ONCE AGAIN TO NOWHERE
The basketball team picked in Kansas City a couple of weeks ago to represent the U.S. in the Pan American Games may be strong enough to win the Pan Am championship, but it will be hard-pressed to beat Russia in the world tournament that follows in Rio de Janeiro. Why should the finest basketball-playing country in the world be considered lucky if it scrapes through to victory in a tournament it should win with ease? Simple. It doesn't use its best players. Why not? Well, because of the curious and illogical method of selection, three of the four All-Star teams on display at Kansas City were from the armed forces, the AAU and the small colleges, even though everyone knows that the best nonprofessional basketball in the country is played by the 20 or so top big-college teams, who collectively had one All-Star squad at Kansas City.
Further, the collegiate representation was limited because the NCAA kept in force its stringent rules restricting All-Star participation by college players, even though this All-Star tournament was to pick a team to represent the U.S. in a world championship. Finally, no U.S. representative to the world basketball federation has raised his voice during the past four years in favor of a summer tournament, when almost every U.S. player would be free to travel. Some of the outstanding players in the country, Art Heyman of Duke, Jerry Harkness of Loyola, Ron Bonham of Cincinnati and Bill Bradley of Princeton, did not even try out for the squad, and George Wilson of Cincinnati, who made the team, quit later because he did not want to miss a month or so of classes and risk scholastic ineligibility next season.
The U.S. used to put together strong national squads from AAU teams, but AAU basketball has long since been crippled by the growth of professional basketball. To pick a first-class U.S. team now without relying principally on the big colleges is patently ridiculous, but the U.S. Olympic Basketball Committee, which is responsible for our national teams, either is unable or unwilling to accept this obvious fact.
This is all an old story, but it is getting to be a tiresome one. The men in charge mutter, "We're doing the best we can." If the current and continuing mess is the best they can do, it is time to shake up the U.S. Olympic Basketball Committee.
BEAUTY AND THE TAX COLLECTOR
News that New York's Belmont Park, one of the most beautiful race tracks in the U.S., will be closed down this season came as a blow to those who believe that green grass and shade trees are as much a part of racing as $2 windows. According to the New York Racing Association, the stands and roof at Belmont are unsafe, and therefore Belmont's 50 days of racing will be switched to Aqueduct. But Belmont finished its last race meeting in October, and here it is mid-April. Could not the precarious conditions of the stands have been discovered earlier, when steps might have been taken to have Belmont renovated and made safe?
The switch to huge, ugly Aqueduct, which can handle much larger crowds in its treeless wastes than Belmont ever could, will be pleasing at any rate to Governor Nelson Rockefeller and the New York State legislature, because Aqueduct will make more money for the state than Belmont.
Of course, Governor Rockefeller has said in the past that he was opposed to anything that would induce more people to gamble, a remark made in opposition to Mayor Robert F. Wagner's request for legislation authorizing off-track betting. But now the governor needs the more-the-merrier betting at Aqueduct like bread, which may also explain why he authorized an extension in the New York racing season.
We wonder when—and if—Belmont will be rebuilt. State officials may insist on a plant that can pack them in the way Aqueduct does, and never mind the trees. The precedent of a moribund Belmont also bodes ill for summer racing at Saratoga, a charming but losing proposition. New York should remember that horse racing is a sport as well as a revenue-producing arm of state government. The state makes plenty out of racing and should consider it a duty to plow some of it back.
We hope that if Belmont is rebuilt the supermarket school of architecture will not take over as it did at Aqueduct, Roosevelt, Yonkers and too many other tracks. A concrete-and-plastic betting factory can be made by you and me, but only God can make a tree.
Trudy, a 4-year-old South American caiman alligator, belongs to Captain John Edwards, a fellow of London's Zoological Society and a collector of tropical fish and reptiles. Captain Edwards takes Trudy all over England in the back seat of his Renault to show her off at lectures. For a while he had trouble: every time Captain Edwards braked his car, Trudy landed on the back of his neck.
"She weighs about half a hundredweight (56 pounds), and a blow from her tail would almost knock me out," Edwards said recently. "Apart from this, I was always having to look over my shoulder during a journey to make sure she was all right. I was worried about what might happen if we were involved in an accident."
Captain Edwards decided to invest in a safety belt for Trudy, and he presented the problem to a firm of safety-belt manufacturers.
"They were a bit surprised," Captain Edwards said. "No one had ever asked them to produce a safety belt for an alligator. We have a long belt stretching across the back seat with two loops from it, one passing behind Trudy's front legs and the other one in front of her back legs. She bit me when we tried it on the first time, but Trudy has got used to it and likes it now. I wrap a towel around her to stop the belt's chafing, slip a hot water bottle inside, and she is quite happy."
