Sportswriters tend to be gregarious. In fact, a number of them spend more time hanging out together than going after stories. Which is one reason they don't put the knock on one another in print. After all, you may be having your next free drink with the guy. Another reason is that they fear no one will care.
Larry Merchant, who writes a column for the New York Post, cares when the public is badly informed and couldn't care less what his confreres think of him. He's got other people to drink with. In a piece last week Merchant made history of a kind. He came out against what he called "the old ladies of the press," in general, and Arthur Daley of The New York Times, "the only Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter in creation," in particular. As Merchant has written elsewhere: "Hoo boy!"
The headline over Merchant's column was FIGHTSIGHT, which he defined as the "blindness that afflicts people who watch Muhammad Ali." Merchant went on to say that nature's way of correcting fight-sight is by hindsight. He gave as a for instance Jack Dempsey, who was reviled as a draft dodger and is now revered. And he told how time improved the Joe Louis legend.
Merchant also said that the old ladies of the press believe a heavyweight champ should embody certain virtues, and that since Muhammad Ali lacks these they feel he has betrayed their faith, and woe is Ali. "Thus," Merchant wrote, "we have the spectacle of Arthur Daley...blinking in disbelief at the antics of Muhammad Ali, in and out of the ring. Because Ali Baby is irreverent and immodest—fiery sins both—he obviously can't fight too well either." Merchant went on to quote a Daley sidebar on the fight, which ended up: "...it was a stinker in more ways than one." While he was at it, Merchant might well have questioned the lead on a Dick Young column in the New York Daily News, which began, "You'd be surprised how many people seem to think the Clay-Folley fight had a certain odor to it." All right, how many? Although, farther down, Young said the fight looked honest "on my [our italics] television set," right away readers are thinking the fight was funny. Fight fans feel that the Daleys and the Youngs know more than they're writing because of libel laws or something. And the implication is that Young wasn't looking at the right television set.
Merchant wasn't knocking the freedom of the press or the right to disagree. He was exercising both. (For a real workout, get a load of Jockey Bill Hartack on page 30.) In this case we happen to feel Merchant's on the right side, but mostly we're glad that he broke a long, fatuous silence.
For many years Texas A&M and SMU have played football in November. But this year they will meet on Sept. 16. Why? $88,440 for A&M and $88,440 for SMU, that's why. When ABC-TV asked them if they would be willing to play their traditional game at the end of the summer they thought about it for something like a tenth of a second.
The afternoon game undoubtedly will be played in fierce heat, but the young men who are having their characters built shouldn't mind that. In point of fact, they should be grateful that the folks in TV land traditionally take long summer vacations and aren't going to buy a piece of college football for Aug. 1.
While we're on the subject, last Friday evening, at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in East Lansing, Mich., the announcer called the 500-yard free-style finalists to the starting blocks, as the crowd roared with laughter and the swimmers grinned. The event had taken place on Thursday, but the NBC cameras, which were taping it for Sunday's Sports Telecast, had gone blotto and hadn't picked up the first length. So Producer Roy Hammerman decided to start the race all over again. Said one NBC official: "Maybe we better not do this. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED will probably jump all over us."
A gentleman named Moody H. Mulkey Jr. of Perry, Ga. has perfected a golf driving net, which he is selling by mail. What caught our eye was the postscript to Mulkey's promotional letter: "If you give up golf, this netting makes an excellent fish net. The framework is ideal for a rose trellis."
In 1945 Frank Stuart, an English engineer and theatrical-mask maker, invented a life-size elephant that ran, or rather galumphed, on gasoline. Although he sold one to Eisenhower for his 1952 presidential campaign, it was not a success, as gas fumes overcame those riding it. Undaunted, Stuart, who is now 84, went back to the old drawing board in Thaxted, Essex and invented an electric elephant, or Electrophant, which he is now trying to peddle in the U.S.
According to Electrophants, Ltd.: "An Electrophant is a battery driven, hydraulically operated replica of a full-size elephant. Its movement at a maximum of 8 mph on four wheels under cast aluminum hooves, gives the lumbering gait and partial roll of a real elephant and its head and trunk move in counterpoint to his gait. Its feet, although appearing to lift, do not in fact leave the ground, thus avoiding any risk of children's feet getting crushed.... Driving the Electrophant is so simple that children have driven it with precision.... N. B. The Electrophant is designed for use both out of doors and indoors. The skin is waterproof and all metal parts coated with rust resistant galvanized paint."
The suggested retail price for an Electrophant is $18,000. Now this may seem out of line when a full-size live elephant goes for only $2,500 plus $800 in freight charges. But it costs about $600 a month to feed an elephant. With an Electrophant, all you have to do is plug it in at night to recharge the batteries.
THE REASONS WHY
Although U.S. players have been a godsend to European basketball teams, there are exceptions. According to our Antwerp correspondent, six U.S. players were recently released by Belgian teams. It seems they were, for the most part:
1) "Too slow to catch up with the whirlwind style of Belgian basketball."
