TRAGEDY ON THE COURT
Greg Vaughn, 33, was a junior varsity basketball coach at Prospect Heights High in Brooklyn and, before that, the coach at Medgar Evers College, also in Brooklyn. He spent a lot of time going around to inner-city playgrounds, trying to persuade kids to stay in school and off drugs, and basketball was his tool. His friends and associates say he helped many youngsters that way.
On July 30, the 6'6" Vaughn, who was the alltime leading scorer and re-bounder at Queens (N.Y.) College, agreed to referee a game at Baisley Pond Park, in an area of Queens frequented by a drug gang known as the Supreme Team. Word on the street had it that some $50,000 had been bet on the game, and after Vaughn made a controversial offensive-foul call late in the game—ruling "no basket" against the team that was losing by one point—he was attacked by an unidentified player. Queens police believe that he was punched as many as three times, after which he toppled to the ground, hitting his head on the concrete. He never got up; he was in a coma for five days before he died. Police say that Earl Byam, a known drug dealer in the area, is being sought for questioning in connection with Vaughn's death.
Fred Patasaw, a computer programmer who used to play basketball with Vaughn, told New York's Daily News, "In the '60s and '70s, young guys coming up had a choice, drugs or basketball. Now drugs run the game." Indeed, one policeman from Harlem estimated that drug money was funding 85% of the summer leagues in that area of Manhattan.
Robin Vaughn, Greg's widow, told the News that she recently went to Baisley Pond Park. "They're still playing ball over there like nothing ever happened," she said. Vaughn's death didn't get the kind of headlines that announced the deaths of Len Bias and Don Rogers. But the Vaughn tragedy has an even deeper echo, and not just because he was an innocent victim. On the playgrounds of Queens and Brooklyn there is a young man he might have saved.
ON THIS SITE
The stadium due to open in downtown Baltimore in 1992 may come to be known as The House That Ruth Haunts. Raymond Martin, a local history buff, recently discovered that a saloon operated by George Herman Ruth Sr., the Babe's father, from approximately 1907 to 1914, was at 406 W. Conway St., or somewhere in centerfield of the new ballpark. During those years, the Bambino was shuffled back and forth from the rooms above the saloon to St. Mary's Industrial School, so it's not hard to imagine him playing ball on the streets outside his father's bar. After he made his first good money in baseball, the Babe bought his father another place, on what is now the site of the Tic-Toc club, a rather disreputable establishment downtown.
Martin, the seafood manager at a Super Fresh supermarket in Baltimore, suspected the connection after seeing a map of the new stadium, and he confirmed as much by going over some old city directories. He has already alerted the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in Baltimore, the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Orioles. Martin's discovery may, in fact, help those people in Baltimore who are lobbying to have the new stadium named after Babe Ruth. After all, he may have played there once.
HAND IN HAND
During the funeral of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney on Aug. 27, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl came to the moment of the mass at which the celebrant says, "Let us offer each other the sign of peace." Those words prompted NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to tap the shoulder of the man in front of him, Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis. The two longtime adversaries shook hands.
THE QUEEN OF LAKES
Congratulations to Vicki Keith, a 27-year-old swimming instructor from Kingston, Ont., who last week became the first person to swim across all five Great Lakes. In crossing Lake Ontario on Aug. 29 and 30—a journey of 31.6 miles that took her 23 hours and 32 minutes—Keith also set a women's world endurance record for the butterfly stroke (24 miles).
Keith began her odyssey on July 1 by crossing Lake Erie (12.4 miles); she had to abandon her attempt to recross after a total of 21 miles and 20 hours. On July 18 she became the first swimmer to traverse Lake Huron, stroking 48 miles in 47 hours. On July 26 she swam across Lake Michigan, doing 45 miles in 53 hours. And on Aug. 15 she became the first to swim across Lake Superior—20 miles in 17 hours. During her five crossings, she braved water temperatures as low as 54°, bad weather and pollution. All in all, she spent more than 160 hours swimming 166 miles of the Great Lakes. "I feel good," she said upon landing in Toronto after crossing Lake Ontario. "I'm glad it's over, though."
Best of all, Keith's accomplishments raised more than $240,000 for a swimming pool at Variety Village, a training and fitness center for the disabled in Scarborough, Ont.
A group of pirates in San Diego has turned the tables on New Zealander Michael Fay, who used a loophole in the Deed of Gift to force this week's America's Cup races against the San Diego Yacht Club. Chuck Fox and Phil Herr discovered that Fay had neglected to register the name of the Mercury Bay Boating Club to do business in California, so the two San Diego businessmen promptly incorporated under that name and had T-shirts, baseball caps and sun visors printed with a Mercury Bay logo. Their purpose, though, isn't to make money for themselves, but rather to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and to poke a little fun at the often rancorous Cup proceedings. The motto of their club, for instance, is: Mine is bigger than yours...and I can prove it in court. According to the bylaws in the official Vice-Commodore kit, "members are not required to care which rich guy wins the America's Cup," and "members are required, should they ever actually be forced to race, to voice as many excuses for losing as possible beforehand."
Fay apparently has a sense of humor about the poaching because he wore one of the ersatz Mercury Bay Boating Club T-shirts to a pre-Cup meeting with Dennis Conner.
A MOVIE ABOUT THE BLACK SOX THAT UNBAVELS
Like the 1919 white sox, the movie "eight men out" would seem to have all the ingredients of a classic winner. The film, which opened last week, was written and directed by the very talented John Sayles, who also plays sportswriter Ring Lardner. It was obviously a labor of love for Sayles, who 11 years ago wrote the screenplay based on Eliot Asinof's 1963 book of the same name. Sayles assembled a superb cast for Eight Men Out, and he and his crew were able to capture the feel of baseball and the period. But like the Black Sox, the movie is a disappointment.
The fault lies not in the stars. Particularly good are John Cusack as Buck Weaver, D.B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson, David Strathairn as Eddie Cicotte and John Mahoney as the manager, Kid Gleason. Even some of the smaller performances are wonderful; veteran character actor John Anderson, for example, is the very embodiment of Kenesaw Mountain Landis. As the director, Sayles has brought out the best in just about every member of the cast.
But as the screenwriter, Sayles has been too faithful to Asinof's linear and somewhat complicated book. There are too many people and too many plot distractions, and Sayles keeps losing the pulse. After the World Series has been played, the movie moves into the courthouse and goes as flat as the cheap champagne Charles Comiskey (Clifton James, in another gem of a performance) tried to serve his team when the Sox clinched the pennant. And for some reason, the famous "Say it ain't so, Joe" scene is a clinker.
Every time Weaver or Cicotte enters the picture, though, the film comes alive, which suggests that Eight Men Out might have been better had it been told from one point of view, not many. Still, it is worth seeing, if only for the moving final scene with Weaver and Jackson.
The film has received high praise in many quarters. USA Today said it is the best baseball movie ever, and The New York Times called it "a home run." To this fan of both Sayles and baseball, Eight Men Out is a movie with only warning-track power.
THEY SAID IT
•George Raveling, Southern Cal basketball coach, on his 69-year-old counterpart at Oregon State, Ralph Miller: "Ralph was a high school All-American, but there weren't a lot of Americans in those days."
•Bob Costas, NBC sportscaster, on ageless New York Yankees pitcher Tommy John, 45: "This guy is so old that the first time he had athlete's foot, he used Absorbine Sr."