GROUNDS FOR REFORM
The blatant conflicts of interest that exist among top management at the Fair Grounds racetrack in New Orleans continue to sow controversy. When we last looked at the situation (SCORECARD, March 23), Bob Roesler, executive sports editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, had been barred from the press box after reporting that Dr. Alex Harthill, a veterinarian and a paid consultant to Fair Grounds President Joseph P. Dorignac Jr., had been in the practice of protecting the boss' interests by posting himself at the claiming box and trying to prevent Dorignac's horses (35 of which he races at his own track) from being claimed; there also were accusations that Harthill, who gained national publicity as the vet for Dancer's Image when it won the Kentucky Derby with a prohibited pain-killer in its system, was practicing at the track without a license. Roesler further reported that the track's three stewards had taken no action when Beau Rit, a Kentucky Derby-bound horse (he finished 13th at Louisville) was found to have traces of a forbidden drug in its system after winning a big race at the Fair Grounds. Two of the stewards had been appointed by the Fair Grounds management, which made it noteworthy that Louis Roussel III, who trains Beau Rit and whose wife owns the horse, is the track attorney and owner of a company that holds 20% of the track's stock.
Recent events only reinforce the feeling that something is seriously amiss at the Fair Grounds. During a court hearing last month, two jockeys testified that they had accepted cash from a third to finish out of the money in a race at the Fair Grounds last Valentine Day. Despite these admissions, one of the jockeys, L.J. Durousseau, who had appeared in court in Roussel's behalf, was allowed to race at the Fair Grounds the next day. An Orleans Parish grand jury is looking into the race-fixing allegations. Meanwhile, New Orleans Civil District Judge Steven R. Plotkin recently held Roussel and three track security men in contempt for barring an alleged "undesirable" from the track in defiance of a court order.
The 10-member Louisiana Racing Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the state's five tracks, is involved in conflicts of its own. Chairman Albert M. Stall and three other commission members run their horses at state tracks and until recently, the commission occupied offices in a bank owned by Roussel's father. In hopes of dispelling "a cloud of public doubt and suspicion," Louisiana Governor Dave Treen last month asked all the commissioners to resign, an invitation that only one of them has so far accepted. Three weeks ago the state ethics commission interpreted existing state law as forbidding 1) racing commissioners from running their own horses at Louisiana tracks and 2) any owner from running his horses at a track in which he has an interest of 25% or more.
May 24, 1981
Welcome though this ruling was, some state legislators are pushing for laws that would not only explicitly abolish the conflicts of interest but would also prevent officials from transferring ownership to relatives as a way of getting around such a prohibition. The Fair Grounds is the only Louisiana thoroughbred track at which members of top management run their own horses, and the presidents of the state's other tracks all favor the reform legislation. Louisiana Downs President Vincent Bartimo points out that he owns a prize filly but doesn't run her at his track because, "I think it's a conflict of interest. As president I am in complete charge of the track. Even if nothing is wrong, it looks bad."
THE KING & HIS COURT
Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the king of Bhutan, is the fourth Druk Gyalpo, or Dragon King, of his line. He's not too bad from the foul line, either. The ruler of the remote Himalayan kingdom shoe-horned between India and Tibet is a basketball freak who simply can't get enough of the game. The 25-year-old monarch got turned on to hoops while attending school in England, and he hones his skills by watching videotapes of NBA games that are sent to him, along with balls and sneakers, by the Bhutanese Mission to the United Nations. And according to Steve Nycum, he's the best player in his country.
Nycum, a 6'9½" Californian who played college ball in the early '70s at Texas Tech and Chapman College, recently completed a one-year stint as the country's basketball coach, for which job he was personally recruited by the king. During his stay Nycum played center for the Royal Bhutanese Army team, which scrimmaged nearly every afternoon with a team consisting mainly of the king and his royal bodyguards at an outdoor playground in Thimphu, the nation's capital. The captain of Nycum's team, and the king's cousin, was a puckish, playmaking guard named Paljore Dorji, or "C.J.," the head of the country's highest court. The initials stand for Chief Justice or, to some, Court Jester.
Nycum describes the 5'9" king as a shooting guard—which sets him apart, of course, from both point guards and palace guards. "He has a great spinning hook shot and whirls around like the old Earl Monroe," Nycum says. "But his outside shot is his best weapon." The king's presence on the court, Nycum continues, has more than once intimidated opposing players, who appear reluctant to foul royalty. Nycum also says the monarch used to travel a lot with the ball but has pretty much corrected that deficiency, no thanks to Bhutanese referees, who have been reluctant to blow the whistle on him. The refs are also hesitant about calling fouls on the king, Nycum says, adding, "If they don't call a foul and he thinks he's committed one, he'll sometimes throw the ball out of bounds and lecture the refs sternly."
But the king doesn't shrink entirely from exercising the royal prerogative. His Majesty plays with the sleeves of his kho, a traditional robe-like garment, wrapped rakishly around his waist, a getup that goes nicely with his Pro Keds. The length of the royal games seems to be determined by a sort of divine intervention. "The king lets everyone know when it's halftime," says Nycum. The king also signals that the end of a game is nearing by saying "five more buckets."
