Racing people say Bobby Byrne's stories of wholesale fixes of horse races are wildly exaggerated, which may be. A man can say a lot of things to a House investigating committee that he could not say in a court of law, and the widespread publicity the hoodlum's unsubstantiated remarks have received does not mean they should be accepted as unquestioned truth.
But neither does it mean, as racing seems to feel, that Byrne's testimony should be ignored, that nothing at all has happened and that racing is as pure as water from a mountain stream. The sport likes to boast that it polices itself, and perhaps it tries. But laxity at tracks like Churchill Downs, where the specter of the 1968 Butazolidin Derby still hovers, the questionable behavior of certain veterinarians, the chicanery involved in the sale and resale last year of Jim French, the indictment of former Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois for illegal activities relating to racetracks, the proven instances of tranquilized horses, found both before and after races—these glaringly demonstrate that all is not sweet innocence at the nation's tracks.
The first thing to correct is the threat of fixed races. The best way to do this is to test chemically all horses in all races. Some racing people say this would be prohibitively expensive because of the extra personnel and equipment needed. An efficient system of prerace testing of all horses that has been in effect for several years at a few harness tracks costs about four times the postrace method. It seems a reasonable price. Concerned track operators should look into it and maybe spend less time developing bingo bets like the superfecta and twin double, which attract the Bobby Byrnes the way dirty stables do flies.
At least one track is trying to police itself, however eccentrically. At Philadelphia's Liberty Bell last week 7,760 fans were startled and amused to see through their binoculars a jockey with his pants down. A few minutes before the first race, Lonnie Ray was ordered by Manley Stampler, enforcement director of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission, to drop his drawers, open his shirt and take off his helmet and boots. After no battery or other illegal device was found on Ray, he dressed again, remounted a 3-year-old named Little Marlin and rallied from 11th place to win the six-furlong event.
Ray said he had never used a battery, would not know how to use one, and had never been in any trouble before. He was incensed and told his lawyer to sue the track "for all I can get."
Joseph Lecce, state racing commission chairman, said the investigators had a reason for their suspicion but could not reveal it. "We've got a hell of a job to do and a lot of things to do," he added. "We aren't very popular. If we don't do the job, we're at fault."
A reasonable argument, but Nick Jemas, national managing director of the Jockeys' Guild, was right when he suggested that when a commission wants to frisk a jockey, it should take him to closed quarters.
It is still a few years away, but promoters and computer ticket officials are beginning to talk about a time when ticket prices will be permitted to float on a free market, like gold or stocks. Of course, this is the way scalpers run their ticket industry now, so it is nothing terribly revolutionary. The free ticket market will come to the Broadway theater first, where "twofers" (two tickets for the price of one) to a dying show are even now an indication of a falling market. If it works on Broadway, its move into sports, especially in big expense-account cities like New York, will not be far behind. By 1980 or so there might be ticket brokers calling their clients and saying things like "Sam, I think we ought to get into that Wednesday night Cub game at Shea. I can get you some at 9‚Öú and Seaver is supposed to go. But I think we ought to unload all your Giant-Eagle stuff. The long-range forecast is rain, so let's bail out there. We got in at 7‚Öù and it's up to 12 now. And we'll keep the short position on all Yankee games."
The Canadian Football League All-Star Game next Wednesday, which kicks off a series of more than 20 CFL games to be telecast into the U.S. this coming season, is of special interest because John Mackey of the NFL Players' Association will be on hand. Not to watch the game particularly but to talk to representatives of the CFL Players' Association about mutual problems. Like money. It is an apt occasion. The CFL All-Star Game is staged by the Canadian players to help finance their pension fund, which by NFL standards is on Poverty Row. And, naturally, there are rumblings about a strike on the Canadian side of the border. There is no indication yet that players from the two countries will form one international union, but the possibility is there. Which raises a question of future shock: could discontent with playing conditions in, say, Edmonton, Alberta lead to picket lines in Miami?
FACT OF THE MATTER
A couple of weeks ago it was rumored that the American Basketball Association was about to kill off two or three of its weakest members, plead poverty and allow the NBA to absorb the remaining eight or nine teams under the legal aegis of something called the Failing Company Doctrine, which would circumvent the monopoly charge that has delayed the long-proposed merger of the two pro leagues. As a gesture to the players, the owners were ready to give up the option clause. The NBA had even made up a new schedule to accommodate the absorbed ABA clubs.
All this had about as much substance as the air in a basketball. The ABA did fold the Florida and Pittsburgh franchises, but the rest of the scenario, which apparently was wishful thinking, failed to materialize. At their meeting last week the NBA owners did not discuss consolidation at all, except to wonder about the source of the stories.
