The Missouri Valley Conference committee investigating rumors of fixes in basketball games refereed by John Fraser, which were first reported to the conference by Dr. Harry Corbin of the University of Wichita and the Rev. Paul Reinert, S.J., president of St. Louis University, met for five hours in St. Louis last week. There had been no indications that an inquiry was in progress until the rumors were printed in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in the March 4 issue, although in a news release after the meeting the committee said the investigation began on February 15.
The committee examined the films of one of the games (nine games were involved), interviewed Fraser and announced at the session's end that "it has not found any solid facts to substantiate reports by [SPORTS ILLUSTRATED] that one of its referees was involved in a basketball fix."
The news release reported that Missouri Valley athletic directors, coaches and sportswriters had been asked for "leads and information" and that the same request had gone to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Coaches and officials had expressed confidence in Fraser's integrity, the news release said, but there was "concern" that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was not physically represented at the meeting.
Actually, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was represented by "leads and information" supplied the committee at the request of the Rev. Charles Sanderson, S.J., of St. Louis University, president of the conference. The committee's tentative conclusion would indicate that these leads have not been fully developed or else not properly evaluated. However, the committee says its inquiry will continue, as it certainly should.
BIZMAC AT BAT
Bizmac, an electronic creation of the Radio Corporation of America, labors during the week solving problems in logistics on ordnance supplies at the Army Ordnance Tank-Automotive Command in Detroit. Weekends, apparently, Bizmac and its human directors share a human curiosity about the great American summer preoccupation, baseball. Recently, Bizmac digested some statistics on the batting-average ups and downs of several major league stars and, after two or three seconds' reflection, provided some feed-back forecasts for 1957. This qualifies Bizmac for membership in the Hot Stove League of America and indicates that mechanical computers can be, relatively, human. Bizmac based its guesses on the batting averages of the last five years and, presumably, did not consider Ted Williams' propensity for spitting at fans or Mickey Mantle's sore knee. Remembering, then, that Bizmac is projecting from incomplete data, here are some figures to file away until the season ends:
If we are to accept Bizmac's electronic estimation, age will wither Ted Williams 23 points and stale Mantle 11. On the other hand, Richie Ashburn and Carl Furillo, like old wines, will improve. If Bizmac comes through all right, you can expect a wider range of forecasts next year. If not, let's have the Army start some pencil-work re-checks on those ordnance solutions.
LONG JOURNEY INTO HEIGHT
Villanova University's big, black-haired and exceedingly competent pole vaulter, Don Bragg, experienced a certain understandable regret last week when he made his last appearance at Madison Square Garden. Bragg cleared 15 feet for the 19th time at the Knights of Columbus Games and heard the last of many bursts of wild applause. At the same time he could not avoid a vast sense of relief. In four years of traveling between Villa-nova and New York for winter meets, Bragg has endured logistical complications which would have daunted even a bull fiddle player or the mother of quadruplets, for a pole vaulter cannot hit the road with empty hands.
Bragg's particular pole—a Giltal Vaultmaster—has many things to recommend it. It is made of light alloy steel, is stiff enough, as most poles are not, to support his 195 pounds and can be tastefully wrapped in a blue canvas case—the gift of his father—which bears the legend: "Don 'Tarzan' Bragg—15 feet 9 inches or Bust." It is, however, 16 feet 3 inches long—longer, one might say, than a giraffe's neck.
Every Thursday, if he is to vault at the Garden on Saturday, Bragg must telephone the stationmaster at the Pennsylvania Railroad's Villanova station and say, in effect: "I'm coming. Get ready." On Friday he must carry the pole up 20 steps from the basement of the athletic field house and walk it a quarter mile to the station and get it aboard the Paoli local for Philadelphia. This is a relatively simple operation—by walking to the back of the train he can push it through the door in the end of the last car and lay it in the aisle, although he must watch it henceforth like a hawk to keep other commuters from stepping on it.
At Philadelphia's 30th Street station, however, things get more complicated. Early in his career Bragg tried to angle a pole through the vestibule of a Pullman car in Philadelphia; one end tilted up, came in contact with the pantograph of the electric locomotive and caused an alarming, lightninglike flash. Bragg escaped being fried on the spot, apparently because of the canvas case, but the high voltage current melted one end of the pole like wax. The railroad instantly set up a loading procedure calculated to keep the vaulter intact.
Bragg's appearance, with pole, at Philadelphia now causes a wondrous turmoil. The locomotive of the train he is to ride is uncoupled and moved down the track out of harm's way, and current in the overhead wires is shut off before he is allowed to get his gear aboard; the same rigmarole goes on at Pennsylvania Station in New York before he can get off. After that, he faces the problem of getting the pole 13 long blocks uptown to the Paramount Hotel. During his first three years, by pleading and cajoling, he was usually able to find a cab driver who would glumly consent to let him lean out the window and clutch the pole to the side of the taxi. This year, however, cab drivers will have no part of him. The pole must be carried on to its destination through thousands of goggling pedestrians.
