While West Germany celebrated the Wimbledon victory of 17-year-old Boris Becker, the youngest player ever to win the event, the International Tennis Federation was mulling over a West German study on tennis burnout. The report adds impetus to efforts to place limits on junior competition. Two weeks ago the ITF accepted a special commission report recommending restrictions on under-16s competing on the world circuit, a ban on pro play by under-14s and abolition of under-12 international tournaments. The measures still have to be enacted by the men's and women's pro councils.
Commissioned by the European Tennis Federation, the study found that of 203 top West German players aged 11 to 16, 66% already had spinal damage, and fewer than 27% had escaped foot trouble. According to German federation head coach Richard Sch√∂nborn, who coordinated the study, the muscles of many juniors had developed "inadequately, irregularly or weakly, leading to deformity, serious impairment of performance, stagnation and, eventually, the inability to play—all at an age when excessive physical stress should be omitted."
Sch√∂nborn concluded that premature damage to the spine, hips, knees and ankles combined with psychic stress to eliminate many promising youths from German tennis long before they reached their peak. "Professional managers already entice 14- to 15-year-olds with tempting offers," he said, "only to cast them off ruthlessly when they subsequently fail. Initially celebrated as Wunderkinder, they are then quietly dropped and forgotten, which may have far-reaching consequences throughout their lives."
July 28, 1985
West Germany and Sweden have withdrawn from international under-12 events. The Germans have had several pre-teen European champs but, says Sch√∂nborn, "Nothing is heard of them now. They possess neither the physical condition nor the mental attitude for international competition." Becker, he points out, was unimpressive at that age, which presumably spared him some of the psychic stress the study spoke of.
Notwithstanding the ankle injury he suffered at Wimbledon, Becker also has avoided chronic physical problems, a fact that J√ºrgen Hackauff, the coach of the West German junior tennis program, attributes to Becker's having played soccer, basketball and other sports besides tennis. This, Hackauff suggests, makes for healthier all-around physical as well as emotional development, which is why the German federation is launching a program for under-12 tennis players in which participants will be obliged to play other sports. To prevent burnout, the competition will be weighted so that tennis accounts for only 40% of the scoring.
DAFFY, DUCKY AND KITTY
Fifty years ago this week a would-be Cincinnati chanteuse named Kitty Burke dug her high heels into the dirt of the Crosley Field batter's box and became the first and only woman to bat—albeit unofficially—during a major league game.
It was the end of a seven-game home-stand in 1935, and 30,000 fans had come to see the Reds play St. Louis's world-champion Gas-House Gang. But the stadium held several thousand fewer, and the crowd overflowed onto the field. Burke was part of the spillover.
"You can't hit a lick," she shouted at Cards first baseman Ducky Medwick.
"You can't either," he said cattily.
That rubbed Kitty the wrong way. When Cincinnati's Babe Herman led off the bottom of the inning, she hollered, "Hey, Babe, lend me your bat." He did.
Kitty scratched around the box. "Hey, you hick," she screamed at the pitcher. Daffy Dean. "Why don't you go home and milk the cows?" Daffy stood on the mound looking grumpy. "Play ball," barked the ump.
Daffy lobbed one over. Kitty tapped it toward Ducky. When she looked to the bag, Daffy was there with the ball. So she quit running and scampered back to the crowd. The historic moment over, Kitty purred, "If he wanted to tag me, he'd have to chase me."
BUT DOES DARIUS DRIBBLE?
Betsy Nelson went to Irving's Sport Shop to check out the rowing machines. But just as she left the Seven Corners, Va. store, she was stopped by employees and accused of shoplifting a basketball. "I'm nine months pregnant," said the 33-year-old Arlington housewife. The employees didn't believe her.
That, Nelson's lawyer says, happened last February. According to the lawyer, Stephen McCarron, Nelson was asked to take off a jacket and sweater, and shake her maternity top to prove no basketball was concealed underneath. No basketball fell out. McCarron says store employees told police who were called to the scene, "When she entered the store she didn't appear to be pregnant, and when she left she appeared to be very pregnant." In fact, he says, Nelson was pregnant and gave birth to a son, Darius, the next day. Last week she filed suit against Irving's, alleging false arrest and negligence and asking $600,000 in damages. Irving's declined to comment.
