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Midnight Watches

The 1959 baseball season opened officially last, er.... Well, perhaps it wasn't strictly official, but for those whose principal interest in the national game lies in watching that agile, 67-year-old gray-haired champion, Charles Dillon Stengel, slide into a peroration amid a swirling cloud of verbal Stardust, the new season had begun. Casey, the West Coast banker in New York for a testimonial dinner, was at bat again, and, as usual, once the ball was in the air, it was a little hard to tell which side he was playing on or which way he was running.

"I know what our guys can do and what they can't," Casey told a group of eagerly note-taking sportswriters, "so maybe we wouldn't be lucky if we traded with that fella in Cleveland or that other fella in Washington. Those fellas only want to offer nothing for something, so unless my bosses suddenly decide to make a deal which would be too good to turn down I'll stick with my guys at least for a month or two and maybe by then every one of them will have watches which can tell when midnight comes."

All of which was Mr. Stengel's perfectly simple and straightforward way of telling his Yankee ballplayers that they had better get on the ball come spring. Both Casey and his guys came in for considerable criticism on the part of fans last year despite the miraculous last-ditch victory in Milwaukee. Yankee Stadium, despite the sudden surcease of all National League competition, yawned gap-toothed with empty seats for much of the season and Casey was frank to admit the reason: "We lost our chance to recruit the National League fans because we stunk." Casey's front-office bosses were well aware of the situation and took it out on the Yankee manager. Casey, as always, was quick to jump to the defense of his fellas, but last week he was letting them know in no uncertain terms that it mustn't happen again.

"My trouble," he told the newsmen, "is that I'm too easy, and if certain men are not in at night I am responsible. Who is supposed to be responsible if not the manager, so if you get tired running 90 feet to first base I'll have to fine you.

"And," Mr. Stengel added for the benefit of a few Yankees who have been threatened (though not very seriously) with salary cuts, "if some of them don't like it here a big moving van will move up and one or two of them will get socked in the butt, and let's see how they like it outside of this great city."

So that was that. And how did the scolded fellas take it? "Well," said Mickey Mantle, who, along with Pitcher Whitey Ford, has sometimes been suspected of staying up too late at night, "I don't want to sound like I'm bragging but I think I've done a pretty good job and Casey Stengel is out of line."

Out of line? Well, maybe, but not out of breath, not by a long shot.

Umbilical Fitness

Except in burlesque and the orange industry, navels have gone largely out of style in the West. In the Far East, however, where eyelike umbilici peer inscrutably from countless Buddhas, the navel is held in high regard. "Think with your navel, walk with your navel, look and listen with your navel," warned one of the great proponents of Japanese Zen Buddhism, "and thus become truly enlightened."

Navel thinking is perhaps a rather specialized skill even in Japan, but for less purely enlightened folk there are simpler disciplines involving this waist-high focal point. In 1951 a retired Japanese office worker named Koji Murata developed a simple set of exercises to improve and condition the navel strength of his country's jaded executives. Using such catch phrases as "the heaven-pointed navel receives blessings from above" and "the navel is the blind spot of medical science," Koji preached a doctrine of navel supremacy whose major thesis held that "the brain is the control room of the human body but the navel is its master switch." "You, too," exhorted Koji, "can become healthy, wealthy and wise by exercising your navel."

As Koji sees it, a navel that seems to gaze mournfully downward is the mark of a hopeless failure, while one that peers skyward is the certain sign of success. To encourage this happy abdominal condition, he advocates a daily ritual which begins with a relaxed stance, hands hanging loose and grasping a broomstick or golf-club shaft. A deep breath follows, during which the arms are swung rhythmically to one side while the hips swing to the other. At the end of this movement a tiny gasp of breath is released. Then the movement is repeated on the opposite side and again on the first side until the exerciser has no breath left. (There now, don't you feel better already?)

Practiced rigorously twice a day for 10 minutes, this exercise, says Koji, will raise umbilical sights. The remarkable fact is that as of last week some 160 Japanese business firms had come to see eye to eye, or navel to navel, with him. "Since we took up Koji Murata's exercises," says a top official of Japan's biggest light and power company, "there's been a noticeable drop in nervous tension among our executives. We don't know what medical theory is behind it, but it works."

We can only say: "Let there be light—and power."

Ohio "Kon-Tiki"

Undergraduate behavior has plagued college deans and delighted city editors for generations and is still as rakishly unpredictable as ever. Recently three students at Xavier University in Cincinnati, wishing to spend their between-semester holidays in New Orleans, figured out an improbable way to get there. They had no car and no money, so they decided to drift down to New Orleans on a rubber raft, a distance of 1,378 miles, part of it on the Ohio and the rest on the Mississippi.

