If he lacks the charisma and grandiloquence of his predecessor, Francis (Fay) Vincent Jr. is nonetheless a sound choice as baseball's eighth commissioner. As deputy commissioner under Bart Giamatti, who died of a heart attack on Sept. 1, Vincent, an attorney and former chief executive officer of Columbia Pictures, helped guide baseball through the Pete Rose case and worked closely with Giamatti to protect the game's traditions. "My agenda is Bart's agenda," said Vincent last week following his unanimous election by team owners at a meeting in Milwaukee.
Vincent faces a variety of stern challenges, including avoiding a players' strike next year (page 92). But he carries sterling credentials. He graduated from Williams College, where he was Phi Beta Kappa, and Yale Law School and served as a lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission. Because of his reputation for integrity, Columbia hired him in 1978 to replace studio head David Begelman, who had been implicated in a check-forging scandal. Vincent cleaned up a management quagmire and kept Columbia highly profitable.
Vincent grew up as a Philadelphia Athletics fan but was always better at football than baseball. He was a lineman and captain of the freshman team at Williams before a freak accident ended his athletic career. When a prankster locked him in his dorm room one day, Vincent climbed out the window to get into another room; he slipped and fell four stories, crushing two vertebrae and partially paralyzing his left leg. He now has to walk with a cane.
Vincent met Giamatti 12 years ago at a party. The two men found that they had much in common: Both were New Englanders, both loved literature, both had attended Yale—and both adored baseball. Vincent, who will serve out Giamatti's term, which runs through March 1994, shares his predecessor's view of the sport. "I don't like the designated hitter," he said last week. "I don't like aluminum bats. I do like grass. I do like baseball as you and I knew it growing up."
Vincent's first act as commissioner was to announce that this year's World Series will be played in Giamatti's memory. "His loss is an irreplaceable one," said Vincent. "I take the job. I do not replace Bart."
THE GRIDIRON CURTAIN
A security guard spotted some unfamiliar men watching a University of Washington football practice at Husky Stadium recently and got suspicious. When one of the men started taking photographs, the guard assumed that the uninvited visitors were spies for a rival school and hustled them out of the stadium.
In fact, the intruders were Soviet journalists, in Seattle to tour the facilities for the 1990 Goodwill Games. They were checking out Husky Stadium because it will be the site of the track and field events. Said one of the bewildered journalists as he was being escorted away, "This is glasnost?"
There's a 3-year-old thoroughbred colt named Blarney Clone. He was sired by Irish Castle out of a mare named Jeanne Splicer.
A LEGEND RETURNS
He has shaved off his mustache, weighs eight pounds more than he did when he won seven gold medals in swimming at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and is 39 years old. But he's still Mark Spitz, and for that reason alone his decision to return to the pool and try for a spot on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team in the 100-meter butterfly—always his strongest event—has to be taken seriously.
Spitz, whose training in recent years has consisted mostly of summertime laps in his 41-foot backyard pool in Los Angeles, told SI last week that he will begin workouts under UCLA coach Ron Ballatore later this month. "I'm not doing it for the money, honest to god," said Spitz, who'll have less time for his real estate development business. "I'm doing it for the challenge." Spitz said his goals are to make the '92 team and to swim faster than he did in Munich, but added, "Look, maybe there's a world record in me. I'd be foolish to say that hasn't crossed my mind."
Spitz said his decision to come back evolved over the last six or seven months. He was intrigued by the fact that many masters swimmers have turned in the best times of their lives while in their 40's. Spitz felt great—he doesn't smoke or drink, and the weight he has added is mostly muscle from weight training—and figured that with modern workout techniques he might be able to improve on the then world-record time of 54.27 seconds he swam in the 100 fly in Munich.
Spitz believes he could have gone a second faster in Munich if he hadn't swum several races before the 100-fly final and if anyone had pushed him. Now he'll focus on one event and have all too much competition. Since 1972, 34 swimmers have surpassed 54.27 in the 100 fly; the current world mark, held by Pablo Morales of the U.S., is 52.84. A 54.27 clocking in the 100-fly finals in Seoul last year would have been good for eighth place.
