AN ECONOMIC TOUR DE FORCE
The prestigious Tour de France got under way last Friday when 210 bicycle racers set off on a 2.86-mile time trial in the Paris suburbs. Twelve months from now the 1987 edition will begin with a 60-mile race starting at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and proceeding along the Kurf√ºrstendamm, a chic boulevard of boutiques and cafés in West Berlin.
The Tour de France...in Germany? That's right, and the explanation is money. This august event is the privately owned enterprise of two Paris newspapers, Le Parisien Libéré and the daily sports journal L'Équipe. As such it is a commercial venture to be marketed and sold. The West Berlin government will pay $1.25 million, plus the racers' transportation back to France, for the privilege of hosting next year's start. "We try not to lose money," says Tour director Felix Levitan. "We don't actually do it for profit. This is the way it has been since 1903."
Others claim that the race, whose financial reports are not disclosed, is a veritable cash-making machine. "The Tour de France is a very profitable operation," says Jean-Yves Donor, a journalist with Le Figaro, a rival newspaper in Paris.
July 13, 1986
The Tour's annual budget, which has grown to $7 million, is underwritten through corporate sponsorships and rights fees paid by every little Pyrenean village on the route. Tour de France sites fall into three classifications: famous cities, such as Bordeaux, that are visited every year; stopover towns selected by race organizers; and small villages that sponsor sprints or special competitions. "The stopover cities are asked to pay $50,000 each," says Levitan. Donor claims the fees are not uniform. "Bordeaux and such cities pay the minimum price," he says. "The towns that ask to be part of the Tour, especially unknown tourist sites that benefit from the media coverage, are asked to pay more."
Criticism of this selling of the Tour is mild, in part because two leading periodicals obviously won't criticize an event they sponsor. Even the West Berlin start hasn't drawn much fire. "Everybody realizes it was done as a financial move," says Donor. Germain Simon, president of the French Cycling Federation, says only, "In principle, I prefer that the Tour de France begin in France. Of course, there are precedents. The Tour started in England once and in Belgium. But, yes, I do prefer that the Tour de France start in France."
Former University of Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall is now a vice-president with the Central Bank & Trust Co. of Lexington. Hall, who always wanted his backcourt to pass rather than shoot, is the butt of a new joke around town:
Did you hear Joe B.'s gonna be fired down at the bank?
There was a robbery and he still wouldn't let his guards shoot.
THE ZEKE BONURA THEORY
When Baltimore Orioles owner and noted Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams delivered the graduation address at the University of Scranton this spring, he described two rules generally followed by commencement speakers. One was what Williams called the Henry A. Kissinger principle of alarm: "When in doubt, be pessimistic, because you appear to be better informed." The other was the Henry J. Bonura theory of chance, which Williams formulated while watching baseball in the nation's capital in the 1930s.
"It takes its name from Henry J. (Zeke) Bonura, first baseman for the old Washington Senators," explained Williams. "Now Zeke was the worst fielding first baseman in the history of baseball, but every year he ended up with the best fielding percentage in the major leagues. He was no intellectual giant, but he understood better than anybody in all of baseball the rule that says you can't be charged with an error if you don't touch the ball. And so he assiduously avoided touching anything that looked difficult."
The statistics show that Bonura, who played for a total of four teams, indeed led big league first basemen twice in fielding percentage. But Williams is a bit too harsh on Zeke, now 77 and living in New Orleans. Bonura also led in total chances during one of those seasons.
A PRETTY SHARP RACE
Every year on the Fourth of July the kids in the town of Council, Idaho, take their porcupines down to the football field and have a race. Actually this year it was on the fifth of July. A thunderstorm blew through town on the Fourth, and porcupines aren't good mudders.
That wasn't the only thing that was different about this year's race. Usually 30 to 40 porcupines are entered, but last week there were nine. Most people in Council blame that on the weather: It has been so hot all spring, the porcupines have gone higher into the mountains and the kids have had trouble finding them.
Once you find a porcupine, it's no easy thing to catch him, either. The one called Senator, sponsored by Rick Ritter, who's running for the state senate, was particularly ornery. "He went over a bank and up a tree," says John Cook, who caught the animal. "We had to chop the tree down to get him."
And then once you've caught one, it's no easy thing to train him. You can't really develop an efficient coach-player relationship. "Last year one of the kids was petting one," says Dean Tatum, who runs the race, "and the kid got a handful of quills."
