THE BIG THINK
It seemed to be a good idea when the ultimate philosophers of baseball, the owners, decided to slice the two expansion-swollen major leagues into four divisions. That way, no one in either 12-team league ever would finish lower than sixth. The customers, they schemed, would thereby be tempted to watch not just two big pennant races but four little ones followed by two playoffs and the final-final.
Well, no team has been able to finish lower than sixth, although if it were possible San Diego might be considered a candidate this year. But in two years the two leagues have managed to come up with only one remotely exciting championship race out of a possible eight. In the American League, Baltimore won its division by 19 games in 1969 and by 15 in 1970. Minnesota won by nine games in each year. In the National League the Mets won by eight games in 1969 and the Pirates by five in '70. A year ago the Reds won in the West by 14½. Only in 1969, when the Braves nosed out the Giants in the West by three games, was there a semblance of suspense. And there was nothing suspenseful about the so-called "championship series" that determined the ultimate pennant winners. All of these best three-out-of-five matches have ended in clean sweeps. Die-hard skeptics felt that the races in both leagues would have been closer had there been no divisions. They would have been, too.
At midseason this year there appeared to be no sign of improvement: three of the four division races were all but locked up. Now, however, some small hopes of salvation have surfaced. The Giants, staggering since their early show of foot, are sinking closer to the Dodgers; the Pirates seem no longer invincible; and Baltimore and Boston still are playing Alphonse and Gaston. Only Oakland is out of sight.
But here's the rub; there would be even closer races this year without those divisions. In the American League, Oakland, Baltimore and Boston all would be in pennant contention. In the National, the Pirates, Giants, Cardinals, Dodgers and Cubs would be within hailing distance of each other.
But, of course, someone still would have to finish 12th.
Pro football's exhibition season was not quite two periods old for the New York Jets when that star-crossed team's hopes for a brilliant 1971-72 under the skilled hand and arm of Joe Namath were shattered. Attempting to make a tackle after a fumbled pitchout, Namath struggled up from the pileup with damaged ligaments in his left knee. At best, and it sounded like the ultimate in optimism, the Jets and Namath could only hope that Dr. James A. Nicholas, orthopedist for the team, was right when he said, "There is a possibility that Joe may be able to play by the 10th game of the season late in November."
Dick Young, columnist for New York's Daily News and long intimate with the quarterback's difficulties, even went so far as to suggest that Namath should not have been playing at all.
"This could be it for good," Young wrote. "This is what Joe Namath and Dr. Nicholas have feared right along, the time the knees would become so deteriorated that almost any kind of blow would stretch or snap a ligament. Indeed, Dr. Nicholas secretly feared that one day the leg might snap at the knee."
Apparently the risk was worth it to Namath. He had approached this season with a revived interest, an enthusiasm for the game he had not shown in years. Given physical soundness, he needed that special mental attitude to prove to the football world how great he really was. Now we may never know.
THE AMATEUR FORECASTER
The general opinion among golfers is that the Masters championship is decided every April at Augusta. Friends of Paul Fiorita, a Greenwich, Conn. amateur with a five handicap, know otherwise. It is decided the previous July in the pro shop of the Westchester (N. Y.) Country Club, when pairings are drawn for the Pro-Am Tournament that precedes the Westchester Classic.
Except for one year when Fiorita's pro partner wasn't invited to Augusta, the professional he has been paired with in the Pro-Am has gone on to win the next year's Masters. The magic worked first for George Archer in 1969, then for Billy Casper in 1970. Last year Fiorita confidently told his partner what to expect. Charles Coody just laughed.
This year Paul was paired with Don Bies of Seattle, whose name you may not recognize. But, come next April, maybe you will.
SPORT FOR SOREHEADS
One of the occupational hazards of soccer is a sore head—arising from the rule that only the goaltender may touch the ball with his hands. The other players advance the ball or shoot it with their feet—or their heads.
As a consequence, a new kind of practice has developed in London's Harley Street, the world-famous British medical center. Soccer players are going to the Harley Street Clinic to get their heads toughened. The treatment is a professional secret.
"The treatment makes it easier for the players to head the ball because it is less painful, and it is doing fantastic-things for them," a clinic spokesman explained. "There has been a fantastic amount of inquiries from footballers."
REMEMBRANCE OF TIMES PAST
An extremely salable product these days is nostalgia. Old musicals are a smash on Broadway, old phonograph records are experiencing a profitable revival and old magazines are being reissued on the newsstands. Now retread fighters are about to have their day. Come Sept. 14 at White Plains (N.Y.) County Center, a series of exhibition bouts is expected to bring in $72,000 for Westchester County's United Cerebral Palsy Fund.
