JUST A THOUGHT
This season, as baseball celebrates the 40th anniversary of its integration, the Baseball Writers Association of America should consider naming its Rookie of the Year awards after the first Rookie of the Year, Jackie Robinson. Like the Cy Young Award, the Jackie Robinson Award would have a nice sound to it.
WITH THIS RING...
In the 1954 movie On the Waterfront the character played by Marlon Brando turns in anguish to his brother, played by Rod Steiger, and says, "I coulda been a contender." If that movie were to be made today, the brother would probably respond, "Are we talking the IBF, the WBA or the WBC junior middleweight title?"
The Ring magazine, "The Bible of Boxing," has decided to do something about the watered-down alphabet soup that boxing rankings have become. With its July issue The Ring is returning to the rating system developed by the late Nat Fleischer and used from 1925 to 1962: eight weight divisions, each with 1 champion and 10 contenders. The Ring is also eliminating the single, double and triple stars it has been using to denote the WBA, WBC and IBF champions, respectively.
"Our point is to restore boxing to the purity of the past," Nigel Collins, editor-in-chief of The Ring, says. "Multiple titles have diluted boxing to where it's almost on the level of professional wrestling." As things now stand, 40 boxers hold championship belts of one sort or another. Even boxing historian Jimmy Jacobs, who manages WBC and WBA heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, as well as WBA lightweight champ Edwin Rosario, says, "I can only name about half of the current champions."
Can anybody possibly object to this restoration of sanity? Yes—the boxing federations, each of which prefers to have its own stable of fighters. Also, the TV networks involved in boxing don't want any consolidation of rankings, because they make more money by promoting so-called "championship" bouts. And when the networks make more money, so do promoters, managers and fighters.
Who will like the new-old ratings? The fight fan, for one, who will be spared much of the confusion that now exists in the ratings. Collins also believes that the boxers themselves will eventually benefit. "Being the champ will really mean something," he says. And "I coulda been a contender" will have its old punch back.
Ever wonder where the dirt on a baseball diamond mound or the clay for a tennis court or the cinders of a running track come from? Well, there's a place 50 miles west of New York City that "grows" sports soil. The Partac Peat Corp., run out of Jim Kelsey's 1,000-acre farm in Great Meadows, N.J., supplies dirt for the fields of six major league teams (the Cubs, Mets, Yankees, Dodgers, Expos and Blue Jays) and 19 minor league clubs, and for countless golf courses, running tracks, racetracks, horseshoe pits, tennis courts and boccie courts. According to Bruce Shank, associate publisher of SportsTURF magazine (circulation: 17,500), "Jim Kelsey has taken dirt and turned it into something special."
Kelsey says he owes a large debt of gratitude to the Ice Age. "When the glaciers stopped here in New Jersey, they pushed sand and gravel ahead of them and carved out the lakes from which we get clay and peat." Jim's father, a commodities trader, bought the farm in the 1940s, but he grew mostly vegetables. After his father's death, Jim began growing sod for commercial and residential use and started using the farm's peat for producing sterilized topdressing for golf courses, the stuff needed to grow putting greens. Then, in 1984, Jim bought out Art Kuntz's sports-dirt business in Berkeley Heights, N.J. "I couldn't have done this without Art's expertise," says Kelsey.
There is an art to producing sports soil. For instance, a pitcher's mound is heavy with clay because the pitcher needs to get a solid footing. The base paths are sandier, to facilitate safe sliding. Somewhere in between is the dirt for the batter's box. Then there's the material for warning tracks. "You want something crunchy," says Kelsey. The dirt comes in bags labeled, for example, PITCHER'S MOUND. To service a mound, a major league team will go through as many as 100 bags a year at $6 apiece.
"It's a thrill knowing I'm contributing to the game," says Kelsey. "Besides, I don't mind getting my hands dirty."
REF ON ICE
Kerry Fraser, the NHL referee who made the controversial, and correct, call nullifying a potential game-winning goal by Quebec in the fifth game of the Adams Division final two weeks ago (SI, May 11), has received an ill-timed vote of no confidence. Six referees were selected on merit for the final two playoff rounds. Fraser wasn't one of them.