Anyway, nine porcupines were caught and trained, and then on Saturday they were let out of garbage cans at one end of the field down at Council High. Their handlers shooed them along with brooms, as 500 people cheered more or less wildly. A lot of betting was going on, and you did pretty well if you had Senator because he was the first one to cover the 40 yards. His time was between a minute and a minute and a half.
After the race the porcupines were set free and everyone went home. It had been a good race and nothing really terrible had happened, like those other times. "Once, a baby sat down on top of a porcupine," remembers Tatum. "It just sat down, and it got some quills in its diaper." And Sarah Diggs, the dispatcher in the sheriff's office, remembers, "One time one of them got loose and into the crowd. We're pretty good about jumping over porcupines up here."
AND A LESS SHARP RACE
Back in urbane New York City, another curious race was held on the fifth of July, this one as part of the grandiose Liberty Weekend festivities. Four dirigibles—blimps, as they're known—were to scoot south over the Hudson River from the George Washington Bridge to a finish line in New York Harbor.
It was a hot, rainless afternoon, thought to be perfect for blimp racing, though no one knew for sure because there's no history of blimp racing. Russ Harris, horse racing handicapper for the New York Daily News, posted the official odds, though he wasn't quite sure what he was doing. He sent the McDonald's blimp off at 8-5, with Citibank a second favorite, Resorts International third and Fuji the long shot. These seemed reasonable picks, but who knew?
After cruising above area beaches—a blimpian version of the post parade—the blimps were saluted at Jones Beach by a New York Pops performance of Blimphony, composed by Skitch Henderson just for the occasion. One listener said the music was "like the theme from Star Wars—airborne stuff."
Then the mammoths made their way to—to what? To the starting gate? And then, they were off. Fuji took an early lead. It looked as though Fuji would have no trouble holding the advantage, but the guy calling the race tried to add some drama: "You gotta watch the tactics. They may dive, and they do a lot of different things." Well, they didn't do enough different things, and Fuji won. It took the blimp 15 minutes and 36 seconds to sprint—was this a sprint?—the 12-mile distance. That's 46 miles per hour, but let's be honest, it didn't look very fast. It's tough for a blimp to look fast.
And where was the Goodyear blimp during the race? Oh, it was in New York. As usual, it was above it all.
A DAY OUTDOORS WITH THE OUTDOOR BREED
The Outdoor Writers Association of America gathered in Harrisburg, Pa., recently for its 59th and largest-ever annual meeting. The conference drew 869 members of the bait-and-bullet literary circle. They attended seminars with titles such as World of the Black Bear and This Land Is Our Land. As always, the highlight of the meeting was Breakout Day, when the writers traveled to a local fish-and-game club to peruse the latest products designed for the active outdoor life.
At one booth they tried the high-powered bow-and-arrow set used by Rambo and received posters of a sweaty Sylvester Stallone. At another they tested their skill with a Daisy airgun against members of the U.S. biathlon team. "Damn!" said one burly contestant, having been beaten in a five-shot match by skinny Olympian Willie Carow. "These kids are pretty damn good." At a third stop they fired high-powered handguns and rifles. Nowhere, fortunately, could they obtain a beer on this hot and sunny afternoon. The birch beer at the Du Pont tent was the strongest libation allowed.
A chemical company had an exhibition? Yes, to show how its moisture-resistant fibers keep you dry in the duck blinds. And Mad River Canoe implored you to try its easy-handling boats (one canoe was tipped, leading to comments about the heady birch beer). And Stren fishing line let you assess the flexibility of its 14-pound-test. And Johnny Stewart allowed you to try his variety of astonishingly accurate duck calls. And the Tink's Co. let you sniff its Doe-in-Rut Buck Lure scent. This potion is just what it sounds like: You spill some out and when an amorous deer comes along—Blam!
There was one demonstration that was for a practiced hand only. John and Joe Juranitch of Razor Systems Inc., which markets sharpening tools, sought to prove how well their flintstones worked. So they proceeded to shave their healthy beards with sharpened machetes. The blood drawn seemed to prove only that it's silly to shave with a machete. Said Jeff McGuire of Thermax fibers as he looked on, "These outdoor guys sure are a different breed of cat."
THEY SAID IT
•Bill Russell, basketball Hall of Famer: "When I was growing up my mother wouldn't allow me near a golf course. She didn't think the people were very nice. Now I play every day, and you know what? She was right."
•Lou Brock, after playing in the National Old-Timers' Baseball Classic in Washington D.C.: "The real thrill in this game is to finish it."