SERMON ON THE MOUND
Seattle Mariners general manager Dick Balderson has created a holy furor with some cautious but pointed comments about God's place in the locker room. "We will not restrict anyone from practicing their beliefs, and we will not alter their thinking," Balderson told Jim Street of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "But changes have to be made with the idea that when they come to the park, they will be thinking baseball."
Balderson's remarks were directed at a Christian community of 16 to 18 Mariners who routinely held chapel services before games. First baseman Alvin Davis, the group's assistant chapel leader, responded, "I think it's nothing we players have not heard before. We had a little problem with our chapel on several occasions this year. It probably ran too long and did interfere with some things that were going on on the field. We tried to...move it to the hotel, but attendance just didn't seem the same." Davis admitted that, before one game in Milwaukee, an overlong service cost the players 15 minutes of warm up time.
What tweaked the Christian athletes more than Balderson's attitude toward chapel were his theological comments on church and sport. "I think we have too many [players] who think that if we lose, that's the way the Lord meant it to be," Balderson told Street. "But I can't perceive God being on the mound in the ninth inning and saying [a loss] is the way it should be. I perceive Him as being an individual who would beat you any way He can as long as it's within the rules."
November 10, 1986
"From the philosophical standpoint," answered Davis, "I don't think religion was responsible for a single one of our losses." George Toles, a Seattle businessman and board member of Pro Athletes Outreach, a Christian sports organization, dismissed Balderson's criticism as "a blip on the screen of eternity" and added, "What Mr. Balderson doesn't realize is that life is made up of wins and losses.... I suggest maybe he spend a little time on his knees and ask for some divine guidance on how to get some W's on the board."
There were precious few W's for the cellar-dwelling Mariners last season—in fact, there were 95 L's—and that seems to be at the heart of the problem. Cynics speculated that there would be no quarrel with the deity if Seattle could shuck the stigma of being the only modern baseball team never to have had a winning season. Steve Largent, the Seattle Seahawks' All-Pro wide receiver, who has never been criticized for his devout Christian beliefs, said. "It doesn't surprise me that the Mariners want to get God out of their locker room. They've gotten rid of all their other good players, too."
OF GOOSE AND MOOSE
Two hunting seasons in the Northeast have created curiosities. On Oct. 20 a 12-day season on migratory waterfowl started in Massachusetts, and for the first time the 100 Canada geese who frequent Crystal Lake reservoir in Gardner, 50 miles northwest of Boston, were deemed fair game. Town fathers, concerned that the geese would pollute Gardner's drinking water, opened season on the lovely birds, which had come to be regarded as unofficial town pets. The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cried foul, arguing that there was no evidence of contamination and that other methods of ridding the area of geese—including nylon netting spread over the water and hawk decoys—hadn't yet been tried. The MSPCA said there was simply no need to shoot the favored flock of geese.
As it happened, they might have been right. For no known reason, most of the geese were in hiding during the hunt. Hunters were even scarcer; either they sympathized with, or were scared off by, MSPCA activists who were on hand to protest. Gardner city treasurer Michael T. Smith, a hunter himself, told The Boston Globe, "A hunter would have to be insane to face the press, the police and the anti-hunting crowd." During the waterfowl season fortnight, only one goose was taken at Crystal Lake.
Meanwhile in Maine, 233 moose fell on the first of six days of open hunting. But one of them, an 800-pound bull, was shot out of bounds and was confiscated by state wildlife officials. This is good news for several needy families in Maine who will get to enjoy an illicit bounty of moose meat.
While Gordie Lockbaum of Holy Cross stands out as the only Division I college football player who plays both defense and offense (page 34), even he can't approach the versatility of two high school gridders from Ohio. Hardin Reece, a sophomore at New Miami High, and Jason Frost, a junior, go three ways. Reece is a second-string tight end, a reserve on defense and a saxophone player; Frost triples at starting defensive tackle, backup fullback and sousaphone. At halftime of New Miami's home games, the players pick up their horns and play with 40 schoolmates in the two-year-old New Miami marching band. "The band director's trying to build a program here, and I sympathize with that," says football coach Ed McCoy. "He saw two guys with talent, and it was sort of his idea. They play in the band for seven or eight minutes. They don't miss much—a glass of water, maybe. I haven't even noticed.
"This is a small school, maybe 350 kids. We don't have many talented football players, and we don't have many music talents. So it was O.K. with me."
Frost is a bona fide music talent, having made all-state band last year. And Reece? Coach McCoy is diplomatic: "He's 6'3" and 270 pounds. I think his potential lies in football."
