PINS AND NEEDLES
Your story The Big Yankee Turnabout (June 20) is the first good explanation I have seen of why the Yankees failed under Keane and won under Houk.
Ordinarily it is bad practice for a recently successful manager to become a general manager. His association with the players is too recent, so they tend to turn to him, actively or wistfully, for solutions to problems. This negates the authority of the field manager, because the players don't really feel the need to answer to him. Discipline becomes shoddy.
Also, being human, this general manager will, more subconsciously than otherwise, obstruct the new manager. As an example, wasn't Houk quoted far more than is normal on items usually left for field managers to comment upon?
Houk is an excellent field manager. But, he did fail as a general manager.
Houk is no miracle worker, and the Yankee organization is still hurting. In fact, it is in deep trouble. Mantle, Howard, Ford and Maris are mere shadows of their former selves, and where are the replacements? The blame should rest with the front office and its blunders, not with Keane. With baseball's current draft plan it will be much harder for the Yankees to build another dynasty and dominate the American League as they did in the past. The pin stripes do not strike fear in the hearts of the ex-cousins of the Bombers anymore. The National League champions of recent years first exposed the fallacy of Yankee supremacy, and now all the junior circuit clubs have the message.
JOHN W. RICHMOND
Hogwash! No matter who replaced Keane it was almost a certainty that the team would be psychologically rejuvenated enough to win some games. Leonard Koppett makes Houk seem like a superman, when actually Houk has proved nothing as yet. He has the same problems that Johnny Keane was plagued with: a team that, on paper, is no better than fifth- or sixth-place, a pitching staff that is only fair at best and lacks depth, hitting that is woefully weak and a once-mighty Yankee bench that is now virtually nonexistent. The Old Guard players such as Mantle, Maris and Howard are near the end of their careers, and the once-proud Yankee farm system has become unproductive and unable to fill the gaps.
Of course, superego Houk arrogantly predicts that the Yankees will win the pennant. But deep in our hearts we know he's wrong.
After reading your story of the NFL-AFL merger (Here's How It Happened, June 20), I have come to these conclusions: 1) the deal was made for the good of the owners, 2) the merger helps television in that it gives TV a "real" championship, which in turn further pads the owners' pocketbooks, 3) although rookie bonuses were getting a bit on the foolishly high side, the owners will now have to pay little or no money for players, and 4) with one league, there will be no competition for fans or for players.
It's beyond me as to why the AFL would downgrade itself by joining that league.
Thank you for Jack Olsen's brilliant article about Jim Ryun (Ready for the "Goal," June 20). There is no doubt that he is the finest runner in the world. It is true that Tommie Smith might outrun Jim in the century or furlong, Theron Lewis or Mike Larrabee might be rated even odds against him in the 440 and Ron Clarke might be a shade stronger in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, but at all distances in between, beware! Whether he anchors KU's mile relay with sub-46.0 clockings or outkicks his opposition at one or two miles, Ryun is the world's best all-round runner. Now if he would only decide to take up the pole vault, shotput and high jump....
New York City
As a high school track coach and would-be runner, I thoroughly enjoyed Jack Olsen's article on Jim Ryun-except for the wisecrack about the four-minute mile ("now run by everyone except your laundryman"). While it is true that the four-minute mile has become relatively commonplace, it is also true that the physical effort required to run a mile in four minutes today is precisely the same as it was when Roger Bannister first did it in 1954—and SI named him Sportsman of the Year for doing it. The significance of today's fast times is that more athletes are reaching the tremendously high standard that four minutes represents, not that the standard has gradually declined. There are thousands of high school and college milers in this country for whom it is still an outstanding achievement to run a mile in 4:10 or 4:20 or even 4:45. It can hardly be encouraging for them to see their performances laughed off the page by a sportswriter's flippant hyperbole.
George School, Pa.
Without a doubt Jim Ryun is the greatest distance runner in the world today. But your mention of another great runner, Glenn Cunningham, brought back memories. Glenn, whose legs were severely burned in a childhood accident, was my group leader at a preinduction physical examination at Fort Des Moines, Iowa in 1944. I was right behind Glenn as a doctor examining his legs asked, "Have these legs ever given you any trouble?" Glenn replied, "Yes, at times—they haven't gone fast enough."
GEORGE H. STUESSI
That segment of Big Business known euphemistically as Thoroughbred racing has become boring. The atmosphere is remote, unfriendly, push-button. Distance racing has been curtailed over the years until, today, only one (the Jockey Gold Cup for 3-year-olds and over) of 50 major stakes covers two miles. No one denies the fact that speed is a desired quality. But ever since that contest between Richard II and the Earl of Arundel (owners up) back in 1377, the first horse across the finish line has been the winner.
Today the poor cayuse is modified to fit the system. He runs around the same dinky one-mile oval, rolled concrete-hard, until he breaks down. Rarely asked to go over a mile and a half or carry more than 130 pounds, today's running horse is a pampered dude. Yet he can pick up more money in one afternoon winning some undistinguished race than was possible for the likes of Exterminator to earn in an entire season.
In any case, I believe the breed may have reached a plateau. Barring mighty Kelso, this decade has been a strange interlude for the blood horse. No growth is evident.
WITH A WHIMPER
In your very first issue (Aug. 16, 1954) you rated the popularity of sports according to number of spectators and participants. You rated softball as the champion of spectator sports, and you were right. From 1946 to 1960 softball as played with the fast pitch really was the top sport of every kind in America.
Softball had been reasonably popular before in the '30s, but the real boom occurred after World War II, when all the "boys came home" and began participating in leagues in their home towns. Every town, every city had softball leagues, and they were all fast-pitch. There were recreation leagues, industrial loops, church circuits, independent teams—everywhere there were softball leagues, because these men had played the game in the Army and Navy and brought it back home with them. But while everyone who wasn't actually playing the game was out watching it, nobody wrote about it.
Alas, beginning in 1960, the game died, and fast-pitch softball is hardly more than a memory now. Why? Some say it was because other sports grabbed spectators via TV. Some say it was because fishing, boating, golf, etc., gained more participants. In my opinion, however, the real reason that softball failed was because of the pitching. During the 15-year period of the game's high point there were many good fast-pitch hurlers, but the important thing is that they weren't too good. Average scores were 5-4 and interesting. But as the years went on, the number of superpitchers began to increase. They threw faster than 100 miles an hour by meter test. The pitchers were only 46 feet from the plate, and they threw the rise ball, which is tougher to hit than anything in hard ball. The merely good fast-pitch hurler, the mainstay of the game's interest, began to disappear. Young boys wouldn't spend the time to learn to pitch softball. They couldn't compete with the superpitchers anyway and, besides, they had other interests: cars, surfing, their own questionable music. They just wouldn't make the effort to learn to pitch, and they didn't have the courage to stand up at bat to the older fast-pitchers.
Then along came a new game called "slow pitch." This is now the big thing in softball, but spectators couldn't care less. In slow pitch the ball is lobbed over at a height from three to 10 feet. There is little challenge to hit it; there is no bunting, no stealing, no hit and run. Old fast-pitch players call this new diluted form of softball "sissy pitch."
There are still a few super fast-pitch teams left, and they continue to meet in the national tourney. But interest in softball is pretty well gone.