FOX AND BOGIES
The quick red foxes stealing balls at the Longview public course in Timonium, Md. were getting so bold that they practically winked at golfers. Bob Spicer was about to make a chip shot when he saw a fox on the 14th fairway last month. "He didn't hesitate a minute," says the four-handicapper. "He came out, got my ball, made a little double move to put the ball deeper in his throat and grabbed another one. He stopped to look at me and then took off for the woods."
A few days later Spicer and two partners were playing the 11th hole when a fox again snatched his ball. At first Spicer thought the larceny was the work of only one fox. "He reminds me of the coyote in the Road Runner comedies," he said. "He's working hard, and he's as much a regular as any golfer on the course." Longview starter Henry DeFries also held to the Lone Fox Theory and said, "I used to get one complaint about the fox every couple of weeks. Now it's every day."
When the number of balls lost to foxes got up around 400, DeFries thought it was time to call for help. County officials hired a professional trapper. He didn't get just one fox—he bagged 16 in two weeks.
For now the thievery has stopped. But somewhere along the Longview course, a cache of 400 or so hot balls remains unrecovered. And that number could start to grow again; in recent days foxes have reappeared around the fairways.
It wasn't exactly like father, like Sonny, when an unknown middleweight from North Carolina calling himself Sonny Liston Jr. recently made his professional boxing debut at the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic City. He said he was the son of the late heavyweight champ.
"Let's just say he got absolutely creamed," says Jim Taylor, the bout's publicist. "No, let's say he was the worst fighter I've ever seen."
Liston lost on a third-round TKO to a New Jersey pug who had been defeated in his only other pro fight. Until young Sonny appeared on the scene, nobody knew the old man had a son, real or alleged. Taylor says Little Sonny sort of resembled the former champ, but certainly not in the ring. Somebody once said of Big Sonny that he looked like the meanest bouncer in the world's roughest nightclub. When he pounded on a body bag it looked like he could punch down oak trees.
Young Sonny barely got a jab off. "He was incredibly awkward," says Jim Wiley, who claimed to have "discovered" him in West Virginia, where he was fighting on an amateur card. He told Wiley his mom and Sonny had trysted in St. Louis. "He didn't look too bad, so I figured maybe I'd train him a bit," said Wiley, who runs a stable of fighters in North Bergen, N.J. "Spent twenty-five hundred bucks on him. Gave him a shot because of a name. Guess he didn't check out too strong, huh?"
Guess not. Young Sonny boy broke down and cried after the bout, and Wiley packed him off to North Carolina.
ONE HAND KNOWS WHAT THE OTHER'S DOING
Steve Butz is armed and dangerous. The 15-year-old, who pitches for Central Catholic High in Lafayette, Ind., can fire 'em in any way you want 'em, lefthanded or righthanded. "I guess I pitch a little harder with my left, but my right has better control," the switch-pitching Knight told SI's William Barnhardt. "And it's comforting to know that when my left gets wild, I have my right to fall back on."
That's right: Butz has the distinction of being his own relief pitcher. His ambidexterity is a product of a childhood spent borrowing the gloves of three older brothers, all righthanders. "Even though I was lefthanded, I got in the habit of throwing with my right," Butz says. "It was either that or not get to play."
Butz shoots basketballs and plays tennis southpaw. He shoots pool and tosses Frisbee with his right hand. He kicks rightfooted on the football team, signs his name with his left hand and holds his fork in either, depending on "which hand's closer to the food." On the mound he'll throw lefty for a few innings and switch for the rest of his game. His coach, Terry Thompson, has had a running argument with umpires over the number of warmup pitches Butz is allowed. "Every relief pitcher gets eight," says Butz, "so why can't I take eight pitches when I switch arms? Your right arm can get a little rusty while you're pitching with your left, after all."
If you think things got out of hand this season, wait till next spring. Butz is thinking of switching arms in the same inning, and maybe even on the same batter. "When I stand on the mound with my back to a hitter, he'll have no way of knowing which way I'm going to pitch," he says.
He's looking for a glove he can turn inside out that won't give him away. "Better yet, I won't wear a glove at all," he says. "Gee, I wonder if they'll allow that."
So what happens when Butz meets his first switch hitter? "That's going to be something to see," he says. "He won't know which way I'm going to throw, and with my back turned, I may not know which way he intends to hit. Boy, that's liable to get a bit confusing."
THEY SAID IT
•Tommy Lasorda, Los Angeles Dodger manager: "To err is human, to forgive divine. I forget who said that, but I think it was Joey Amalfitano."
•Billy Martin, New York Yankee manager, on the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis: "It stinks. It's a shame a great guy like H.H.H. had to be named after it."