NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN
The passing last week of Augie Donatelli, Rocky Graziano, Charlie (King Kong) Keller, Ed Steitz and Ted Tinling left the sports world vastly diminished. Seldom has such a significant, disparate array of sports figures died in so brief a span.
Steitz, 69, was probably the least well known of the group, yet he revolutionized college basketball. As a guiding force in rule-making, Steitz, the longtime Springfield (Mass.) College athletic director, brought about the introduction to the college game of the three-point shot (1986) and the 45-second clock ('85), the end of the nine-year ban on dunking ('76) and the elimination of jump balls except at the start of games and overtimes ('81). He helped found the Basketball Hall of Fame, to which he was deservedly inducted in 1984.
Donatelli, 76, a big league umpire for 24 years, founded what later became the Major League Umpires Association. He was at least as argumentative as any manager who ever dared to go nose-to-nose with him, and is best remembered as the ump who, in a famous incident in the 1957 World Series, pointed to a spot of shoe polish on the ball to prove to angry New York Yankee players that Nippy Jones of the Milwaukee Braves had indeed been hit on the foot by a pitch.
By contrast, Keller, 73, a power-hitting leftfielder who played on the Yankees alongside Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich in one of baseball's greatest outfields, was a quiet farm boy, happy to eventually leave the game for a lower-profile life as one of the nation's top breeders of harness-racing horses. The compact, muscular Keller detested his nickname, which suited his appearance more than it did his gentle nature.
While Keller was a University of Maryland graduate, his boxing contemporary Graziano was a poor, uneducated street kid from New York's Lower East Side. "I quit school in the sixth grade because of pneumonia," Graziano once said. "Not because I had it, but because I couldn't spell it." Ultimately, his hardscrabble background was part of his huge appeal. Graziano's 1955 autobiography, Somebody Up There Likes Me, was later made into a movie.
Born Thomas Rocco Barbella, Graziano took the name of his sister's boyfriend when he got into boxing. He was an unpolished, unyielding brawler whose three middleweight title fights against Tony Zale were spectacular and brutal. All three ended in knockouts, with Zale winning the 1946 and '48 bouts and Graziano the '47 fight.
After retiring, Graziano became a popular ad spokesman and TV talk-show guest, delighting all with his malapropisms and fractured grammar. As he told fight announcer Don Dunphy, "Gee, Don, if I could talk like you I'd be broke."
Could anyone have differed more from Graziano than Tinling, the English-born tennis historian, couturier and gadabout? Tinling was a player liaison, analyst, flack, professional cynic and incurable romantic all at the same time. "I'm often [tennis's] court jester, someone to tinkle the bells," he once said.
Tinling started refereeing at 13, and five years later, in 1928, he umpired the first match ever played at Roland Garros in Paris. As a player escort at Wimbledon in 1937, Tinling took a call from Adolf Hitler for Gottfried von Cramm just before the German walked out to play Don Budge in the second-most famous match of all time. In 1949, Tinling designed Gorgeous Gussy Moran's frilled lace panties (which got him booted out of Wimbledon and not allowed back for 33 summers), and in 1973 he designed the rhinestone-cowgirl number that Billie Jean King wore against Bobby Riggs in the most famous match ever.
The ailing Tinling had arranged his 80th birthday celebration—now, alas, to be a memorial service—for this year's Wimbledon. Seemingly sensing that he might not be around to see the event, he insisted that there be no birthday cake. "We shall have petit fours only...with the initials TT on each and every one," Tinling instructed. "You can be sure I shall not go out with a whimp-ah!"
This year's LPGA media guide includes a list of the select few women to have won the USGA's annual Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship. The names on the list are Babe Zaharias, Margaret Curtis, Patty Berg, Glenna Collett Vare, JoAnne Carner, Maureen Garrett, Peggy Kirk Bell and Chi Chi Rodriguez.
TOO CLEAN FOR HOLLYWOOD?
