IT'S HIGH TIME
While several highly publicized trades were consummated at the baseball meetings in Dallas last week (page 64), a change that could have a profound effect on the game went largely unnoticed. The Rules Committee altered the definition of the strike zone, giving pitchers an advantage. While the lower level of the zone remains the top of the knees, the upper level was changed from "the batter's armpits" to "midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants."
There's a paradox at work here—the new definition, which would seem to shrink the strike zone, in fact expands it. Marty Springstead, who is the American League supervisor of umpires, explains: "By making the strike zone smaller, you actually make it larger. Batters couldn't hit that [armpits] pitch, and we couldn't call it. We wanted to get [the upper limit] to a place that was reasonable."
In other words, the old strike zone was so unworkable that umpires just let it creep lower and lower until almost any pitch above the waist was called a ball (SI, April 6, 1987). Now that they have a more realistic zone, they can enforce it. "Finally, something to help the pitcher," says Springstead. "The strike zone was so low, it was ridiculous."
December 21, 1987
A THORN FOR ROSE
At the same meetings, Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose, who didn't play last season even while hinting that he might, made it official that he has retired as a player.
Rose also revealed a possible drawback in the trade with Oakland that brought pitchers Jose Rijo and Tim Birtsas to the Reds for Dave Parker. Said Rose in response to the news, "Rijo, huh? Right out of the chute I got a potential clubhouse problem."
"Rijo is married to Juan Marichal's daughter."
"One of my pitchers used to date her."
WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK
"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?" Lauren Bacall said to Humphrey Bogart in To Have And Have Not. "You just put your lips together and blow."
As referees know, it's not that easy. In fact, even using their whistles, they have a hard time being heard above the roar of the crowd. Veteran basketball referees Joe Forte and Ron Fox-croft felt particularly helpless during a pre-Olympic tournament in 1984 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "We would blow our whistles, and play would continue because the players couldn't hear above the crowd noise," says Forte, who lives in Smyrna, Ga. So he and Foxcroft, who's from Hamilton, Ont., vowed to find a better whistle, and with the help of industrial design engineer Chuck Sheppard, also of Hamilton, they did just that.
After 3½ years of experimentation, the Fox 40 whistle—Fox for Foxcroft, 40 for Forte—went on the market six weeks ago, and it's being heard more and more. Four basketball conferences (the SEC, Southern, Sun Belt and Colonial) are using it, and the NHL, NFL, NBA and British soccer federation have all expressed interest. It will also be heard at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
The Fox 40 has a unique design—a three-chamber, wind-tunnel system is how Sheppard describes it—which makes a shriller, more piercing sound than the conventional whistle. No, dogs have not come running out onto the court—not yet, anyway.
Fans of the Arkansas Razor-backs have never been known for taste and restraint, what with their red attire, plastic snouts and cries of "Sooie, pig!"
Now come Arkansas diehards Larry and Sandy Ford. They recently decided to name their newborn son Ray Zorback Ford. Get it? If you don't, you won't get their choice for a girl's name, either: Sue E. Ford.
In case you missed the International Basketball Association draft last week—and most everybody did—SI's 5'11" Richard Demak was there and filed this report:
For the IBA, the new May-to-September basketball league for players standing less than 6'5", there were some discouraging omens. For one thing, the lights in the ballroom at the Sheraton Centre in Manhattan went out half a dozen times during the 5½-hour draft. For another, the huge digital clock that was to prevent teams from exceeding the time limits for selections remained frozen at 0:00.00.
There were representatives from 10 teams in all: Toronto, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Ohio, New York, Fresno, Orange County (Calif.), Los Angeles, Calgary and Chicago. The first choice was not a surprise. Toronto chose 39-year-old Calvin Murphy, the 5'9" former NBA star who had already agreed to be its player-coach. In the third round Chicago selected 5'8" Larry Jordan, a onetime (1978-80) high school player from Wilmington, N.C., who happens to be Michael Jordan's older brother.
