LET'S WAIT AND SEE
The change in baseball's strike zone, an instant trip back to the rule that prevailed 75 years ago and survived until 1950, has been announced officially, but it won't be known whether the change is de facto until the season opens in April. The men who really run baseball, the umpires, must pass on it first. After all, they have ignored for years the rule that second base must actually be tagged on a double play and, with the same insouciance, the one that calls for the first baseman to have his foot on the sack, not just inches from it, on a put-out.
In a Florida exhibition game between Milwaukee and Detroit a few years ago the Tigers pulled off what all considered a game-ending double play for a victory. Bui the second-base umpire yelled "Safe!" and Milwaukee went on to win. After the game the umpire said he and his colleagues had been ordered to end the "loose call" by which it had been accepted practice to call the runner on the front end of a double play out if the man making the play could drag his foot reasonably close to second base.
Came April, and the old "loose call" was back in vogue. Now the new strike rule will be given a try in exhibition games. But we'll believe it's really in effect when, during the regular season, a high pitch sails just under the chin of Mickey Mantle and the man in blue bellows "Strike!"
NO DECISION BOUT
After almost a year's examination of the state of professional boxing, a New York State joint legislative committee, purportedly contemplating abolition of the sport, called in the defense last week. Answering the bell were a soft-spoken minister named Henry Armstrong, a be-spectacled public relations man named Carmen Basilio and a poet named Cassius Clay, among others.
In all, boxing presented a good account of itself—its importance in the fight against juvenile delinquency, its historic value to the socially downtrodden. And, in the end, it seemed clear that, for all the committee's huffing and puffing, even to the point of drawing up a bill that would abolish boxing, no action will be taken at this legislative session. The committee has until March 31 to offer its recommendations and probably will propose that the sport be put on probation for another year.
THE DECOROUS SPORTSMAN
Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette is just out and, in a chapter devoted to decorum in sport, makes the observation that "Sportsmen are notably intolerant about non-conformist behavior." With this as thesis, and ignoring all that used to go on at Ebbets Field, it makes some points, including the fact that nonconformist Miss Vanderbilt prefers to score badminton by ping-pong rules. Among the points:
1) Tennis. "Spectators...have the right to watch the game without being jolted by loud hoots of triumph, yells of despair, swearing, shouted imprecations, racket throwing or other unseemly exhibitionism."
2) Fox hunting. "If you have had no experience with jumpers, do not accept a hunting invitation."
3) Skiing. "Take your lessons seriously, or there is a fine chance that you may break your neck."
4) Skating. "Generously proportioned women would do well to eschew the ballerina-type costume."
5) Swimming. "You do not swim beneath the diving board, for reasons that should be perfectly obvious."
It's a good, sensible and even entertaining presentation of the etiquette of sport, written with a fine understanding that the purpose of sport is fun.
LIKE BRICKS WITHOUT STRAW
It has been a sorry season for the skiing fraternity of our California slopes—little or no snow, you know—and last week the California Ski Operators Association asked Governor Pat Brown to declare the state's ski country a disaster area, like the Polo Grounds when the New York Mets are playing there. Not only lack of snow but recent floods have imperiled a $20 million investment. Most resorts have had at best two or three days of skiing, except in extremely high sections, and some are hanging on by their financial fingernails. The first heavy snow fell two weeks ago and revived hope, but temperatures rose and rain ruined everything below 8,000 feet.
There's a man in Odessa, Texas named Jay Dee Amburgey who says he can raise your bowling average 10 pins just by drilling a ball to suit you. Rancher and oilman, Jay Dee is 55 and didn't take up bowling until he was 48. For the past three years he has been working on his theory, has patented a special drill and has employed University of Colorado engineers as consultants on the law of physics behind it all. In the past two years, he says, he has spent $25,000 on the project, which he regards as a hobby.
"There's no doubt about it at all," he says, "that the way you balance a ball can make you hit the pins about 40% harder."
It will not, however, make you a more accurate shooter.
"You've still got to bowl," Amburgey concedes. "It won't help you if the ball doesn't roll down there and hit the pocket. But I can guarantee to raise anyone's average. It just depends on how good a ball a person might have at the outset."
Amburgey tells how he experimented on 10 bowlers of assorted ability, including one beginner and one who hadn't bowled in six months.
"Last year," he says, "they bowled 17 300-games, either in league or match competition."
Amburgey charges a nominal $50 for the process. It takes about six hours to analyze a person's game, examine his old ball, then drill a new one to get the exact weight at a pinpointed location so that centrifugal force will take the correct course.
On what law of physics is the system based? Jay Dee isn't saying.
WHO DOESN'T CRY AT WEDDINGS?
Bob Rosburg, who was PGA winner in 1959, got married two weeks ago in Palm Springs and, naturally, a lot of golfers were there. Something about the gathering, maybe too many people, was upsetting to Bob's little son by a previous marriage, Bruce, age 10. He burst into tears.