Two years ago, after former LSU and NBA star Pete Maravich died at age 40 of a heart seizure during a pickup basketball game, Hollywood's major studios were eager to film his life story. But the LA Production Group, a tiny movie company based in Baton Rouge, already owned the rights and refused to sell. It had been working with Maravich on a film that, at Maravich's request, focused on only one year of his childhood and was full of wholesome messages.
Now The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend is complete and ready for national distribution, but no big studio will touch it, in part because it's too clean. The movie has a G rating, which is almost a kiss of death. Last year, fewer than 2% of new films were rated G, and nearly all of those were animated. "Hollywood just doesn't know what to do with a squeaky-clean movie," says Frank Schroeder, director and executive producer of The Pistol. "They say there's no audience."
While The Pistol may not win any Academy Awards, it's better than many films that have been nationally distributed. It shows Maravich as a scrawny but determined eighth-grader (played by Adam Guier) trying to fulfill his coach-father's dream that he become the best player ever. In showings in five Louisiana cities—friendly ground, of course, for a Maravich movie—The Pistol has drawn well and received a 99% positive response from viewers surveyed. Foreign distribution rights have been sold in more than 30 countries, including Japan, Spain and Greece.
Still, studio executives aren't biting. "We didn't think that the picture was all that commercial," says James Spitz, president of domestic distribution for Columbia Pictures. "With the cost of marketing today, we didn't feel we'd see a return on our investment." Adds Warner Distribution president Barry Rear-don, "It has a very limited appeal. His NBA career would be a lot more interesting."
Schroeder remains undaunted. If the major studios continue to shun The Pistol, he says, he will try to get an independent financial group to distribute the movie.
HOLD THE SHAKES
While the hottest issue in thoroughbred racing these days is whether or not the diuretic Lasix ought to be banned—the answer is yes, because it's been shown to give horses who use it a competitive advantage—both Illinois and Ohio harness-racing authorities have forbidden a more obscure performance-enhancing practice known as milk shaking. Milk shaking consists of force-feeding a horse a mixture made primarily of water, baking soda and confectioners' sugar about three hours before a race. This "milk shake" is said to give the horse a boost of energy and neutralize the lactic acid that builds up in its muscles while racing. Some trainers believe that milk shaking can help certain horses run three or four seconds faster over the course of a mile.
Even if milk shaking isn't medically harmful, it's a cruel practice that should be banned by all states. As Stan Berg-stein, executive vice-president of Harness Tracks of America, says, "It smacks of inhumanity to try to stuff a tube down a horse's throat on race day."
Last week Los Angeles Laker guard Magic Johnson won his third NBA Most Valuable Player award, edging out the Philadelphia 76ers' Charles Barkley and the Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan in balloting by members of the basketball media. To most of us, any of the three top vote-getters would have been an acceptable choice, but in the view of Bob Bellotti, a statistical consultant to three NBA teams, Jordan was the only pick. "It's not even close," he says.
Bellotti's reasoning is purely mathematical. Several years ago he invented a statistic called "points created," which takes into account a player's points scored, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, turnovers, personal fouls and missed shots. Jordan had better stats than Johnson in five of those eight categories this season, so it's not surprising that he also led Magic in "points created per minute," .871 to .819. (The Utah Jazz's Karl Malone was third with .806, while Barkley was seventh at .775.)
Bellotti's formula incorporates the fact that NBA teams score an average of 93.6 points for every 100 times they take possession of the ball. A turnover is therefore worth-.936 points and a steal + .936. In calculating this season's points-created-per-minute figures, Bellotti found that 11 players—the most in any NBA season in history—had surpassed the .700 mark. His conclusion: "More NBA players than ever before are playing extraordinary basketball."
THE WILDEST OF RACES
Sailing around the world used to be an impressive enough feat in its own right. But in 1968, the London Sunday Times created a race offering prize money to the yacht that completed the journey fastest. Thus was born what is now called the Whitbread Round the World Race, named for its sponsor, an English brewery, and known for its wild goings-on. The fifth Whitbread ended last week in Southampton, England.
