Certainly 1968 was a genuine vintage year for heroes. All the Simpsons and Flemings of the world, however, must step aside for Bill Russell in terms of pride and sheer physical ability. Bill has been the lifeblood of the Celtics for 12 years, and it was high time that he was honored in such a prominent fashion. The inspiration that he instilled in the Celts was more than that of a coach to his players; it was strictly man to man, and the contagious pride of the man drove his presumably "dead" (in Philly they had already held services) veterans back to the proud tradition that is, and always will be, the heritage and essence of the Boston Celtics. You have placed Bill in his rightful place. Truly, William Felton Russell has reached the peak; none will climb higher!
Bill Russell for Sportsman of the Year? Unbelievable! SI gives due credit to his game performance as a player and a coach of the Boston Celtics, but should not a man's performance off the court, his attitude toward his fans and admirers, also be an important consideration for this award? If so, I submit that Mr. Russell could not conceivably have been the deserving recipient.
WILLIAM B. SQUIER
Wellesley Hills, Mass.
I would like to congratulate you for your truly great article on Bill Russell, Sportsman of the Year. Before reading it, I thought Russell was a cold, harsh man. You not only convinced me that he is a great athlete, but also a great person.
Although I neglected to nominate anyone for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Sportsman of the Year award, I must vehemently protest your selection. Bill Russell should be selected Sportsman of the Decade!
I have known Bill for three years while working as a ball boy for the New York Knickerbockers. He has always been extraordinarily patient, considerate and friendly toward me. I have enjoyed numerous lengthy conversations with Bill, and his views and opinions on life, ethics and basketball have influenced me greatly. As a high school senior and future college basketball player, I proudly admit that I will always carry with me his ideals. He is one of the persons I choose to model myself after.
His physical accomplishments are awesome and, alone, are enough to earn him this honor. But his becoming the first Negro coach and leader of a professional sports team will open the gates for more minority-groups and teach people, when judging a man, to become truly color-blind.
LEWIS R. DORF
New York City
I applaud your choice of Bill Russell as Sportsman of the Year; for years, I have considered him one of the finest men on the American sporting scene. And George Plimpton's article (Reflections in a Diary, Dec. 23) was both literate and perceptive, as always. However, I was deeply disappointed by Mr. Plimpton's failure to discuss one of Mr. Russell's foremost characteristics—his commitment to positive social change and political and economic freedom for the black man in America. I fully realize SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S desire to remain basically apolitical, and over the years I have found your coverage of people and events to be both fair and above ideology. But I cannot help reflecting that during my years as a distance runner at the University of Pittsburgh and now with the University of Chicago Track Club, my appreciation for athletics and the association with people throughout the country grew with my involvement in first the civil rights and then the peace movements. Athletics is an exchange between brothers, black and white, rich and poor, American and Cuban. Rare is the athlete who does not grow as a man through his exposure to other men of all persuasions.
Forgive me for being a bit moralistic—perhaps the social worker in me is showing—but Bill Russell the athlete and coach is just one facet of Bill Russell the man, and I'm sorry Mr. Plimpton and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED chose to so limit themselves in honoring this superb sportsman.
After seeing the picture of the Baltimore Colt defense (Countdown to a Title, Dec. 23), I realize that the saying is true: one picture is worth a thousand words. That picture has more meaning than all the rest in the magazine put together. It is concise and simple, but still it means so much. Articles and pictures usually key on the offense and the backs. The defensive standouts rarely receive the recognition they deserve.
The famous Colt defense has deserved this type of recognition for quite a while, and I'm glad to see they have finally received it. My congratulations go to SI.
ALLEN F. LEIKER
BOURBON STREET BLUES
Several years ago I wrote you regarding the very brief bikinis pictured on the cover and inside pages of an issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. In retrospect, those were nothing compared to the picture of the stripper in the Dec. 23 issue (Sugar Week in New Orleans), which I consider to be the utmost in vulgarity. If people want to go to Bourbon Street and see things like that, it's fine and their business, but I certainly object strongly to pictures of this caliber in a magazine such as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
We've taken the magazine for a number of years, having three teen-aged boys, but I'm about ready to cancel. How about attempting to rise above this type of thing and just stick to sports, which are far more interesting? The article on New Orleans would have been just as effective had that horrible picture been deleted.
What kind of "sport" is this?
The attire of the young ladies pictured in your Dec. 16 and 23 issues leaves little to the imagination and much to be desired.
