge. Apparently one of them, a tough operator accustomed to getting his way, had decided he wanted the Gold Cup winner as a partner. Gerber was never told the stakes, but the game ended two days later with Gerber and his partner winning. The grateful partner slipped Gerber $1,000 and cautioned him not to tell anybody about the incident.
Gerber's kidnapping went unnoticed at the time, though a number of people had tried calling him at his hotel during his absence. His luggage and clothes were still in the room, and the unsuspecting hotel management kept saying he was out. As it happened, one of Gerber's most urgent callers was a Gold Cup official who wanted to report that there had been a scoring error and that Gerber had been the tournament runner-up, not the winner. Which meant that the kidnappers had seized the wrong man.
It was Indiana Basketball Coach Bobby Knight who issued the now-famous put-down of sportswriters: "All of us learn to write by the second grade, then most of us go on to other things." And it's Gary Tuell who has amended Knight's aphorism thusly: "Better late than never." In 1978, after having worked for 10 years as a sportswriter at The Louisville Courier-Journal and sports information director at the University of Louisville, Tuell, then 31, decided he wanted to enter the ministry and learned that the Cincinnati Bible College was looking to fill some positions in its athletic department. Tuell applied and was accepted as a student—and as the school's athletic director and basketball coach.
The former sportswriter has been a coaching sensation. The year before Tuell arrived, Cincinnati Bible had a 5-18 record, but it improved to 10-13 during his first season and to 26-8 last year. This season the team has a 24-2 record, is ranked second in the National Christian College Athletic Association's Division II and has earned a berth in that organization's championships next month in Clarks Summit. Pa. Tuell attributes his success to his friendship at Louisville with Coach Denny Crum and Athletic Director Bill Olsen, a former assistant to Crum. "I was at practice quite a bit and at all home and road games," he says. "I watched closely what Denny and Bill did. I just had an opportunity to put to use the things I learned."
Asked to compare sportswriting and coaching, Tuell offers an assessment that might give Knight pause. "Writing's harder," he says. "In coaching, we have at least a day or several days to prepare for a basketball game. In writing, you don't have any time to prepare. A writer has to organize his thoughts after a game and under a great deal of pressure. I haven't found anything difficult about coaching. I think it's easy. This is a fun job." As one might expect of somebody who's preparing for the pulpit, Tuell has the good grace to refrain from cruelly suggesting that coaching is something even a second-grader might enjoy.
AND AVERT YOUR EYES, PLEASE
After reporting a long list of men's college basketball results the other night, the Associated Press urgently moved the following correction: "Editors: Please disregard the Northwest Nazarene-Puget Sound score previously filed. IT WAS A WOMEN'S BASKETBALL GAME."
As a leading distance runner in the '50s and early '60s, Britain's Gordon Pirie competed in three Olympics, winning a silver medal in the 5,000 at Melbourne in '56 and setting world records the same year in that event and the 3,000 meters. Pirie also had a knack for stirring up controversy. He once complained loudly about having been slighted in a British sportsman-of-the-year vote and later ruffled feathers by competing against a black runner in segregated Rhodesia. In 1961 he turned professional with a bang, revealing that he had accepted money for running and bidding "farewell to the sham world of amateurism." Then he went to Spain, where he attracted attention by running solo against, and losing to, a relay team consisting of two obscure Spaniards in a race covering 100 laps of a bull ring. After that, he more or less disappeared.
But not completely. Now 49 years old and a secondary-school math teacher in Auckland, New Zealand, Pirie recently surprised the British Amateur Athletics Association, with which he had to deal in the matter because he still holds a British passport, by applying for reinstatement as an amateur. When that body at first balked, Pirie flashed some of his old fire by writing a letter accusing it of waging a "personal vendetta" against him. He also argued that "under various guises," many of today's leading trackmen probably receive "10 to 1,000 times as much money as I ever saw directly or indirectly from athletics, but they are all 'amateurs' with your stamp of approval." Relenting, the association finally reinstated Pirie in December.
And why did Pirie want his amateur status back? Last week he arrived in the U.S. with a top New Zealand roadrunner he has been coaching, 22-year-old Debbie Elsmore. Elsmore plans to race in the U.S. and Pirie wanted to be reinstated so he could do likewise. Pirie says he means to run on the U.S. circuit by way of training for a spot on his adopted country's team at the world orienteering championships in Switzerland in September. Besides, he says, "Road racing is fun and exciting." His arrival on the circuit should make it a little more of both.
THEY SAID IT
•Chris Bahr, Oakland Raider placekicker: "My wife calls me 'Much-Maligned.' She thinks that's my first name. Every time she reads a story about me, that's always in front of my name."
•Isiah Thomas, Indiana's star guard, after he and his teammates were paid a pre-game visit in their locker room by Old Grad Donald Sharer, one of the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran: "It's a shame he had to go through all that just to see an I.U. basketball game."