Let's see now, was there anybody George Steinbrenner didn't insult during the World Series? The Yankees? As always, Steinbrenner publicly ridiculed his team's lapses, defending his right to do so by saying, "It's O.K. for me to criticize my players because I sign the checks." The horrible implication was that the Yankees were allowing themselves to be humiliated for money. The Dodgers? After L.A. grittily came from behind to win Game 5, Steinbrenner said, "They didn't play well. We gave it to them." Steinbrenner did have some gracious things to say about the Dodgers when the Series ended, but not before issuing a public apology for the Yankees' performance, a statement that had the effect of denigrating the efforts of both teams.
New York City? As partial explanation for the set-to he said he had in an L.A. elevator with a couple of ruffians, Steinbrenner allowed that they'd slurred New York, an explanation that was itself a slur, suggesting that the Big Apple was in such a pathetic state that it had to have its honor defended by a native Clevelander who now makes his home in Tampa. The fans? By taking the trouble to apologize to them for his team's showing, Steinbrenner, in effect, was accusing them of lacking the character to accept defeat. It might be argued that he further slighted them when he referred to them at one point, revealingly, as "my fans."
Have we forgotten anything? Well, yes. The only reason we even know about these many insults is that Steinbrenner succeeded in getting more ink during the Series than any player on either team. By upstaging the Series, he insulted baseball itself. The way we figure it, George was the only World Series participant who batted 1.000.
November 9, 1981
A NOSTALGIC NOTE
You'll notice that we referred to the Yankee owner in the sentence immediately above simply as George. That's because he's one of the few people on the American sports scene who are commonly called—and readily recognizable—by their first names only. Another is that familiar fellow, Howard. But if you try to think of athletes who are so distinguished, the current list, nicknames like Magic and Sugar Ray excepted, just about begins with Reggie and ends with Kareem. Things used to be different. There were Wilt and Oscar and O.J. (that is a first name, isn't it?) and Billie Jean (another one, right?) and Arnie and maybe some more. If you go back far enough, there isn't an owner or a sportscaster in the lot. Ah, the good old days.
DIGGING DEEP FOR FOOTBALL
It's pretty much an isolated case, probably something you wouldn't want to make too much of. In fact, it flies in the face of the tendency by most people these days to vote against anything that even remotely smacks of higher taxes, assessments and the like. Yet for that very reason the action recently taken by students at Southern Illinois University is noteworthy. With its athletic program plagued by financial problems, a fate that has lately befallen many schools, the university scheduled a campus referendum to decide whether the student fee to support intercollegiate athletics should be $20 or $30 per semester. University officials warned that unless students opted for the $30 charge, football would probably have to be dropped.
With one-third of Southern Illinois' 21,000 students voting, the $30 assessment easily passed, 4,801 to 2,538. "After this referendum, anyone who says people don't care about intercollegiate athletics, forget it," crowed Bruce Swinburne, vice-president for student affairs, who had campaigned for approval of the $30 fee. Swinburne and other university officials noted that no such vote in behalf of college sports could have passed on campus during the Vietnam era. What was left unsaid was that in those days of looser budgets, no such vote would have been necessary.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
Bob Silverman and Scott Weinstein were freed last week after spending nearly two days in a Montreal jail, a circumstance they didn't try to soft-pedal. To understand, you must know why Silverman and Weinstein were in the pokey to begin with. Cycling enthusiasts of a decidedly militant stripe, they became miffed by City Hall's refusal to build a proposed bicycle path into downtown Montreal despite a promise by the provincial government to underwrite the $300,000 cost. To protest, they painted their own cycling lane on a busy city street, for which they were promptly arrested. As a further protest, they declined to pay the $25 fine, thereby earning their jail sentences. The resulting publicity for their cause was only one of the reasons they found their incarceration bearable. Another reason, or so Silverman seemed to suggest, was that jail turned out to be like Brer Rabbit's briar patch. While behind bars, Silverman, whose nickname is "Bicycle Bob," wrote a short story—on bicycling. And he says brightly, "My cell overlooked a bicycle path on the Back River. It was inspiring."
