BATTLE OF THE RIVER RATS
Fishermen, rafters, boaters, campers, scientists, people whose houses would be submerged if new dams are built, even actor Richard Chamberlain, have been scurrying around Washington trying to save rivers. Specifically, they told Representative John Seiberling (D-Ohio) and his Public Lands and National Parks subcommittee that they don't want the Tuolumne River in northern California, which has a bountiful trout fishery and rapids comparable to those of the Colorado, to be developed any further. They said it was high time something was done about enforcing the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a 16-year-old law that has gotten little exercise.
Wild and Scenic, as it's known, has had small impact partly because wild rivers have never been a big cause on the agendas of the powerful. "Rivers have been sort of the orphan item," admits deputy counsel Hope Babcock of the National Audubon Society. Although Wild and Scenic speaks clearly of preserving a river's "free-flowing condition," fewer than 2% of the rivers in the contiguous states are in that condition, and only one in 12 of those few is now protected. No river has been added to the Wild and Scenic list since 1980.
The "river rats," as the loose network of river supporters is known, are concentrating on the Tuolumne for a specific reason. The issue seems clear-cut. In 1976 the city of San Francisco and the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation districts applied for federal permits for new dams on the Tuolumne. They met instant opposition, and by 1979 the river rats had won a major battle. The National Park Service, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management all recommended that the Tuolumne be included in Wild and Scenic. San Francisco finally bowed to the pressure, its supervisors voting 11-0 last spring to support efforts to ban further development on the river. (Five dams and powerhouses are already on the Tuolumne, including one in Yosemite Park that is the only dam ever built within a national park; 90% of the river's potential has already been tapped, and only 83 miles of the 158-mile-long river remain free-flowing.)
But the irrigation districts fought on, which led to the hearings in Washington and an anticipated debate on the House floor later this year. There are some 60 other rivers on the docket, and the Tuolumne supporters see renewed life for waterway protection if their efforts—"breaking the logjam," John Amodio, executive director of the Tuolumne Trust, calls it—succeed.
The river rats haven't won many battles since the first dam was completed on the Tuolumne in 1922, but they feel that wild rivers are about to stage a comeback. "We look at the Tuolumne as a test case," says Audubon's Babcock. "If this effort fails, the system is in serious, serious trouble."
When Texas Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, was opened in 1971, 170 luxury boxes in the elaborate structure were sold for $50,000 apiece, a sum that seemed wildly extravagant at that time. Today, a Cowboy fan willing to sell a luxury box can expect to get $500,000 for it (one particularly choice box recently went for a cool million). "Not a bad investment," noted Gary Myers in The Dallas Morning News. "More lucrative than a condominium."
The gilt-edged value of the boxes has moved new Cowboy owner H.R. (Bum) Bright to contemplate construction of 90 new luxury boxes that could be ready for the 1986 season. Bright heads the consortium that paid some $60 million to Clint Murchison for the Cowboys, and he himself also bought (for another $20 million or so) the Texas Stadium Corporation, which holds the operating agreement to run the stadium for the city of Irving. Bright has indicated that construction of the new boxes might require removal of two or three rows of seats at the top of the upper deck. But, he says, because each box would be priced at around half a million, their sale could bring in more than $35 million in revenue.
However, Bright says, the added revenue would just about equal his costs: roughly $400,000 lost in ticket sales if the top rows of stadium seats are removed; a required payment of 8% of the new boxes' purchase price to Irving; annual interest payments of $3 million on the money borrowed to buy the club; $8 million in construction costs for the new boxes; and the $20 million to buy the Stadium Corporation. "It's a wash deal," Bright says. "Everybody understands that."
Maybe so, but that's a mighty fancy wash.
JOUEZ BALL, Y'ALL
Softball is having an identity crisis. The sport is governed by the International Softball Federation, which the U.S. Olympic Committee refers to in its current directory as the Fédération Internationale de Softball. The federation's secretary general, Don E. Porter, whose office is in decidedly un-Gallic Oklahoma City, calls that listing a mistake and allows that the "Jouez ball, y'all" jokes prompted by the error are starting to wear thin.
"The IOC always puts everything in French and English," says Porter. "I guess when the USOC put our organization in their Olympic material this year, they just copied the French title from the IOC's book. The organization was never in France. It started in New Jersey."