MRS. CHARLES C. WORSTELL
To say we were shocked by the picture of "Rita, a star stripper" would be putting it mildly. While this kind of picture appeals to my husband (he loved it), I don't think it is very suitable for a 10-year-old boy.
Is this type of picture going to be a weekly addition to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED? I would hate to cancel my son's subscription, because he devours every issue that comes and saves each one.
MRS. GLENN T. WAGGONER
SHARKS AND OSTRICHES
Congratulations on your fine article The Sharks Are Moving In (Dec. 9). You have presented the situation at Palm Beach clearly and forcefully. It is a great pity that nothing has been done since the timely meeting was called by Paul Rogers. As you pointed out, all of us agreed that the most effective way to reduce the shark hazard in the Palm Beach area was to fish for sharks, and our AIBS Shark Research Panel members (Baldridge, Springer and myself) pointed out that this procedure has been followed with great effectiveness in Australia and at Durban, South Africa. In these two localities gill nets are employed off bathing beaches to capture sharks. This is a costly operation, for the nets must be visited every other day and dead sharks removed. We proposed a far less costly operation; namely, that of utilizing the services of capable commercial shark fishermen to reduce the shark population, and it seemed almost providential when one man, Les Rayen, came forward eager and willing to undertake this task. I am sure that, with a modest financial subsidy, his fishing activity would have substantially reduced the shark hazard in the Palm Beach area. What a pity local apathy and politics so discouraged Rayen that, after nearly two months of waiting, he was forced to go elsewhere to fish for sharks.
It would indeed seem that the local politicians at Palm Beach prefer to ignore the whole problem and give it as little publicity as possible. One is reminded of the quip of an old submariner: "To continue to assume the posture of an ostrich is only to expose a delicate part of one's anatomy to attack."
PERRY W. GILBERT
Mote Marine Laboratory
It seems that the baseball hierarchy has finally realized that the game is rapidly losing its public appeal. The two major reasons for this pitfall seem to be lack of hitting and slow, lifeless play. We of the Student Leaders Of Base Shortening (SLOBS) have been advocating a measure which has been continually ignored by the owners for the past 10 years.
Our plan calls for the shortening of the distance to first base by five feet. This simple measure would help raise batting averages while concurrently shortening the time of a game. Careful scientific study has shown that our plan would decrease by 0.9362 of a second the time consumed by every base on balls. It would also chop 0.7211 of a second from each home run. Our calculations show that if our plan had been adopted 10 years ago, baseball would since have been shortened by a total of almost seven days! I sincerely hope that your readers will join in our dedicated cause before baseball suffers the same fate as chariot racing, alligator wrestling and water polo.
Certainly we are all aware of the fact that nothing really happens in baseball until the ball is hit and things don't get exciting until some runs are scored. The reasons offered for the decrease in hitting averages are many—and some of them may have some validity—but the real reason is quite simple. It is based on the following truths.
There is no doubt that today's athletes are bigger, stronger, faster and smarter than their ancestors. In most sports, and particularly team sports, the players are engaged in head-to-head combat and the long-range improvements in athletic skills are canceled out. This is also true of hitters and pitchers. The hitter vs. pitcher contest should not be tampered with because as the pitchers get better, so do the hitters.
The reason batting averages have dropped over the years now becomes obvious. In baseball, the area into which the ball is hit determines the percentage or probability of a hit being scored. This area is determined not by the pitcher but by the foul lines (90° apart). Today's fielders, however, are also bigger, faster, stronger and smarter than their predecessors, and they are equipped with bigger and better gloves. Therefore, they cover more of the hitting area than ever before. The net result is that, while the total area into which the ball can be hit has remained about the same, there is less area into which a batter can hit safely. Wee Willie Keeler, for instance, would have a tough time "hitting 'em where they ain't." About the only place today's fielders ain't is over the fence. So quite naturally (and perhaps without really realizing why), the batter has been gunning for the fences with ever increasing regularity.
One possible solution is to increase the area into which the ball can be hit by enlarging the angle between the foul lines. A change from 90° to 96° would increase the probable hitting area by 7%, and the result would be to return to the batter some hope of getting a hit.
J. TEMPLE BLACK
Dept. of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
University of Illinois
This is a note of thanks for the very insightful article about Kenyon basketball (Small Is a Way of Life, Dec. 2). For Kenyon to find itself in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is a pleasant surprise in itself, but to be treated with such understanding by Curry Kirkpatrick made it pleasant for all of the students, faculty, alumni and friends of Kenyon College. We are most appreciative.
WILLIAM G. CAPLES