HOLD THAT TIGER
After Tacoma Tiger Manager Ed Nottle was thrown out of a game in Tacoma's Cheney Stadium during a fifth-inning rhubarb, players on the Edmonton Trapper bench noticed that the home team's Tiger-costumed mascot had replaced his sneakers with a pair of white baseball shoes. Could the masked figure who was dancing in the stands with fans be the banished Nottle, a would-be nightclub performer who strums a guitar and sang the national anthem on Opening Day? Such suspicions grew stronger when the "Tiger" found time to consult with the Tigers' third base coach in the manner of a manager urgently plotting strategy. When an umpire, alerted by the Edmonton players, tried to approach him, the mascot beat a hasty retreat. Several days after Tacoma's 4-3 victory, Pacific Coast League President William S. Cutler issued the following directive: "Club mascots—chickens, tigers, beavers, etc.—will not be allowed on the playing field while the game is in progress."
FAST BREAKS & BREAKFASTS
Officials at KOIN-TV, the CBS affiliate in Portland, Ore., were getting a lot of flak over their decision to show Thursday's sixth and, as it turned out, deciding game of the NBA championship series between Boston and Houston on a delayed basis, at 11:30 p.m. One fan who wanted the game aired live in prime time was Don Berchtold, owner of a well-known local restaurant, Johns Meatmarket. "When games start at 11:30, nobody makes it to the third quarter," Berchtold complained to KOIN-TV General Manager Mick Schafbuch and Station Manager Howard Kennedy.
Schafbuch and Kennedy argued that there were fans who would stay up late to watch playoff games, and they devised a scheme to prove it. By arrangement with a doubting Berchtold, they inserted several 30-second spots into the delayed telecast, announcing that the first 600 people who showed up between 6 and 9 a.m. on Friday at Johns Meatmarket, which normally isn't open that early, would get a full breakfast for 6¬¨¬®¬¨¢. The point the station officials were trying to make was that there would be 600 takers. Berchtold predicted there wouldn't be that many.
Fifty people were in line when the restaurant opened at 6 a.m., and more followed quickly. The bargain-seekers included a lot of night people, not all of them basketball fans. Among those who partook of the 6¬¨¬®¬¨¢ breakfast, which consisted of scrambled eggs, sausages, hash browns, cinnamon rolls, orange juice, gin fizzes and all the coffee one could drink, were a dozen nurses from the night shift at Good Samaritan Hospital. One of them, Carol Newman, said they learned of the offer from patients. "They were all watching the game," she said. "We couldn't get any of them to go to sleep, especially that guy in 52." Patrick Fetsch, a student at Portland State University, showed up with a date and said, "It's not very often I can take a lady friend out and wine and dine her for 12¬¨¬®¬¨¢. I guess I'm the last of the big-time spenders." Said Doris Hall, after driving 15 miles to the restaurant, "I was astounded when I heard it on TV. I'm a nocturnal person. I don't normally get up until noon. But I wouldn't have missed this."
But Berchtold turned out to be right. When 9 a.m. arrived, "only" 475 people had taken advantage of the breakfast offer, this despite the fact that radio stations had carried news of the 6¬¨¬®¬¨¢ breakfast throughout the morning. "We didn't even reach 600," Berchtold said. "If more people had been watching that game, they would've been knocking down the doors." To be sure, the crush of business may have been more than enough for one of the restaurant's waitresses. When a customer arrived at 8:30 a.m. and asked, "Are you still having the basketball breakfast?" she wearily replied, "We're all out of basketballs, but we still have food."
THIS SPUD'S FOR YOU
Ed Myers, the catcher for Fredonia (Ariz.) High, cocked his arm and let fly in an apparent attempt to pick Ash Fork High's Bill Robertson off third. The throw sailed into leftfield, and Robertson trotted home for what looked like a certain run, only to be tagged out by Myers. A stunned Robertson demanded, "Where'd you get that ball?"
The ball had been hidden in Myers' mitt all along. What the catcher had thrown into leftfield was a potato. The Fredonia boys had been schooled in the hidden potato trick by Coach Clint Long, who said he'd always wanted to try it after hearing tales about its having once been pulled, date and details unknown, in a major league game. The trick worked beyond Long's fondest expectations. The spud shattered on impact, and the Fredonia leftfielder quickly ate most of the evidence, effectively foiling efforts by the umpires to collect incriminating fragments. Ash Fork Coach Lynn Painter protested, but Long stumped the huddled umps by asking, gloatingly, "Is there anything in the rule book that says you can't fire a potato into leftfield?" To keep the peace, Long finally relented and allowed the home plate umpire, who had called Robertson out, to reverse himself. After the game, which his team won 18-7, a thoroughly satisfied Long confided that Myers had bought the potato for 20¬¨¬®¬¨¢. "He was looking for a good throwing potato," the coach said.
TROUTISH ON AMERICA
Considering the high price of seafood, the mixed-up dispatch sent out by the Oregon office of United Press International almost seemed to make sense. It began:
Portland, Ore. (UPI)—The weekly report on fishing conditions prepared by the Portland office of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith....
THEY SAID IT
•Mike Eruzione, U.S. Olympic hockey hero, attending an auction at which a picture he created by shooting paint-doused pucks across a canvas sold for $36,000 to benefit the U.S. Olympic Committee: "Picasso made many paintings, but there's only one Eruzione."
•Pete Rose, Phillie first baseman, after a plane circled Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium trailing a sign apparently meant for him and signed "Luv, Christy": "I'm hard to reach on the phone."