HAMMERING AT HENRY
In agreeing to sit out the first three games of the season in Cincinnati so that the home fans in Atlanta might personally see him tie and/or break Babe Ruth's career home-run record of 714, Henry Aaron gets points for candor, but certainly not for logic. "What the heck, you have to look at it from the financial standpoint of the Braves," their star outfielder said last week and added, "...let's be realistic, we're not going to challenge for the Western Division title."
All right, let's be realistic. If the object is to sell seats in Atlanta Stadium, something Brave Chairman Bill Bartholomay has not been very successful at in recent years, then it is to everybody's advantage that Aaron does not hit a homer in the first game he plays there, nor in the succeeding ones. With a bum start, Aaron could fill the place for days, or until everybody got so bored with waiting they turned to spring football practice at Georgia Tech.
Not using your best—and nobody in the Braves' organization is claiming that after 20 brilliant years Aaron is now a bench sitter—is hardly better than shaving points. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn exacerbates the Cincinnati-Aaron-Atlanta situation when he intimates he is powerless to act, that it is not for him to tell a team what players' names to write on the lineup card. Ordinarily he would be right, but this is no ordinary circumstance. If, finally, only quick dollars and cents count, they are illusory. Aaron may sell out the stadium once or twice, but after that only a team with a chance to win the division title is going to keep the crowds coming. To build a better house, you use your hammer. Starting with the first nail.
NO TIME FOR STITCHES
Streaking, for gentler readers who may not have heard, is the latest campus craze. The beauty of the sport, which is played by boys and girls, is that it does not require shoulder pads or monogrammed sweaters or field-hockey sticks. At any old hour of the day students by the horde erupt from their dormitories and go dashing around the campus for half a mile or so until exhaustion or the cops overtake them. At the moment Western Carolina U. of Cullowhee, N.C. is claiming the championship on the basis of 141 streakers: 113 men and 28 women. But raw data are hard to come by and as the weather ameliorates the figures are bound to increase. The naked truth is, streakers do their thing bare.
POLLY WANT A TEQUILA?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture can get sticky when it comes to importing parrots, which are notorious disease carriers. But where there's a dollar there's a way, or at least so thought some smarties. Recently U.S. Customs men searching a car at Laredo on the Mexican border discovered a secret compartment in the firewall. It was filled with socks and each sock contained a parrot too drowsy to talk. The birds had been fed corn drenched in tequila to keep them from chattering till they got across the border. After testing the parrots for psittacosis, the department might ask Alcoholics Anonymous what to do next.
FITS AND STARTS
False starts are the bane of track meets. This year, promoters of the Texas, Kansas and Kentucky relays are going to do something about them, but if there ever was a case of the cure being worse than the disease, this seems to be it.
Beginning with the Texas Relays in mid-April, only one false start will be permitted in each race, including preliminaries and finals. The very next racer to jump will be disqualified, even if he was not responsible for the first bad start.
Fine, except consider the good starter out to get an edge on the field, presumably made up of more nervous types. He jumps the gun purposely. Then at the next crack of the gun he is off to his usual smooth start while the others are sitting on their heels, terrified of being summarily dismissed. Gentlemen, restart your engines.
For 19 years some oil-rich citizens of Natchez, Miss, have put on the Confederate Oil Tournament at a local golf course. Only people who work in or with the oil-drilling and exploration industry were invited. Well, it had to be called off this year. Energy crisis, and high water on the Mississippi.
The following letter by one F. Morton of Chessington, England appeared in the Scottish Sunday Express:
"On a golfing holiday I drove off the 16th tee at Carnoustie.
"Then to my and my two golfing friends' horror a clump of bushes and trees burst into flames. It must have been a spontaneous fire due to hot weather.
"What did we do? We played on.
"Unfortunately, it was too hot to take our putts from the right of the green and we were forced to move the balls the same distance from the hole to the green's left.
"We carefully sank the putts while a groundsman tackled the blaze and a fire engine's klaxon sounded in the distance.
"I managed to get my par 3. But I could find nothing in my rule book about an unplayable ball due to fire hazard."
Try the Bible, Mr. Morton.