In Sunday's New York City Marathon, Grete Waitz traveled 26 miles, 385 yards through the city's five boroughs and won $25,000 and a $30,000 Mercedes-Benz. This booty was heaped atop a $40,000 appearance fee she was paid just for showing up. Rob de Castella, the noted Australian marathoner, was paid a reported $70,000 for running, and he didn't even win. He finished third behind an Italian runner, Gianni Poli, who, like Waitz, took home 25 grand and a car. What does all this considerable loot mean? That marathoning, once the pursuit of the wretchedly skinny poor, has come as far as marathoners are asked to go.
When Waitz won her first of eight NYC Marathon titles in 1978 she received $20 and no automobile—the $20, in fact, was her cab fare for a ride to the airport. But a decade ago the sport had few stars and even fewer star events. The notable marathons didn't have to compete with one another for the elite competitors, so "appearance" deals usually included a comfy room and a hot meal.
But these days runners are among the most chic and marketable international athletic commodities, and there is keen competition for their presence at a larger number of races. Each spring the London Marathon tries to outhustle Boston for runners, and each autumn Chicago, which held its marathon two weeks ago, bids ferociously against New York. The top marathons each pay thousands in appearance fees and offer between $200,000 and $300,000 in official prize money. Hence the cash given up front to Waitz and de Castella and the extremely grand prizes awarded to Waitz and Poli.
The august Boston Marathon was the last to knuckle under to marathoning's expensive new realities. But when it conceded, after the '85 race, that its fealty to amateurism meant a dearth of good runners, it too lined up sponsors and started throwing money around. This spring the new Boston Marathon was hale and hearty, with de Castella, as big a name as there is, winning in course-record time. Wonderful, right? Well, it seems de Castella had sold himself just as the race had, and after the folks from Mercedes-Benz viewed de Castella's Mazda running shirt for 26.2 miles, they complained mightily. The scene was repeated when Ingrid Kristiansen, the women's world-record holder, won the recent Chicago race. Her bold Mazda imprimatur thoroughly embarrassed one of the race's major sponsors, Nissan. "I should pay you not to appear," said race director Bob Bright, who grudgingly handed over the check for $40,000.
Marathoning is busily trying to cope with the new order. After Chicago, negotiations were held with de Castella and a compromise was reached: The Mazda billboard on his chest would be reduced in size at the New York race. Somehow it seemed refreshing to see Poli storm across the line first. His shirt said ELLESSE. Know what they make? Shirts.
A STRONG DEFENSE
The Corpus Christi (Texas) Catholic Colts performed admirably on and off the field this season. During a September practice the team, whose final record was 5-2, heard a cry for help and took off after a mugger who had stolen a woman's purse. The thief escaped on a bike, but the Colts recovered the handbag and the $300 it contained. Recently the team, its coaches, the victim and a passerby who aided in the chase were feted by the school at a special gumbo dinner.
THE PITCH BEHIND THE PITCH
The World Series' most elevated moment occurred before Game 2 when the winner of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, Holocaust witness Elie Wiesel, threw out the first ball. He explains how this came to pass:
"I got a telephone call from the commissioner of baseball, and he said, 'You know, we have a great honor to bestow upon you.' And I was wondering what could be the honor, between baseball and I? The only possibility in my mind was my son, maybe they would invite him to some World Series, which apparently is an important event, I don't know.
" 'It wasn't that,' he said. 'We would like you to come and throw out the first ball.'
"You must forgive me—I didn't even know what it meant. I had a feeling he was talking mysticism to me or something. But, you know, being a Jew who studies Talmud, I had an answer. I said I appreciate very much the honor but tomorrow was Shabbat and I cannot come Saturday and do that. So he was very sad. He called back. He said, 'How about Sunday?' Still being a good Talmudist, I said Sunday we celebrate the holiday of Sukkoth, which is also a holy day. And then he was very, very sad. But then he went—I must say this to his credit—he went and he checked with rabbis and found that after sunset, after the sundown, it is permitted to throw a ball.
"So when he came back for the third time, I took counsel with my son. I have a 14-year-old son, and he is a very, very great fan of some...I don't know for whom, for baseball anyway. And when he heard that, he was more impressed of that than of my getting the Nobel Prize. So, of course, I accepted doing it. And I was trembling all the time because I wouldn't know what to do. I thought, not only will I embarrass my son, I may embarrass Boston University, where I teach. So I prayed and my prayers were heard and apparently I did the right thing."
THEY SAID IT
•Stan Kasten, Atlanta Hawks G.M., recounting what he told his wealthy star Dominique Wilkins, when the player asked for a bonus if he's named to the All-Star team. "If you don't make the All-Star team, why am I paying you all this money?"
•Frank Kush, who will be paid $300,000 this year by the USFL's Arizona Outlaws: "I'm the highest paid Pop Warner coach in the country."