The winner, Steinlager 2, an 84-foot ketch from New Zealand, completed the grueling six-leg, 32,900-mile regatta in just over 128 days—more than a day ahead of runner-up Fisher & Paykel, also of New Zealand. But in sailing from England to Uruguay to Australia to New Zealand to Uruguay to the U.S. (Fort Lauderdale) and finally back to England, few of the 23 boats in the field came through unscathed.
The calamities began just two hours after the race started last Sept. 2, when three boats ran aground near Southampton. Three weeks later, a gale-force storm brought down a mast on Fisher & Paykel and ripped open the deck on a British entrant, Rothmans. In October, tragedy struck. Alexei Grishenko, skipper of the lone Soviet yacht, Fazisi, hanged himself from a tree in Punta del Este, Uruguay; he was said to have been under strain from the rigors of putting together the Soviets' first Whitbread program. Another fatality occurred a month later when Tony Phillips, a crewman on the British boat Creightons Naturally, was washed overboard. At other times in the race, boats narrowly dodged icebergs, were batted about by whales and were spun around by waterspouts.
The next Whitbread is scheduled for 1993-94. This year's survivors may need until then to recuperate.
HONUS OR BOGUS
Before you start digging up your yard in search of one of those rare and valuable Honus Wagner tobacco cards that keep turning up in rusty tin cans, consider that most of the Wagner cards being found are worthless reprints clipped out of collectors' guides. "There are probably 40 genuine Wagners out there and 20,000 reproductions," says Larry Fritsch, a baseball-card authority from Stevens Point, Wis.
Wagner cards, as most baseball fans know, are the sports memorabilia collector's equivalent of Monets and Van Goghs. Only a precious few dozen exist—tobacco companies had printed only a small number of the cards as promotional giveaways back around 1910 before Wagner, a Hall of Fame shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates and a staunch opponent of smoking, forced them to stop—and a Wagner card in top condition can fetch $100,000 or more. Tales of Wagner finds keep popping up:
•In May 1989, a 14-year-old boy in West Pittsburg, Calif., acquired from his grandfather a card initially thought to be a genuine Wagner. The boy's parents (who asked that their names and their son's not be made public) told reporters that the card would fund their son's college education. A few weeks later, however, when their son was posing for a photo with the card, the photographer—actually a scam artist, police say—snatched the card and ran off. The thief was never caught, but experts eventually determined that the card had been only a reprint.
•In April, a 12-year-old boy named Lanny from Stockton Springs, Maine, was raking his yard when he came upon a rusty tobacco can wedged in the foundation of a burned-down barn. Inside was a damaged old card that, according to two experts who have seen it, is a real Wagner. Because the card is in poor shape, it's probably worth "only" $15,000 to $40,000; Lanny says he will sell it and share the money with his parents and two brothers.
•Last week in Pittsfield, Maine, just 30 miles from Stockton Springs, Arlo Quint, 12, was digging for worms in his yard with two friends when they unearthed a tooth-powder can containing four old cards, one of which appeared to be an almost mint-quality Wagner card. A collector called Quint and said she would pay $300,000 for the four cards (the other three, of Eddie Plank, Roger Bresnahan and Johnny Evers, are also rare) if they were genuine, but all four are apparently reprints.
Fritsch says that if a Wagner card doesn't have SWEET CAPORAL and SERIES 150 printed on the back, it's probably a reprint. But if you dig one up in your backyard, you ought to show it to a few experts just to make sure.
THEY SAID IT
•Chuck Daly, Detroit Piston coach and noted clotheshorse, after seeing a $1,300 virgin wool suit in a New York City store: "I'd rather have something for around $300 from a sheep that fooled around a little."
•Pat Williams, general manager of the Orlando Magic, describing his job: "It's like a nervous breakdown with a weekly paycheck."