NOW PITCHING FOR THE FARMERS
This is an article from the Aug. 25, 1986 issue
Former major league pitcher Gaylord Perry has joined the many casualties of the nation's farm crisis. Last week Perry announced that his farm in Martin County, N.C, had failed and that he was broke. Perry's lawyer, in filing for Chapter 7 protection under North Carolina's bankruptcy laws, said Perry had $1,145,600 in assets and $1,244,850 in debts. Perry, a 300-game winner who ran the 500-acre corn, soybean, tobacco and peanut farm even during his playing career, said simply, "It's a farm situation."
Other sports figures have taken the farm situation to heart. Richard Petty recently joined 10 other NASCAR drivers at the start of a convoy leaving North Carolina's Charlotte Motor Speedway. Their vehicles—not stock cars but huge semitrailers—were driven to Columbus, Ohio, where they were loaded with 25,000 bales of hay for drought-plagued farmers in the Southeast.
Further west, Milwaukee Bucks coach Don Nelson just finished Nellie's Tractor Drive, a nine-day, 250-mile fund-raising effort in Wisconsin on behalf of farmers facing financial ruin because of dismal market conditions. Driving a $45,000 tractor that was donated at trail's end to beleaguered farmers in Wausau, Nelson stopped at fairgrounds and corn roasts from Menomonee Falls to Oshkosh. His tractor pulled a flatbed carrying a 9½-foot-long piggy bank, a round mound that Nelson called "Charles Barkley." By Monday, $240,000 had been contributed to the Barkley bank. Nelson is soliciting further contributions through a personal weight-loss campaign. He has pledges of $1,500 for each pound he drops; this summer he has gone from 272 pounds to 235.
What prompted Nelson's concern for the farmer? The memories of a previous bleak harvest. Thirty years ago hog prices tumbled in Illinois and the Nelsons, like the Perrys of 1986, had to sell the family farm.
WAS IT A DERBY OR A DARBY?
The Durham (N.C.) Bulls of the Class A Carolina League designate one inning at each home game as the Home Run for the Money derby. A program number is drawn at random for each batter, and the fan holding the program wins a jackpot if that batter hits a home run. On Aug. 8, when Durham shortstop Jeff Blauser came to bat in the derby inning (the sixth), the number drawn belonged to David Huffey, an Englishman now living in the U.S. Blauser promptly homered, winning Huffey a built-up jackpot of $100.
The next batter was leftfielder Jeff Wetherby. As luck would have it, the next number was that of Huffey's son, Lee, who was visiting from England. When Wetherby, too, homered, Lee, who according to his father was attending "his first baseball match," took home $50.
"It's baseball," noted Bulls owner Miles Wolff later, "but it was also very cricket."
FOOTBALL IN OLDEN TIMES
At DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., public relations director Patrick Aikman has been digging though the archives to put together a history of the school, which this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. In the course of his excavation, Aikman has unearthed some curiosities about DePauw's football program. For one thing, it got off to a rocky start. The school newspaper account of the Tigers' first game, played against Butler in 1884, told of DePauw losing "by four touchdowns, causing the team to decide to sell its football." A new pigskin presumably wasn't purchased until 1889, when DePauw lost its second game to Purdue and then beat Indiana for a .500 season. DePauw has played football ever since, but not without further incident. For example, after a 45-0 loss to Illinois in 1924, the paper reported, "Coach Ashmore was granted a leave of absence after the game." That would appear to be jazz-age wording for today's "resigned under pressure."
THE VIGILANTE BOOSTER
Until three years ago Fred Sutton, a wealthy Palm Bay, Fla., businessman, was a big-time Florida football booster. He was one of a dozen influential Gator fans who enticed blue-chippers to come to Gainesville. He now freely admits that he spent thousands of dollars breaking the rules, that he set up summer jobs paying players "exorbitant" wages and that he paid "a couple of thousand dollars" to players for four season tickets. Sutton was far from alone in such wrongdoing: In 1984 an NCAA investigation of Florida misdeeds resulted in coach Charley Pell's being fired and his program's being put on three years' probation.
In the aftermath Sutton and other boosters, at the behest of Florida's president, Marshall Criser, signed pledges to play fair in the future. But Sutton, upset by the sanctimonious attitude taken by Florida's rivals—Florida cheating jokes were heard throughout the Southeast—soon became involved in a wholly different way. In late 1985 he hired an Orlando private investigating firm, Interpose International, Inc., to look into possible cheating on other campuses. Sutton said that he spent "tens of thousands of dollars" on the subsequent investigation of the football programs at Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State and that dozens of athletes were interviewed by Interpose. Sutton said he instructed the investigators to contact the NCAA before beginning their work and that "they welcomed the help." David Berst, the NCAA's director of enforcement, confirmed that the NCAA talked to Interpose. "We're always soliciting information from people. We don't mind getting this type of information." But Berst said that any Interpose findings would be regarded only as "raw charges."