The voyagers were James and John Kappas, of Park Hills, Ky., and Mike O'Connell, of Stamford, Conn. Inviting their fellow students to lay dollar-limit bets on just how far they would get (with the best guessers to collect at 5 to 1), they assembled a working fund of $140 and bought a five-man raft. Since all three are linemen on the Xavier football team and weigh 200 pounds or more, a five-man raft was just about right for the three of them. They also bought rubber suits, plenty of food and a radio that never did work. They set out on Sunday Jan. 25, and John Kappas kept a log:

10:30 a.m.—Put boat in water. Due to reporters and photographers talking about deadline, we hurried.... We did not put on rubber suits until after we left dock. We were sorry, because we immediately got pants wet.

3 p.m.—Reached North Bend, Ohio. Getting colder. Waves three to four feet high.

Midnight—Stopped for night near Warsaw, Ky. Ate hot dogs.

Sunday, 1 p.m.—Man and woman came to meet us in a motorboat. They knew all about trip. Wished us luck. ("We were surprised that so many knew about us," said John later, supplementing his log. "But nobody offered us any food—just luck.")

5:30 p.m.—Cooked first meal on raft—ravioli and sauce, hot dogs, corn and tuna fish. Water filled bow of raft. Jim nearly fell out.

8 p.m.—Madison, Ind. Pulled ashore, went to drugstore for milk shakes and sandwiches. Called home.

Monday, 1 to 8 a.m.—Took two-hour watches. Pulled ashore near Louisville at 8, had meat balls, peas, hot dogs for breakfast.

1:30 p.m.—Coast Guard gave us coffee and told us how to get across falls near Louisville. We went over falls without knowing it—river was high from the flood.

9:30 p.m.—Ran into sleet storm. Temperature down to 17. Everything freezing. We put canvas over our heads and lit canned heat. Due to canvas cover we can't see. There is danger of running into a barge.

From this point the situation, which had never been good, got worse. The travelers grew wetter, colder and hungrier. They were almost run down by a barge. ("We forgot to put out a light. But the Coast Guard had warned barges to be on the watch for us.") At 3 a.m. on Wednesday, 238 miles from Cincinnati and 1,140 miles short of New Orleans, the raftsmen came ashore to stay.

They were at Cloverport, Ky., which three skeptical bettors had picked as the likely end of the run, thus winning themselves five bucks apiece. Some students had bet that the raftsmen would actually reach New Orleans; others that they would never leave Cincinnati. Most wagers, however, centered on Cairo, Ill., which the voyage fell short of by a good 200 miles.

Hitchhiking back to Cincinnati, the thawed-out seamen were proud of one achievement: they had got past Louisville. Back in 1933, Peter Kappas, the father of Jim and John, had set out for New Orleans in a canoe and had abandoned his attempt at Louisville. Now Mr. Kappas is threatening to buy another canoe in the spring and beat his sons' record, but Jim and John aren't worried. With the cheerful assurance of the young, they explain why they think their father will never make it: "He's about 46, you know."

Five at One Blow

On Broadway last week audiences were laughing their heads off over the opening performances of Tall Story, the latest Lindsay-Crouse theatrical, involving a basketball player who flunks out on the eve of the big game (SI, Jan. 26). Two thousand miles away, in Pocatello, Idaho, meanwhile, a real-life variant was being enacted and nobody was laughing at all.

Trouble was that, at Idaho State, five (count them, five) basketball players had all flunked the same course; something called Education 77. The catalog describes Education 77 as "A study of the physical, mental, social and emotional factors involved in the development of the child from birth through adolescence in relation to the responsibilities of the school." Sounds tough but isn't: Education 77 is merely a survey of what kids are likely to do at a given age.

Anyway, if Coach John Grayson had lined up his squad under a basket and fired a Civil War cannon into it from center court, he could hardly have done more damage, or wrecked more hopes, than Education 77. Basketball at Idaho State is like football at Notre Dame or wrestling at Oklahoma State: it is important. Everybody in Pocatello expected the Idaho State team to win the championship of the Rocky Mountain Conference this year, as it has done for six years running; and the Bengals were indeed championship-bound with a 15-3 over-all record and six wins, with no losses, in conference play. The academically disabled included the star center, John Bethke, and four lesser players. In addition there was a first-string guard, Bobbie Dye, who is a lone-wolf type: he flunked something other than Education 77.

The instructor whose exam caused most of the damage is not a grimly intellectual enemy of athletes. He is Clinton Chase, a 30-year-old Ph.D. who likes basketball himself and hasn't missed a home game all year. It is interesting to speculate on what went through Dr. Chase's mind at that moment when he had finished grading papers and was the only person in Pocatello who knew the awful news. Whatever his thoughts, he turned in the grades and waited for the storm. It came promptly.

