What is it about baseball? Why is it that despite everything that's wrong with it—and there's plenty—it can on occasion reach heights of sustained excitement unmatched by any other sport in the world, excitement that lasts and lasts, day after day after day?
Well, a man once said that baseball, for all its doldrums and dunderheads, maintained its hold on the imagination of the fan because it is "a game of almost limitless dramatic possibility." That limit was almost reached, again and again, in the National League pennant race these past two weeks, and the end is not yet. What a show it is. Unrehearsed, spontaneous, ad lib all the way, it is drama that show biz seldom attains and almost never understands.
TIME FOR TIME-OUTS
When a college football game is televised nationally a total of 16 commercials are broadcast before, during and after the game. Ten of them must occur at some time during the playing of the game—during time-outs. Team captains, naturally, do not call their time-outs for the benefit of television and so, until this season, a little fellow in a red cap has been employed by NBC to parade the sidelines and rather conspicuously demand a time-out whenever he felt one was needed. He was not only conspicuous; excited crowds resentfully thought he was much too imperious about it and coaches thought he called them at most inappropriate times.
This year it is being done a little differently. Gone is the man in the red cap, replaced by a discreetly attired chap whose uniform makes him look rather like a sixth official except for the headset he wears. He is also much more knowing about football and vastly more judicious. The man on the sidelines is now either an active football official or one recently retired. Thus equipped with a working knowledge of football, he is charged with the responsibility of deciding whether an interruption might halt a team's scoring drive or otherwise influence the outcome of a game. He is instructed to try to work in his time-outs after a score or when the ball is changing hands. A definite improvement, for which the NCAA and NBC are to be commended.
ALWAYS CARRY A PADDLE
Among the lesser-known water sports is surfboating, which is somewhat on the order of surf boarding. The boat is essentially a board—a thin slab of wood seven feet by four. It is propelled by a paddle and therein lies the main difference.
Surfboating is very popular in Lebanon, where its champion is sun-blackened, muscular little Bahij Zuhairi. Tired of paddling along the coast, Zuhairi set off across the Mediterranean last week, hoping to make the 110 nautical miles from Beirut's St. Georges Bay to Cyprus in 36 hours. The 42-foot power cruiser Riana escorted him and, through his first day and sleepless night, supplied him with food. All went well until the second evening, when the weather turned bad and the sea got rough. Ten miles off Cyprus, Riana lost sight of Zuhairi, last saw him still balanced astride his board atop wind-whipped waves, still paddling.
After 39 strenuous, sleepless hours, Zuhairi beached his craft on the sands of Famagusta's Greco Bay. "I feel fine," he said, "but I'm worried about the Riana."
Next morning the Royal Air Force sent out a search plane, which spotted Zuhairi's hapless escort, engines conked out and wallowing in high seas 30 miles northeast of Cyprus. A tug towed her in.
To some hockey fans Jacques Plante, ebullient goalie for the New York Rangers, looks as if he were playing lacrosse. He rambles. He gambles. He moves away from his net, just as a lacrosse goalie is supposed to do and a hockey goalie is supposed not.
One of the reasons is that Plante actually did play lacrosse between seasons of junior hockey in his youth. And he has been playing it again. This year Bernard (Coco) Blanchard, who was to Montreal lacrosse in the '20s and '30s what Maurice (Rocket) Richard was to hockey in the '40s and '50s, decided to revive the game with a new four-team league and to spur interest by persuading Plante to return to action. The Rangers were willing, provided Plante quit a month before the opening of the hockey season.
With Plante as goalie, Montreal led the league. His 4.1 goals-against average was the league's best. When he quit, victim of the Rangers' proviso, his team slumped to second place and was whipped in the semifinals. There was gentle criticism of Plante, despite his record. To lacrosse fans, he looked like a hockey goalie.
"He didn't move around as much as a really good lacrosse goalie should," said Coco Blanchard, and this winter, as usual, hockey fans will be saying that Plante moves around a bit too much.
BET ON THE TRAPPISTS
For centuries, various orders of monks have supported themselves by making wine and liqueurs. Now, in a sense, the Trappist monks are in horse racing.
It began when Leslie Combs II, operator of Kentucky's Spendthrift Farm and the nation's leading commercial horse breeder for the past five years, contracted with a feed company to make special vitamin-filled pellets for horses from Spendthrift's secret formula. Everything was fine until Combs learned that the company was selling his pellets to rivals.
About then there happened by the farm a fellow whose brother serves in the Trappist monastery in Nelson County, Ky. He suggested to Combs that the monks could do the job. Combs turned over his formula to the monastery, and now the monks are busily turning out batches of alfalfa pellets compressed confidentially and solely for Spendthrift horses.
BASS IN THE TREETOPS
From 1957 to date fishermen have taken 34,410 lunker bass out of Bull Shoals Lake in northern Arkansas. In this tabulation a lunker must weigh at least four pounds to be counted. Biggest so far: 13 pounds 14 ounces.
But anglers have paid a mighty price for their success. While scuba diving last week along the steep slopes of what used to be mountain valleys before the lake was made, a biologist found old cedar trees still standing and so heavily festooned with busted fishing lines that they looked as if they were covered with spider webs. Rusting lures hung from the trees like Christmas ornaments.