John McCauley, the NHL's director of officiating, denies that Fraser's call and the furor it subsequently caused in Quebec had anything to do with the league's decision. "There were times in the first two rounds when his concentration was lacking," says McCauley. Funny, no one mentioned it to Fraser. "If I wasn't up to par," says Fraser, "I never heard of it from the supervisor."
Fraser's crime was that he was noticed. In the NHL they are fond of saying that a perfectly officiated game is one in which no one remembers the name of the referee. But too often that has translated into a game in which no one remembers the rules. Fraser stands out because he has the backbone to call a game without keeping one eye on the scoreboard. Glen Sather, coach of the Edmonton Oilers, recently called him "the best official in the league." In the regular season the NHL itself ranked Fraser as one of only four refs in Category 1, the highest rating he could get.
JEEP JACKSON, R.I.P.
When Hernell (Jeep) Jackson, 23, the star guard for Texas-El Paso, died during a charity basketball game on May 2, there were suspicions that drug use had played a part. The suspicions gained credence when Michelle Lee Cabrera, 19, was charged last week with delivering cocaine to Jackson and when El Paso police found a residue of cocaine during a search of Jackson's apartment. At week's end the results of Jackson's autopsy were not known.
The possibility that cocaine may have contributed to the death of yet another star athlete is distressing. It is particularly so to SI's Ed Burns, who interviewed Jackson last October for a story on the Miners. Here are some of Burns's reflections:
"He smiled easily and often. Over dinner we talked about his background. He had grown up in the Los Angeles area, and he said he had chosen UTEP because he was curious about another way of life. He told me, 'All my goals used to be in basketball. School was just something I had to do.' In what now seems an eerie prophecy, he added, 'But when I got to college, I realized the bubble bursts in four years.'
"He was a senior majoring in criminal justice, and he was thinking about applying to law school if the NBA didn't call. I remember thinking that here is the kind of success story that we seldom read about. Jeep Jackson probably wouldn't have gone to college had it not been for basketball. But college expanded his horizons.
"That's why I was deeply saddened by his death. And why I was surprised when I found out it likely was caused by a brush with drugs. I was sure that Jeep was going to make it in this world."
A NEW LINE OF PLAY FOR AN EX-YANKEE
The success of the senior pga tour depends largely on the nostalgia of golf fans, but the tour got an unexpected boost in Albuquerque two weeks ago when a familiar name from another sport appeared on the leader board. Ralph Terry, who pitched in five World Series for the New York Yankees, fired a second-round 67 to move within one stroke of the leaders with 18 holes to play. Terry then faltered with a 76, but that was still good enough for a tie for 17th and a check for $3,900. "It was almost exactly the same amount I got from the Yankees the year I signed," said Terry.
That was back in 1953, when commissioner Ford Frick ruled that the 17-year-old pitcher from Big Cabin, Okla., who had made commitments to both the Yankees and the Cardinals, belonged to the New York team. Unfortunately, Terry is best remembered for giving up Pirate Bill Mazeroski's dramatic ninth-inning home run that beat New York 10-9 in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. Terry atoned for that in 1962 by winning 23 games in the regular season and two more in the Series, including a 1-0 shutout of the Giants in Game 7.
Terry dominated the annual baseball players' golf tournament during his career. Following his release from the New York Mets in '67, he became a teaching pro at clubs in New Jersey and New York, and finally in Larned, Kans., his wife Tanya's hometown. "Larned can claim 4,900 people, plus two grain elevators and Mitch Webster of the Expos," says Terry.
He is not a regular member of the senior tour, but he received a sponsor's exemption in Albuquerque and proceeded to surprise even himself.
"I couldn't believe it," he says. "There I was in the next-to-last group with Bob Charles. There were a lot of baseball fans following me. One guy showed me where he had broken his wrist hitting a wall in anger after Maz's homer." Terry hasn't decided how much of a commitment he will make to the PGA seniors. "My family wants me to give it a try, and so does my friend Mickey Mantle. I must admit, it was great to hear the cheers again."
THEY SAID IT
•John Kerr, Chicago Bulls broadcaster, introducing Julius Erving in his Windy City farewell: "This man had an illustrious high school career, an illustrious college career and an illustrious career in the pros. But enough about me."
•Rich Donnelly, a Pittsburgh Pirate coach, on the preponderance of diminutive players on his team: "We have a shoe contract with Buster Brown."