THE CLASS OF '47
Major league baseball has rightly dedicated the 1997 season to
Jackie Robinson, who 50 years ago became the first black major
leaguer of this century. And though the tribute is more
ceremonial than substantial--baseball executives, for example,
were inexcusably absent from Sports in Black and White, a forum
that Ted Koppel hosted on ESPN last Friday--baseball has gone to
unprecedented lengths to honor the most important player in the
Throughout the upcoming season, all minor and major league
players will wear sleeve patches bearing the inscription
BREAKING BARRIERS; video clips on Robinson, produced by Spike
Lee, will run on ballpark jumbo screens; games will be played
with balls featuring a Robinson logo; and on April 15, the
anniversary of the day Robinson first took the field for the
Brooklyn Dodgers, President Clinton will address the Shea
Stadium crowd at a Los Angeles Dodgers-New York Mets game.
Robinson and his legacy deserve all of that acknowledgment. And
the four blacks who followed in Robinson's footsteps in 1947
deserve tribute as well. On Independence Day of that year,
infielder Larry Doby came to the Cleveland Indians from the
Negro National League. The next afternoon he became the first
black to play in the American League, striking out as a pinch
hitter against Chicago White Sox reliever Earl Harrist. Doby
went on to become one of the league's top players, and in '48 he
and Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige led the Indians to
victory in the World Series. The now 72-year-old Doby, who
recalls being shunned by many of his teammates as a rookie, will
be the American League's honorary captain at this year's
All-Star Game in Cleveland.
The rest of the class of '47 made less of an impact. In
mid-July, with hopes of boosting attendance, the last-place St.
Louis Browns signed Henry Thompson and Willard Brown, who had
been teammates on Robinson's old team, the Kansas City
Monarchs. Thompson debuted on July 17, playing second base and
going 0 for 4 in a 16-2 loss to the Philadelphia Athletics.
Three days later, against the Boston Red Sox, he played second
and Brown played rightfield, making them the first black
teammates to appear in a game. Over the next month Thompson,
then 21, hit .256. Brown, who had been an All-Star in the Negro
leagues but, at 36, was past his prime, batted only .179.
Attendance still lagged in St. Louis, and on Aug. 23 Thompson
and Brown were released. Brown never again played in the majors.
Thompson signed with the New York Giants in '49 and was a
fixture at third base until he retired in '56.
Three days after Brown and Thompson were let go, Dan Bankhead
strode from the Dodgers' bullpen and, amid loud applause at
Ebbets Field, became the first black to pitch in a major league
game. Though he yielded six runs in 3 2/3 innings against the
Pittsburgh Pirates, Bankhead did hit a home run. He also plugged
Wally Westlake with a pitch, and while the crowd gasped, fearing
that Bankhead's hitting the batter might set off a racial riot,
Westlake trotted to first. Bankhead pitched four games that
season and then, after two years in the minors, returned to the
Dodgers in 1950 and went 9-5 over the next two seasons.
Black players have continued to suffer discrimination in the
half-century since Robinson's debut, and many have proved
admirable for their stoicism and determination. But there was
only one summer of '47, the summer that changed baseball
forever, and only five black players were there.
HONK IF YOU HATE WILDCATS
Folks in Tempe, home of Arizona State, must be wondering if the
city's new parking signs are part of a well-planned fraternity
prank. The signs' red-and-navy color scheme is identical to
YOUR SHOW OF NO-SHOWS
Pity the tennis fan who has bought an advance ticket to a
tournament this year. At the Australian Open in mid-January,
seven players--Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Richard Krajicek and Monica
Seles among them--pulled out in the week before matches began.
The field at the Italian Indoors in Milan last week also had
seven late dropouts, including Boris Becker, who two weeks
earlier had scratched at the eleventh hour from the European
Community Championships in Antwerp. At every tournament, it
seems, stars whose drawing power helped pump up ticket sales
fail to play a set.