The anglers were on target, though. The inquiring biologist saw many a broad-beamed bass, as well as numbers of large catfish up to 40 pounds, resting among the trees.
HELLO, MR. CHIPS
The inimitable red and white wines of Burgundy have their counterpart in the inimitable red and white (and blue and yellow) casino chips of Burgundy. For some 200 gambling establishments around the world—from London's Crockford's Club, which requires chips worth $14,000 apiece, to The Sands in Las Vegas and the Mokattam in Cairo—Daniel Senard of Beaune produces chips worth $40 million every year.
The chips have to be inimitable because they are a negotiable currency in gambling resorts. Forty years ago counterfeiters took the Monte Carlo Casino for $120,000 in a single day. Which is how Senard's predecessor, Claudius Grasset, got into the business. He fashioned a laminated chip that, for its time, was considered too complicated for counterfeiters. Monte Carlo bought it and is still buying. Today's Senard technicians would consider that old one naively simple. Now they laminate from six to 12 layers of different plastic materials, some of which cannot be bought on the market, into their chips. For those of large denomination, like that $14,000 rectangular red-and-blue item he makes for Crockford's, Senard inserts a layer of golden lacework. For The Sands he fabricated three transparent "eyes," two of them fluorescent, in the $1,000 chip. On some he prints insignia that are invisible except under special light, such as ultraviolet.
From time to time a casino in Venice or Baden-Baden or Vichy sends "counterfeit" chips to Senard. "Usually the chips are genuine," he says. "What has happened is that a gambler has left several chips in his coat pocket and sent his suit to the dry cleaner. Under the heat they warp or shrink."
In the center of the more costly chips produced for Venice's Municipal Casino, Senard lithographs Venetian landmarks, such as St. Mark's Plaza and Rialto Bridge.
No Bridge of Sighs, though.
THE WELL-EQUIPPED CRUSOE
Three years ago Richard Porter's 14-year-old son, Bryan, went into the woods near their White River Junction, Vt. home and was lost for eight hours. As a consequence Porter Sr. undertook a study of woods survival clothing, found that U.S. Air Force garments could carry but a week's supply of essentials and that the Explorer scouts had nothing better. He set about designing his own and came up with a coat of 64 pockets capable of holding such necessities as dehydrated food, first-aid equipment, a machete, a jackknife, a shelter tent, emergency fishing gear, a compass and a small stove, among other things. Gross weight: 19 pounds.
Then he had himself deposited by plane at Round Pond, Me. in the thick of the wild Allagash country. The idea was to stay there 30 days, depending solely on the coat's contents to stay alive. Porter actually did it, and he lived by harder rules than a truly lost person would impose on himself. Though he caught brook trout with his fishing kit, he photographed himself releasing them. He lived entirely on 5½ pounds of dehydrated food—"the kind you can buy in any supermarket"—and had enough left for a few days more. He lost only 10 of his original 159½ pounds.
The experience taught him a few things. The gross weight of the survival jacket, he believes, could be reduced by five to seven pounds and the number of pockets could be cut, too. He also thinks the jacket should be equipped to contain weapons.
"I feel amazingly good," he said when the plane arrived to pick him up. "The only craving I have is for a heaping glass of tomato juice. Isn't that funny? I don't really like tomato juice."
TWO FOR THE TUBE
The first moment in Great Moments in the History of Tennis, a documentary film produced for television and tennis clubs, is a plug for the sponsor, Philip Morris. None other than Roy Emerson, the world's top tennis amateur, serves up a smoke to Sportscaster Chris Schenkel. It is strictly a soft-sell affair, however, and Emerson and Schenkel narrate a comprehensive account of the evolution of the game from the ancient Greeks to Roy's own brand of tournament tennis. There is extensive footage on Maurice McLoughlin, the originator of the California style of play; William T. (Big Bill) Tilden; Suzanne Lenglen, the six-time winner of the Wimbledon; as well as literally dozens of others.
Fight fans will be tuning in their TV sets shortly to view some of the most famous drubbings in the history of modern boxing. An outfit named Turn of the Century Fights, Inc. has condensed the action of 104 famous fights from 1897 to 1964 into five-minute clips of the knockout punching in each bout. Students of the sweet science will be treated to such first-time telecasts as Dempsey-Luttrell, Louis-Valentino, Johnson-Jeffries, Cerdan-La Motta, Corbett-Fitzsimmons. Producers Bill Cayton and Jim Jacobs put the films together to run as five-minute spots to relieve the monotony between the TV news and weather.
THEY SAID IT
•Allie Sherman's 5-year-old daughter: "Daddy, why did you trade Sam Huff?"
•Texas A&M Guard Yancy Bounds, on his home town, Deadwood, Texas: "It used to be about 125 population, but now it's just a country town."
•Athletic Director Andy Gustafson, on his 17-year career as head football coach at the University of Miami: "I outlasted two school presidents and four sports editors."
•Y. A. Tittle, on why baseball pitchers like Warren Spahn last longer than pro football quarterbacks: "Spahn throws a baseball and some other guy hits it with a bat. I throw a football and right after that a lot of guys weighing 250 pounds hit me."