Years ago there was a stock figure in political cartoons called John Q. Taxpayer, a miserable-looking wretch, thin, peaked and frustrated, who wore nothing but a battered hat and a barrel. Gus H. Fan, the symbolic sports follower, is beginning to resemble John Q., which is not surprising since fan and taxpayer are the same: Everyman. Sports are supposed to be Everyman's release, his surcease from care, his escape into vicarious accomplishment and triumph.
No more. Now the fan, beset by withholding taxes, sales taxes, school taxes, busing crises, shameless politicians, rising prices, endless debts, turns to his favorite sport and gets—rising prices, shameless owners, greedy athletes, franchise switching, contract jumping, lawsuits, haggling, arguing, disputes, everything but the fun and enjoyment he is seeking.
The baseball strike came very close to being the last straw. What makes the owners and players—each group self-righteously pompous—think that the fan, ultimate source of all baseball's income, is going to care very much longer? All that the fan knows is: he's the loser. In bars and buses and bowling alleys around the country, the prevailing attitude was not "Which side is right?" but "A plague on both your houses."
Environmentalists took a drubbing last week when the House of Representatives quickly passed a water-pollution control bill drawn up by the Public Works Committee behind closed doors. The bill nullifies strong—if not always enforced—laws that have been on the books for years. It even repeals obscure 1888 acts prohibiting industrial pollution of Baltimore, Norfolk and New York harbors and a 1910 act forbidding the dumping of pollutants into Lake Michigan by two adjacent counties. On the broad national level, the bill grants certain polluters immunity for up to four years from prosedition under the Federal Refuse Act of 1899. This law, which prohibits the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters or their tributaries, has been successfully used to prod federal authorities into action against polluters. Under the bill the House has passed, the individual states and not the Federal Government would be responsible for issuing those permits that inevitably allow some pollution; and in order to complain about a grievous violation in court, a private citizen would practically have to live next door to the offender.
What angered environmentalists most is that they got only a last-minute peck at the 216-page bill before it hit the House floor, and by then they were outgunned. "I feel as if I've been hit by a steamroller," said Representative John Dingell of Michigan, chairman of the Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation. "This was the best financed and most energetic lobbying effort I've ever seen." One of the most energetic lobbyists was Donna Mitchell, acting for Conservation Commissioner Henry Diamond of New York, a state with an abysmal record in pollution abatement.
But as Dingell noted, "The fight for clean water is not over." The House bill is so radically different from a stronger Senate measure that conferees may not be able to iron out differences. Some environmentalists believe the gap is so wide there is no chance for compromise and hence no bill at all this year.
FAREWELL MY LOVELY
Racing is having trouble with its traditional $2 bet. The $2 bettor used to visit place and show windows for conservative investments on horses he favored, but a study at Sportsman's Park in Chicago revealed that times have changed. Only 4.2% of the betting handle came from $2 place bets and only 1.6% from $2 show bets. Figures at Bowie in Maryland indicate a similar situation. Monticello Raceway in New York tried two years ago to get the state to let it eliminate place and show betting. No sentimentalists, the Sportsman's Park management closed down its $2 place and show windows, and Chicago's Hawthorne followed suit. Monticello finally got state approval to close its windows, and Maryland tracks are now contemplating the same move.
Bob Hancock, mutuels manager at Bowie and Pimlico, says the sharp drop in $2 place and show wagering is caused by the popularity of the exacta, in which one bet covers both win and place. Hancock says, "One third of all money bet each day is on the exacta. It has to come from somewhere."
In Northern Ireland a pubkeeper named Bernard Browne of Strabane in County Tyrone went fishing in the River Foyle. Just as he hooked a seven-pound salmon, a fire fight broke out between British troops and IRA guerrillas. Shots sounded all around him, but Browne stood fast, played the fish for 20 minutes and landed it. "I hardly noticed the shooting," he said later. "When you have a seven-pound salmon on the hook, nothing else matters. First things first."
