New five-year plan?
Just now, as all the world knows, Russian athletes are being drilled and polished to win the 1956 Olympics. After that? A member of the Soviet delegation to the U.N. lifted the curtain just a bit in a moment of relaxed conversation last week: "We are now beginning to train some of our best athletes to play American baseball."
Wired for sound
During 25 years of coaching football at Columbia University, Lou Little, a large, amiable and wonderfully preserved specimen of 61, has endured endless travail, both mental and physical. He has literally broken his neck and lost his voice. He had to wear a steel brace for three months and sleep with his head propped between two sandbags to get it swiveling properly again after a scrimmage collision with a couple of beefy players. One of his vocal cords had to be removed after he tore it into ribbons while roaring at another group of his muscular charges. Though he has been in the Rose Bowl (1934), upset the Army in 1947, and enjoyed many another gridiron triumph, he has never gone through a Columbia season without losing a game, and he is a man who can sorrow over defeat 15 years after enduring it.
He has, however, remained outwardly unperturbed; for 25 years on nights before home games, he has lounged about his five-room apartment on New York's upper West Side as calmly as if he faced nothing more stirring than a bout of ping-pong on the morrow. Last week, on the night before his underdog Lions played Cornell, he spent a quiet evening at home in full view of U.S. televiewers as a "guest" on Edward R. Murrow's program, Person to Person. But in the process he was sucked up and spit out, as it were, by the electronic age and there were times when he seemed genuinely shaken.
The evening, taken all in all, was undoubtedly the longest Little has ever experienced. Electronically speaking, it began six whole weeks ago, when a crew of CBS technicians arrived at his apartment, photographed its interior, mentally catalogued its furnishings, stared gloomily at its cream-colored walls. It went on, by way of interviews, through the intervening weeks, and began reaching a series of climaxes on the afternoon before the game.
A big CBS truck pulled up in the street before the apartment building shortly after lunchtime, and within minutes a crew of harassed and husky workmen were struggling into the coach's abode with clanking burdens of complex-looking electrical gear. As the afternoon wore on, a black cable, as thick as a boa constrictor, was hauled six stories up the side of the building into one of the Littles' windows. Another was hauled six stories farther up the side of the building to the roof, where a parabolic metal "dish" as big as an elephant's ear was waiting to beam Little's face by ultrahigh frequency across town to receiving devices on the top of the Empire State Building.
Three television cameras, complete with tripods and dollies, appeared in the apartment; so did eight huge lights known as "buckets," eight spotlights, twelve "clip-on" lights, and six devices known as "polecats" on which to clip them. Furniture was moved and piled in the dining room amid boxes of equipment. Cables appeared like coiled snakes across the floors. A dozen men tinkered and muttered in the corners; among them was a specialist who painfully placed matchsticks behind scores of framed photographs on the walls of Little's den, delicately tilting each to prevent its glass from reflecting light into a camera.
Amid this confusion, the coach's pleasant, gray-haired wife, Loretta, wandered anxiously with a bird cage in one hand. "Cupie," she called, "come Cupie!" But Cupie, a blue-breasted parakeet, obviously thought the world was coming to an end; it perched atop a high mirror, listening in astonishment to a loud-speaker which was trilling and chirping just like another bird across the room. It took a long time to get Cupie caged again.
By the time Little got home at six (after a two-hour lunch with Murrow and a last-minute session with his football team), his home looked not unlike the control room of a spaceship. A man in a topcoat hurried in, grabbed a voice pickup device from one camera and cried into it: "Let's wait until we get lights, Ed," and hurried out, calling, "I'm going up to the roof!"
A young man carrying a stuffed lion, which wore a whistle about its neck, glasses on its nose, and a Columbia baseball cap, arrived, beaming. The program's editorial assistant handed Little a peach-colored script containing the 15 questions Murrow was to ask him, and carefully pointed out those which were cues for movement about the apartment. A technical man approached with a microphone, a packet of batteries and a small radio-sending device, and wired Little for sound. "What's this wire?" said Little, who had broken into a light sweat. "Do I tie it to something?"
"Just shove it down your pants leg," said his electronic guide. "That's the aerial. Put the packages in your hip pockets. Now you're a walking radio station. Of course we'll have three fish-pole men to pick you up if you go dead."
"I see," said Little, heavily.
At 7:45 the lights went on, bathing the living room in a white glare. "Poor Cupie," said Mrs. Little, "he's out of it all."
"Yeah," said her husband, with restraint, and stared fixedly at the script.
Said the technical director: "Now for Mrs. Little—I want two in position to really wing her!" Then silence fell and, with the aid of the editorial man, the Littles began going through their parts. A half hour later they did so again, but this time a disembodied voice—that of a technician monitoring the cameras from the truck down on the street—began baying directions from the loud-speaker in the corner of the room. "Move his chair," it grated. "That lamp is sitting right on his head!"
