The New York harness-racing scandal, which was announced with a flurry of subpoenas and staggering charges three weeks ago, has simmered down to a teapot-size tempest. If the charges are true, the quiet is distressing and we hope the investigators are sticking to their business. But if they are false, a lot of people have been irresponsibly smeared.
Leaks from federal investigations indicated that "almost all" superfecta races at three New York tracks between December 1972 and April 1973 had been fixed and that the fixers had made more than $2 million. This would indicate that about 100 races over the four-month period had been tampered with, an astonishing accomplishment even for the most skillful of crooks. Such blanket fixing of races would be totally at variance with the normal hit-and-lie-low pattern of fix attempts discovered in the past.
Apparently, the charge of fix was made after it was learned that an itinerant horsetrader was having unusual success betting the superfecta during the December-April period. A skillful handicapper, he was said to have boasted of his friendship with some of trotting's top drivers and trainers. Apparently, too, he was employing "ten percenters" to make his bets and cash his winning tickets. He was willing to pay them 10% of what they collected in order to spread his winnings around and avoid big income tax payments. This is illegal, and investigators looking into it also found instances of false ownership of horses and other serious irregularities. But thus far they have produced no concrete evidence of a fixed race. This seems a far cry from three weeks ago, when "almost all" superfectas were fixed. It also suggests that headline-seeking publicity is not the best way to uncover chicanery and catch crooks.
More evidence that big-time college sport is essentially professional was disclosed when the Eastern College Athletic Conference voted last week to put on a postseason basketball tournament beginning in 1975. The ECAC, parent conference of the Ivy League and other prestigious Eastern schools, is having financial problems and is adopting the tournament in order to raise money for operating expenses. The logic seems clear enough: the ECAC needs money and will use hired (that is to say, scholarship) athletes to raise it. The pleasant deception that big-time college players—only 16 of the 213 schools in the ECAC will be in the tournament—are really students is ignored, for studies are not a factor in this. Nor, for that matter, should they be. The prime reason why a scholarship athlete is in college is not to study but to play for the college. That's fine. What is wrong is the hypocrisy about it.
The telecast of the King-Riggs showup (it certainly wasn't a showdown) drew a huge audience, as ABC-TV gleefully reported almost as soon as Riggs jumped the net and began talking about a rematch. The overnight Trendex, as the tube people say, indicated that as many as 60 million people watched at least part of the fun. An estimated 22 million homes were tuned in. This is considerably fewer than the 26.7 million that had the Super Bowl on last January, but because of the far greater interest women had in the tennis match than in the football game it is reasonable to assume that more people were watching per home. So ABC is justified in boasting.
However, the network did not bother to take much public notice of the complaints that poured in. Quite a few people got fed up with the incessant and often pointless commentary of the nonstop mouths that were describing the event, and they were annoyed, too, with the way the cameras ran frantically around trying to get a shot of every actor and actress at ringside, even cutting away from the action on court to make sure all the hams were properly baked on camera (much of it ABC's own ham; Blythe Danner and Ken Howard, for example, star on guess-what network). A cursory check revealed that ABC outlets in New York and Chicago, which reach 15% of ABC's entire audience, received almost 2,000 complaints during the show. Project this, the way TV loves to project other figures, and it means that more than 10,000 complaints were received across the country, which is a lot of booing.
Over to you, Howard. Or Rosie. Or whoever is hogging the mike and pointing the camera.
Afraid this one is a bit awkward to write. Lot of nonsense, really. But, oh well. Gunther Pilz, a West German sociologist working at the Swiss federal college of physical education, argues that sportswriters have become warmongers. He says they (or we, if you insist) give sport greater significance than it deserves, create artificial sensations and advance the cause of nationalism.
"They turn their reporting into a manipulation of emotions, the kind of emotions that make fanatics out of players and spectators and turn stadiums into battlefields. Sports events that ought to promote the friendship and integration of nations are converted into little wars, and these warlike sublimations get the upper hand, particularly when former enemies are involved.
"Sports reports not infrequently resemble cheap Wild West tales or medieval epics. Events are managed to suit television, and stadiums are built with the same end in view. The more the mass media succeed in emotionally arousing players and spectators, the greater the danger of negative, aggressive reactions on the part of both."
Pilz, you have exactly 24 hours to apologize. If you don't, we attack.
Ever since Wilbur Wood of the Chicago White Sox won his 20th game this year and at about the same time showed that he was going to lose 20, too, people have been asking what other major league pitchers ever won 20 and lost 20 in the same season. Here, via Duff Wyllie, the superstatistician from San Francisco, is the final word, complete with colorful nicknames. It was a fairly common occurrence before 1900, Wyllie says, but in the 20th century the list is limited to:
Iron Man McGinnity
Wabash George Mullin
Wabash George Mullin
Death Valley Jim Scott
Win One Lose One Wilbur Wood is 60 years behind the times.
