Maybe it was the heat wave that's been cooking most of the country. Maybe it was the baleful influence of El Ni√±o or that Mexican volcano or Halley's Comet, which is heading our way again. Whatever it was, things have gone a little crazy in sports lately....
Nothing was nuttier than the tremendous foofaraw that arose last week over George Brett's bat and the amount of pine tar thereon (page 60). That eminent moralist, Manager Billy Martin of the Yankees, was offended by Brett's violation of a minor baseball rule and more or less spooked the umpires into agreeing with him, thus throwing the entire country into a turmoil—not to forget Brett, who, after the umpires called his home run null and void, looked for a few minutes as though he were going to explode like an M-80.
Newspapers throughout the country hopped on the story, and TV stations ran and reran tapes of the home run, the umpires' strange decision and Brett's fury. In provincial New York City, surely the most small-townish of all the great cities in the world, nothing else seemed to matter. When American League President Lee MacPhail handed down his decision reversing the umpires' call and wounding Martin's sense of righteousness, even the staid New York Times went a little wacko, running the story under a three-column headline on the front page, right there with news stories on the fighting in Central America, the crisis in the Middle East, Soviet purchases of American grain and President Reagan's crime commission. The next day the Times, still tingling with the excitement of it all, ran a column of commentary on the incident on its Op-Ed page.
The two New York tabloids, the Daily News and the Post, trotted out their big, black, end-of-the-world headline type to trumpet the earthshaking news to their readers, and a Daily News sports columnist, disagreeing with MacPhail's decision, wrote sternly, "I'm afraid...that Lee MacPhail let his sense of decency and fair play cloud his judgment," a statement that bears thinking about.
Television, fascinated as always by the trivial, was particularly interested in the bat, and at MacPhail's press conference, the biggest and most tumultuous one ever held at the league office, cameramen vied with one another for shots of the league president with the notorious weapon. A Detroit TV station even wanted to send a camera crew to New York in order to follow the bat on its journey back to Brett, whose team was playing in Detroit. Collectors besieged Brett with offers for it, one supposedly bidding $10,000. Brett, restored to commendable sanity after his initial explosion, said the bat wasn't for sale and, after carefully cleaning off the excess pine tar that triggered the trouble, used it against the Tigers.
A middle-aged woman seeking Brett's autograph found herself swept into one of the many impromptu press conferences Brett was subjected to during the week. She held up a copy of The Kansas City Star and asked him if he had seen the story about him in it.
"I don't read the papers, ma'am," Brett said. "Did you hear all these stupid questions? You think I want to read my stupid answers?"
A letter from the Kansas City Kings, one of the NBA's most financially troubled franchises, arrived in our office the other day with the envelope stamped: "Postage Due—17¢."
HELLO, VICTOR. GOODBY, VICTOR
In the Intercontinental Cup Games in Antwerp, Belgium, where baseball teams from Cuba and the U.S. were meeting in the championship game, Centerfielder Victor Mesa of Cuba began mocking the plate umpire, Tom Ravashiere, an American, before the first pitch was thrown. To end the fuss, Ravashiere loudly ordered U.S. Pitcher Vince Barger to start the game. Barger threw. Mesa jumped hurriedly into the batter's box, swung and hit the ball over the fence for a home run. Rounding third base, the flamboyant Cuban again taunted the umpire, using an obscene gesture, and Ravashiere thumbed him out of the game—right there between third and home. He let Mesa complete the circuit, but then Victor was gone—before the second pitch of the game was thrown.
Cuba won anyway, 8-4, and Mesa was voted Most Valuable Player in the 28-game tournament. But Umpire Ravashiere showed that he, too, belonged in this bizarre summer.
NOT PAR FOR THE COURSE
A couple of young women in Lawrence, Kans. went out to play golf at the Alvamar Orchards course on a recent Sunday afternoon and, after renting not one but two golf carts, got a little farther off the fairway than you'd normally expect, even for Sunday golfers. Late in the afternoon someone spotted the two carts being driven out-of-bounds—off the course, that is—near the 5th hole. Because the vehicles are valued at about $3,000 each, and because they've had other wandering carts damaged, course officials rushed around in an effort to locate them, without success. Then they called the cops.