But though the wrath of Pocatello was great, it was not righteous; there were no real grounds for outrage. Education 77 is a course that all education students, even physical-education students, are expected to pass. It hadn't occurred to anyone, not even the players themselves, that they would fail. The exam consisted of 128 questions, some true-or-false, some multiple-choice. "If you had done the assigned reading, you could pass," said one student. "Or if you had listened in class. But you didn't have to do both." And Instructor Chase pointed out a sad, hard fact. "There is no different grading standard for basketball players," he said.

Coach Grayson made the best of it. "We won't roll over and play dead yet," he said. Students and townspeople filled the gym for the first postexam game and watched the remnants of their squad battle Oklahoma City down to the wire before losing 58-51. Then Idaho met little Adams State College of Alamosa, Colo. and won two easy games, 113-59 and 90-37. But over the mountains lay Colorado State, whose Bears have also won six games and lost but one in Rocky Mountain Conference play, and have not sacrificed their top scorer and five other players to midyear exams.

Altogether, the future looked gray. But the students and faculty of Idaho State faced it with chins up, hopes down and academic principles intact. Their best consolation was their new historic status. For all coaches who must necessarily dwell on the side of the academic volcano, Idaho State has become a symbol of devastation equal to Pompeii.

Inside Track

This miler runs indoors, on boards,
Pursuing chaps all winter.
He may pick up a yard or two,
He may pick up a splinter.

Behind the Door

Once there was a man named John Henry Outland from a town in Kansas named Hesper. Unlike a lot of people in Hesper, John Henry went on to make a bigger name for himself playing football at the University of Pennsylvania. He played tackle in 1897, and he played halfback in 1898, and he played with a vengeance. He played with such facility, indeed, that he was twice All-America, once for each position. Years later, having tasted glory in two flavors, John Henry concluded that other football linemen were taken too much for granted. So he established the Outland Trophy for tackles and guards. And he endowed it with dimensions not unlike the players it was intended to honor: it measured nine square feet and weighed almost 100 pounds. It probably never occurred to John Henry that his traveling trophy might get lost. But it did. And sadder still, in an age when even trophies are taken too much for granted, it wasn't missed.

The 1958 winner of the Outland Trophy is Zeke Smith of Auburn. The Football Writers Association, which picked him, wrote the University of Iowa (whose Alex Karras won in 1957) bidding Iowa forward the trophy posthaste to the Alabama Polytechnic Institute at Auburn.

"Trophy? What trophy?" asked Iowa by return mail.

The FWA scratched its collective head and wrote Ohio State (whose Jim Parker won in 1956). "Outland Trophy? Outland Trophy?" mused Wilbur Snypp, Ohio State's athletic-publicity director. Then, with one of those little light bulbs floating over his head, he walked across his office and looked behind the door. "Well, whaddya know?" said Mr. Snypp. "The Outland Trophy."

Wilbur Snypp, who outweighs John Henry's award by 75 pounds, was the first to draw himself up straight (he is taller than the trophy by two and a half feet) and apologize to Iowa and the FWA. "It would have taken a reinforced brick wall to hold it up," he said. "We just didn't have a place for it. We put it behind the door." And the request to forward it to Iowa last year? "Can't seem to recall ever getting it," he said.

Now Auburn is a resourceful institute and has the knowhow to construct a suitable suspension for the trophy. But let them get at it. Wilbur Snypp, with dust cloth in hand, and a fond farewell, has trucked it off to the express office.

Miltown Argument

Everybody knows that it is wrong to hop up a race horse. Is it equally sinful to calm down a show horse? Yes, the American Horse Shows Association decided at its recent New York meeting—but not without some spirited debate. One horse owner was moved to cry out: "Half of us in this room probably are taking tranquilizers—so why deny them to a horse that needs them?"

Another hotly replied: "Horses don't experience the same tensions and anxieties that people do!"

"How do you know?" somebody else shouted. "Some show horses have nervous breakdowns!"

At that point the antitranquilizer forces rallied and passed a motion making it unlawful to "sedate" horses (not riders) on the ground that, otherwise, some naturally fractious beast might fool the judges with his Miltown manners.




"Well, you can't fight City Hall."


They Said It

Fidel Castro, summarizing Cuban promises: "More sports and less vice!"

Richard Cardinal Cushing, addressing himself to the temporal rulers of organized baseball: "Give us another major league. Put baseball in more cities. Play interleague games. Everything is changing. Why not baseball?"

Earl Blaik, reflecting before the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association in New York on the trials of the game: "Golf has humbled, humiliated and just about licked all the great athletes I ever knew that tried it."

Charley Jackson, Chicago Cardinal defensive halfback, remembering the sensation of watching Cleveland Fullback Jim Brown running at him: "It's an awful thing. That hole opens up and Brown comes blowing through. You feel like a man trapped on a trestle by an unscheduled freight."

—News Item