Held every fall, baseball's "winter" meeting rarely produces much real news anymore. Last week in San Diego there were 13 deals in five days, but without the interleague trading deadline to spur on heavy trading, most were of the small-potatoes variety like the one announced at a Wednesday press conference: "The Cleveland Indians trade infielder Mike Fischlin to the New York Yankees for a player to be named later."
A few teams seemed to have spent too much time out in what little sun there was in cold, gray San Diego. Seattle sent its much-coveted lefty reliever, Ed Vande Berg, to the Dodgers for 37-year-old backup catcher Steve Yeager. The Phillies stocked up on speedy outfielders but, like the Yankees, left themselves bereft of proven catchers. The Red Sox made a couple of minor deals but balked at two major ones that would have given them a pennant-contending pitching staff. They could have gotten Tom Seaver from the White Sox for Bob Stanley in a three-way deal involving Milwaukee, and could have landed 40% of the Cardinal staff—Joaquin Andujar (21 wins), Jeff Lahti (19 saves), Ricky Horton and Kurt Kepshire—for 11-game winner Bruce Hurst. "I was flabbergasted when they didn't do it," said Cards manager Whitey Herzog.
Instead, in the biggest trade of the week, Andujar went to the A's for catcher Mike Heath and pitcher Tim Conroy. Poor Joaquin: He has done the interior and exterior of his home in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic in Cardinal Red. Now he'll have to repaint his walls green and gold.
December 23, 1985
A bizarre highlight of the meetings was commissioner Peter Ueberroth's state-of-the-game speech. On the subject of drugs, the commissioner derided the "Tinkertoy equipment" used by our border patrols while "AWACS are sitting on the ground." AWACS?
Something else the commissioner said caused hearts to sink. Denying a popular rumor, he said, "There will always be a winter meeting."
A QUARTERBACK WHO'S PASSING
In a refreshing twist, North Carolina's junior quarterback, Kevin Anthony, who was named last week to the 1985 GTE Academic All-America football team, has decided to pass up his final year of football eligibility to pursue academic options. Anthony, who threw for 1,546 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Tar Heels this fall, carries a 3.73 GPA in economics; a senior academically (he red-shirted as a freshman), he is hoping for a scholarship to business school so he can start work on an MBA.
Anthony was benched late in the season and admits that may have contributed to his decision to forgo his final season. Nevertheless, it isn't every day that so accomplished a player says, "At this point the academic side of my life seems a little more promising than the athletic side." Last year's academic All-America quarterback, Miami's Bernie Kosar, also forsook his final year of collegiate eligibility. Diploma in hand, he left Miami to sign a million-dollar-a-year contract with the Cleveland Browns.
RAISE A GLASS TO THE GOBBLER
It's ironic that the successful comeback of a threatened species often makes the animal fair game for hunters. That time has come for the wild turkey. Maine and Rhode Island will soon become the 45th and 46th states to allow limited hunting of the once seriously depleted turkey stock.
"It's the best success story in the young history of wildlife conservation," says Gene Smith, editor of Turkey Call, the bimonthly publication of the National Wild Turkey Federation. The turkey's comeback began three decades ago after timbering, other habitat encroachment and poaching had severely depleted the bird's numbers. Early efforts at placing farm-bred turkeys in the wild failed, but then conservationists started trapping and transplanting wild turkeys. The turkey population, down to an estimated 20,000, immediately began to increase. Now there are 1.5 million to 2 million birds; they are found in all states but Alaska.
Although 33 states now allow both fall and spring turkey hunting, it isn't likely the bird will be threatened again soon. The wild turkey is among the wiliest of prey and can see and hear a predator from great distances; only 10% of turkey hunters bag a bird. But those who do are treated to a rare holiday feast. "It's wonderful eating," says Smith, who has a smoked gobbler ready for Christmas dinner. "And wild-turkey hunters aren't after trophies—they eat every bit."
DAD CAN'T COURT ON THIS COURT
As a provision of the NCAA probation for recruiting violations slapped on Georgia's basketball program last June, Bulldog coach Hugh Durham was barred from recruiting players off campus for one year. Because one of his three sons, Jim, is a senior point guard for Athens (Ga.) Academy, Durham has had to petition the NCAA to let him watch his own son play. "It's a question that's reasonably unique," admits David Berst, who is the NCAA's chief enforcement officer.
The NCAA has granted Durham's request, with one restriction: He can't offer a scholarship to anyone he sees play, except his son, who apparently isn't very interested in attending Georgia. "I think my dad's the greatest coach, but I don't think I would want to play for him," says Jim Durham. "I've been around the house for 17 years, and I need to get out."