Leaping into action, the law eventually found the missing carts half a mile from the course, parked behind a Mexican restaurant called Becerros. The two young women, Rebecca Morrow Rohling and Sandra Dee Capps, were inside, having a bite and drinking margaritas. They explained to police that after playing two successive holes badly, they felt hot and tired and thirsty and decided to slip over to Becerros for some refreshment. They fully intended to return the carts when they had finished, they said.
The two women were taken into custody and each was charged—not with theft, however inadvertent, but with operating a vehicle with no taillights, no stoplights, no turn signals, no horn, no mirror, no wipers, no windshield, no registration and no insurance.
AFTER THE MIRACLE, A BENEDICTION
In a variation on the Big Game bets that politicians are always making—a dozen of my state's prized crabs against a barrel of your state's famed pretzels, that sort of thing—the Detroit Free Press and The Philadelphia Inquirer made a wager of their own before the USFL title game between the Michigan Panthers and the Philadelphia Stars. The paper in the losing team's city would place a full-page congratulatory ad in the paper in the winning city. And so it was, after Michigan's 24-22 victory over Philadelphia, that The Inquirer and its sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, jointly ran this almost magnanimous message in the Free Press: ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY MIRACLES DO HAPPEN. CONGRATULATIONS, PANTHERS.
UMPIRE ON THE MOVE
Back to umpires for a minute. Traditionally, they are impassive men, impartial, unflappable, unshaken by threats, impervious to emotion—until you push them a little too far and they give you the thumb, thus ending the argument. But the arbiters seem to have come a little apart this summer.
In San Diego last Friday night, when Umpire Satch Davidson called a pitch a ball and aroused Padre Pitcher John Montefusco's resentment, Montefusco yelled something unpleasant at Davidson from the mound. Ordinarily, it is the player who runs at the umpire shouting things, but this time it was different. Davidson, outraged by Montefusco's epithet, ripped off his mask and raced out to the mound—"First time I ever saw an umpire charge a player," said a TV announcer. Standing head-to-head with Montefusco, Davidson angrily berated the suddenly contrite pitcher—who offered no further objection—and then stomped back to his position behind home plate, peace and authority restored in a world turned upside down.
THE BEST LAID PLANS...
Last Thursday, at just about the time Lee MacPhail was monopolizing the attention of the media with his Brett-bat decision, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee was holding its own press conference in New York City to announce its plans for running the Olympic torch through the 50 states before the Games begin next July 28. It was a beautifully conceived press conference, held one year to the day before the opening of the Olympics and staged not in an ornate hotel ballroom but, rather sentimentally, in the gym of the Madison Square Boys Club. Jim Thorpe's grandson is going to run a leg with the torch and so is Jesse Owens' granddaughter, and the LAOOC felt, with some logic, that its announcement would get fairly widespread attention. And it probably would have, if not for Brett and that pine-tar bat.
Well, you win one, you lose one, LAOOC.
NOT GETTING THE MESSAGE
Little League Baseball Inc. of Williamsport, Pa. has asked writer Darrell Berger for permission to reprint a story he wrote for the PERSPECTIVE section of the June 6 issue of SI in which he recounted having taught his 5-year-old niece to hit a soft-ball. Berger's piece, which centered on the girl's reaction to an inadvertent bean-ball, made clear that fear is common among children of both sexes, but that, with proper encouragement, girls can take to baseball the same as boys. These are themes that should be of interest to Little League. After all, a flurry of lawsuits in the early '70s forced the organization to change its charter to include girls, and they are now playing at all levels of Little League.
But these concessions to sexual equality apparently aren't reflected in the attitudes of Little League officials. In requesting the right to reprint Berger's story in the 1983 Little League World Series program, they asked him to change the identity of the girl to that of "a slightly older boy." A Little League spokesman said the purpose of the change was to "increase [the story's] relevancy" because the overwhelming majority of Little Leaguers are boys. But stories such as Berger's—unaltered—could help change attitudes so as to eventually increase the number of girls playing youth baseball. Concluding that the folks at Little League had missed the central point he was trying to make, Berger politely refused them permission to reprint his story.
