TIME TO BE FRANK
One theory in the strange, continuing case of Denny McLain suggests that Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was surprised and hurt by the criticism directed at him after his suspension of McLain last spring. Kuhn, who had a most favorable press through the first year of his reign, was embarrassed then because he appeared to be unaware of McLain's errant ways before the news began to break. His careful, reasoned decision to suspend the pitcher for half a season (a decision approved of by President Nixon, he confided) would, he felt, restore his reputation as a superior administrator. It would be acclaimed as the judgment of a Solomon—not too mild, not too harsh, a punishment that would make clear how serious McLain's fall from grace was but which nonetheless would give that odd young man a merciful chance to salvage his splendid career—and, indeed, his life.
Instead, the decision was laughed at: the punishment did not suit the seriousness of the offense. Kuhn chafed under the scorn of his critics in comparative silence, apparently assuming that time would prove him right. When McLain subsequently doused the two sportswriters with ice water, was suspended by his club and responded with a bitter verbal attack on the club's general manager, Kuhn was shocked. More than that, he was chagrined. How could McLain be so stupid?
To his discredit, the commissioner would not admit his chagrin. He had granted earlier in the summer that he had been "lenient" with McLain, but now, as he suspended the pitcher again, he insisted in an astonishing statement that this punishment had nothing to do with either the earlier suspension or the water-throwing incident in Detroit. Instead, Kuhn attributed it to "new allegations," which he did not disclose, and to reports that McLain had been carrying a gun.
What are the new allegations? Do they really have no connection with McLain's earlier transgressions? Are Denny's differences with the Detroit Tiger management sufficient reason for the commissioner to suspend him? The Detroit News quoted McLain, who does not have a commercial pilot's license, as saying he made money flying people, which would be against FAA regulations. Was this a factor? Is carrying a gun (other ballplayers have been in trouble for carrying guns) in itself that serious an aberration? Was it only a disastrous coincidence that the new allegations and the water-throwing incident erupted at the same time?
Hard to accept, Commish. You're playing games with credibility.
FIRST HE SAID HE WOULD
Another confused young man is Tom McMillen, the 6'11" Pennsylvanian who has been trying since last March to decide which college to bestow his basketball talents upon. In June, despite the well-publicized objections of his mother and father, who wanted him to go to the University of Maryland, he chose North Carolina. That apparently final decision became unstuck, and last week Bill Gibson, basketball coach at the University of Virginia, spent three hopeful days talking to McMillen in his home town. A worried Dean Smith, the North Carolina coach, who was in Europe conducting basketball clinics, phoned McMillen at the beginning of the week and was assured by the boy that he would enroll at Carolina on Friday. Virginia's Gibson, still optimistic, had an appointment for Thursday morning at 10. When he arrived, McMillen had left to matriculate at Maryland, pausing only to wire Smith, "Very very sorry. I'm going to Maryland for reasons you know. Hope you understand."
With the Hawaii Islanders winning their division of the Pacific Coast League and drawing nearly 500,000 fans and sending their manager up to take over the Chicago White Sox, Mayor Frank Fasi of Honolulu feels it's time the major leagues made Hawaii their 25th team. Or, anyway, the 24½th. Fasi thinks one of the big-league clubs on the West Coast should play half its home games in Honolulu. "They ought to consider using two cities as home towns," says Fasi, "playing half their games in one city and half in the other." The mayor has not yet put the idea before anyone in baseball and says he presumes such an arrangement would have to wait until 1973, when the new 50,000-seat Honolulu Stadium is completed. A 50,000-seat stadium—hmmm. Charley Finley is suddenly gazing out at the Pacific, silent (for the moment) upon a peak in Darien. Or Oakland.
Jimmie (The Greek) Snyder says the odds on the NFL divisional races are as follows:
National East: Dallas 1-2; Washington 3-1; New York 5-1; St. Louis 10-1; Philadelphia 1,000-1.
National Central: Minnesota 4-5; Detroit 3-1; Green Bay 3-1; Chicago 100-1.
National West: Los Angeles 1-8; San Francisco 7-1; Atlanta 7-1; New Orleans 50-1.
American East: Baltimore 4-5; New York 2-1; Miami 5-1; Boston 25-1; Buffalo 500-1.
American Central: Cleveland even; Houston 3-1; Pittsburgh 3-1; Cincinnati 50-1.
American West: Kansas City 3-5; Oakland 3-2; San Diego 10-1; Denver 50-1.
The odds are unofficial, and are of use only for friend-to-friend bets. Johnny Quinn of the Derby Sports Book in Las Vegas says, "We don't book odds on division or conference winners. The divisions are too lopsided: one team may be 1-6, the next 8-1, the third 200-1. In order to put up a line, you have to have some diversified action. It's not like baseball."