IVAN THE TERRIFIC
While John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg were getting upset last week in a tournament in Tokyo won by Vince Van Patten, Ivan Lendl was making tennis history half a world away. With little fanfare, the 21-year-old Czech defeated Sandy Mayer 6-3, 6-3 in the finals of the Lacoste Cup in Cologne, West Germany for his fifth Grand Prix victory in as many weeks, eclipsing Jose-Luis Clerc's record four wins in four weeks in the U.S. last summer. With Borg now planning a six-month layoff, Lendl appears to have his game in shape to challenge McEnroe as the world's top performer. They'll probably meet in the Volvo Masters tournament in mid-January in Madison Square Garden. But Lendl will also have to prove he can beat Jimmy Connors, something he's never done.
In the meantime, instead of trying to extend his streak, Lendl is taking this week off. In one sense, Clerc's four-week streak was more impressive than Lendl's, coming as it did during tennis' peak season and ending only with his defeat in the U.S. Open. On the other hand, all of Clerc's wins occurred outdoors and in the U.S., while Lendl's were achieved both indoors and outdoors and in four different countries. And whereas Clerc was playing only on clay, his favorite surface, Lendl performed both on clay (the Madrid Grand Prix and the Spanish Championships in Barcelona) and on synthetic surfaces (the Swiss Indoor Championships, the Fischer Open in Vienna and the Lacoste). In winning 26 straight matches against the likes of Guillermo Vilas, Eddie Dibbs, Brian Gottfried, Clerc himself (in the finals of the Swiss Indoors) and Mayer, Lendl also won an astonishing 55 of 59 sets.
MAKING THE GRADE
Academic requirements for high school athletes in California, as elsewhere, tend to be lax. Under the rules of that state's high school athletic federation; students need only receive passing grades in four courses during the previous grading period to be eligible for interscholastic sports. This means that an athlete carrying six courses could receive four D's and two F's and still be eligible.
So laughably low are these minimums that most California schools have taken it upon themselves to set more stringent standards. For example, jocks at San Benito Joint Union High in the northern California city of Hollister must have completed at least 20 units of C work or better in the grade period preceding the season. When Ted Williams, now an assistant at UCLA, was football coach at Compton High in Southern California, he made things tougher still. Many Compton students come from deprived backgrounds, yet Williams required his players to maintain a C average; a D, in other words, had to be offset by a B. "We sold them on the idea they were to get an education," says Williams.
Also sold on that idea was George Rosales, a member of the football coaching staff at John Burroughs High in Burbank who got wind of Williams' relatively exacting grade policy. In January 1980 Rosales became head coach at Burroughs and, on the theory that academic standards at the predominantly middle-class school could be even higher than those at Compton, he let it be known that he wouldn't settle for a C average. He decreed that any player who fell below a C in any course would have to sit out a game; this meant that a D and four A's wouldn't be acceptable. Rosales' unique grade policy was introduced in early 1980 and grades were checked every five weeks—four grade checks all told. A study hall program was established for those who wanted tutoring. Even with that help, 32 players fell below C, at least briefly, during the school year. All of them sat out the opening game of the 1980 season against Canyon High.
The decimated Burroughs High Indians won that game 13-0 and had a 10-3 record last season and reached the semifinals of the Northern Conference 3A playoffs. Rosales' message meanwhile appeared to be getting across. With the study-hall program continuing through the 1980-81 school year, 21 Burroughs players, 11 fewer than a year earlier, were obliged to sit out this season's opener against Canyon High, which the Indians nevertheless won 13-7. The same all-C policy has now been adopted by Burroughs' soccer, baseball and basketball teams. The crackdown on grades has received high marks from both parents and players, who realize that when Rosales says, "We expect a lot of the kids," he's referring to something of more enduring importance than blocking and tackling.
The title of Tom Wolfe's 1979 bestseller on the Mercury space project, The Right Stuff, referred to that elusive quality that divided people, as Wolfe put it, into those who "either had it or...didn't." In an aside during an interview on modern architecture, the subject of his latest book, From Bauhaus to Our House, Wolfe told PEOPLE'S Eric Levin that there was one area in which he himself didn't have it. Wolfe said that as a young man in the early 1950s he aspired to be a major league pitcher and took part in a tryout camp conducted by the New York Giants near his Virginia home.
"After two days, they cut the field down to about 40 prospects," recalled Wolfe. "I didn't make the cut, and I couldn't believe it. I had every pitch—many more than most pitchers had. At that time very few pitchers had a slider. I had a slider. I had a sinker and a screwball. I was a righthander, by the way. So I went to this scout and I said, 'There must be some mistake. My name's not on this list. Don't you remember me? I've got a slider; I've got a sinker; I've got a—' And he said, 'Yeah, I remember. You've got a lot of cute stuff. But son, there's only one thing we're looking for, and that's a pitcher that can tear the catcher's head off with a fastball. You get one of those, come on back."
