Baseball's long-threatened players' strike was put off last week until at least June 5 and perhaps indefinitely after the National Labor Relations Board's general counsel, William Lubbers, issued an unfair-labor-practice complaint against the owners. The relief that everybody felt over the extension of the May 29 strike deadline tended to obscure the seriousness of Lubbers' charge. He accused the owners of failing to bargain in good faith by insisting that the payment of stiffer compensation for free agents was "essential to the economic survival of many major league clubs, while adamantly refusing to produce financial data to support that claim." In other words, the owners were trying to have it both ways in their negotiations—or, rather, non-negotiations—with the players.
Instances of management's crying poor as the dispute over compensation headed toward the strike deadline were, as Lubbers implied, plentiful. There was Commissioner Bowie Kuhn insisting that the financial losses of various clubs already amounted to "many millions of dollars." There was Montreal Expo Chairman Charles Bronfman warning that the owners couldn't give in on compensation because "as an industry, baseball is not healthy." There was Baltimore Oriole owner Edward Bennett Williams calling the game's economic problems "dire." There was Minnesota Twins Chairman Calvin Griffith declaring, "Some teams are going to go broke—it's bound to happen." And there was San Francisco Giant owner Bob Lurie saying, "Just wait until one or two teams go under." Yet when Marvin Miller, executive director of the Players Association, demanded that the owners support these claims of impending financial ruin by submitting their books to inspection, a far different tune was heard. Indeed, Ray Grebey, the owners' chief negotiator, said, "The clubs' position in bargaining is not, and has not been, motivated by a lack of financial capacity."
Why were the owners so reluctant to open their books? Williams, for one, intimated that he would be glad to do so but was merely going along with the owners' united bargaining position. As for those owners who weren't prepared to let the union nose around in their ledgers, it's conceivable that they were resisting on principle and not because they had anything to hide. It may even be that some of their economic laments were justified. But by refusing to open their books while demanding greater restrictions on free agency, the owners fueled inevitable speculation that they weren't so hard up after all, that they could easily afford the money they'd lavished on free agents and that they were guilty of the very greed that they—and many of the fans—are only too quick to impute exclusively to the players.
June 7, 1981
There's a new novel in the bookstores called The Man Who Brought the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn (Simon and Schuster, $12.95), and as the title suggests, the plot has to do with an effort to redress the never-to-be-forgiven injustice Walter O'Malley inflicted on Brooklynites when he moved his team to Los Angeles in 1958. To publicize the book, David Ritz, the 37-year-old Brooklyn-born author, will appear at a press conference this week in his native borough. A publicist cautions that Ritz will be available for interviews with the New York media only that day because he has to return home right away. It seems that Ritz left Brooklyn at age six when his family moved to New Jersey, has since lived in Italy, South Carolina, Texas and other far-flung places and has made his home for the past four years in—make of this what you will—Los Angeles.
HOT SPOT U.S.A.
Archbald, Pa. (pop. 6,334) is an improbable basketball hotbed. Though it isn't spelled Archibald, as in Nate, it is tiny. What's more, Archbald's sons and daughters have enjoyed extraordinary success in the national Hotshot program co-sponsored by Pepsi-Cola and the NBA, a five-year-old competition open to kids nine to 18, except for those playing on varsity basketball teams. Hotshot participants are given one minute to score points by shooting from any of five "hotspots" marked on one-half of a basketball court. They dribble from one hot-spot to another, picking up points for baskets made based on the difficulty of shots chosen, but losing points for walking, double dribbling and palming. Practice can help a shooter develop a sense of the "hotspots" to choose to attain the highest possible point total.
Archbald's entrants in the Hotshot competition represent, in the initial stages of the eliminations, St. Thomas Aquinas Church, which began running local championships three years ago as part of its youth recreation program. Soon thereafter, an Archbald sixth-grader, Joe Reno, beat Mickey Schulke of Bothell, Wash, to win the national title for boys nine to 12, one of six Hotshot categories. The next year Joe lost to Schulke in the finals of the boys 13-15 category, but two other Archbald entrants won national titles, Michael Polito (boys nine-12) and John McGraw (boys 16-18). During this season's finals, which Were held in Chicago and telecast during half-time of the fourth game of the NBA final series between the Celtics and Rockets, Reno met Schulke yet again, defeating him in the boys 13-15 finals, while John McGraw's sister, Diane, won the girls 13-15 title and Joe Reno's sister, Laurie, was runner-up among girls 16 to 18. All told. Archbald kids have taken home five of the last 18 national titles and finished second in two others, a remarkable showing for one small town in a competition that attracts 2.5 million participants across the country.
As this success might suggest, competing in the Hotshot program has become the thing to do in Archbald. Youngsters practice endlessly on playgrounds and in driveways, sometimes shoveling away snow to do so. Inevitably, Joe Reno, Archbald's two-time national champ, is one of their heroes. His secret? "The D-3," he says. That's Hotshot parlance for a spot 15 feet from the basket and just left of the key, worth three points. "If I'm hitting from there, I'll just stay," Joe, now 14, says. Partly because of Joe's success from D-3, other Hotshot competitors across the country now concentrate on that spot, too. But nowhere is Joe's influence greater than at home in Archbald. As Eileen Reno, his mother, says, "I think one reason Archbald has done well in Hotshots is the town's smallness. The kids are close, they practice together and they give each other help. Joe started it off, but now it just seems to keep going."