Although Spitz has to be considered a long shot to make the U.S. team for Barcelona, it's worth noting that just five years ago, shortly before Rowdy Gaines won three gold medals in the Los Angeles Olympics, Spitz raced Gaines in five 50-meter freestyles at the end of one of Gaines's workouts. Spitz won three of the races, and the other two were too close to call. "I know I'm swimming better now than when I beat Rowdy," said Spitz.
For the most part, friends and family have encouraged Spitz, although his father, Arnold, told Spitz's wife, Suzy, "You didn't know Mark when he was swimming. When he's in training, he has to eat on demand, sleep on demand, do everything on demand."
"He does that anyway," replied Suzy.
Spitz isn't worried about diminishing his place in history if he doesn't qualify for Barcelona. "No matter what, they can't take '72 away from me," he said. "What I did then, I did then. What I do now, I do now."
A funny thing happened when Montpelier (Vt.) High held its sign-up day for fall activities. Not one of the school's 380 students—about half of whom are girls—expressed any interest in being a cheerleader. Never before had the Solon football team gone into a season without the support of at least a few waving pom-poms.
"Cheerleading is not so much a way of gaining social status anymore," says principal Peter Clarke. "It's now judged on its own merits." Indeed, more of the girls at Montpelier High are playing sports, a development worth cheering about. Last year the school had 10 fall cheerleaders, but most of them graduated. This year's freshmen prefer playing field hockey.
Lest the Solon football team, which is 0-2 so far, feel unloved, parents and teachers are trying to organize their own cheerleading squad. "The women faculty members are planning something for an upcoming game, but I'm not sure what," says Clarke. "I think they're out seeing what uniforms they can fit into."
WOOD STRIKES BACK
Former New York Yankee scout Dave Cook has invented a new wood bat that is harder to break and therefore might hold off the projected switch to aluminum bats in the major and minor leagues (SI, July 24). Call it the Neapolitan: It has a 23-inch-long handle made of white ash, a seven-inch section of hickory in the middle and three or four inches of soft maple at the top. The three pieces are held together by finger joints and an epoxy-type glue.
Cook, whose family owns a wood and adhesives business near Chicago, says his bat is more durable than other wood ones because he uses such high-quality ash in the handle. This might help offset the main advantage aluminum bats have over wood ones: The metal bats don't break, and thereby save teams a lot of money. Cook's bat won't break that often, either.
Cook's bats also have a larger sweet spot—those seven inches of hard, heavy hickory—than aluminum or traditional wood bats and, thanks to the lightweight maple at the end, are lighter than many aluminum models. Hillerich & Bradsby, the maker of Louisville Sluggers, has been testing Cook's model and is producing a small batch for use by college teams this fall.
As for his bat's sticking power, Cook says, "If the job is done right, the bat will never fall apart. The strongest part of the bat is where it's glued."
HOLD THE MUD, PLEASE
There were several noteworthy developments at the recent World Wrestling Championships in Martigny, Switzerland. The U.S. team turned in its finest performance ever, placing six wrestlers in the finals and finishing second in the team race, just nine points behind the Soviets (79-70). Olympic gold medalist John Smith got his second world title at 136.5 pounds—only two other U.S. wrestlers have won three world or Olympic crowns—and fellow Seoul champion Kenny Monday stunned Arsen Fadzaev of the U.S.S.R. 6-1 to win the 163-pound class. The Soviets had moved Fadzaev, the defending world and Olympic champ at 149.5 pounds and perhaps the best wrestler alive, up a class to try to defeat Monday.
The most curious sight in Martigny was that of women wrestling. For the first time the world championships included a women's competition, with Olympic freestyle rules and nine weight classes, from 97 to 165 pounds. FILA, the sport's governing body, recognized women's wrestling in 1984 and has lately been promoting it heavily.
"It wasn't too bad, I guess," said U.S. men's team director Greg Strobel. "Some of the women had technique. But some of it was like bad junior high school wrestling." Japan won the team title over 12 other countries.