2) "Too short! There is no need in Belgium for 'average' or small players. Belgium needs tall pivots, about 6'8"."
3) "At coaches' instructions they usually ask 'Why?'"
Fifty-four years, eight months, six days, eight hours, 32 minutes and 20[3/10]ths seconds after he had set out on the marathon run in the 1912 Olympics, Shizo Kanakuri of Japan was clocked in at Stockholm's Olympic Stadium.
Kanakuri had disappeared midway through the race, leading to rumors that he had missed his first checkpoint and was still running. Indeed, his whereabouts remained a mystery until 1962, when a Swedish newsman tracked him down in the town of Tamana in southern Japan, where he was enjoying the placid life of a pensioned geography teacher.
It seems that Kanakuri, on the verge of fainting from heat exhaustion, had been running past a banker's villa on the outskirts of Tureberg, when he spotted people drinking orange juice in the garden. He stopped to quench his thirst and lingered at the garden party for an hour, then took a train to Stockholm, where he spent the night in a hotel and, deeply ashamed, left on the first available boat for the Orient.
Now 76, Kanakuri returned to Stockholm at the invitation of a businessmen's committee, which is raising money to send the Swedish team to the 1968 Olympics. "It's been a long race," he said, "but then I got myself a wife, six children and 10 grandchildren during it, and that takes time, you know."
Last week Kanakuri revisited the villa garden and was treated to another glass of orange juice by Bengt Petre, the son of his original host. Kanakuri also cleared up a further mystery. For 54 years the Petres have treasured, as a poetic memento of the Olympics, a scroll with Japanese writing on it, which they found inside a decorative box Kanakuri had sent them in gratitude for their hospitality. When he took a look at it Kanakuri sadly informed the Petres: "It is just an old customs form."
FOR LOVE AND MONEY
"Money makes the mare go" is one of racing's oldest maxims, and as purses for stakes races rise each year it becomes even more relevant. Now the Atlantic City racetrack is trying to give the mares—and the fillies—added incentive: it has dreamed up the Matchmaker Stakes, which promises the first three finishers not only money but a little love.
The winner of the Matchmaker, to be run September 30 at a mile and 3/16ths, will receive both a $30,000 purse and the right to be bred to one of the three most sought-after stallions in Kentucky. First prize will be a season to Hail to Reason, the syndicated horse that ranks second only to the prolific Bold Ruler among all stallions. If the winner's bloodlines conflict with Hail to Reason's she may instead be bred to Round Table or Jaipur. The place and show horses get the next two choices of these three studs.
This unprecedented idea seems to be considerably more than a new gimmick. In an era when a small owner often finds it impossible to breed a good mare to a top stallion, the race may give some deserving people a chance to crack the aristocratic ranks of leading breeders. Last summer two big breeders paid a total of $323,000 for two shares in the Hail to Reason syndicate, which is some indication of how valuable the Matchmaker will be.
Atlantic City's young president, Bob Levy, made one laudable move in 1966—the Morning Glory Club, a Saturday gathering of racing fans and many young people wanting to learn about the sport, who watched workouts and heard talks from horsemen and track officials. Racing has been negligent in attracting new blood among its customers, and the Morning Glory Club should go a long way toward improving the breed of horseplayers. Now the Matchmaker Stakes may play its part in improving the breed of the horses themselves.
Want to buy: Horned toads and land terrapins. Will pay five cents for the former and fifteen cents each for the latter.
This ad, from the Cross Plains (Texas) Review, is similar to others frequently appearing in West Texas weeklies. Each year hundreds of thousands of adult horned toads (or frogs) are shipped out of Texas for pets, and thousands of baby toads are encased in clear plastic for tie clasps, paper weights and other novelties. Texas tortoises (Gopherus berlandieri) also are sold as pets, and an estimated 120,000 are exported yearly for their oil, which is used in the manufacture of face cream.
According to Dr. William F. Blair of the University of Texas and Dr. Harold E. Laughlin, director of the Heard Foundation of McKinney, Texas, the leading authorities on the horned toad, commercial exploitation of the species poses a threat of extinction because of its low rate of reproduction. The fate of the tortoise, which doesn't breed until it is 15 or 20 years old rarely survives in captivity, is even more serious.
Happily the critters have found champions in State Senators Joe Christie of El Paso and Don Kennard of Fort Worth, who have introduced bills prohibiting commercial exploitation.
Said Senator Christie: "Horned toads are beneficial, harmless friends of man. One toad eats an average of 40,000 insects a year."
Although tortoises primarily dine on prickly pear, Senator Kennard brought two to a hearing of the Senate Game and Fish committee to demonstrate their amiability. Won over, the committee last week approved Kennard's bill as well as Christie's.
THEY SAID IT
•Bobby Ussery, on Reflected Glory, a Kentucky Derby favorite: "He may be a late starter, but he's an early finisher."
•Warren Giles, National League president, aghast at learning Detroit schoolboys play two-strike, three-ball baseball: "Pretty soon they will have the players come out, take a bow and leave."