THE UNITED PLAYERS LEAGUE?
This is an article from the July 13, 1981 issue
As if the four-week-old baseball strike hadn't already bent the national pastime out of recognizable shape, listen to this: Marvin Miller, the executive director of the striking Major League Players Association, said when questioned last week that if the walkout extended into 1982, an eventuality that appeared less remote with each passing day of stalemated negotiations, the players might attempt to establish their own league, just as an earlier generation of striking players vainly tried to do in 1914 with the Federal League. Miller conceded that because the players are under contract to big league clubs for 1981, they couldn't start their own league this season. But he warned that the situation will change radically if the strike drags on. "If the owners are foolish enough to end this season without a settlement, they'd spark a big fire among the players," Miller told SI's Franz Lidz. "It would take time to have a fully viable new league, but you could start with four or six teams and build from there. It could be done."
The potentially enormous problems of coming up with investors, ball parks and TV contracts aside, there seems little doubt that a strike-born league could have considerable fan appeal. Approximately 80 of the current 650 major-leaguers, including Reggie Jackson, Bill Madlock and Ken Griffey, are due to become free agents at the end of the 1981 season, and they presumably would be at liberty to play in an upstart league right away. Slightly less certain is the status of the 420-odd players who haven't yet logged the six years of big league service that, under current procedures, they need to become free agents. Miller is of the firm belief that while such players, among them Fernando Valenzuela, Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson and a host of other young stars, are prohibited from jumping from one team to another, the right of most of them to bolt to a new league would be upheld in court. This leaves only those players, most of them veterans, who, because they're under multiyear contracts, may have to wait until those contracts expire. Thus, Pete Rose might not be free to join a new league until 1984, George Brett until 1987, Dave Winfield until 1991. But even those players, Miller suggests, could possibly be freed by litigation.
One precedent for such a strike-born endeavor is The New York Review of Books, which was founded during the 1962 New York newspaper walkout. Another precedent of sorts occurred in 1919 when Hollywood's three biggest stars, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin, showed their displeasure with the established studios by starting their own. "The lunatics have taken over the asylum," one movie mogul, Richard Rowland, scoffed at the time, but the company that resulted, United Artists, turned out to be anything but inconsequential. Although a strike-born baseball league would lack the tradition of the existing major leagues, it would enjoy one distinct competitive advantage that even United Artists didn't have. As Miller puts it, "You couldn't replace the tradition of major league baseball overnight, but if it's the only game in town, you never know."
As most accounts of Jerry Pate's two-stroke victory in the Danny Thomas-Memphis Classic duly noted, he and co-runner-up Bruce Lietzke are brothers-in-law. Lietzke married Rose Nelson, the sister of Soozi Nelson Pate, on May 30 of this year in Pensacola, Fla. Although there were no crossed golf clubs for the newlyweds to pass under as they emerged from St. Paul's Catholic Church, there was a spectacle of sorts at the reception when guests threw Lietzke, attired in a white tux and looking for all the world like "The Man from Glad," as usher Ben Crenshaw put it, into a swimming pool Then Pate, Crenshaw and others followed him into the water. Thus, when Pate celebrated his victory in Memphis by executing his now-famous dive, fully clothed, into a lake near the 18th hole, it was by no means the first such dip of the season among the golfing set. But only Lietzke could claim the distinction of having taken the plunge twice in one day.
Dallas-based Diamond Shamrock Corporation is a major (1980 sales: $3.14 billion) producer of oil, coal, natural gas and chemicals that keeps a corporate eye peeled on strategically situated real estate. Over the past year, the firm has produced petroleum in Louisiana, Montana and Nebraska, gas in Wyoming and Oregon and coal in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Now, according to the Dallas Times Herald, Diamond Shamrock has shelled out $600,000 for a 16X16-foot piece of real estate that, when first offered for sale in 1968, fetched only $50,000. The property: a glass-enclosed luxury box in Texas Stadium, home of the Cowboys. The company reportedly spent the hefty sum—the highest advertised price for a Texas Stadium box was the $300,000 a seller asked for one two years ago—because the box is located on the 35-yard line, an obvious move up in the world from the leased box on the goal line that Diamond Shamrock's executives were condemned to occupy last season.