One of the guests took Bruce into an adjoining room, held him on his lap for 15 minutes, spoke soothing words and pretty well straightened everything out. The comforter: former President and still golfer, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
THE INSIDE TRACK
•Mississippi State will not go to the NCAA Mideast playoffs should it win the Southeastern Conference basketball championship. Wade Walker, Mississippi's athletic director, says: "There is an unwritten law here that state universities can't compete against athletic teams that include Negroes. We will continue to abide by that law."
•Batters are viewing with some apprehension and pitchers with jubilation the new starting time for Kansas City Athletic night home games, 7 p.m. on week nights and 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Even with lights, twilight shadows make it extremely difficult to follow a pitch at those hours.
•Adolph Rupp, master of basketball at Kentucky, has scorned the zone defense for 32 years, but intricate new shuffle offenses have been giving his team trouble. Now Rupp has Kentucky's freshman "team using the zone defense. Look for Rupp's varsity to try the zone against some teams next season.
A TAX ON QUALITY
New York's Governor Nelson Rockefeller, struggling to reconcile a campaign promise not to raise taxes with the state's apparent need for more revenue, has come up with a proposal to increase the harness racing season by 26 days, from Feb. 25 to December 7, and to have 10 races a night, instead of nine.
Offhand, one would think that more racing means more sport, and if it did just that we'd be all for it. The governor's proposal, however, would diminish the quality of harness racing. For years horsemen have complained that they lack sufficient time during winter months to teach young horses to trot and pace. It takes longer to accustom a Standard-bred to a gait and a sulky than it does to teach a Thoroughbred to run. Extending the season would further reduce training time. There is, besides, a shortage of horses in New York state and, as one track official observed, it is hard enough now to put together nine good races a night, let alone 10.
There have been reports that the Albany politicians also would like to extend the flat racing season, but apparently the New York Racing Association, unlike those who run the trots, is strong enough to argue with Albany. If an increase in racing days gives more people the opportunity to enjoy racing (as in the establishment of the new tracks, Finger Lakes and Liberty Bell), the governor's idea is good. If horsemen need more races for their stock, as at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, an increase is necessary. But if a state forces tracks to extend seasons solely for revenue and to the detriment of racing, the action is unconscionable.
The millions who get their spectator sport kicks from television, thus avoiding traffic jams, fresh air, the stadium hot dog and like disagreeables, are doing very well in 1963, especially on weekends. In 1958 you could see only two hours of network-distributed sport on a Sunday, and that included an hour and a half of roller derby. In 1963 there are 3½ hours of Sunday sport and on Saturday there are 7½ hours, for a grand total of 11 weekend hours in which a sedentary person may vicariously ski in Europe, race at Monte Carlo, ride in a rodeo, fight a bull or beat Arnold Palmer at golf.
Quality has improved, too. One of the best of the new shows is NBC's series, Sports International, with Bud Palmer as interlocutor. A couple of weeks ago the series showed an informative and engrossing study of the bullfight, its colorful history and traditions. Other shows will be about big-game fishing, mountain climbing, the sports of Japan and Thailand, automobile racing, and will even cover athletic events behind the Iron Curtain, during which a sharp look at troika racing will be taken.
ICING, SOUTHERN STYLE
Some observers feel that the rise of successful Eastern Hockey League franchises in such unlikely locales as Charlotte, Greensboro, Knoxville and Nashville (with Jacksonville and Jackson pending) means that hockey is invading the South. Not so. The South is invading hockey, shaping the game in its own image. Hockey in the North has generally been a Spartan sport, but to southern promoters "icing" means pageantry between periods. In at least one city these gentlemen, reluctant to leave cash customers popping their knuckles during a half hour of intermission, have induced local belles to venture onto the ice. Skate-shod, Confederate-clad and wobbly-legged, the ladies draw cheers on appearance, but the appreciation is most fervent when they bring the Stars and Bars out to center ice. What happens when the Rebel yells have died down? The band plays Dixie.
THEY SAID IT
•Frank Howard, Clemson football coach, urging a change of rules to allow one-year scholarships instead of the present four years: "If a high school kid signs a grant-in-aid now, he is in for four years, whether he can play or not. I've got some of them over in Clemson just about eating me out of house and home."
•Bob Hope, stockholder and director of the Cleveland Indians, on obscure baseball decisions: "Baseball could please the fans by letting them in on decisions by umpires on the field. Why, I've been in stadiums around the country and there have been times when even the writers didn't know what had happened. That's not fair to the guy who pays the freight."
•Ex-champion Joe Louis on another ex-champion, Floyd Patterson: "He'd be better off walking the streets and relaxing than sticking himself in a training camp so far ahead of a fight. All you do in those long camps is get nervous."
•Bob Blackman, Dartmouth's football coach: "Today's player is much stronger than the player of years past. The reason is the program of isometric contraction and weight lifting that nearly every college team has adopted within the last five years."