GOOD WOOD ON THE BALL
Several 10-inch oaks and an assortment of smaller trees were found chopped down on the Wake Forest College campus in Winston-Salem, N.C. recently. The groundkeeper was puzzled. He suspected a new student fad. Then one day he spotted Bill Scripture, star outfielder of the college baseball team, strolling along the campus with an ax on his shoulder. When he was questioned, Scripture admitted that he was the chopper. He explained that he found chopping trees at waist level an excellent practice for developing his batting swing and hardening his muscles. He is ambitious to play professional baseball and has trained vigorously at the expense of the campus foliage. His practice paid off, apparently, in skill, for he batted .500 in his first 13 games, of which Wake Forest won 10.
The groundkeeper offered Bill Scripture some conventional wood to chop, but the outfielder demurred. The stroke, he said, is not at all the same with logs on the ground. Now scouts are after Scripture, and if he can find an available stand of timber he may become a major leaguer.
TAKE A BOW
In the past there has been a lot of handshaking in international table tennis. Even the Japanese, whose traditional greeting has been in the form of low bows, started shaking hands at the end of matches. Now the International Table Tennis Congress, meeting in Prague, has proposed that table-tennis players may shake hands only with their opponents and not with the officials. If they want to be courteous to officials, they may nod or bow.
Hungary proposed the change, remarking that too much handshaking was unhygienic—particularly for officials, who, unlike players, could not leave immediately for the showers. Of course, Americans have been shaking hands for years (frequently without showering immediately thereafter), and there has been no noticeable decrease in the table-tennis population. But if the rules say bow or nod, we will bow—or nod.
A fortnight ago National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle denied any plan to impose heavy penalties on players accused of betting or of associating with persons of dubious character (SI, April 8). Since then some new evidence has come in and Rozelle has changed his mind. His relatively stern sanctions, which may be made public this week, are calculated to discourage future indiscretions by players and to remind management of its responsibility for close supervision of its athletes.
HOOVER ON FISHING
Ever since Herbert Hoover was a small boy in Iowa, angling with a willow pole and bait that had been spit upon for luck, he has been a devoted fisherman. One of his predecessors in the White House, Grover Cleveland, was so passionate about the sport that he wrote his Fishing and Shooting Sketches. Now Mr. Hoover has done the same, assembling in a little book, Fishing for Fun and to Wash Your Soul (Random House, $3), an assortment of memorable and invariably gentle observations he has made over the years on the subject he loves best. Like the subject they cover, these thoughts are refreshing. Among them:
"Fishing is the eternal Fountain of Youth.... There is said to be a tablet of 2000 B.C. which says: 'The Gods do not subtract from the allotted span of men's lives the hours spent in fishing.'
"The spiritual uplift of goodwill, cheerfulness and optimism that accompanies every fishing expedition is the peculiar spirit that our people need in these troublous times of suspicion and doubt. They ought all to be sent fishing periodically."
When President of the United States, Herbert Hoover did not have an easy time but, like other troubled men, he was able to find peace in fishing. "Life," he writes, "is not comprised entirely of making a living or of arguing about the future or defaming the past. It is the break of waves in the sun, the contemplation of the eternal flow of the stream, the stretch of forest and mountain in their manifestation of the Maker—it is all these that soothe our troubles, shame our wickedness, and inspire us to esteem our fellow men—especially other fishermen."
While Candy Spots and Never Bend are still overwhelming favorites to win the Kentucky Derby two weeks hence, a potential spoiler is waiting just off stage. His name is No Robbery, Greentree Stable's son of Swaps. No Robbery, like Candy Spots, has never been defeated and he enters this week's Wood Memorial with four impressive victories. The latest was a 10-length win over older horses at Aqueduct in which he turned the mile in 1:34, just two-fifths of a second off the track record held jointly by Bald Eagle, Beau Purple and Carry Back.
Meanwhile, at Keeneland, Never Bend prepped for this week's Forerunner by going six furlongs in 1:12. Candy Spots, already at Churchill Downs, worked out at the same distance in 1:11, causing Clocker Bill Cunningham to remark: "It was the best Derby workout I've ever seen. He did it so easily you couldn't believe your watch."
THEY SAID IT
•Bobby Bragan, Milwaukee manager, on the reliance of baseball people on percentages: "Say you were standing with one foot in the oven and one foot in an ice bucket. According to the percentage people, you should be perfectly comfortable."
•SMU Hurdler Bob Johnson, on why he never got started on a weight-lifting program: "I've been trying to, but I can't get them out of my car."
•Dick (Turk) Farrell, Houston pitcher, who has a reputation for fast living, warning rookie Rusty Staub: "Stay away from me. If the front office sees you hanging around me, I'll get traded for sure."
•Forrest E. Wise, Newport, Ark. baseball fan, after he won a 55-pound barrel of 1,000 kosher dill pickles at the Kansas City Athletics' home opener: "What I should do is find the guy who won the thousand cans of beer and the one who won the thousand hot dogs and not go home for a while."