Little looked guilty, but persevered. At 9:45 he seated himself for the fifth time beside the stuffed lion and began his answers again. This time, the voice of Murrow himself (who was seated in his studio) issued from the loud-speaker and joined the rehearsal. Afterward, the technical man knelt beside Little's chair and said, earnestly, "Coach, camera number one is Ed. Just look at the camera—this camera, not that camera—and you're looking at Ed." The coach moistened his lips and nodded.
Then—after a half-hour wait—the program really began. All the cameras, lights, cables and gear were out of the apartment by one in the morning. Score of the next day's game? Well—Cornell, 26; Columbia, 0.
Philadelphia Soap Opera
At the end of a six-hour American League meeting last week, Earl J. Hilligan, assistant to the league president, stepped out from behind closed doors. "I have a statement," he said. Voluntarily, Hilligan placed his back against the wall of a sixth-floor hall in New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Reporters gathered into a four-deep semicircle about him. Hilligan looked up, then began to read.
"The Philadelphia syndicate," he started, "failed to receive a vote of approval from the American League. The meeting has been adjourned to permit the Macks to return to Philadelphia to work out their own problems."
There was a quiet; the same quiet that comes when a joke has fallen flat.
"What does this mean?" a reporter asked.
"It means what it says," Hilligan explained.
"What are the Macks' problems?"
"I can't comment further," Hilligan continued.
"Are the Macks going to line up a new buyer and bring him before the league for approval?"
"Possibly," Hilligan said, "but remember: those are your words, not mine."
The American League thus extended for yet another installment The Philadelphia Soap Opera. As you remember, we last left the Philadelphia Athletics in straits. They were broke, unloved and in Philadelphia. Arnold Johnson, tall wealthy Chicagoan, had appeared on the scene to rescue them and provide a new home in Kansas City. But a syndicate of eight Philadelphia businessmen stepped between Johnson and the Athletics to keep them in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the American League was suffering from amnesia or something, brought on no doubt by an attempt to forget the 1954 season. Connie Mack, 91-year-old patriarch of the Athletics, was weary. Earle and Roy, his sons, were feuding.
And now, wipe those suds out of your eyes and we'll get back to our story. In the American League last season, the Athletics finished in last place, 60 games behind the Cleveland Indians, who, in the World Series, finished in last place, four games behind the New York Giants. The Pittsburgh Pirates, long a standard of ineptitude, finished last in the National League, only 44 games behind the Giants. To find an American League team as far back as the Pirates, you have only to glance at fourth place—where Boston's Red Sox rested unmenacingly, 42 games behind the Indians. After the Red Sox came Detroit, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, dragging drearily. Bluntly, the Athletics of 1954 somehow managed to be terribly terrible in the horribly weak American League, which only half deserved to be called a major league.
Only the Indians, the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox consistently played big-league baseball last summer. No wonder disenchantment struck fans in Baltimore, boredom entered the Washington scene, and absenteeism was rife in Philadelphia. The A's went heavily into debt when they attracted just over 300,000 customers, but their fans cannot be blamed. The fans did not weary of major-league baseball. They wearied of the dreary games played by the A's against rivals almost as dreary.
When Earle and Roy Mack get out of each other's way and the American League holds enough more six-hour meetings, the A's probably will be sold, probably leave town, and The Philadelphia Soap Opera will end. But that does not mean that major-league baseball will be saved.
The feeble American League can be just as feeble with the A's in Kansas City or Wounded Knee.
When Leo (The Lip) Durocher wrenched himself, id and all, into the new, lovable Leo Durocher, the only manager in the National League with a pensive smile, most observers were so stunned that they were unable to assess the qualities of sweetness thus unveiled. A good many, in fact, were wary and did not really accept the evidence until Leo was caught in a Third Avenue antique shop one afternoon late in the summer and blandly admitted that he had taken to collecting old saltcellars. Last week, however, as Leo coursed the banquet circuit on the West Coast, with his shoes polished and his face shining, it was finally possible to weigh his new personality with detachment.
Leo, it must be understood, is not only jolly and modest, but accommodating. In response to questions, he indicated that he would be delighted if the Giants moved to Los Angeles some day; in San Francisco, where he spoke at a Big Ten Club luncheon, he indicated that he would be equally delighted if the Giants moved to the Golden Gate. He definitely announced that he is not a genius—"With Willie Mays and 27 other of the finest men in baseball, who has to be a genius?" But even as he praised Mays, it was evident that a certain Lardneresque directness is still his, "Oh, maybe if Willie ever writes a letter," said Leo, "it would take you three days to read it. But in that outfield—all I do is pray those other guys will hit it in the air."
