"The best seats in the house," writes Robert Smith in his new history of baseball, "were all sold on a season basis to business firms. The Stadium Club was invented to provide mediocre food and drink at first-class prices to season subscribers. And the top brass of the Yankees hid itself in a small luxury apartment behind the stands that looked as if it had been built for the country's President."
If Mr. Smith's descriptions of the New York Yankees and their Stadium seem irreverent, then make the most of it; they are. In fact, some may find Baseball in America (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 278 pages, $10) slightly irreverent throughout, because Smith is a baseball fan who has examined the game from its beginnings, included only believable anecdotes in his work and touched on what various people—good and bad—have meant to baseball throughout the years. Near the end Smith makes a perfectly valid statement, which will cause hackles to rise on the necks of Ford Frick and others of his set: "Of watching big-league baseball, apparently there is no end, even though the game itself is no longer as close to the lives of the people as it was long ago or as it sometimes supposes itself to be."
Smith, without actually saying so, nominates three personalities of recent years as men who have done the most for baseball: Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams and Bill Veeck. His description of Robinson is nearly perfect: "Any time he stood on third base he threatened to come all the way, and he brought back into baseball a thrill that had been almost forgotten—the headlong steal of home." Of Williams: "Ted took criticism no more lightly than any honest artist ever did. And his attitude toward hitting was that of an artist toward his work. He had his full heart in it. It was his very own, his beloved creation, and he was better at it than 98% of those who had ever tried it before." Of Veeck: "He revived, in his own manner, the theory first tested by Chris von der Ahe—that baseball is an entertainment and that baseball business is a part of show business."
Baseball in America is excellently illustrated with photographs and line drawings selected and arranged by Ralph Miller, the director of the Museum of the City of New York. It is probably the best baseball history ever compiled.
YEAR OF THE YEAR
All college bands performing at half time during this college football season can make things easier on themselves by swinging right into the numbers that make up 1961. The formation is readable from both sides of the field and enables the band to avoid making those frustrating and clumsy about-faces. Best do it this year, boys, because you won't get another such easy formation until 6009.
THE SIN OF EXCELLENCE
The superintendents of the eight high schools in the Suburban League—an outskirts-of-Chicago conference that is nationally recognized for academic and athletic excellence—have set a curious example for their students. They have voted to put New Trier High on probation because its swimmers continued to practice after their regular season had ended in order to stay in shape for the National AAU Championships. The boys swam on their own time and went to the Nationals, in New Haven, with their parents. Calling themselves the New Trier Swim Club, they swam so well they whipped all but three of the nation's best college teams, and one of the group, Fred Schmidt, went on to break the world record in the 100-meter butterfly. The superintendents rapped New Trier and proposed these rules:
•Varsity athletes may not use school facilities in sports in which they compete except during the competitive season.
•No coach may supervise recreational periods of the sport he is paid to coach.
•Athletes may not compete in events not sanctioned by the high schools.
This would mean that no Suburban League athlete could compete in AAU, national championship, or even U.S. Olympic Trial competition unless he wanted to risk being declared ineligible to represent his school. A tennis player could not play tennis for the fun of it on his school's courts once the season ended. Swimming coaches—some of whom kept their pools open for recreational swimming up to 15 hours a week after school—would have to let the pools and their teaching talent go to waste. A state track champion could not run on his school track from May until the following winter.
We grant that high school administrators should continue to guard against overemphasis on sports. But not with axes.
There's a snake in the Fort Worth zoo with two heads. His name, of course, is Double Jeopardy. Lawrence Curtis, curator at Fort Worth, says Double Jeopardy has a split personality.
"That's always the big problem with bicapital animals," Curtis explained. "There is constant bickering between the two heads. When one head wants to sleep, the other wants to eat, and vice versa."
If you have two heads and you're a snake, Curtis says, it's better if one head dominates the other. Double Jeopardy's right head dominates the left. He has good vision out of all four eyes (but was still unable to avoid capture by a Wichita Falls fisherman). Curator Curtis says that the snake is able to see all sides—and even more—of a situation.
Tommy Burns, the only Canadian ever to win the world heavyweight boxing championship, died six years ago in Vancouver, and his grave there is unmarked. His record would fill a large tombstone. Now a committee of fight fans, led by former hockey star Frank (Cyclone) Taylor, is raising funds to remedy the neglect.
Burns was born Noah Brusso in Hanover, Ont. in 1881. He changed his name, because in those days the trademark of big fighters was an Irish name. After Jim Jeffries retired as heavyweight champion in 1905, a Kentuckian named Marvin Hart became champion. In 1906 Tommy Burns knocked Hart into oblivion in a 20-round title bout. Then Burns went into the ring against two men in one night, Jim O'Brien and Jim Walker, and scored first-round knockouts against both of them.
Not appreciated on this continent, Burns went round the world belting stiffs in Ireland, France and Australia, hotly pursued by Jack Johnson. Johnson caught up with Burns in Australia, and on December 26, 1908 they had a gory, garrulous fight. Burns reputedly tried to distract Johnson with curses, but in the 14th round Johnson pounded him silent.
