A LIGHT SENTENCE
The Texas A & M football team is 0-2 on the season, but last week it scored a victory of sorts when the NCAA, citing 25 recruiting and other violations committed by the Aggies between 1984 and "87, put them on probation for two years and declared them ineligible for bowl competition and, in effect, the Southwest Conference title this year. There were lesser sanctions, too, including a two-year "administrative probation" for coach and athletic director Jackie Sherrill. "Is this devastating?" said Sherrill. "No. It's not like we will crater." Indeed, the prevailing opinion is that A & M got off lightly.
The most damning charges against the Aggies over the past several years have involved former quarterback Kevin Murray, who set several school passing records before forgoing his senior season to turn pro in 1987. In 1985, Dallas news media reported that Rod Dockery, an A & M alumnus, paid Murray $3,550 for work he never did for Dockery's printing company. Murray was also reported to have received the use of a sports car free through Dockery. In the NCAA's report last week, the only allusion to those charges was veiled: "One of those team members who received substantial extra benefits was instrumental to the team's success in recent years."
After the NCAA handed down its ruling, Sherrill said, "I never told you that we were pure. In college football or basketball, it's difficult to sit there and say nothing has ever happened or ever will happen." That's obviously the prevailing attitude in the Southwest Conference, in which six of nine schools have been touched by scandal since 1985. But there are plenty of teams elsewhere—better teams than Texas A & M—that abide by the rules.
HOW QUICKLY HE FORGETS
Jamie Quirk, a Kansas City catcher not noted for his speed, was recently sent into a game to pinch-run for gimpy Bill Buckner. Buckner called it "the most embarrassing moment of my major league career." The Boston Globe reported his remark under this headline: WE CAN THINK OF ANOTHER ONE.
DELAY OF GAME
Troy (Ala.) State, the reigning NCAA Division II football champion, defeated visiting Southeast Missouri State 26-13 on Sept. 3, in a game that required 5½ hours, two fields and a whole lot of improvisation. The game began at 5 p.m., but during the second quarter, two of six banks of lights went out at Memorial Stadium. There was still some daylight left, so the action continued. But with rain falling and Troy State leading 19-13 with 12:41 to go in the fourth quarter, another two banks conked out. Officials from both schools huddled and decided to continue the game at a lighted practice field a third of a mile away.
The practice field presented certain problems. None of the yardlines was numbered, and because there was a steep embankment just beyond the north end zone, it was decided that both teams would attempt to move the ball north to south on offense. After 2½ hours and with some stiffness, the players again took the field. The radio crew broadcasting back to Cape Girardeau, Mo., stayed in the press box and called the distant game with the aid of binoculars. "We could tell first downs by watching the chains move," said Ron Hines, the play-by-play man. "It was fun, but if the lights so much as flicker the rest of the season, I'm jumping from the press box."
The game, which finally ended at 10:25 p.m., was best summed up by Tom Ensey, the Troy State sports information director: "Coaches are always saying that games are won on the practice field. Well, this is one game that really was."
San Francisco Giants broadcaster Ron Fairly may not yet be in the same league as the legendary masters of the malaprop, Ralph Kiner of the Mets and Jerry Coleman of the Padres, but give him time. Here are some Fairly recent comments:
•"Last night I neglected to mention something that bears repeating."
•"The Giants are looking for a trade, but I don't think Atlanta wants to depart with a quality player."
•"The wind at Candlestick tonight is blowing with great propensity."
•"He fakes a bluff."
•"Bruce Sutter has been around a while, and he's pretty old. He's 35 years old. That will give you some idea of how old he is."
THE SANDS OF TIME
According to various accounts, President William Howard Taft needed about two dozen shots to extricate himself from a bunker on the 17th at the Kebo Valley Golf Club in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 1911. (He took a 27 on the hole.) Well, the club recently celebrated its centennial with a tournament, and as part of the festivities, 42-year-old William Howard Taft IV, the deputy secretary of defense, was invited to shoot his way out of the same trap that had cost his great-grandfather so many strokes.
Ben Lambert, the 14-year-old great-grandson of Howard Clark, the president's caddy that day, handed an antique hickory-shafted seven-iron to William Howard IV. This Taft needed only two strokes to escape the bunker. "Somewhere my great-grandfather is smiling," he said.
THE NEXT COMMISH
A. Bartlett Giamatti, the National League president the past two seasons, was unanimously elected by baseball's owners last week to succeed Peter Ueberroth as the game's commissioner beginning April 1, 1989. Giamatti's love and appreciation for baseball are unquestioned. But this season he made two very controversial calls: 1) He suspended Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose for 30 days for bumping umpire Dave Pallone on April 30, and 2) he backed a strict interpretation of the balk rule that has resulted in a 160% increase in balks in the majors.
In retrospect, the Rose suspension was defensible because it delivered the message that an assault on an umpire is a very serious offense, especially when it incites riotous behavior by fans. But the sudden and strict enforcement of the balk rule was a mistake, even if the furor over it has largely died down. Not only were the results of some early-season games decided by untimely balks, but the crackdown also increased tension between players and umpires that may have contributed to the Rose-Pallone incident. In a profile of Giamatti by Roger Angell in The New Yorker, Giamatti compared his former career in academia with his new role. "Both jobs involve historically oriented, retrospective cultures, very slow to change," he is quoted as saying. He should have considered that before pushing balks.
In the press conference following his election, Giamatti said that one of his top priorities would be improved labor relations between players and owners. (The collective-bargaining agreement expires after the 1989 season.) At the same conference, though, he antagonized the players' union by saying he disagreed with the rulings by two arbitrators that the owners had acted in collusion to restrict the movement of free agents. Even though Giamatti was handpicked by the owners, the interests of baseball would best be served if he somehow remained in the middle. Angell's profile described Giamatti kibitzing at a Reds-Mets game with some fans from Brooklyn:
"You're a fan," one of the young men said.
"Thank you, sir," Giamatti said.
We hope he can keep that in mind.
A GOOD SKATE
On Saturday more than 1,000 hockey fans packed an arena outside Victoria, B.C., to watch Wayne Gretzky take his first skate with the Los Angeles Kings. Gretzky was mobbed by the cheering crowd when he entered the arena in which the Kings do their preseason training. "I was a little surprised," he said rather modestly. "I don't think they were here just to watch Wayne Gretzky. There are some other good hockey players on this team."
Sure. Some of them were there to see Wayne McBean.
Despite a 4-8 record, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joe Magrane has an outstanding ERA, and he probably has an outstanding wardrobe as well. So naturally he was flattered recently when he got a call from someone representing Gentlemen's Quarterly, asking him to model his fall clothing for a spread in an upcoming issue. Magrane showed up at Busch Stadium on the day of the shoot with a garment bag full of items, and under a broiling sun he donned such apparel as three-piece suits and sweaters. A photographer who was obviously a professional put Magrane through his paces as a fashion model.
The prime suspect in the hoax is Cardinals outfielder Tom Brunansky. Soon after the shoot, a telegram arrived from New York City, advising Magrane that the spread had been canceled because of his subpar record. The next day Magrane received yet another telegram. This one read: ROSES ARE RED. VIOLETS ARE BLUE. YOU'VE BEEN HAD BY YOUR TEAMMATES. THERE IS NO GQ.
THEY SAID IT
•Juan Agosto, Houston Astro relief pitcher, on returning to Chicago, where he used to pitch for the White Sox: "I never heard my last name here. Every time the announcer would say 'Juan...,' the fans would boo so loud I couldn't hear anything else."