PERIL AT YELLOW RIVER
After the Yellow River Raceway disaster in which 12 spectators were killed and more than 40 injured, drag racer Arnie Beswick testified that Yellow River, an unsanctioned track, was "completely unsafe" and that he and other nationally known drivers compete at such "Mickey Mouse places only because that's the way we make a living. We've got to have exposure."
Perhaps. But if drag racing is really the legitimate sport it claims to be, the national associations that purport to govern it should agree at once on certain firm rules, the simplest and most effective of which would ban from sanctioned drag tracks any driver who competes in outlaw races at wildcat strips.
Bill Veeck, the old baseball hotshot, is the new president of Suffolk Downs, the horse track near Boston, and he plans to put the same kind of jazz he popularized in baseball into Thoroughbred racing. His target is the fans, as it was in his ball parks in Cleveland, St. Louis and Chicago. As a starter, he has established a flat $1.50 admission charge for both grandstand and clubhouse. Last season a clubhouse ticket cost $2.50.
"It's daring and probably a little bit stupid," Veeck says, "and it may cost us as much as $350,000. But the way I figure it, anybody who comes in here should be able to enjoy all the facilities.
"When I ran a baseball team, I never had a stadium club or anything exclusive like that. I had picnic grounds in the outfield, and they were open to everybody. This is the same idea. Why should certain customers enjoy air conditioning while everybody else in the place swelters?"
Veeck also plans to upgrade the quality of the racing. He'll stage a $200,000 turf race, the 2-mile Yankee Gold Cup, on June 28. It will be the richest and longest turf race in the country. He is thinking, too, of a Lady Godiva Stakes for fillies, ridden by lady jockeys (presumably dressed in silks), in which the winning rider will receive a bonus of a million trading stamps.
He is refurbishing the plant with fresh paint and new designs ("Dream," he told his architects, "and I'll dream along with you"), and is spending $200,000 to modernize the rest rooms ("Next to a winner, what a bettor likes is a clean rest room, especially the women").
He is also in the market for a steam calliope, which figures.
A LITTLE EDUCATION
One major league manager last summer took copies of the hitting articles by Ted Williams that appeared in this magazine (SI, June 10, 1968 et seq.) and distributed them to his players as required reading. Naturally, the manager was Jim Lemon, who this winter lost his job as manager of the Washington Senators to Williams. Unbitter, Lemon still insists, "Those were the best pieces ever written about hitting. I don't feel so bad, knowing that Ted Williams replaced me."
Jerry Colangelo, general manager of the Phoenix Suns of the NBA, is making a month-long promotion out of the forthcoming Lew Alcindor coin flip. Phoenix, which is certain to finish last in the Western Division, will toss with the last-place Eastern team, probably Milwaukee, to determine which team gets first pick in the NBA draft. The winner will select Alcindor, of course, and then engage the ABA in a contract-waving contest.
The big question right now in Arizona is: if the Suns call, should they say heads or tails? Since this obviously is too profound a decision to be left to a spur-of-the-moment brain wave, the Suns are polling spectators at their remaining games.
"We'll go by what the majority decides," says Colangelo. Further, a drawing will be held to select a fan to travel to the coin-tossing ceremony. "If we get to make the call," declares Colangelo, "our fans will be a real part of the biggest coin flip in sports history."
And if the Suns lose the toss, the representative fan probably will have to walk home.
A report from Germany says that the chief of the future Olympic press center in Munich has what he thinks is a marvelous idea. He is tired of this new Olympic habit—only one Olympics old, to be sure—of having a pretty girl run into the stadium with the Olympic torch at the opening ceremonies. What he would like to do is combine the marathon and the opening ceremonies: instead of being the last event of the track and field program, the marathon would be the first. As the lead runner neared the stadium toward the end of the 26-mile 385-yard grind, he would be handed the torch! What a sight, what significance: the winner of the most treasured gold medal in the Games carrying his torch past the cheering thousands!
Unhappily, a couple of nagging doubts keep cropping up. A prize tour de force at the opening ceremonies has been the smooth, driving, unhesitating sprint by the torchbearer up the steep stairway that climbs from the track to the very topmost part of the stadium. There, hardly puffing, he—or she—plunges the torch into the cauldron, which stays lighted for the duration of the Games. Somehow we can't envisage a man who has just run 26 miles, 385 yards dashing up that stairway with élan.
And another point. Suppose the marathon develops into a stretch duel, with two—or even three or four—men fighting for the lead as they approach and enter the stadium? Does this mean that when a man wrests the lead away from an opponent, he must wrest the torch away, too?
Never mind. Go ahead and try it, Germany. It may result in a few third-degree burns, but it's bound to be one hell of a show.
A VOICE CRYING
The Northeast corner of the United States is brimming with people: 50 million souls are jammed into an area two-thirds the size of Texas, and along with New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, there are two dozen other cities with populations of 100,000 and up.