That isn't the end of Softball's identity problem. Recently, Porter, whose federation now encompasses 55 countries, made an unsuccessful pitch to the IOC's program commission to have women's Softball declared an official sport at the 1992 Summer Games, assuming there will be a 1992 Summer Games. The program commission chairman is M. Vitaly Smirnov of the Soviet Union, which isn't one of the 55 member countries. Porter shudders when he recalls the confrontation: "The last question he asked me was, 'What's the difference between a Softball and the shotput?' I said, 'About 15½ pounds.' I figured we were in trouble."
Sports came in for something of a beating at a recent gathering of The American Academy of Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles, particularly the great American pastime of sitting around for hours and hours in front of a TV set watching sports instead of taking part in them. "We don't have sport for sport's sake," complained Dr. Robert E. Gould, talking principally of contact sports and the low-level violence watchers wallow in. "In many ways, sport has been turned into a brutal, commercialized aspect of our society. The viewers and players have become corrupted. It's a sickness in our society." Dr. Natalie Shainess agreed, saying, "Sports are selling aggression and fantasized superiority." Dr. Silas L. Warner said, "Many admire this macho style and try to emulate it. They soon learn that rules are only temporary impediments. There are always ways around them, and, most importantly, the end justifies the means." Dr. Nathan Roth said, "Spectators...are working at overcoming the great American disease—loneliness."
Ouch. But wait. Dr. Roy Whitman, director of the department of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati Medical School, dissents from the somber comments made in Los Angeles. "To point the finger at sports is unwarranted," he says. A letterman in tennis and swimming in college, Whitman says he likes to watch sports, to the extent of sitting for hours in front of the TV during an event like the Super Bowl, and he doesn't feel corrupted.
"I say that sports build up self-esteem," Whitman argues. "You get a vicarious gratification out of identifying with various participants. You discharge feelings of pent-up hostility or aggression, which we all have."
He does say that people ought to be physically active in at least one sport or pastime and not be passive spectators all the time, but he thinks his fellow shrinks' characterization of sports fans is vastly overdrawn. "The word 'sickness' is often used by people to label something they disagree with," he says.
There. Feel better? Those of you who've felt a little guilty these past weeks of spring for all the hours you've spent watching baseball, basketball, USFL football and Stanley Cup hockey can settle back now in that easy chair and enjoy the rest of the NBA playoffs.
JUMPING ON POP'S CURVEBALL
It was something of a family affair when they put on a varsity vs. alumni baseball game at Perquiman High in Hertford, N.C. a couple of Saturdays ago. The baseball coach at Perquiman is Peter Hunter, whose 14-year-old nephew, Todd, plays shortstop. Pitching for the alumni was Todd's 38-year-old father, Jim, who 21 years ago pitched the school to the North Carolina state championship. Jim is somewhat better known to baseball fans as Catfish Hunter, pitching ace of the pennant-winning Oakland A's and New York Yankees in the 1970s.
This was Hunter's third appearance with the alumni but the first time he had faced his son, a freshman who hit .444 in 17 games this season. Four hundred fans turned out to watch the father-son confrontation—or possibly just to enjoy the barbecued-chicken dinner that was part of the festivities. Catfish, who regularly throws batting practice for the high school team, was pumped up when the game started and struck out the first two batters.
"Then," Hunter says, "someone in the stands yelled, 'This ain't fun!' so I eased off a bit." His son was the first batter in the second inning. Catfish, who was known for his shrewd pitching head during his 15 seasons in the majors, had been setting Todd up all week. "I told him I was going to throw him nothing but fastballs," he says, but on the first pitch he threw the boy a curve. "I tried to trick him," Cat says, "but I got the ball inside."
Todd, who has a good batting head, according to his uncle, jumped on the pitch and drilled it down the leftfield line for a double. His father, perhaps a bit shaken, gave up a two-run homer to the next batter, but otherwise he yielded only one hit and a walk in his three-inning stint, to go with those two early strikeouts.
It was a pretty good game, with the varsity breaking a 5-5 tie in the sixth inning to win 6-5, although the high point for the Hunters was undoubtedly Todd's double. Did the son gloat a little because of his extra-base hit off his Cy Young Award-winning father? "Nah," says Catfish, "he didn't say a word. But after the game he was happy...real happy."
THEY SAID IT
•Ed Lynch, New York Mets pitcher, marveling at the erudition of teammate Ron Darling, a graduate of Yale: "I don't understand the questions of things he can answer."
•Bud Adams, Houston Oilers owner, complaining about the Astrodome: "If it's the eighth wonder of the world, the rent is the ninth."