There is an old wives' tale that what is right for one identical twin is usually left for the other. Within a 24-hour span at the Pennsylvania Class B high school state basketball championships, identical twins Mike and Mitch Swartz of Middletown gladdened the hearts of all who swear by old wives. Mike cracked a bone in his right foot in a semifinal game. The next day in practice Mitch broke the corresponding bone in his left foot. "You hear of this," a Harrisburg doctor said, perhaps uneasily, "but there is no demonstrable scientific evidence for it." The twins' father, either corroborating or denying the adage, depending on how you look at it, added, "One has a tall, blonde girl friend, the other a short brunette.' "
MATTER OF OPINION
At the NAIA basketball tournament in Kansas City last month, 6'8" Travis Grant of Kentucky State set a one-game scoring record of 60 points, after which his coach, Lucias Mitchell, said, "He's worth $2 million to the pros. He's the greatest shooter in the world. If he's not the No. 1 player drafted, I'll be the most surprised person in the country."
Mitchell's glowing praise was not unexpected, since along with being coach he is something of an agent for his players. But Len Snyder of the Buffalo Braves said (SI, March 27), "He is the best pure shooter l've ever seen." Bob Cousy of the quondam Cincinnati Royals conceded that Grant played no defense but commented, "He hardly needs to. Any NBA club with a big stud at center would find him extremely useful." Dick McGuire, the New York Knicks scout, said after watching Grant, "A hell of an exhibition."'
However, a strong dissent on Grant's ability came from Marty Blake, former Pittsburgh Condor general manager who now runs an independent scouting service for professional basketball that supplies information and opinion on the potential worth of college prospects. In discussing some of the current crop of collegians in Sport magazine, Blake was very down on Grant: "He does not play defense, and he shoots from 20 feet out. A computer would have told me to take him, but after watching one game I know the guy can't play."
The ABA apparently concurred with Blake's opinion, for in its closed draft in February, Grant was not selected in the top 20. It will be interesting to sec where he is picked in the NBA draft this coming Monday. A $2 million contract seems pie in the sky right now, but if it is any consolation to Grant, the final decision on just how good he is can't come until the pros return to the court next fall.
Before a Red Sox exhibition game this spring, Catcher Carlton Fisk checked with Pitcher Rogelio Moret on what signals he wanted to use. Said Moret: "Use one, two, three fingers and a wiggle."
"Why the wiggle?" Fisk asked. "You only have three pitches."
Said Moret: "Oh, yeah."
Some weeks ago Goalie Ken Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens was quoted on the subject of autographs (he gives them dutifully but says that they are a waste of time for everyone concerned). Now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a few thoughtful words to say on the same subject. "I don't mind people coming up to me and saying, 'Hello, how are you?' " he told Joe Donnelly of Long Island's Newsday. "Then I'm a real person. But signing autographs is kind of dehumanizing. It keeps you in the realm of the unknown. Adults ask you for autographs so they can say to their kids they met you. Well, that's silly. I sign occasionally, but writing my name on a piece of paper really isn't necessary."
When he was a youngster in New York City named Lew Alcindor, he used to hunt autographs himself, particularly after football games in Yankee Stadium and basketball games in Madison Square Garden. "I lost them in six months," he says now. "I didn't know where they were and, what's more, I didn't really care."
Southern Illinois' Greg Starrick, holder of the new NCAA career foul-shooting record (.909), would like to play pro basketball but not necessarily as a regular. "It would be nice if they used free-throw specialists the way pro football uses kickers." he says. "I could come in and shoot for Wilt Chamberlain and then go hack to the bench."
THEY SAID IT
•Tex Winter, Houston Rocket coach, on UCLA's Bill Walton: "One of the reasons I left as University of Washington coach was that I knew what a great player he was going to be. I figured I'd have a better chance of winning a title against Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA than against Walton in the PAC Eight."
•Mickey Herskowitz, Houston TV commentator: "Since they are using newsmen as a negotiating tactic, every athlete announcing his retirement should be required to post a bond. If he comes out of retirement within 60 days, he forfeits the bond and distributes the sum equally among writers attending his original press conference."
•Billy Martin, Detroit Tiger manager who has the last bat Joe DiMaggio used and is willing to donate it to the Hall of Fame with one proviso: "I want them to put a tag on the bat that I donated it. That's the only way I'll ever get in there."
•Steve Arlin, San Diego Padre pitcher, whose long-term career is dentistry: "One of my patients asked me to inscribe my initials on a filling. Where did you ever hear before of a dentist being asked for his autograph?"