The ABA appears to be clutching at Straws. "I am telling you, everybody is broke," said one owner. "It's as simple as that." Legal costs, particularly those incurred in Washington where pro basketball has been unsuccessfully trying to get legislation permitting the merger out of Senator Sam Ervin's subcommittee, have been very high. The ABA has no clear leadership and despite the acquisition last week of Philadelphia's Billy Cunningham, it has few stars left. There is only one franchise (the New York Nets) in a major metropolitan market and thus little chance of salvation via TV money. The only hope, it seems, is eventual merger with the NBA.
The ABA's plight has contributed to the collapse of the player-salary boom. Rosters are clogged with players holding no-cut contracts, and clubs in both leagues are reluctant to spend big money on new prospects. Top draft choices this spring are asking 1970-71 prices (those $300,000 bonanzas) but in general the clubs are offering about 10% of that. The no-cut guarantees and gaudy fringe benefits are out. Things have come to the point where even for agents war is hell.
ANYTHING YOU CAN DO
Sophisticated San Francisco is still in unseemly battle with gauche Oakland across the bay. Now it is stadiums. Somewhat miffed when Oakland put up its 54,500-seat Coliseum, which left Candlestick Park's 43,400 far behind, San Francisco redesigned its windy playground and this fall will have 61,100 seats available for football. That may not be enough for the city's pride. Oakland, in turn, has hired Architect John Bolles, who designed Candlestick, to bring in blueprints that would raise the Coliseum's football capacity to 63,000.
Why 63,000? 'They told me to top San Francisco," Bolles said.
Now, back to Candlestick Park.
SHAME ON KNUTE
When the Pittsburgh Steelers drilled their rookies this spring they followed the lead of seven other NFL teams in abandoning traditional calisthenics before practice. Gone were push-ups, side-straddle hops and deep knee bends, done to a military cadence. Instead, the players quietly bent and stretched in what looked like yoga but which proved to be an adaptation of the warmup gymnasts use.
The high priest of all this is Paul Uram, an assistant high school coach from Butler, Pa., who has been preaching the cause for several years with considerable success. "I guess 50 major colleges and maybe 1,300 high schools are stretching now," Uram says, "and every day I get letters asking for information." The Chicago White Sox are followers and so are the Los Angeles Lakers. The way Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain went through the last season with minimum physical distress did not hurt Uram's argument.
"Calisthenics are a bore," he says. "They're a waste of time. They don't condition athletes and they don't prevent injuries. Gymnasts don't pull muscles, and the reason is they stretch. They don't bounce their muscles, like you do in cals. They stretch and rest, stretch and rest. In cals it's stretch and snap back."
As to why calisthenics are so widely used if they are so useless, Uram has an interesting theory. "Knute Rockne," he says. "He did it to show off Notre Dame. To put on a show. To build morale. Rockne was a success, so everybody did what he did."
Eddie Crowder, football coach at the University of Colorado, gave his players a look at yet another novel procedure at his spring sessions. Any player who had taken part in two previous spring practices was given a choice: for the first eight of the 20 scheduled workouts he could practice again or he could help coach. "I've thought that we could develop better players if we could interrupt their playing careers and let them coach for awhile," said Crowder. "State of mind is an important quality in athletics. This plan lets our veterans see what we're doing from a different point of view."
Whether it was from eagerness to see that different point of view or simply a grateful acceptance of the chance to skip practice is conjectural, but 16 of 17 players given the option chose to blow whistles. If Crowder's theory is sound, Colorado may come up with the smartest team in the country next fall.
IF THE SHOE FITS
Track shoes, which caused such a fuss during and after the Mexico City Olympics, are walking into the picture again. The rival German firms Puma and Adidas are continually introducing new models with an eye to capturing the favor of top athletes and, in the course of events, a major share of the market. Puma has turned out the so-called "claw" shoe for sprinters, which has 12 rectangular cleats, each pointing in a different direction. Adidas has its special shoe for sprinters, too, with "hundreds of small multidirectional ridges and six sockets which will accept either traditional needle spikes, cones and plastic or aluminum elements." There are shoes for middle-distance runners and long-distance runners (an Adidas motto says, "For each event, for each athlete, the right shoe"). It is a strange world and a volatile one, but if shoe feuding is here, can the Olympics be far behind?
THEY SAID IT
•Charley McClendon, LSU football coach, on playing golf with Lee Trevino: "He's the only man I've ever known to talk on his backswing."
•George Culver, Houston pitcher, after opposing 6'7", 285-pound Frank Howard in an exhibition game: "You don't mind facing a guy like Howard unless he hits it up the middle. If he does, he takes you with it."
•Ed Khayat, Philadelphia Eagle coach, asked if Running Back Ron Bull might change his mind about retiring: "Before ecology, you got a lot of that. Come autumn and the smell of burning leaves, a guy would decide he wanted to play again. Now, because of pollution laws, you can't burn leaves."