There's no reason women can't develop into decent wrestlers—girls have won U.S. age-group titles against boys—but they face social barriers and a lack of training opportunities. Members of the American women's team, which placed fifth in Martigny, said that most people assume they wrestle in mud and weigh 250 pounds.
"It's so new, no one knows where it's going to go," said spokesman Gary Abbott of USA Wrestling, the sport's U.S. governing body, which is debating whether to develop a serious women's program. "For us, it could be a large membership base. But it could also make a mockery of what the men do."
HE WOULD SOONER NOT
Barry Switzer is learning that politics can be nastier than a herd of Texas fans. After Switzer quit as Oklahoma football coach in June, Virginia Jenner, a Democrat from Tulsa, formed the Draft Senator Switzer Committee to encourage him to run for the U.S. Senate in 1990 against Democratic incumbent David Boren. Jenner, who calls Boren "a wimp" and "a closet Republican," said that Switzer had "horse sense, guts [and] the courage of his convictions, and he treats the rich and poor just the same."
Switzer wasn't so sure he should seek office. He said he wouldn't run for the Senate but might consider a bid for lieutenant governor—and would definitely be interested in an NFL coaching job. Jenner found this equivocating intolerable. Two weeks ago, griping that Switzer had shown "a distinct lack of moxie when it comes to politics" and had been "seduced by some of Senator Boren's buddies to run for an errand-boy job as lieutenant governor," she disbanded her committee.
"Not only is Barry Switzer a jock, he's a dumb jock who wants to become the Oklahoma Democrats' Dan Quayle," said Jenner, adding, "Like Jerry Ford, he must have played one too many downs without his helmet."
Because sea gulls off the Great Salt Lake saved Mormon settlers from a plague of crop-eating crickets in 1848 by devouring the insects, the sea gull is both the state bird of Utah and a revered Mormon symbol. Perhaps it was no coincidence, then, that as Washington State football coach Mike Price was taping his postgame television show in Cougar Stadium in Provo two weeks ago, after his team had defeated Brigham Young 46-41, a gull drifted over him and dropped what Price politely called "a deposit" on his head.
QUITE A ROW
Oxford and Cambridge renewed their 160-year-old rowing rivalry last Saturday 4,000 miles from the Thames. The two crews dueled on the khaki waters of the Chicago River—and had one of their most thrilling battles.
This was one of Oxford and Cambridge's occasional foreign exhibitions. In past years the teams have raced each other in cities from S‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬£o Paulo to Istanbul, but never in the U.S. Chicago appealed to them because its river is, like the Thames, wonderfully sinuous. "This is the ideal place to duplicate our race in London," said Cambridge coach Alan Inns. "This river is eccentric and full of challenges." Oxford rower Guy Blanchard pointed out that the race has been held in far fouler bodies of water, such as Turkey's Golden Horn River. "There were dead dogs floating by," recalled Blanchard. "This water may be stagnant and full of chemicals, but at least there's no rubbish."
With a surprisingly large crowd, estimated at several thousand, watching—and a few landlubbers yelling, "Stroke! Stroke!"—Oxford shot out to an early lead on Saturday. Halfway through the two-mile race, Cambridge pulled even. The boats were so close that the rival oars circled around each other like meshing cogwheels. Sometimes the blades smacked together.
In the final sprint, with the crowd roaring, Oxford edged a few feet ahead of Cambridge to claim victory. "The races in England are never this close," said Inns. Afterward, both crews were engulfed by teenage girls eager for autographs. Crew seemed to have gained some new American fans.
The race didn't count in the official Oxford-Cambridge rivalry, which Cambridge leads 69-65-1. But as Cambridge rower Tim Carson put it, "Would you call that an exhibition? We were going for blood out there."
THEY SAID IT
•Mark Guthrie, Minnesota Twins pitcher, explaining why he enjoys beating American League East-leading Toronto more than lowly Seattle: "It's like getting an A in calculus instead of P.E."