FORMIDABLE FALL LINEUP
Get a load of the 1983 Wake Forest home football schedule. The Demon Deacons open with fireworks on Sept. 3, followed by Bob Hope on Sept. 17, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on Oct. 1, the Four Tops and the Temptations on Oct. 15, Tanya Tucker on Oct. 22 and Firefall on Nov. 5. They're attractions—all included in the price of admission, understand—to entertain Deacon fans either at halftime or after the final gun. In past years the Deacons have played before lots of empty seats—typically 5,000 or more per game—in their 31,500-capacity Groves Stadium, and school officials are hoping the new football-cum-live entertainment policy will fill up the place. If the scheme works, the $200,000 or so the school has paid to book the various show-biz attractions will be well worth it.
Oh, yes, the teams the Deacons will play on the above dates—just in case anybody wants to know—are Appalachian State, Western Carolina, North Carolina State, Maryland, Virginia and Duke.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
At Saratoga racetrack in upstate New York last Friday afternoon, the small elevator that runs from ground level to the press box got stuck between floors. Leo Golonka, the operator of the elevator, cried out, "Help, help," in a doleful voice. It was a very hot day, and people scurried around trying to find someone who could get the trapped elevator moving again. Meanwhile, Leo continued to call, "Help, help." A friend yelled down the shaft, "Leo, are you O.K.? What can I do for you?" "Box me the 2-5-7 in the next race," Leo cried.
And what about Sam Snead? He's 71, he's having trouble with his eyes, he's long had the yips on the greens, and people have been going around lately saying, "Poor old Sam, he's all through." Last week poor old Sam went out to play a friendly round on the par-72 Lower Cascades course in Hot Springs, Va. and shot a 60, equaling the second-best round of his career (his best was a 59 in the Greenbrier Open in 1959, when he was a kid of 47). His remarkable scorecard showed 12 birdies and six pars, and he didn't come close to a bogey. Doug O'Brien, a business associate of Snead's and his partner in the round against Basil Frye and Bill Sheldon, called Snead's performance "the most unbelievable thing I've ever witnessed. I felt like I should have been rooting for him, like at a football game."
"We were playing for a little loot," explained Snead, "but in a period of 11 holes I had nine birds, and they all got to pullin' for me."
He missed a tough eight-foot putt for another birdie on the par-3 17th, and on the 18th had a 25-foot attempt for a 59. "I went for it," Sam said of that putt, "but I guess I'd made too many already."
Snead attributed the round to practice sessions. "I noticed I wasn't hitting through the ball," he said. "I heard a baseball announcer say on TV that one of the players wasn't extending his arms. I figured if it works in baseball, it works in golf. I started extending my arms, and I hit everything right at the hole."
Lightning hit a light pole near a baseball diamond in Ellisville, Mo. in suburban St. Louis one night last week, jumped to a nearby fence and ran about 30 yards to a dugout, where it struck a post against which a softball player named Rob Brown was leaning.
Brown was knocked flat by the jolt. When he was helped to his feet a few moments later he had a slight headache ("I can't hear real well," he said, "but other than that I feel fine") and a burning sensation in one of his feet. When he took off his shoe to look at his foot, he found a hole singed in his sock.
That didn't stop him. When play was resumed 30 minutes later, there was Brown, still in the lineup. He contributed a base hit to his team's 15-7 victory and even got into a squabble with an opposing player. Said an observer, "He's the kind of guy you want on your side."
THEY SAID IT
•Anthony Griggs, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker, on why he doesn't like the term "outside linebacker": "They've been using that name for 50 years. 'External enforcer' is more new-wave."
•Joe Torre, the Atlanta Braves' balding manager, explaining why he calls his hairdo a Watergate: "I cover up everything I can."
•George Rogers, New Orleans Saints running back, asked if he had any goals this season: "I want to gain 1,500 or 2,000 yards, whichever comes first."
•Dave Casper, Houston Oilers tight end, on the rigors of preseason training camp: "You've just got to force yourself to put your mind on automatic pilot. You make yourself numb as you can. The more numb you are, the better you can deal with it."