This chore Bragg has finally managed to place upon other shoulders. For four years he has had to endure the hard fact that sprinters, hurdlers, weight men and broad jumpers have no sympathy at all for a man with a pole. But Villanova now has a promising freshman vaulter named Ron Brady, a fellow who not only understands Bragg's problems but appreciates his instruction and example; Bragg has grandly turned the pole carrying over to him. Even so, Bragg worries as he rides uptown in New York. He is certain that Brady will not stop in a bar, or leave the pole in a hock shop, or tie a red flag on the end of it and slip it into a passing truck. But even a fellow vaulter might fall prey to amnesia, or get mugged by scamps in the employ of a scrap-metal combine. With the KC meet ended last week, Bragg still looked a little remote and preoccupied; he had to get back to Villanova one more time.
A SLIGHT FADE
James Newton Demaret, the affable eyesore of the professional golfing brigade, has forsaken the chartreuse, ecru and fuchsia togs with which he has stamped his trademark on the nation's golf courses for nearly two decades—a piece of sartorial news that could be rivaled only by an announcement that the Army was giving up khaki. "Everybody is coming out in wild colors," Jimmy explained to an astonished reporter the other day. "It isn't distinctive any more."
So the 46-year-old Demaret, who started on the pro circuit two years before Ben Hogan and now ranks as its undisputed dean, finished the Baton Rouge Open wearing nothing louder than a charcoal gray sports shirt and brown slacks. What caught the eye of the crowd was not his garments but his score: a tournament-winning 278. And this was no one-day flash-in-the-pan. Jimmy has been playing some of the steadiest golf of the tour—and of his career—ever since the pros hit Palm Springs in January—all due to a discovery by this blithe-spirited gray-beard that tournament golf can be fun.
"I tried something new," Jimmy says. "No, I'm not talking about vitamins. I mean with my game. I've been playing golf for 40 years, and, in an average 18-hole round, I used to hit about 10 solid shots—I mean dead solid on the club. I hadn't played in a tournament since September, so I got to Palm Springs early and started experimenting with my grip. I moved my right hand under and my left hand over. I felt for the first time that I really enjoyed playing golf, because I got such a kick out of hitting the ball-solid.
"I enjoyed the tournaments at Palm Springs, Phoenix and San Antonio more than any I've ever played in."
Demaret squinted into the sun, searching a moment for further reasons for this success. "You play your best golf after you reach 30," he went on. "Golf is played on 150 acres under all conditions and types of life. It takes a long time, for instance, to learn to play in clover, to handle wet lies, to allow for windy conditions, and you seem to learn a new shot every time you go out. Here's Hogan with the greatest game of them all, and even now he practices three or four hours a day. Young players on the tour have to learn. Nobody can tell you how to play out of clover; you have to learn."
Despite Hogan, Demaret thinks the practice tee can sometimes be a handicap to a young player if he fails to use it properly. "You play enough, every day to keep your game sharp," he says of the touring pros. "We have 45 tournaments, and that's enough for anyone. You can wear yourself out physically as well as mentally on the practice tee." In the same vein, Jimmy frowns on the overearnest attitude of younger pros. "The kids today are too serious," he says. "They could learn a lot from Mike Souchak and Al Besselink. Those fellows take the game with a carefree attitude. After a bad round they don't let themselves get down. They know that the next time they'll do better. Souchak hits the ball as solidly as anyone in the game today. But he hasn't yet learned the finesse shots. That boy is going to be great when he does learn them. Give him three or four years on the tour and he'll be tough to beat because he learns so fast."
Demaret skipped the Pensacola Open last week, will play only in the St. Petersburg Open before he begins resting for the Masters. "The Masters is a green giant," three-time winner Demaret says, "I want to be ready for it," Playing in only the tournaments he cares to this winter, he has still managed to be among the leading money winners on the Southern circuit. Not bad for an old man in a drab new getup.
CLUB FOR BATHING
Conceivably the most frustrated golfer of the week was S. D. Cochran, a septuagenarian competing in the annual Trans-Mississippi Seniors Tournament at Las Vegas, Nevada. Cochran, after trundling happily for 15 holes at his normal 14-handicap pace, hit his tee shot into the water on the 150-yard 16th. Then he hit 11 more tee shots into the water, finally got on the edge of the green and three-putted for a 28. He finished the round, threw away his score card with the record 28 on it, lit out for Palm Springs and probably hasn't touched a club since.