Sutton's probe stirred up a fuss among University of Florida officials as well as those on other campuses. In April, Florida athletic director Bill Carr visited Sutton and told him that Florida had heard from officials of other schools. "They were very upset," Sutton says. "Carr asked if I was conducting an investigation. I told him I was. He asked if I would quit. I said no."
On April 23, in a letter to Sutton, Criser insisted that he "immediately terminate" his probe. Criser told Sutton his activities were "detrimental to relationships with other institutions" and were not "in the best interests of intercollegiate athletics." Last week Criser said, "I don't know what his motivations are [but] this vigilante approach is not a solution.... The system is the NCAA. If it needs more investigators, it should employ more investigators."
Sutton has pressed on in the face of such opposition, and he says that Inter-pose's investigation was recently completed. "Would you like to see the evidence?" he asked SI writer-reporter Armen Keteyian in his Palm Bay office last week. Sutton produced a foot-tall stack of bulging folders. He said the 14 folders contained details of abuses—scalping of tickets to alumni, special deals on cars, new wardrobes, cash payments to players. Keteyian wasn't allowed to examine the documents.
"I was afraid the school would turn on me, and that's what it did," Sutton said. "But this was something I needed to do. Bankers, attorneys, wealthy landowners don't need to be running around after 17-year-old kids. It's wrong and it's not healthy." He said he would soon turn over his evidence to State University system chancellor Charles Reed, who, significantly, oversees Gator archrival Florida State as well as Florida. "My goal," said Fred Sutton, "is to get boosters like Fred Sutton out of the system."
GOLF'S TOPSY-TURVY TOURNAMENT
On Sunday Ken Green shot the highest score and won this week's PGA Tour event in Castle Rock, Colo. Yes, the highest. Welcome to the upside-down world of The International golf tournament, which in its inaugural outing took great pains to prove, well, not a whole lot.
The International was intended to be a showcase for feats of derring-do, sort of like the NBA All-Star Game. Showboating was to be encouraged by a radical scoring system that rewarded risk-taking. A golfer got 2 points for a birdie, 5 for an eagle, 10 for a double eagle; a bogey cost him a point, a double bogey or worse cost 3. Par was par—worth no points—and as you see, the highest score is indeed the best. The starting field of 162 was cut at least in half each round, and since there was no carryover of scores from one day to the next, it was no bigger deal to have the best score than to just sneak by. On Sunday the 12 finalists shot it out for a $703,500 pot, $180,000 of which went to Green, who beat Bernhard Langer by three strokes...ah, points.
All well and good and oh-so-innovative. But the fact is The International, just like any old golf tournament should, rewarded the guy who played controlled golf. What's more, the final standings wouldn't have been significantly different if medal scores had been counted instead of those birdie bonuses. Only five players who missed the final round had cumulative medal totals as good as the 12 who advanced to Sunday, and no one who broke 70 on a given day failed to qualify for the next round. On Sunday, Green would have shot 66, three strokes ahead of the field. By way of further comparison, of the four major championships this year only the PGA—which Ben Crenshaw, who placed 11th, would have won—would have produced a different winner under International rules.
The format did, however, produce some interesting twists. On Thursday, lightning forced suspension of play when Ray Floyd had finished 17 holes. He already enjoyed a score of plus 14 for the day, so he never returned to play 18 and still moved on to Friday's round with a plus 11. And Craig Stadler, with no chance to qualify on Wednesday, let his caddie putt out on the final hole. After consulting with Stadler on the line, Jack Dolf drilled a 15-footer. The Walrus drew a cheer from the gallery and a possible fine from PGA commissioner Deane Beman. He surely couldn't have pleased Jack Vickers, the 61-year-old Denver oilman who founded The International and who has hopes of making it a major championship. "This has been my dream," said Vickers. "I think it's the most interesting thing to hit the Tour in many years." Did the pros agree? Listen to a conversation with Bruce Lietzke, when he was leading with a first-round plus 11.
Newsman: Bruce, does shooting the best score in the first-ever International fill you with a sense of history?
THEY SAID IT
•Mike Flanagan, on fellow Oriole pitcher Mike Boddicker's fastball, which was clocked at an unusually high 88 mph during a recent game in Toronto: "We forgot about the Canadian exchange rate, so it's really only 82 mph."
•Ken Dunek, Baltimore Star tight end, on the USFL's decision not to play this year: "My career has been pretty checkered. This might be checkmate."