OUR OWN PETARD
The shock of seeing the U.S. baseball team lose twice to Cuba in the Pan American Games, and the first time by 13-1, led to quick suspicion that the Cuban team was made up of professionals. If so, it need not have been. The fact is that the U.S. never has won in baseball at the Games. Our best amateurs don't make the trip.
John H. Kobs, who twice coached the team, recalls that he had difficulty getting good players even when the 1959 Games were not only in relatively nearby Chicago but in September, a more convenient time of year for college players, who at this season are playing for their own school teams. Few college students can take the time off from their studies in the spring, and others, particularly those who want to show off for professional scouts, prefer to play where the scouts can see them. Players finally chosen were mostly servicemen and graduate students, who were forced to play at the beginning of the U.S. season against Caribbean and Latin American teams that had been practicing together for months.
The selection committee—composed of college and armed service representatives—did everything it could, down to scouting high school prospects, but there seems to be no easy solution to its problems. It's a little embarrassing. After all, we invented the game, didn't we?
PECK'S BAD LUCK
It is not difficult to imagine the bitter disappointment of Gregory Peck, who a mere three months ago bought a stouthearted gray steeplechaser, Owens Sedge, for ¬£7,000 ($20,000). Owens Sedge promptly won Ireland's Leopardstown Chase and was a finisher in the Grand National. Last week the gelding killed himself trying to win the Whitbread Gold Cup, his third race for Peck. He almost made victory.
The Grand National (SI, April 8) was won by Ayala, an outsider and chance mount for Pat Buckley, 19-year-old jockey. The Gold Cup was won, as if fate were playing a very special trick, by Hood Winked, with none other than Pat Buckley up. Owens Sedge was heavily backed, and his supporters' hopes soared as, on the far side for the second circuit of the course, he seemed with each jump a little nearer to victory. Four fences from home he had moved up within a length of Hood Winked.
Then Owens Sedge hit the fourth fence hard and stopped on the other side so suddenly that his rider, Pat Taaffe, thought he had broken a hind leg and pulled him up immediately. Seconds later the gray horse sank to the ground and died. His Irish trainer, Tom Dreaper, said sadly that death resulted from a hemorrhage caused, almost certainly, by overjumping.
Another American owner, Captain Harry F. Guggenheim, has his strongly backed Iron Peg in the Epsom Derby on May 29. We wish him better luck.
It is no news that Bill Talbert, former Davis Cup captain, and the current officers of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association differ in their opinions on the conduct of amateur tennis. Some of their differences have been aired in this magazine, which Talbert serves as a contributing editor. They have been aired again recently over CBS radio, when USLTA President Edward Turville was granted equal lime to return a Talbert serve.
Turville obviously is a much put-upon man these days, since he is under fire from critics both inside and outside his organization, and it is not our present intention to add to his problems. But when he is so injudicious as to say that Bill Talbert has "the worst record of any Davis Cup captain we've ever had," we think, like Al Smith, it's time to look at the record.
Under Talbert, the U.S. reached the Davis Cup Challenge Round in five successive years and won the cup once. Of the captains that have succeeded him, one (Perry Jones) reached the Challenge Round twice and won once; one (Dave Freed) failed twice in two tries to achieve the Challenge Round; and one (current captain Robert Kelleher) failed even to reach the Interzone Finals.
THE BLUEBIRD OF HUMBLENESS
As long ago as 1895, when, you may remember, we had a nasty cold spring, the bluebird was considered to be doomed. He survived. Now, more than half a century later, he is in trouble again. Not because we have once more had a nasty cold spring in the North but because a complex of suburbia, decent grounds keeping and, in sum, people, have been driving him out of house and home. The sparrow and the starling have something to do with it, too. They are undesirables and they have ruined his neighborhood.
The bluebird's problem is, essentially, one of housing. Each spring he gets back to his northern nesting grounds to find that interlopers like the sparrow and the starling have taken residence in his hollow tree, woodpecker hole, or whatever. This has been increasingly so over the years and the problem has been intensified by the fact that status-conscious suburbanites have had their gardeners cut down dead trees and plug up ugly holes. Everything is neat and orderly and not fit to live in.
Now, to the rescue of the bluebird comes the Humble Oil & Refining Company. Its Esso dealers have, as a public-relations gesture, been passing out gifts-of-the-month to regular customers. This month's gift: 1,250,000 birdhouses specially designed for bluebirds, even to entrances 1.5 inches in diameter, which are too small to admit starlings. The entrances are not too small for sparrows but, with the ascendancy of the automobile and the decline of the horse, civilization may yet handle the sparrow, too.
Those who remember Tom Swift (and His Aerial Warship) will recall that his biographer sedulously jotted down not only everything Tom said but how he said it. Tom never did just say something. He either kept his mouth shut or he said it "wittily" or "flatly" or "cheerily" or something like that. Now a couple of San Franciscans named Paul Pease and Bill McDonough have devised a game, suitable for cocktail parties, around this stylistic quirk. They call the game Tom Swifties, and it is most easily explained with a few examples. Thus, from their little book of the same name:
"I'll have another Martini," said Tom dryly.