No wonder, then, that the quiet state of Vermont, which has only five towns with more than 10,000 people and whose metropolis, Burlington, had only 35,531 at the last census, is an oasis of peace for frantic Easterners. And no wonder, too, that a Vermonter named W. Douglas Burden of Charlotte (pop. 1,271), sent the following angry letter a couple of weeks ago to the editor of The Burlington Free Press:
Man is always inventing some new devilish contraption to take the joy out of life. The latest fiend incarnate is the snow scooter. Why is it that such a large percentage who ride these wailing demons lose all respect for private property? All respect for a man's right to peace and quiet? All compassion for wildlife whose forest homes in the heart of winter had heretofore provided some respite from man—some temporary sanctuary?
Once on the back of a snow scooter, a certain proportion of these people seem to think the whole state of Vermont is theirs. They even have the nerve to roar up to a man's house like a pack of wolves in the middle of the night—only a thousand times worse than any beautiful pack of wolves—and, while a dozen or more motors are idling, they yell and laugh and pass the bottle around. No doubt there are plenty of considerate people who enjoy the use of these contraptions, but their good behavior is more than offset by the rowdies whose abuse of them is raising a statewide storm of indignation and protest.
Since it seems evident that these snow riders are unable to control each other's activities, and since abuse leads to the necessity of regulation, is it not essential to confine snow scooters to certain limited areas where they have prior permission to travel?
It is prophesied that there will be 40,000 scooters in Vermont within three years. If we don't act quickly one of our basic freedoms—the freedom to enjoy peace and quiet in our farm and forest homes—will have been lost.
[Signed] W. Douglas Burden
Move over, Hell's Angels. Here come the Abominable Snowmen.
CHUB VS. WILLIE
Baseball's spring-training experiment—with a permanent pinch hitter in place of the pitcher—struck an early snag when the San Francisco Giants came out strongly against the idea. Chub Feeney, the Giants' vice-president, said, "We've got lots of learning to do in spring training. Why bother with something we won't be able to use in the regular season?" Feeney said the Giants would exercise their right to refuse to have the permanent pinch hitter used by either team in every exhibition game they play. "It's a gimmick to help spring training gate receipts," he said. "We're against gimmicks."
Willie Mays, approaching his 38th birthday and his 18th big-league season, has a different opinion. "Hitting for the pitcher will keep a lot of us old-timers in the game longer," said Willie. "I could go on at least five more years."
Here is baseball, worried sick about the failure of young hitters to take over for retiring musclemen like Mickey Mantle, and there is ice hockey, up to its penalty boxes with nothing but eager young sluggers. Barely five minutes after the start of a game in Ontario's crack Junior A league between the Oshawa Generals and the Montreal Junior Canadiens, one of the worst brawls in hockey history erupted. When it finally subsided, 14 minor penalties were meted out, 25 major penalties, 15 misconduct penalties and seven match penalties: a total of 373 minutes in penalty time. In comparison, the entire National Hockey League incurred only eight major and six misconduct penalties in 19 games played during a recent week, plus 310 minutes in minor penalties. Maybe baseball could switch from bats to sticks and thus bring back the big inning.
COACH WHAT'S HIS NAME
It is only normal for a football player to say he played for Bear Bryant in college, or for Woody Hayes or for John McKay. But whom does Bill Lalla say he played for? Lalla was a freshman at Oklahoma in 1965 when Gomer Jones was head coach there, but Jones left after the season and was replaced by Jim Mackenzie. Lalla was on Mackenzie's team in spring practice in 1966 and was a redshirt under him (Lalla had hurt a shoulder in the spring) the following fall. Then Mackenzie died suddenly early in 1967, and in spring practice Lalla played under new Coach Chuck Fairbanks.
That summer Lalla transferred from Oklahoma to Wichita State where, under Coach Boyd Converse, he was red-shirted again, since as a transfer he was ineligible to play in 1967. Converse later got into difficulties with the NCAA because of his recruiting practices and lost his job to Eddie Kriwiel, for whom Lalla played last fall. But Wichita State had a dismal 0-10 record under Kriwiel and he was replaced this January by Ben Wilson, who thus became the sixth head coach Lalla has had in five years.
Lalla might end up as a coach himself. It is hard to say how good a football mind Bill has, but if anybody should be an expert on the methods and techniques of coaching, he's the man.
THEY SAID IT
•Joe Anzivino, promotion director of the Harlem Globetrotters, after seeing LSU's Pete Maravich: "He's so fantastic we'd integrate to get him."
•Jack Kent Cooke, owner of basketball's Los Angeles Lakers, hockey's Los Angeles Kings and, in part, professional football's Washington Redskins: "My favorite sport has always been hockey. The athlete who thrilled me most was a hockey player, Howie Morenz, who was head and shoulders above any other man who ever played the game. He was magnificent."