Burns went on fighting in Canada until 1920. He opened a pub in London, then quit to run a speakeasy in New York, where one afternoon he felt what he interpreted as Heaven's hand on his shoulder. After he got religion, Tommy Burns preached millions of words, some of them confusing. When he died in 1955 in his 74th year, he was sure he had been saved. In his pockets were found neat white cards reading: "Tom Burns, demonstrator of Universal Love." Four people were at his grave and two of them were gravediggers. Boxing has fallen on bad times, but it ought to be able to afford a marker with a tribute for Tommy Burns's bare grave.
YANKEE, GO HOME
Roger Maris hurried home to Raytown, Mo. right after the World Series and proclaimed, "I want to get away from people." But last week, lured by a guarantee of $16,000, he consented to appear before his public in five home run contests in various North Carolina cities. Along for the ride, at $4,000 each, went Minnesota's Harmon Killebrew and Baltimore's Jim Gentile.
The results were disastrous. The customers just didn't seem interested; average attendance at each event was 948. The promoters took a bath for $20,000 and the cost of some 40 dozen baseballs. And Maris didn't even win the contest. Killebrew outslugged him 55 to 46, and Gentile, despite blistered hands, slammed 39. In Greensboro it took Maris 45 swings to lift a 325-foot homer, prompting a fan to shout, "Hey, Roger, what d'ya do, hit 'em by the hour?" Another suggested that he move over to Latham Park, the local Little League playpen.
Maris played his usual abrasive role throughout the trip. "Every place I go," he said, "I have to sit down with the newspapermen and photographers for an hour and a half. If it weren't for that, I could be sitting back and relaxing somewhere." Judging by the attendance, that would have been perfectly all right with the people of North Carolina.
LESSON IN LIVING
Stanley Matthews, C.B.E., the best outside right soccer has ever seen, 46 years old, an international legend, has gone back to his old local club, Stoke City, where he started 30 years ago. This, after 14 years with England's first-division Blackpool team. It's like hearing that Stan Musial has joined the Seattle Rainiers.
Matthews flies in the face of the DiMaggio-Marciano-Williams tradition that you should quit when you're still good. But is anything lost by playing past your prime? Matthews doesn't think so. "I never think in terms of my reputation," he says. "I don't see why I should retire in a blaze of glory. When I lose my enthusiasm, that'll be the day."
Then Stanley Matthews, the old wizard whose very appearance on a soccer field used to turn defenders' legs to jelly, went on to give a lesson in living. "You see," he said, "I may have a different outlook from a lot of people. I never think of what's gone by in the past. I always think what's going to happen tomorrow. I know what I'm going to do tomorrow—I'm going to enjoy doing it. Even if I only have a walk, I'll get the biggest thrill. I'm going to enjoy it. Sometimes you feel, well.... But I count 10, I think it's going to be a grand day, I'll make it a grand day."
And a grand day it was when Stanley Matthews decided to go on playing.
SAMSON AND THE BULL
Hollywood Strongman Jack Walsh needed publicity to puff up his new series of films for kids (he'll play "The Mighty Mr. Atom"). He pointed out that he had singlehandedly demolished a building, lifted an elephant and held back a revved-up DC-3. That's fine, the press said, but what have you done for us lately?
Well, Walsh announced through his press agent, he would fight a bull barehanded—and to the death—at Tijuana's Plaza Monumental. The drums went boom and the cymbals clanged; sports editors were alerted; the population of Tijuana began choosing sides. Walsh proclaimed that he would dispatch the bull with a Karate blow to the back of the neck, or maybe by a quick elbow, or something. A 1,000-pound fighting bull was made ready. But at the appointed time the ring was only half full: Tijuanans didn't believe Hollywood's Samson was the real McCoy from Gaza. They were right. He didn't show.
THE INSIDE TRACK
•Relations between Kansas City A's Owner Charles O. Finley and members of the staff of the Kansas City Star (circulation 337,482) have become so strained that no A's official will communicate with any Star reporter. The Star is using only brief A.P. dispatches about off-season Athletic doings.
•Departure of star Halfback Paul Hornung for the Army will dim the Green Bay Packers' championship prospects hardly at all. It will remove the pass-run option from the Packers' offense and cost the team its best place kicker. But there will be little loss in over-all power.
•Although bookmakers lost money last year on fixed basketball games, the big books will take basketball action again this year.
THEY SAID IT
•Attorney General Robert Kennedy, speaking at the People-to-People Sports Committee's "Dinner of Champions" in New York: "I am ashamed to report that my father, who is 73, has never been beaten by any of his four sons in golf. We have all become resigned to the fact that he has determined that he won't be beaten."
•John Hadl, star back at the University of Kansas, on why he went to Kansas instead of Oklahoma: "Jack Mitchell [Kansas coach] heard I was thinking about going to Oklahoma. He came over to my house at 9 o'clock at night and was still talking at 2 the next morning. I decided I'd better go to Kansas so I could get some sleep."
•Paul Richards on the new baseball park his Houston team is building: "I don't have to pick players to fit the field; I can arrange the field to fit the players."