"I'll see if I can dig it up for you," said Tom gravely.
"What our ball club needs is a man who can hit 60 homers a season," said Tom ruthlessly.
The book is illustrated but you don't have to color it, happily.
A MATTER OF DEFINITION
An adequate definition of perfection is impossible, but every so often one or another of us achieves something like perfection and says to himself that the experience was "perfectly" wonderful or, perhaps, "perfectly" miserable. Consider the cases of Bob Sink of Kansas City and Charles Cummins of Dallas.
On a lovely April morning Sink was torn between golf and fishing. He plumped for golf, mostly because his regular weekend golfing companions were dependent on him. But at the same time he wished he had gone fishing. On the 11th hole he hit an approach shot and followed it across a bridge over a small creek. Looking down, he saw an unattended fishing rod, held down by a couple of rocks. The tip moved ever so slightly. Sink scrambled down onto the bank, seized the rod and hauled out a four-pound bass. He got his par, too, on No. 11.
Cummins, on the other hand, had a bad day of golf and gave it up for a new hobby—boating. With wife and daughter, he took his boat to a launching ramp, backed his trailer into position, then discovered some difficulty with the tilt-pin on the trailer. He hauled the boat off the ramp and over a large part of Texas before he could find a repairman. By then it was afternoon.
Mrs. Cummins spread out lunch on a picnic table. The wind caught Cummins' plate and flipped it off the table, upside down. So back to the launching ramp. The boat slid smoothly into the water. It began to sink. Cummins had forgotten to put in the drain plugs. It would be necessary to haul the boat out of the water to let it drain. He did so, after some difficulty in getting his car started.
Next time the launching was perfect. With his family in the boat, Cummins hastily parked his car and ran back down to the edge of the lake. The boat had drifted out, and Cummins was soaking wet by the time he got to it. Then he discovered he had left the boat's ignition keys at home. He jumped into the lake and swam ashore, towing the boat behind him.
As Paul Crume, Dallas Morning News columnist, said: "Sometimes a weekend has just this kind of perfection."
The Houston Colt .45s have at times this spring seemed in danger of becoming the Mets of 1963. There is, in consequence, the usual rumbling in the stands. Don Martinson, Houston advertising man, unhappy with Manager Harry Craft's handling of pitchers, has come up with a glossary of terms for use by Houston fans. It is brief:
Procraftinate—to put off pulling the pitcher when he is in trouble.
Procraftinating—continuing to do the same.
Procraftinated—lost the ball game.
THE MAGIC NUMBER
If you exclude Hawaii and Alaska, there are just about 648 species of birds in the U.S. The ideal of birdwatchers within these political confines has long been to "break 600," which is something on the order of hitting 60 home runs. To see 600 different species of birds within the U.S. is a feat that requires a lifetime of dedication, travel and eyestrain. It has, however, been done—perhaps by as many as a dozen ornithological voyeurs, most of them professionals.
Two amateurs, Mr. and Mrs. R. Dudley Ross of Ambler, Pa. when they are at home, last May came upon the blue-faced booby in the Dry Tortugas. He was their 630th bird. The booby was sitting on a buoy and after they watched him for a while he flew away, and they went back to Ambler. Since then, they have racked up two more species.
Despite their seeming nearness to the magic 648 the Rosses have little hope of the perfect score. Such rarities as the Greenland wheatear, seen in the U.S. once every several years, are not easily come by. "Only," Mr. Ross says pungently, "if you happen to be in the right place at the right time."
"I frankly feel," he says, "that if we averaged one new bird a year for the next five years we would be doing very well indeed, and it may well be that we won't get that many new ones in the next 10 years. The law of diminishing returns has set in with a vengeance."
With this dim prospect, the Rosses have turned their backs on the U.S. and will soon be in migratory passage to Panama, where there are lots of birds.
END OF TRAVESTY
An old political adage holds that the best way to get rid of a silly law is to enforce it. Now, after three weeks of rigid enforcement which resulted in nothing but bumbling confusion, the National League has reverted to the established practice of ignoring baseball's one-second-pause balk rule (SI, April 22). Baseball is as much a game of custom as of rules and, in enforcing this particular rule while the American League clung to its own sensibly vague interpretation, the Nationals were guilty of a very fundamental violation—they were making a travesty of the game, as the rules book puts it.
THEY SAID IT
•John Sudderth, chairman of New Mexico's highway commission, objecting to a suggestion that Interstate Highway 25 be routed past the Belen High stadium: "Nobody would watch the football field if they could see these crazy drivers."
•Joe Torre, Milwaukee catcher, after rookie Len Gabrielson complained about his hitting: "You're having your sophomore jinx the first year."
•Jim Gentile, slumping Oriole, to his wife Carole, on being aroused by a knock at the door at 12:30 a.m.: "Don't answer it. I'll get it. It might be some kid with a bomb."
•Warren Giles, National League president, when asked what he would have done if, like NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, he had been confronted by player gambling: "I really don't know."