OFF TO THE GAME
During the seven days he recently spent on the stand in the big NFL trial in Los Angeles, Oakland Raider boss Al Davis, whose attempt to move his team to L.A. is the main issue in the proceedings, made an interesting assertion. By way of denying that the proposed franchise shift would betray the Raiders' longtime fans in the Bay Area, Davis argued that if the move were allowed to take place, those fans could still easily attend Raider games. "If I got on an airplane in Oakland, I could be in Los Angeles at the Coliseum almost as quick as you could do it on a Sunday from Los Angeles to Anaheim," Davis said. Anaheim is where the Rams moved upon departing L.A. last season.
Glenn Dickey, sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, felt compelled to comment on Davis' testimony. "Davis is right, of course," Dickey wrote. "It is possible to fly down on a Sunday morning and back that night, after seeing the game. Aside from the damage to your lungs from the smog, here is what that entails:
"•A round-trip airfare of $120. On PSA, that does not include food, nor does it include a seat reservation. You do get a swell opportunity to emulate the atmosphere on a cattle car as you jostle for position prior to boarding.
"•A taxi ride from the airport to Los Angeles Coliseum, which costs about $20 one way, $40 round trip. A rental car would be somewhat cheaper, but not much.
"•With the cost of your ticket, the extras like airport parking, the food you'll have to buy on game day, the total cost is about $200 a game.
"If you attend ten games—eight regular-season and two exhibitions—that comes to about $2,000 for the season, or $4,000 for a couple.
"For that money, you could spend two weeks in Paris, which might be almost as much fun as watching ten football games."
Dickey also mentioned that fans who have been regularly attending Raider games in Oakland might have trouble coming up with comparable seats in Los Angeles. Especially, we would imagine, if all 54,000 of them were to take Davis up on his kind invitation.
You may recall the concern expressed in this space about the absence of procreative proclivities among the flamingos at Hialeah (SCORECARD, March 30, et seq.). No flamingos had been born at Hialeah since 1972, with the result that the flock that resides in the track's infield had declined from more than 600 to barely 400. What's more, male and female birds weren't showing much interest in each other. Track officials blamed a court order in 1972 requiring that Hialeah's winter meeting, which traditionally had run from January to early March, be held in alternate years from March through May. Noting that the flamingos normally mated during March, the officials speculated that the birds had been turned off by the galloping horses and the cheering throngs. Then, in mid-April of this year, just as fears were being expressed that the flock might eventually dwindle away, some flamingos began mating.
What happened? Dennis Testa, Hialeah's general supervisor, noted that the outbreak of amorous activity had occurred later than the old mating period, and said, "Maybe they just got used to the racing." Testa also wondered if high-potency carrot-oil extract that had been added to the flamingos' daily fare of, among other things, rice, dry dog food and corn might have had an aphrodisiac effect. Then, too, the birds may have been put in the mood by some heavy rain showers. At any rate, we're happy to report that over the past fortnight, 25 flamingo chicks have hatched at Hialeah. And since at least 20 other eggs have been laid, Hialeah officials are now hoping that more visits from the stork lie ahead.
PUTTING QUARTERS ON THE LINE
The Continental Basketball Association, a minor league partly funded by the NBA, has devised an intriguing approach to season standings that could give players greater incentive to hustle through an entire game instead of, as frequently occurs in the pros, only the final minutes. Starting next season, the CBA will forgo traditional standings based on won-lost records and introduce a system whereby three "points" are awarded for a victory and one point for each quarter in which a team outscores its opponent, with both teams earning one-half point for a quarter in which they tied. The most points a team will be able to earn from a game will be seven—three for winning and four more for outscoring its opponents in every period. At the other extreme, it will be possible for a winning team to receive as few as four points, with the loser picking up three.