A middle-aged man tried to explain what it was about Willie Mays that made him so special:
"I was one of the 23,000 people who paid their way into the Polo Grounds in New York City on the night of May 28, 1951. My father was another. Maybe he paid for me, maybe I paid for him. Whatever, we had lousy seats way back in the lower stands behind home plate, a little toward first base. We had gone to see the Giants play the Braves, and we were looking forward to seeing Willie Mays, who had come up from the Minneapolis Millers a few days before to join the Giants. We were not overly impressed by his credentials—the Giants had a record of bringing overblown phenoms to the majors—but we were curious because the Giants moved Bobby Thomson out of center field to make room for him, and Thomson was then the fastest man in the league. I suppose we wanted to see if Mays was real.
"Willie had gone 0 for 12 in three games in Philadelphia, but he was still batting third that night of his debut in the Polo Grounds. Unhappily for Giant fans, Warren Spahn was pitching for Boston, Sheldon Jones for New York. In the top of the first inning the Braves scored three runs off Jones, which was depressing, considering how little the Giants were likely to do against Spahn. And when Warren briskly got rid of the first two batters to face him, indicating he had his stuff, we knew the game was over.
"Then Willie Mays stepped up and—I don't remember the count—hit a tremendously high home run on top of the left field roof, and we poor, bereft Giant fans were on our feet, roaring and yelling, shaking our fists exultantly. It remains in my memory as one of the most exciting home runs I ever saw, and I'm still not sure why. The Giants lost the game and Mays continued in his slump (he was 1 for 26 before he finally began to hit), but the electricity, the tingle, the fun of Willie Mays began then. And for those who saw him in his great days, it will never stop."
Back in the 1930s Detroit called itself the city of champions. Within a year or so, the Tigers won the World Series, the Lions won the National Football League championship, the Red Wings won hockey's Stanley Cup. And Joe Louis, who fought out of Detroit, was the best heavyweight boxer in the world, although not yet champion.
Nowadays, Detroit can call itself the city of losers, at least as far as the men who run pro teams there are concerned. Last November, Earl Lloyd was fired as coach of the basketball Pistons. In January, Joe Schmidt quit as coach of the Lions. In April, Johnny Wilson was fired as coach of the Red Wings. In September, Billy Martin was fired as manager of the Tigers.
It's lucky Detroit doesn't have a heavyweight champion. He'd be knocked on his ear.
EUPHORIA AND NEW BRUNSWICK
George Sheehan, the running doctor, takes issue with physiologists who dismiss the concept of "second wind" as old-fashioned, a figment of the athlete's imagination. Recalling a description of the second wind as "an almost miraculous refreshment and renewal of vigor," Sheehan says it does exist and that as a runner he experiences it almost daily. But you must lope along slowly at first, he says, like a primitive hunter off in search of his daily haunch of mastodon.
"If you start a training run at slow speed," he writes in his column in the Red Bank (N.J.) Daily Register, "keeping well within yourself, at about six minutes this feeling of being the complete runner will steal over you and possess you. The only external sign for me is a warm, pleasant sweat. Inside is euphoria and the confidence I could run all the way to New Brunswick."
Not content with personal evidence, Sheehan recalls research done on the renowned marathoner Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia in Tokyo during the 1964 Olympics. Along with other runners, Bikila was tested on a treadmill, on which he began running at an easy pace without a warmup. His heart rate and respiration rose gradually during the first few minutes and then leveled off. "And then suddenly," Sheehan writes, "at the three-minute mark (it was later for the less gifted) Bikila had a sharp drop in his pulse and breathing. He also began to sweat and his pulse pressure widened. He was in the perfect physical state for distance running.
"It's as simple as that. Easy and natural does it. You have to avoid rush and bustle and pushing and shoving, and put away impatience and force and speed, if you want to find your second wind. It takes the hunter's tireless trot to bag that elusive Pimpernel."
THEY SAID IT
•Henry Aaron, asked by a woman if he was the Home Run King: "No, Dave Johnson's upstairs in his room asleep."
•Rev. Richard Connelly, chaplain of the Cincinnati Bengals, giving the invocation at a luncheon: "This year, Our Lord, do not leave us at the two-minute warning."
•Edgar Chandler, New England Patriot linebacker, after O. J. Simpson rushed for 250 yards: "You go for something you think is there and all of a sudden you don't have anything. Nobody should gain that much."
•Roger McCluskey, on becoming the oldest USAC national driving champion at 43: "It is better than doing it at 44."
•Buzzie Bavasi, San Diego Padre president: "I get tired of hearing my ballplayers bellyache all the time. They should sit in the press box sometimes and watch themselves play."