SOMETHING TO CURL UP WITH
When you put down your money for a program at an NFL game this year, you'll find yourself holding something called Pro!, a slick-looking production resembling a magazine, which is what it more or less is. Each of the 26 clubs will contribute standard program data and locally oriented material, but the core of the publication is 34 pages of stories and features aimed at a general pro football audience. It will be sold only at stadiums on game days. Could be just the thing to while away those long last quarters when your team is helplessly out of it, even with the points.
This year's shiny new program seems like a good enough idea, but in other areas the NFL appears to be working overtime to catch up with baseball in boo-boo making. Consider the "NFL Man of the Year Award" contest, which resembles baseball's much-criticized All-Star selection process. Numbered ballots with the names of 78 pro football players are to be studied by fans, who will then pick one of the 78 as man of the year. The player with the most votes will win both a trophy and a car, and a $25,000 scholarship fund in his name will be established in his team's city. Very commendable. And with 78 names to choose from, how could the most deserving man of the year possibly be overlooked? Well, for one thing, 78 players breaks down to only three per team, which means that only three of the 40 heroes on your favorite club are in the running. There is an escape clause, a blank line on the ballot for "your own nomination," but despite Rico Carty's rise from an unlisted limbo in baseball's computerized All-Star Game election, write-in nominees have an uphill battle all the way. And there are some unfortunate inclusions and omissions on the official ballot. Greg Cook, one of the three Cincinnati Bengals listed, is out for the season. Roy Jefferson, one of the three Pittsburgh Steelers, has been traded. The Buffalo Bills have waived Harry Jacobs, one of their three, and Norm Snead of the Philadelphia Eagles may not even start. Yet the ballot does not include Dick Butkus, Tommy Nobis, Daryle Lamonica, Paul Warfield, Sonny Jurgensen, Dan Abramowicz and Leroy Kelly. There isn't a rookie in the entire list, not even the Steelers' Terry Bradshaw, the shining light of western Pennsylvania.
One final quibble. The award is based on playing performance and "civic involvement." How do you rate Joe Namath, say, on civic involvement?
SAIL ON AND ON
Now then, if you're really determined to get a seat on the 50-yard line for at least one or two of the America's Cup races, there still may be time for you to rent a 100-foot schooner from World Yacht Enterprises in New York, on which you can sleep 40 of your nearest and dearest friends. Or, if your friends number only a dozen, you might try L. H. Blount of Warren, R.I., to see if his 57-foot Eaglet is still available. Sorry, you are too late to do anything about the brigantine Black Peal out of New York, which is taken. If you're desperate you can join the two-thousand-odd who will be on the S. S. Day Belle each racing day.
Best place to be is on either Intrepid or Gretel II. One reason is the view. Another is that whether you win or lose you can comfort yourself with the survival kit all crewmembers receive. It includes aspirin, a first-aid kit, a jar of instant tea (in honor of Sir Thomas Lipton, the famed Cup racer), a pack of 101 Chesterfields (which has a lovely picture of a yacht on it) and, most important of all, a flask of Cognac, direct from France. Not Marcel Bich's France, Charles de Gaulle's France.
ON A CLEAR DAY...
Professor Ted Perry of the University of Texas came to New York City recently to shoot some film footage for a movie on water pollution. He had no luck. Seems that air pollution was so bad that he could not get decent exposures.
Johnny Bench, the ballplayer, hit his 44th home run of the season on Sept. 10 but Johnny Bench, the catcher, had only 37, four short of the major league record for catchers set by Roy Campanella in 1953. The Cincinnati Reds like to rest their All-Star catcher by playing him now and then in the outfield or at first base. Outfielder Bench had six of the 44 homers and First Baseman Bench had one. The Elias Sports Bureau, official National League statisticians, says that it cannot include those extracurricular homers in the total for catchers. This raises a question. If Johnny hits one someday as a pinch hitter, will it be registered under yet another category—say, Bench Jockey?
THEY SAID IT
•Grover Resinger, Detroit Tigers coach, on his way out of a Red Sox-Tigers game at Fenway Park: "You know, when country-club teams like the Red Sox and Tigers get together, they should play baseball one day, polo the next, golf the next, and sail boats the fourth day."
•Ken Fleming, SMU end, asked what he planned to do with his anthropology degree: "Play pro football."
•Dick Arndt, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle, telling of his 13-yard touchdown run after picking up a fumble in a preseason game against Minnesota: "I can't explain it, but all I could keep thinking was, 'Am I running the right way?' "