A HONEY OF A DARLING
Pitcher Ron Darling, Yale's evocatively named All-America (SI, March 30), has informed school officials that he'll probably pass up his senior year of athletic eligibility to turn professional. Darling's junior year was good enough: a 9-4 record, with two saves, complete games in all 12 of his starts, 105 strikeouts in 105 innings and an ERA of 2.14—and a .321 batting average. One of Darling's four losses occurred in his last collegiate pitching appearance, an epic NCAA tournament game in which he held St. John's hitless for 11 innings but lost 1-0 in the 12th when the Redmen's Steve Scafa led off with a single and then stole second, third and, with two outs, home. Baseball's amateur draft will be held on June 8, and Darling is sure to be taken early. The Seattle Mariners, who have the first choice, say he's one of three players they're considering most seriously.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT AT INDY
Nothing that has happened since the Indy 500 diminishes the feeling that the United States Auto Club blundered in forcing Bobby Unser to forfeit his victory. By penalizing Unser one lap 17 hours after the race's completion, an action that resulted in victory being awarded to runner-up Mario Andretti, USAC cast a cloud over the race, tarnished Unser's reputation, left Andretti more than a little embarrassed and damaged its own credibility. There was no denying that Unser had illegally passed at least seven cars under the yellow caution light, but troubling questions remain. Was Unser the only guilty party, or just the most flagrant? Also, did the punishment fit the crime?
Race drivers pass under the yellow light all the time. They consider it cagey and, at times, even unavoidable. A driver passing under the yellow is like an offensive lineman using his hands; often it's simply instinct. Passing cars is what he's supposed to do. There were charges that Andretti himself had passed under the yellow, but that USAC had winked at the infraction because he didn't swallow seven or so cars in one swoop like Unser. Unfortunately, there are times when race officials do indeed ignore such violations—which is just asking for trouble. Both safety and fairness dictate that when track conditions call for a yellow light, the rule against passing must be strictly enforced.
Belatedly stripping Unser of his victory was unwarranted. The proper response to his offense would have been to penalize him immediately; had this been done, Unser would have been able to drive a different race during his final 51 laps and, with the fastest car in the field, conceivably could have defeated Andretti anyway. What USAC officials were doing, in effect, was penalizing Unser for their own incompetence. Astonishingly, they admitted they hadn't seen Unser pass the cars and said they wanted to examine television footage before they ruled; they watched videotapes Sunday night, and based their decision on that. A woman fan complained on an Indianapolis radio talk show Monday morning, "I saw it from the grandstands, and if you can sit in the stands and see it, why for heaven's sake can't officials see?"
It shouldn't be overlooked that Roger Penske, the owner of Unser's car, was a prime mover two years ago in the formation of CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams), the organization of leading drivers and owners that broke away from USAC and now sanctions virtually every Indy-style event except the 500. Although Pat Patrick, the owner of Andretti's car, is also one of CART's founding fathers, the men who run USAC are known to hold Penske most to blame for the CART revolt. But if they derive any satisfaction from having deprived Penske's driver of victory at Indy, that pleasure could be short-lived. Last week Penske filed an appeal with USAC seeking a reversal of the decision against his car, and neither he nor Unser would rule out the possibility of a lawsuit if the appeal is rejected. And at least one driver, three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, seized on the controversy as evidence that control of the Indianapolis race should be taken away from USAC and turned over to CART.
AU REVOIR, JEAN
Boston Bruin Center Jean Ratelle was one of hockey's premier performers, an effortless skater and exact shooter who inspired adjectives—"elegant," "classy," "balletic"—not always associated with his sport. When he retired last week at the age of 40 to become a Bruins assistant coach, Ratelle brought an end to a 20-year career during which he amassed 491 goals and 776 assists. But Ratelle's most remarkable stats were these: In 1,281 NHL games, he accumulated just 276 penalty minutes, the equivalent of roughly seven two-minute minors per season. By contrast, Steve Durbano, whose career ended in 1979, had 1.411 penalty minutes in 265 games in the NHL and in the World Hockey Association, almost the exact reverse of Ratelle's figures. Nobody ever suggested that the kind of hockey played by Durbano, a deficient skater who scored 19 goals in seven seasons and spent most of this time brawling, was as much fun to watch as the kind played by Ratelle.
THEY SAID IT
•Butch Alder, Purdue football player, when asked how his conversion in spring practice from linebacker to center was going: "It's a snap."
•Larry Bird, addressing his Boston Celtic teammates at a dinner celebrating their NBA championship: "I could stand up here all night talking about the whole team. But I'm getting sick and tired of talking about myself."
•Horatio Luro, 80-year-old horse trainer, on the secret of his longevity: "Swim, dance a little, go to Paris every August and live within walking distance of two hospitals."