The nostalgia in this case will derive from the days when prizefights were presented on television three nights a week. Directed by Chico Vejar, the middleweight of the '50s Who will box Chuck Davey of the same vintage, a total of seven three-round bouts will be presented by 14 former fighters, among them seven ex-champions. Rocky Graziano will be pitted against Jake LaMotta, Willie Pep will face Sandy Saddler, Carmen Basilio will box Ernie Durando, Roger Donoghue will meet Steve Belloise, Tippy Larkin will take on Charlie Fusari and Joey Giardello will oppose Billy Graham.
SEEING EYE AT TAHOE
Come Super Bowl time in 1972 it will be the Detroit Lions against the Kansas City Chiefs, according to Harrah's Tahoe Race Book.
The book makes the Lions 3-1 to take the National Conference title, the Chiefs the same to win the American.
Other National odds: Minnesota 7-2, San Francisco 4-1, Dallas 5-1, Los Angeles 6-1, New York Giants 8-1, Washington and St. Louis each 10-1, Chicago and Green Bay each 20-1, Atlanta 30-1, Philadelphia and New Orleans each 50-1.
American odds: Oakland 7-2, Miami 4-1, Baltimore 5-1, New York Jets 6-1, Cleveland 7-1, Cincinnati 8-1, San Diego and Houston each 15-1, Denver 20-1, Pittsburgh 40-1, Buffalo and New England each 50-1.
DIVING TO FREEDOM
A course of studies available to convicts at the California Institute for Men, a minimum-security state prison in Chino, is so popular that eight prisoners thus far have refused to be discharged either upon completion of their sentences or when they have become eligible for parole. Men have asked to stay in prison for as long as five months in order to finish the nine-month course.
The course is in deep-sea diving and offers an exhaustive program of classroom and field work. The physical-fitness schedule calls for an hour and a half of work each day—a 4½-mile crosscountry run (within the prison compound), 30 minutes of calisthenics and a two-mile swim. All facets of diving, from scuba to commercial hard hat, are taught, along with the cutting and welding of steel, plumbing, electrical wiring, the handling of explosives and the operation of underwater camera gear.
Bob Howard, a professional diver, conducts the course.
"Without this training," he points out, "they have little to fall back on to survive on the street. They give up a little to start as an apprentice at $60 to $70 per week, but the big nugget is that they have the potential to earn $15,000 to $20,000 per year clean money."
The first class graduated eight men last April. All arc employed.
Duck hunters won't be too happy with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report on the coming season. A study of the Canadian scene reveals:
Mallard production is about the same as last year, which is 10% above the 10-year average.
Pintails are 9% below 1970 and 11% below average.
Redheads are down 6% from 1970, 10% below average.
Canvasbacks are down 15% from last year, 12% below the 10-year average.
Only the blue-winged teal figures showed marked improvement. They are 5% above 1970 and 7% above average.
DAYS OF REAL SPORT
For years Little League baseball has come under criticism because so many young players, pitchers especially, injure their underdeveloped arms. Moves have been made to introduce pitching machines and to limit pitchers to two innings each.
Now the "new city" of Columbia, Md. has decided that organized contact sports are not good for children under 12. The Columbia Recreation Association has concluded that henceforth it will not supply equipment for boxing, karate, judo, football, lacrosse or hockey.
On the other hand, the association does approve of archery, boating, bowling, golf, swimming, tennis and track.
"The positive values of sports, their important effects on stamina and physiological functioning and their value as lifelong recreation activities should be emphasized," the association noted.
One delegate, Mrs. Dolly O'Laughlin, reported, "We agreed that it's safer for a boy to play football in his own backyard. If he gets tired, he can at least sit down. And he doesn't have that pressure of competition."
Until New York City got into the business, the only legal off-track bookmakers in the U.S. were in Nevada, where there are 12 licensed books—in Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe. To place a bet legally in Nevada you must be in one of those cities, since placing bets by telephone is against state law.
The reason for the ban is a federal law which forbids the placing of bets by interstate telephone, and Nevada's State authorities want to be certain of compliance with the federal restriction.
But in New York City bettors are encouraged to establish credit and place their bets by telephone. Nevada bookies want the same privilege. Permitting the placing of bets by telephone in New York makes Nevada bookies "second-class citizens," grumbles North Swanson, operator of the Reno Turf Club.
The restriction will be especially senseless, the bookies feel, when off-track betting becomes nationwide. "I give it five years," says Sammy Cohen of the Santa Anita race book in Las Vegas.
The trouble is, Nevada authorities say, that with today's direct distance dialing, it is impossible to tell where a telephone call originates. So they want to retain the law. But the bookies are persistent, and Governor Mike O'Callaghan has indicated that the question may come up before the state Gaming Policy Committee.
THEY SAID IT
•Jonathan Staggers, new head basketball coach at Hayward State, explaining that his team would fast-break and play less pattern basketball: "We'll have a homeostatic type of offense within a certain dynamic status quo."
•Eddie Robinson, Grambling head coach, asked if he had a drug problem: "No, I went to one of these drug seminars and I came back and told my players that when you use drugs you lose your sex drive. You should have seen how big their eyes got."