If the scheme works the way it's meant to, the attention of fans, coaches and players will be riveted not only on the main scoreboard but also on an auxiliary scoreboard that will provide a running tally of the quarter being played. With the score, say, 20-17 late in the first period, there would, it's hoped, be heightened excitement as both teams battle to "win" the quarter. Strategy could also be affected. For example, instead of routinely resting a player in foul trouble at the close of the third period, the coach might now be tempted to keep him in the game in hopes of gaining one immediate point in the standings.
CBA Commissioner Jim Drucker says that one of the ideas behind the innovation is to make one-sided games more exciting. "Even when the score is 100-72 going into the fourth period, the fans might stick around to see if the losing team can at least salvage a point in the standings by winning the fourth quarter," Drucker says. But Drucker admits that the experiment could have exactly the opposite effect. "The good teams might now win by even bigger scores, because they'd be less likely to suffer emotional letdowns," he says. "But we'll never know if we don't try it, will we?"
SPLASHING RIGHT ALONG
Not content with having won an unprecedented 31 individual national titles (17 indoors, 14 outdoors) and having broken or equaled five world records and 57 American records (15 of which she currently holds), Tracy Caulkins keeps churning along as the top U.S. woman swimmer. Now 18 and bound for the University of Florida in the fall, the 1978 Sullivan Award winner entered nine individual events at the recent Seventeen magazine Swim Meet of Champions in Mission Viejo, Calif. and won an astonishing six of them while placing third, fourth and sixth in the others. She also swam on three relay teams, one of them victorious, for her Nashville Aquatic Club. As the women's high-point scorer, Caulkins received a 10-speed bicycle, a bracelet, a warmup suit and a $1,500 scholarship, as well as some handsome additions to her already enormous hoard of trophies, of which she says brightly, "The major ones are around the house, others are in safe places, and others are in boxes." Caulkins took her seven-victory performance in stride, witness her poolside exchange with a fan, who told her, "Nice meet, Tracy." Misunderstanding the well-wisher's words—too much water in the ears?—Caulkins replied, "Nice meeting you, too."
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
Little Lee Trevino, all 5'1" of him, appeared at an exhibition match in Kansas City the other day with those relative giants, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, and seized the occasion to claim that taller golfers get a break when it comes to putting. Citing the putting prowess of 6'5" George Archer and also favorably mentioning the skills of Bruce Lietzke, Jerry Pate and Tommy Valentine, all of them 6-footers or thereabouts, Trevino said, "The best putters have always been tall. They can lean over the ball and putt like a pendulum, back and forth. The shorter you are, the more you have to get away from the ball."
Trevino also claimed that taller players are likelier to last longer. "When you're my size, the older you get the more mobility you lose," he said. "You don't have the arc on your swing. When you're in the 29-33 age range you still get the distance, but when you're older you're not as flexible." Trevino noted that while 5'1" Gary Player was, at 45, having his troubles, 51-year-old Don January, a strapping 6-footer, was contending in many tournaments. "He still has the arc and he can play for a long time," said Trevino.
To which Nicklaus, drawing himself to his full 5'11" said, "Hogwash." Big Jack added, "I don't think just because you are 5'7", you're going to lose flexibility. I think [Trevino] just happened to pick this out because he's having some fun with it. I don't think he really believes it."
But the 5'9" Watson said, "Trevino is right. As you get older the golf swing gets flatter and you can't get the club back as far. When you don't have the flexibility to get the club back as far, you can't hit it as far."
THEY SAID IT
•Joe Morgan, San Francisco Giant second baseman, extolling the diplomacy with which Manager Frank Robinson dispenses constructive criticism: "He can step on your shoes, but he doesn't mess up your shine."
•Lance Van Zandt, former Nebraska defensive backfield coach who now holds the same position with the Saints, on New Orleans' drafting of Cornhusker Safety Russell Gary: "The only thing that concerns me about Russell is that he won't get any better coaching in the pros than he got in college."