Tournament promoters, who in many cases have paid guarantees of
$200,000 or more to the big-name dropouts, don't complain too
vociferously. Withdrawals often occur after most tickets have
been sold, and without at least the illusion that top players
were going to compete, many advance orders would never be
placed. And while most players cite injuries as the reason for
pulling out, those injuries are often the result of chasing
guarantee after guarantee and playing far too many tournaments.
Butch Buchholz, the director of the upcoming Lipton
Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., has long advocated a rating
system that would tie players' rankings to a dozen tournaments
throughout the year. That would help protect those 12 events
from no-shows and might force players to cut down on
overbooking. "We've got 87 men's and 55 women's tournaments and
another 50 sites that want one," Buchholz says. "Kids fly all
over the world because the money is there. It's hard to blame
them for doing it."
Last week No. 2 seed Jim Courier did make an appearance at the
Advanta Championships in Philadelphia, albeit a fleeting one.
After he was upset 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 in the second round by unseeded
Grant Stafford, he noted that he had already traveled 45,000
burdensome miles in 1997. "This could be a blessing in disguise
to go out early here," Courier said. It was a blessing lost on
those fans in Philly who shelled out as much as $50 for a seat
to one of the later rounds.
"It was a horrible shot," admits Don Spraker. Spraker, a
56-year-old retired businessman from Cincinnati, is referring to
his tee shot last July on the 165-yard par-3 6th at the A.J.
Jolly Golf Course in Campbell County, Ky. Spraker watched in
dismay as his ball vanished, heading for a house near the
course. When Spraker hunted down his ball, he found that it had
broken a window in the house. He left his name, number and a
promise to pay for damages with a girl playing in the yard. Then
he finished his round.
When the homeowner presented Spraker with a bill for $800,
however, Spraker's insurance company said it was not responsible
for the damages, and the matter ended up in small claims court.
This is when the golf gods--in the form of judge Mickey
Foellger--smiled on Spraker. Foellger, a golfer who admitted
that he has "powdered some homes at various courses," ruled that
because the golf course existed before the house was built, the
homeowner knew the risks inherent in the house's location, and
therefore his insurance company, not Spraker's, should pay.
Duffers everywhere will applaud Foellger's Solomonic ruling.
"The Court finds," wrote the judge, "that a golfer has no duty
to hit the ball straight."
LEADING HORSES TO SLAUGHTER
In 1971, spurred by public outrage against wranglers who were
killing wild horses and selling the meat for dog food, Congress
passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which
directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to protect these
"living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West."
The agency soon founded the Adopt-a-Horse program, enabling
members of the public to take possession of wild horses for a
fee (currently $125). Now, a Justice Department inquiry has
reportedly revealed that many of the adopted horses wind up cut
to slabs in slaughterhouses. The Department of the Interior is
also investigating Adopt-a-Horse, and last July seven former BLM
law-enforcement agents wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno
alleging that some employees at the agency have sold horses for
While denying wrongdoing, the BLM last month moved the program's
headquarters from Nevada to Washington, to keep the
administration under close watch. "We take allegations of this
kind very seriously, even when we don't think they have merit,"
says BLM publicist Bob Johns.
The Justice Department inquiry says that instead of stringently
screening adopters, the BLM employs a "don't ask, don't tell"
policy and that thousands of the 8,000 horses adopted each year
are later sold to one of the eight U.S. equine slaughterhouses.
At 60 cents a pound, a 900-pound horse yields a profit of about
$200. "Slaughter does happen," Johns concedes. "We wish it
didn't, but we have no authority over the animal once it is
However, private owners do not receive title until they've kept
the horse for at least a year, during which time the BLM is
responsible for the animal's well-being. Also during this time
the BLM is supposed to ensure that the owner is not planning to
sell the horse for slaughter.
While the government can't prevent these horses from dying--many
succumb prematurely to the rigors of the wild--it should not be
facilitating their slaughter. The BLM should consider increasing
the adoption fee to lessen the profit potential on selling
horses for meat; a raise to, say, $600, along with more
publicity of the program, would likely maintain the adoption
rate. The BLM cares for 35,000 wild horses in 10 states and
putting them up for adoption is a sensible way to mitigate the
cost of tending them and, more important, to stabilize the
population under the agency's watch. But it's clear that the
program has gone astray.