The Striped Bass, a large, elusive and hardy game fish which inhabits the salt waters of the ocean, has lived happily in his natural habitat for a long time, disturbed only by larger, hungry fish and by the usually ineffective efforts of man to snag him via surf casting (SI, Aug. 27-Sept. 3). Not long ago a few stripers were swept inland on the crest of a neap tide and found themselves stranded in the freshwater Santee-Cooper reservoir system of South Carolina. Surprisingly, instead of giving up the fishy ghost, the stripers survived and, indeed, produced little stripers. It was not long before they began to crowd the indigenous largemouth bass in the reservoir.
Now the stripers, which learned evasive tactics at sea when confronted by surf casters, may have to learn new tactics to avoid the lures of inland fishermen. Nelson Cox, the game and fish commissioner of the state of Arkansas, borrowed a batch of stripers from South Carolina to stock Lake Ouachita, and the stripers took to this second new environment like fish to water—fresh water. All indications are that striped bass fishing will be a big sport in Arkansas in four or five years.
VIEW FROM THE VOLGA
Pro Football is now engaged in self-examination following the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that, unlike baseball, it is a business. It may interest Bert Bell and the rest of the National Football League to learn that their game (that is to say, business) has recently been the subject of critical examination in the Russian press as well. Here, for the information of Mr. Bell and other Americans, is the way the Soviet magazine Physkultura i Sport interprets the game under a blurry photograph of a Lions-Cardinals pileup.
"On the gaily colored page of an American sports magazine are represented certain unusual objects: metal helmets which are stuffed with soft pillows, hard composite breast plates covered with squeaky leather and unusually large shoulder pads. What could they be? Are they outfits for travelers from outer space or models for the newest orthopedic appliances? No. Neither one nor the other. This is the sportive garb of American football players. And they become invalids sooner because of this.
"In the middle of the field, which reminds one of the shape of a football, are crouching two men, clad in helmets and hard armor of threatening proportion. One of them holds in his hands a ball shaped like an egg. The judge's whistle sounds. The player holding the ball throws it with force between the legs of one of his partners. At the same second, on this very spot, a melee occurs. In the same heap there are, at that moment, nearly half of the players of both teams. Suddenly, from underneath the mountain of bodies there appears a man with the ball in his hands. He jumps up and immediately falls down again, having been caught by the leg by one of his opponents. The football player frees himself with difficulty from this grip and fiercely throws himself forward. But he is hardly allowed to make a few jumps. Someone from the opposing team grabs him by the neck and they both fall down, and over the ball that has slipped out of his hands there rises another mountain of players. The battle flares. Are you waiting for the judge's whistle? In vain. This is all perfectly legal according to the rules of American football. What is more, it is permitted to attack a player without the ball and to seize him by the hands or by the collar of his neck, to beat him on the head and to trip him. All this, plus a rather brisk tempo, makes the game an exceedingly sharp and original sight which attracts a great number of spectators and masochists.
"There are 13 players to each team. Many see in this particular number the reason for so many misfortunes that befall the players during the match. The fact of the most surprising combinations and legal holds often brings a heavy trauma on the players. That, plus the high tempo of the game, allows each player to remain on the field no more than four or five minutes—after that comes the substitution. And by the way, not every player has the luck to remain on the field for even these precious minutes. If he is caught yawning or making the slightest mistake, the unfortunate player is immediately removed from the field. In articles dealing with football one often reads: 'After the judge's last whistle, there remained in the field considerably less than half of the players. The rest could only observe the game from afar, being all on stretchers.' "
No help from Physkultura on some of the NFL's currently pressing problems. But, then, no claim either that the Russians invented Bert's game.
The yachtsman's tender where he sits,
The pain is great, one sees.
All day he bravely held his stern
Against a spanking breeze
"I can't bear to watch them."
CURRENT WEEK & WHAT'S AHEAD
C. Leo DeOrsey, newest member of the Washington Senators directorate, shocked other club owners with the pronouncement: "Baseball is a business—big business." To forestall monopoly charges, DeOrsey suggests 1) a 16-team league with eastern and western divisions, 2) limits on farm club holdings, 3) an option clause for player contracts such as obtains in the entertainment world.
•Post No Bets
Bowing to the Post Office Department, Caliente's Kentucky Derby Future Book this year will accept no bets by mail. But in case you're in Caliente, these are the early odds: Bold Ruler and Barbizon 3 to 1, Gen. Duke 4 to 1, Iron Liege 6 to 1 and Federal Hill and Round Table 8 to 1.
•Relay Milestone in Texas
The Texas Relays next month will break long precedent, accept Negro athletes. Several northern teams which once declined invitations will participate.
•Censored Love Story
Czechoslovakia's press and radio have not been allowed to carry the news that the American hammer thrower, Harold Connolly, has filed a foreigner's application to marry comely Olga Fikotova, Olympic discus champion (SI, March 11). Determined suitor Connolly, whose Czech visa has expired, is now sweating it out in Germany while Olga remains in Prague.