Nobody asked Bernie Baruch's advice about anything on his 89th birthday last week. But the kind of yearning for what the psychiatrists call a "father figure" which has long sent reporters scurrying to Baruch's knees at every world crisis was more than apparent on the sporting scene.
A new and untried departure in big-time baseball sought reassurance in the craggy visage of 77-year-old Branch Rickey, who, many years ago, revolutionized the major leagues by perfecting the modern farm system, and last week took on the presidency of the new Continental League.
Then there were the round, ruddy, benevolent features of old Jim Farley, the venerable Democrat, who, for no better reason than his mellow elder statesmanship, was appointed by Republican Governor Rockefeller to the New York State harness racing commission, legislated into being after the scandals of the reign of Commissioner George Monaghan.
Finally there was the fine time-worn and time-honored face of Jack Dempsey, which, at 64, was being used as a reassuring cover for the far less confidence-inspiring features of some boxing newcomers.
Promoters raid waxworks for front men, ran a headline, but that was a little unkind; the father figures in the news last week were far from wax images. But they were plainly placed in public view to inspire confidence by reputation in an atmosphere fraught with doubt and uncertainty and even a little distrust.
On the face of it, these venerated figures seemed to have taken on monumental tasks, and we heartily wish that they were all young enough to accomplish them. Yet it is impossible to avoid the feeling that they represent not a real hope but a tendency to substitute symbol for the reality of the work to be done. As the Scripps-Howard columnist Joe Williams observed, what the third league needs is the equivalent of Rickey's work 30 years ago, and what boxing needs is the Jack Dempsey of that great fighter's thrilling prime.
BRANCH RICKEY, AT 77, POINTS TO THE FUTURE
JACK DEMPSEY, 64, SAYS ALL'S WELL
PATRIARCHAL JIM FARLEY, AT 71, LENDS DIGNITY TO ALMOST ANY SPORT HE ATTENDS
AGELESS BERNIE BARUCH, WHO IS 89, RADIATES REASSURANCE FROM HIS PARK BENCH