THE PUCKS STOP HERE
At age six, Laurie Belliveau of Manchester, Mass., quit figure
skating and followed her brother, Justin, into hockey. Justin, a
year and a half older than Laurie and clearly a practical sort,
soon had his kid sister in goalie pads. "Justin always wanted
someone to shoot on in the driveway," says Laurie. "We'd be out
there for hours with me in the net and him firing away."
Justin gave up competitive hockey after high school; these days
it's the women of the Eastern College Athletic Conference who
rain pucks on Laurie, a junior at Yale who on Sunday wound up
her third season in goal for the Elis--and who may occasionally
yearn for the relative peace of that driveway. Playing for a
team that has gone 9-64-3 since her arrival in New Haven,
Belliveau has already shattered the Yale record for career
saves. After stopping the puck 63 times in a season-ending 4-0
loss to Harvard on Sunday, she has 3,282 saves, for an amazing
per-game average of 45.6. On Jan. 12 Belliveau stopped 78 of 85
shots in a loss to Dartmouth, matching her career high, which
she set in a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Providence her freshman
season. Belliveau's stats were so impressive that she was named
co-MVP of the Ivy League in her first two seasons, and she's in
the running again.
"It's like I get a rush from it," says Belliveau, a psychology
major, of the onslaught she faces every time she takes the ice.
"It sure keeps me in the game."
Belliveau, who has attended Team USA development camps the past
three summers and played on the U.S. select team in 1995, has a
goal of her own: to make the U.S. team for the 1998 Olympics,
the first at which women's hockey will be a medal sport. In the
meantime she has other commitments. Five days after her last
hockey game Belliveau was to fly to Florida with the Yale
women's lacrosse team to prepare for the upcoming season. The
sun will be nice after months on the ice, but what Belliveau is
most eager for is the change of pace. On the lacrosse field
she's an attacker, not a goalie. "I'm looking forward to giving
some back," she says.
When Jeff Wallentine of Ellsworth, Wis., weighed in with a
six-pound, nine-ounce northern pike at the Forest Lake
ice-fishing competition in St. Paul last month, he was awarded
the contest's grand prize, a pickup truck worth $22,000. Another
Ellsworthian, Art Foster, won a $6,000 boat for the
second-heaviest catch, a five-pound, 10-ounce northern.
But when contest organizers realized that Foster was
Wallentine's stepfather and that the pair had driven together to
the competition before finishing 1-2 among 7,000 anglers, they
smelled something fishy. Wallentine, suspected of bringing in a
ringer fish, was subjected to a polygraph test and, after
failing, was stripped of his prize. Foster, who refused a
polygraph, was also forced to forfeit his booty. But that was
the least of his troubles. He had been convicted three times in
four years for hunting and fishing violations, and when
authorities got wind of the Forest Lake fiasco, Foster was
brought to court and sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating
a term of his probation: no fishing.
Yards of the 850-yard run required of all Cleveland Indians that
nonroster outfielder Kevin Mitchell, who arrived weighing 260
pounds, completed on his first day in camp.
450, 30, 12
Pounds of salmon, slices of pizza and peanut-butter-and-jelly
sandwiches musher Bill Cotter packed for himself and his 16-dog
team to eat during the Iditarod race that began on Sunday in
Dog booties packed by Cotter for the 1,150-mile Iditarod.
Hours between games for senior Jason Osier, who last Saturday
played for Princeton's No. 1-ranked lacrosse team and then for
its Ivy League champion hoops team.
Days in a recent span that Boston's Celtics and Bruins both went
Takes Sigourney Weaver needed to hit a 21-foot,
back-to-the-basket shot for a scene in her new film, Alien
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
The sporting-goods firm Umbro, sponsor of England's Football
Association Trophy, is offering a prize for the player who
"performs the most original goal celebration" during a
Red Sox manager, on whether he would allow Boston's
pull-no-punches press corps to interview him in the mornings,
before the Sox' spring training facility opens: "As long as I've
got my cup on."