The only spectators at the draft, other than a few members of the press, were about a dozen players who had attended various IBA tryout camps in July and were hoping to be selected. One of them was 6'3" Rudy Outlaw, a former star at Plattsburgh (N.Y.) State who took a day off from his regular secretarial job to be at the draft. "It's not a stepping stone to the NBA," said Outlaw. "I just want to say that I played pro ball."
In the 13th round the Orange Crush took 6'1" Bo Jackson. Chicago, looking for scoring punch no doubt, selected 6'2" Thomas Hearns in the 30th round. Those publicity stunts didn't sit too well with Outlaw and the other hopefuls. But publicity and gimmicks are a high priority in the lowly league. Chicago, for instance, promises to provide a personal cocktail waitress for each set of executive box seats.
Outlaw was finally chosen in the 15th round by Toronto. The name, however, came out RUDY OUTLAN when officials wrote it on the board in the front of the room. "Hey, it's with a W," Outlaw whispered during his moment in IBA history. "It's with a W"
AIRING HIM OUT
Speaking of the Bulls' Michael Jordan, the other night in Salt Lake City he slam-dunked over Utah's John Stockton, only a small feat, considering that Stockton is 6'1". "Hey, why don't you pick on somebody your own size!" yelled a fan at courtside.
The next time the 6'6" Jordan had the chance, he took the ball and slammed it again, this time in the face of 6'11" Jazz center Mel Turpin. As Jordan headed upcourt, he turned to his heckler, pointed to Turpin and said, "Is he big enough?"
Among the demonstrators in front of the White House last week during the U.S.-Soviet summit were two men with a sign that said, in both English and Russian: THERE'S BASEBALL IN MOSCOW BUT NOT IN WASHINGTON!
CINEMA BERRATÉ: YOGI AT THE MOVIES
Funnier than siskel and Ebert! Funnier looking than Gene Shalit! Coming to a television or radio near you: movie reviewer Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra.
Strange as it may seem, Yogi at the Movies, featuring capsule reviews of the latest flicks by the Hall of Famer, will be nationally syndicated to TV and radio stations starting in April. The plan is for Berra, an Astros coach these days, to critique 50 movies a year. Each 30-second review will be accompanied by a commercial and will end with Yogi's Movie Scoreboard: A flick will be rated a strikeout, a single, a double, a triple or a homer
The idea for this was born 40 years ago. Tom Villante, the former executive director of marketing and broadcasting for major league baseball who is syndicating Yogi at the Movies, was a batboy for the New York Yankees in the late '40s when Berra was a young catcher. He recalled that other Yankees valued Berra's opinions on movies, which he attended nearly every day. Says Villante, "The players always asked Yogi what he'd seen recently, and he would break everybody up with his descriptions. They were more entertaining than the movie. I thought, 'Someday I'm going to do something with this guy.' "
Berra began preparing for his new career while growing up in The Hill section of St. Louis, where he could see three movies for a nickel on Tuesdays and Sundays. He developed a passion for Westerns and a taste for the comedies of the Marx Brothers. Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. He further honed his cinematic sensibilities by appearing in the 1962 movie That Touch of Mink, with Doris Day and Cary Grant. Yogi played—of all things—a ballplayer.
Berra has already taped a pilot review of Fatal Attraction for the benefit of stations and advertisers. He liked the movie very much, giving it a home run, but he confided last week that he didn't think the story of a one-night stand that turned into a nightmare was particularly frightening. "I was only scared at the scary parts," said Yogi.
THEY SAID IT
•Earle Bruce, recently fired as Ohio State football coach, on his prospects of becoming SMU coach: "I don't have a job. They don't have a team. We'd both have to be interested."
•Whitey Herzog, St. Louis Cardinals manager, on the ankle injury that sidelined Jack Clark late in the season and throughout the postseason: "They told me on Wednesday, September 9, that he would play by Friday. I wonder if they meant Good Friday.