CANADIAN POWER PLAY
In a move that has roiled the amateur hockey world, Canada's Olympic brass last week invited New York Islander goaltender Kelly Hrudey to join that country's Olympic hockey team. Hrudey, 23, has said he would like to play in the Olympics, and Isles GM Bill Torrey has said he would let him go if Canadian Olympic coach Dave King can provide assurances that Hrudey will be eligible under Olympic amateur rules to play once he gets to Sarajevo.
That last condition is a little tricky, because Hrudey has been a professional since 1981. After starring two seasons for Indianapolis of the Central Hockey League, he became the Islanders' third goalie this season behind Billy Smith and Rollie Melanson. He has appeared in 10 games and has a 3.09 goals-against average and a 7-1 record, which seems to justify his reputation as one of the league's most promising young goalies. Hrudey's salary does as well. He averaged more than $50,000 during each of his years in Indianapolis and is earning between $80,000 and $100,000 this season.
How, then, can Hrudey possibly be considered an "amateur" eligible for the Olympics? Rule 26 of the International Olympic Committee charter clearly states that anybody who has "signed a contract as a professional athlete" is ineligible to compete in the Games. However, the Canadian Olympic Hockey Committee, run by Sam Pollock and Alan Eagleson, has arbitrarily decided that players with 10 games or less of NHL experience are amateurs for Olympic purposes, and they're obviously hoping that if nobody formally protests, Hrudey can compete in the Games, Rule 26 or no. But the Canadians have run afoul of U.S. Olympic officials. The U.S. team, which has made no effort to seek out players who've signed NHL contracts, plays Canada in its opening game in Sarajevo on Feb. 7, and Walter Bush Jr., chairman of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Committee, warned, "If Canada had a Kelly Hrudey on their roster we would definitely protest." F. Don Miller, executive director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, also voiced opposition to the Canadian power play and said he would take up the issue with the IOC in Sarajevo.
January 23, 1984
As if the situation weren't delicate enough already, NHL president John Ziegler heavy-handedly got into the act with letters last month to Bush and Hal Trumble, executive director of the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States, in which he supported the Canadian Olympic Association's contention that until a player has appeared in his llth NHL game, he's eligible for the Olympics. Although Bush, who's also a vice-president of the North Stars and is understandably reluctant to criticize the league president, insisted that Ziegler's letter to him was "friendly in tone," others familiar with the letters to Bush and Trumble characterized them as adding up to a thinly veiled threat. "The implication was there that if we filed a protest it might have a severely deteriorating effect on relations between the NHL and AHAUS," said one U.S. Olympic official. "Since the NHL contributes about $300,000 a year to AHAUS [of a total budget of roughly $1 million], it amounted to blackmail."
Why was the president of the NHL getting involved in an Olympic matter to begin with? Bush theorized that Ziegler was "pressured" into writing the letters by the ubiquitous Eagleson, who, in addition to his position with Canada's Olympic team, is the NHL players' union boss and an important figure in international hockey. But Ziegler said he was acting out of his conviction that in international amateur hockey "Canada and the U.S. have to stand together." He admitted that his letters to Bush and Trumble mentioned the subject of NHL financial contributions to U.S. amateur hockey. He said that this was meant as "a word to the wise. I was saying. 'Hey fellows, don't cut off your nose to spite your face.' " Curiously, Ziegler insisted that none of this could be taken as any kind of threat. Even if he was right, however, it was unfortunate that the president of a professional hockey league that has 14 of its 21 franchises in the U.S. was taking sides against the U.S. in an amateur hockey dispute. It was an especially strange move on the part of someone who earlier this month was named a recipient of the NHL's Lester Patrick Award "for outstanding service to hockey in the United States."
BIG CHILL AT THE BIG A
To promote the running last week of a race called the Broadway Handicap, publicists at Aqueduct got the idea of naming the day's other races after various shows like Cats, A Chorus Line and Dream-girls. It was a day for hunch players, although New York Post columnist Dick Young was mistaken in gleefully reporting that the winner of the race called La Cage aux Folles was Pair of Queens. In fact, that 3-year-old filly won another race, 42nd Street. A good one did come in, however, in the seventh, a race named after the nudie musical Oh! Calcutta! The winner of that one, paying $4.40, was It's Frigid.
MICKEY MOUSE YES, AUNT CLARA NO
In trying to pinpoint the reasons for Illinois' 45-9 shellacking by underdog UCLA in the Rose Bowl, Dan Smith, the Illini team psychologist, has reached some interesting conclusions. According to a UPI story, Smith believes that trips by the Illinois players to Disneyland and the L.A. mansion of Illinois Old Grad Hugh Hefner helped them prepare mentally for the game by fostering team unity. But Smith feels that their pregame concentration may have been hurt by too much fraternization with relatives. "The atmosphere those Mast 48 hours was all wrong and was totally unlike anything we had ever been through," Smith said. "Families were actually holding reunions with their sons, and one of the players told me, 'I didn't know my aunt was coming. I hadn't seen her in years.' "
The idea that players should consort before a game with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Playboy bunnies but not with family members doesn't necessarily mean that football is dehumanizing, as its critics always charge. But Smith certainly does seem to be suggesting that humans are defootballizing.
Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley has called for an ordinance prohibiting price gouging by the city's hotels and motels during the Summer Olympics, but L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee President Peter Ueberroth opposes such a move. Ueberroth points out that 82 southern California hotels, including some of the area's largest, have signed an agreement with the LAOOC promising to hold down rates during the Olympics. Although several smaller nonsignatory hostelries have indicated that they intend to raise rates to exploitative levels—from a normal daily rate of $52 to $200 in one case—Ueberroth argues that an antigouging ordinance would create the "blatantly unfair" impression that such practices were an across-the-board problem.
Ueberroth may have had another reason to leave well enough alone; an Olympic organizing committee that's charging up to $200 a ticket for opening ceremonies and $95 for first-day swimming finals (compared with $40 and $24 for the 1976 Montreal Games) that figure to involve less than ten minutes of actual swimming—that day's program includes the women's 100-meter freestyle and 400-meter individual medley and the men's 100 breaststroke and 200 freestyle—probably shouldn't question the prices charged by other entrepreneurs. Ueberroth certainly was in a less vulnerable position than Jim Steeg, the NFL's director of special events, who complained about the fact that a Holiday Inn near Tampa Stadium was planning to sock Super Bowl guests $100 a night—with a five-night minimum—instead of its regular rates of $62 to $74. "We apparently underestimated individual greed," Steeg wrote to Jim Manconi, the hotel manager.
Manconi minced no words in replying. Noting that whereas tickets to Tampa Bay Buccaneer games cost $5 to $15, the NFL was charging $60 a ticket for the Super Bowl, Manconi demanded in a return letter, "Who is it that is gouging? Who is it that has the greed?...They're making a buck off Tampa, so why shouldn't Tampa make a buck off them?"
Seven gallant survivors of many a browbeating gathered Friday night in the Diamond Club of Shea Stadium in New York to be honored by the New York Baseball Writers' Association. These proud gents all served, at various times, as public relations director of the Yankees under George Steinbrenner. They had many things in common, one being that none of them was ever fired by Steinbrenner. They all quit.
Each man's place at the dais was marked by a cardboard tombstone with R.I.P. inscriptions: Bob Fishel 1973-74, Marty Appel 1974-76, Mickey Morabito 1977-79, Larry Wahl 1980, Dave Szen 1981, Irv Kaze 1982 and Ken Nigro 1983. Described by one kibitzer as "the ghosts of Steinbrenner past," the publicists swapped war stories such as the one about the time Steinbrenner, learning that Billy Martin had made some injudicious comments to the press, warned Morabito that if one word got into the papers, Morabito was fired. Fortunately for Morabito, the next day the New York City newspapers went on strike, and his job was saved. Appel told of how he won a small role in an upcoming Woody Allen movie after writing the casting director that his sole qualification for acting was that he used to be Steinbrenner's spokesman and that he once had to announce at a news conference that "no more underprivileged kids would be allowed into the Stadium for the rest of the season."
The audience at the affair was brought up-to-date on Yankee p.r.-men records, such as "Most Lunches Called Back From—53, Irv Kaze," and somebody read aloud a mock press release from Steinbrenner, who wasn't present, pledging the "continued growth" of the Yankee PR Men Alumni Association. The ex-publicists were showered with gifts, including a cartoon by the New York Daily News' Bill Gallo showing their letters of resignation on the spike of a Prussian helmet belonging to a Gallo character known as General Von Steingrabber. There was another gift all of them will surely cherish: a dart board with a certain familiar visage in the center.
FARR, THE CAR STAR
Trying to come up with a phone number in Detroit for former Lions running back Mel Farr, whose son, Mel Jr., is a FACES IN THE CROWD selection this week (page 71), SI reporter Sandy Keenan encountered a most congenial directory assistance operator. "You mean Mel Farr Superstar?" the operator asked with a chuckle before providing the number.
Seems the 39-year-old Farr's post-NFL activities have earned him even more recognition in Detroit than he had when he was carrying the ball for the Lions from 1967 to 1973. Farr produces and acts in zany TV commercials for his Mel Farr Ford dealership. In one of them, he and Billy Sims are shown flying through the air comparing notes on what it's like being a superstar. (Having signed contracts with both the Lions and the USFL Houston Gamblers, Sims is up in the air in more ways than one.) Then Farr, in a red cape, comes back to earth and launches into a spiel for his car dealership. The spots are telecast on all of the Detroit stations along with a catchy jingle and the slogan MEL FARR SUPERSTAR FOR A FARR BETTER DEAL.
THEY SAID IT
•Steve Shutt, Montreal Canadien left winger: "Wayne Gretzky is going to win two scoring titles this year—the NHL's and the NBA's."
•John McKay, Tampa Bay Buccaneer coach, on the future of Bill Capece, who had a disappointing season as the team's placekicker: "Capece is kaput."