THE PEOPLE HELPER
Three weeks ago in San Diego, Richard Anthony (Tony) Fitton, 36, a former strength coach at Auburn, was sentenced to 4½ years in prison and five years' probation for offenses that included two counts of illegal trafficking in anabolic steroids (SCORECARD, Dec. 9). Last week, at San Diego's Metropolitan Correctional Center, Fitton gave SI's Armen Keteyian and free-lancer Kristina L. Rebelo an insider's view of the steroids trade.
Fitton told distressing tales: of widespread steroid use; of a major West Coast dealer who sells athletes an androgenic-anabolic steroid called Mibolorone, which is approved for use only by veterinarians to prevent female dogs from going into heat; of his own moral underpinnings: "My basic belief was, I was helping people." Fitton said he had sold or given counsel on the use of steroids to strength coaches or athletes at Baylor, South Carolina, Virginia, Temple and Nebraska, among other schools.
Using Nebraska as a case in point, Fitton said that in 1983 and '84 he sold anabolic steroids to several Husker football players and advised them of ways to pass urinalyses given by team doctors to detect steroid use. "I had contacts in the Lincoln gyms," Fitton said. "I got people referred to me. I enjoyed working with [the players]."
Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne told SI last week that he strongly disapproves of the use of anabolic steroids by athletes but admitted that suspiciously substantial weight and strength gains made by about a third of Nebraska's players in 1984 had led him to institute steroid testing that year. Osborne recalled that one of the players named by Fitton "was a little antsy about the testing," but he expressed surprise when told of Fitton's assertion that on the eve of the 1984 Orange Bowl Fitton had received a "frantic call" for steroids from the same player. Fitton claimed he sent the player, by Federal Express, about a dozen tablets ("enough for four people") of methyl testosterone, a fast-acting oral anabolic said to increase aggressiveness. "If I had known that," said Osborne, "I would have busted [any players involved] on the spot." Sadly, Fit-ton claimed that Nebraska's involvement with steroids was no greater than that of many other schools. "Anabolics are going to be taken," said Fitton bluntly. "It's a fact of life."
They're rearing some tough young hockey players in Minnesota. Or so suggests Dr. Paul Belvedere, team dentist for the NHL North Stars. "Pro players now want to get their teeth fixed," says Belvedere, "but I get 12-year-old patients all the time who beg their mothers to leave their teeth broken. They think it will scare the players on the other team."
ROGER MARIS: 1934-1985
Roger Maris, who died last Saturday of cancer at the age of 51 (two years younger than Babe Ruth when he died), was probably the most misunderstood and least appreciated of American sports heroes. In 1961, in the face of tremendous pressure, Maris surpassed Ruth's near-legendary record of 60 home runs in one season, yet received more vilification than praise. A country boy from North Dakota who was more interested in family and friends and doing his job than in fame, Maris had no talent for the give-and-take of public relations, the dissembling answer, the white lie. He spoke bluntly, antagonizing many in the army of reporters that besieged him as he moved inexorably toward Ruth's record. More than a few wrote disparagingly of him.
To traditionalists, Ruth's 34-year-old mark was sacrosanct. Many considered Maris, a .258 hitter before 1961, the wrong man to challenge it. They preferred his Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle, a proven star. With Maris and Mantle both closing in on 60 homers, commissioner Ford Frick, an old friend of Ruth's, ruled that if the record was broken after the 154th game (the AL season had just been expanded from 154 games to 162), two marks would be listed: one for a 154-game season and one for a 162-game season. The latter carries, at least in spirit, an asterisk.
Illness and injury took Mantle out of the race, but Maris kept going. In the 154th game he hit his 59th homer, as well as a fly ball caught near the rightfield fence. The next day's papers read MARIS FAILS. He hit two more homers in the games still remaining, No. 61 coming off Boston's Tracy Stallard in the season's last game. Yet Maris continued to be criticized. Rogers Hornsby, another great hitter of the Ruth era, dismissed him as a "bush-leaguer."
Maris was traded to St. Louis in 1966 and retired in 1968 at 34, primarily because of a chronic hand injury that impaired his swing. He was on seven pennant winners in his 12 seasons and won two MVP awards. His contemporaries remember him as an all-around star who could field, throw, slide and bunt with the best of them; a popular, well-liked team player who did a lot more on the ball field than just hit home runs.
Despite the criticism he endured, Maris had vindication at the end. Reports of his death mentioned the "asterisk" controversy but, in identifying Maris, called him simply the man who broke Babe Ruth's record. And that, asterisk or no asterisk, is how he'll be remembered.
—ROBERT W. CREAMER
THEY SAID IT
•Stanley Barowski, a Harrisburg, Pa. security officer, after helping to subdue boxer Gerry Cooney in a bar brawl: "Larry Holmes got $10 million against him and we got $7.50 an hour."
•Beth Holtz, wife of Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, when asked about her husband's peripatetic coaching career: "The first thing we look for in a house, is its resale value."
•Johnny Walker, Baltimore disc jockey: "The players on the Maryland football team all made straight A's. Their B's were a little crooked."