In discussing his own shortcomings, Leo took up the subject of Outfielder James (Dusty) Rhodes, the hero of the World Series. "This spring," he said, "I told the boss, 'Get rid of Rhodes. He can't do nothin'. He can't run. He can't field. But wait a minute. I know one thing he can do. He can drink more whiskey than anyone I've ever known.' One time in Tokyo, Laraine and I were at the Imperial Hotel at 9:30 in the morning and we bump into Dusty. His eyes were like slits. But that afternoon in front of 65,000 people he hits three home runs. I wouldn't have bet he could pick up a bat. So you know what? I'm going to start buying that guy's drinks. I'm going to put a rope around him and lead him to the bar."
Caught up by this vision, Leo took a deep breath and confided: "Ya know something? I like the dirty players. You take those guys nobody else likes, the other players won't talk to. I like that kind. You give them to me. I like the players who'll tag ya, and then step on ya."
What could be more lovable than that?
The astounding Willie Shoemaker, a jockey who seems to be able to steer horses to victory as deftly and surely as if they had wheels and Offenhauser engines, won his 2,000th race the other day at California's Tanforan track—a development which was received with mixed emotions by racing fans, by his fellow jockeys, by Tanforan's management, by owners of horses running there and, doubtless, for that matter, by a good many of the horses themselves. Willie is not only good, he is confusingly good, and Tanforan has had a horrible time trying to adjust itself to him this year.
Not that Tanforan didn't do the right thing by Willie—four obliging jockeys hoisted him to their shoulders in the winner's circle, a track official presented him with a large silver trophy, and the $2 bettors, hiving in the stands, raised their voices in a salute which was less than 10% jeers. They could have done no less: Willie is only 23 years old, and he has racked up his amazing total of more than 2,000 victories in five and a half years, a fact which makes it even more impressive in a way than Johnny Longden's 4,461 wins, Eddie Arcaro's 3,414 and Teddy Atkinson's 3,049.
On top of that, Shoemaker is a local boy (he was born in Texas but grew up on a farm in El Monte, Calif.) and one who made good despite a handicap. Jockeys must be small, but not too small—Willie stands but 4 feet 11 inches, and weighs but 98 pounds and few riders as tiny as that have the strength to become really great on the track. In Willie's case it has made no difference at all. He has big arms and shoulders; more important, he seems to have been born with a mysterious gift for getting horses home first. In his first nine months as a lowly apprentice he rode 219 winners. Last year he set an all-time record for victories: 485.
By the time Tanforan's meeting began Willie was just about the hottest thing on the U.S. turf (as of last week he had won with 30.1% of everything he had ridden, had placed in the money 684 times in 1,165 starts). Willie is well liked around the tracks—he is a silent, rather dour little man, but though he makes almost $200,000 a year he lives simply, rides cleanly and stirs his colleagues to admiration rather than envy. Nevertheless he has affected Tanforan like a plague; after only a few days of watching him slash through nonexistent openings in his drives for the wire, owners and trainers began refusing to enter races in which he was riding.
Fields became so alarmingly small that Tanforan's stewards placed a blackout on all information as to Shoemaker's prospective mounts; to do so they threatened all jockey's agents with fine, suspension or revocation of their licenses for identifying horses their clients are to ride. This seal of secrecy solved Tanforan's problem at least partially but Shoemaker has gone on winning anyhow (98 victories in 280 starts for the meeting) and has thus driven the odds down so consistently that bettors can only lament: "You can't win betting on or against him."
Willie, a man of remarkable sangfroid, has acted throughout as though the whole astounding process—undoubtedly the most baffling one-man domination of an entire race meeting in history—was completely commonplace. In this, he is running true to form. Willie was trapped by a radio announcer just after winning $144,000 on Great Circle in the 1951 Santa Anita Maturity. "This must be a great day for you, Willie," cried the interviewer. "What are you going to do after you leave the track?"
"Eat," said Willie.
Warren Wilbur Shaw
Death seemed to have no interest at all in claiming Warren Wilbur Shaw, the racing driver with the Clark Gable mustache and the devil-may-care smile. As a boy from Shelbyville, Indiana, Shaw crawled through the fence at the Indianapolis Speedway on Memorial Day, 1918, to see the racing cars go round and round, and from that day on, as he put it later, speed was his first freedom. At 19 he built himself a racing car—"a bag of bolts that just disintegrated" when he drove his first race. He was undiscouraged. He fractured his skull at Paris, Ill. in 1923, went over the wall at Indianapolis in 1931 (came out with a few bruises), smashed the wall again in his last big race in 1941. Between accidents he made himself one of the great racing drivers of all time; he won the Indianapolis "500" three times, in 1937, 1939 and 1940. In 1945 he settled down as manager of the Speedway. Death brushed him in ironical fashion once more—he suffered a heart attack while judging a small boys' Soap Box Derby at Akron, Ohio. He was 51 when this year's 500 was run, and seemed hale and hearty. But last week a small plane in which he was flying home from Detroit with two friends—Pilot Ray Grimes and Ernest R. Roose, an Indianapolis artist—crashed on farmland at Decatur, Ind. Death claimed all three.
"The trouble with you guys is you left your brains in the classroom."