In other words, Wolfe had good stuff but not the right stuff.
SPARE THE ASTERISKS, PLEASE
An article in a newsletter called The SABR Bulletin may make baseball fans feel ever so slightly better about the strike-ravaged 1981 major league season. Published by the Society for American Baseball Research, an organization of baseball historians and figger filberts, the Bulletin notes that while the '81 season consisted of only 103 to 111 games, depending on the team, performances of the season's statistical leaders were, with few exceptions, better than some full-season leaders of the past.
Probably the most notable stat this year belongs to rookie Tim Raines, who was sidelined by injuries as well as the strike and played only 88 games, yet stole 71 bases, far more than the champions in many full National League seasons. Similarly, Fernando Valenzuela's eight shutouts and 180 strikeouts would have led the league in several other seasons. A rundown of other comparisons between 1981 National League leaders and selected statistical champions of past years: Mike Schmidt, 31 home runs (Ralph Kiner, 23, 1946); Schmidt, 91 RBIs (Hal Chase, 84, 1916); Craig Reynolds and Gene Richards, 12 triples (Ralph Garr, 11, 1975); and Bill Buckner, 35 doubles (Henry Aaron, 34, 1956). Comparisons in the American League: Rickey Henderson, 89 runs (Ray Chapman, 84, 1918); Cecil Cooper, 35 doubles (Sal Bando and Pedro Garcia [tie], 32, 1973); John Castino, nine triples (Del Unser, eight, 1969); Rick Langford, 18 complete games (Frank Lary, 15, 1960; Dean Chance, 15, 1964); and Rollie Fingers, 28 saves (Goose Gossage, 26, 1975).
Feel better? Good. Just try not to think of how much more impressive those '81 statistics might have been.
THE WINNER—AT LAST
It's official. Finally. Barry Lee Weisberg, the Brooklynite who failed in his quest to finish dead last in the two preceding New York City Marathons (SI, Oct. 26), succeeded in bringing up the rear in this year's race. In 1980 Weisberg had been proclaimed the unofficial last-place finisher, only to be stripped of the title when a previously undetected rival straggled across the finish line a few minutes after he'd done so. This year Weisberg finished 13, 360th and last in 7 hours, 34 minutes, 13 seconds by outwitting, 275-pound Alfredo Sardinas Jr., another aspirant to last-place honors, who was wearing a beeper to keep in touch with his eight-months-pregnant wife and who briefly dropped back to challenge Weisberg at about the eight-mile mark. We pick up the action at that point, on Flat-bush Avenue in Brooklyn, with Weisberg dressed in his trusty Santa Claus hat and King Kong (another notable Gotham loser) T shirt. Weisberg's account:
"Alfredo and I shook hands in a sort of may-the-best-man-lose gesture. At nine miles, I stopped at a marathon party on Lafayette Avenue and had a cup of coffee and a bagel. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alfredo go by. He didn't see me when I snuck in behind him a few blocks later. By 17 miles I figured I was pretty safe. To make sure, I stopped at a bar to change into some fresh clothes I was carrying in a bag. Down the road I phoned my parents and told them to meet me downtown for dinner. It was their 41st anniversary. After a while, Alfredo and another guy came across the line, holding hands as a sign of victory. But they'd forgotten about me. A few minutes later, I came in—the real 'winner.' "
Weisberg said he was determined to defend his last-place title next year, adding that he didn't plan to run, if that's the word, anywhere other than in New York. The Boston Marathon, he noted, "has a qualifying time to keep the kooks and weirdos out."
THEY SAID IT
•William Perry, the Clemson football team's 6'3", 305-pound freshman middle guard, talking about his childhood: "When I was little, I was big."
•Tommy Lasorda, Dodger manager, dismissing the notion that the Montreal Expos, L.A.'s rival in the National League playoffs, were a better cold-weather team than his own club: "I looked at their roster and saw guys from Miami, Scottsdale and Sacramento."
•Willie Randolph, Yankee second baseman, before the sixth and, as things turned out, concluding game of the World Series: "I'm going to come out and play like there's no tomorrow."