If you're a bit confused by professional hockey, which has peace one week and war the next, Flames in one league and Blazers in the other, Hull here and Howe there and Sanderson everywhere, try the Vancouver Canucks on for size. The Canucks are presently being offered for sale by Tom Scallen, who is busy appealing a four-year prison sentence for issuing a false prospectus and diverting $3 million from the club. But never mind Scallen. Begin with Bud Poile, who was hired as general manager after being fired by the Philadelphia Flyers. Poile hired Hal Laycoe as coach, possibly because Laycoe had been fired as coach by the Los Angeles Kings. In time, Poile fired Laycoe, too, but kept him on the payroll as vice-president in charge of player development. Bill McCreary became coach.
Poile became ill, and Laycoe moved in as temporary general manager. Coley Hall took over as executive head of the club in Owner Scallen's place. Hall made Laycoe permanent general manager. Poile got better, came back to work and was made an assistant to Laycoe, the man he had fired. Larry Regan, who had fired Laycoe from the Kings, quit as Los Angeles general manager and joined Vancouver as a special-assignment scout. Hall relieved McCreary as coach and made him a special-assignment scout. Hall made Phil Maloney the new coach. Poile resigned because he did not like being Laycoe's assistant. Hall eased Laycoe out by giving him a leave of absence, fired McCreary outright and made Maloney general manager as well as coach.
If you're interested, Vancouver is still in last place.
The late English novelist Evelyn Waugh described a track meet in Decline and Fall that began with a runner being shot in the foot by the starter. Gangrene set in.
Last week in New York, Lord Killanin, president of the International Olympic Committee, viewed the AAU national indoor championships, and what he saw must have enhanced his regard for English literature, if not for U.S. efficiency. Several of the country's longest long jumpers complained of gravel in the Port-A-Pit. In fact, defending titlist and Olympic champion Randy Williams stumbled over a rock during his warmup and sprained his ankle. During the women's 640-yard relay, a truck, used to place the pole-vault standard, was parked so close to the track that it threatened to interfere with the women's baton exchanges. Then, during the women's sprint medley, a vaulter knocked a crossbar onto the track just in time to trip Carmen Brown, a runner from the Atoms Track Club, which was leading.
To round things out, as another vaulter attempted 17 feet, the starter of a men's relay fired his pistol a few feet away, sending the athlete slithering down his pole. Waugh would have loved it. Lord Killanin had no comment, but more meets like this and he should come out foursquare for professionalism.
Once a year Walter Byers and his NCAA gather selected members of the press in some secluded spot for a three-day "media seminar" with association officials and a college football coach or two. The idea—to exchange viewpoints and to thrash out mutual problems—is commendable enough, but sometimes the sessions are as dreary as their title. Not this year, though. The guest coach at Colorado Springs was John McKay and he was at the top of his refreshing form, proving again that Penn State's Joe Paterno is not the game's only iconoclast.
Take scrimmaging. McKay is against it. "That's all we ever did when I was a player," he said. "I would have been an All-America for two straight years, but I was too tired." Some people thought he was crazy when he refused to scrimmage the College All-Stars before their game last July with the Miami Dolphins, McKay said, "but the Dolphins admitted that they had never been hit so hard by a bunch of volleyball players."
McKay also would not mind doing away with spring football practice. "The freshman rule proves you don't need spring training. We had freshmen starting for us and so did Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Alabama, and it didn't seem to hurt any of those kids."
During the season, McKay said, his Southern California teams never practice more than five hours a week, nor do they have night meetings. They're for coaches "so they can smoke cigars and brag how good they were in college."
Finally, McKay revealed himself as out of sympathy with the majority of coaches who are moaning over the NCAA regulation limiting recruits to 30 a year. His view: "Numbers don't win anything. Numbers get you beat and make you poor. We used to take 60 new players to get 25 athletes. Woody Hayes has gone to our present system of taking just quality people. I didn't see any fall-off by Ohio State on New Year's Day."
SOCKING IT TO 'EM
With luck they will never call it "sockey," as one team manager has suggested, but if last week's three-game series of indoor soccer matches between a Red Army squad and pros from the North American Soccer League is any sort of indicator, inside may be where the future of the game in the U.S. is.
Trying to discover how well fans would take to the great indoors, the league staged games in Toronto, Philadelphia and St. Louis, and drew crowds of 11,000, 14,000 and 12,000. The Russians took all three matches, but even so the spectators were enthusiastic and knew when to cheer and when to boo, doing plenty of both. Now the NASL is considering adding an indoor winter series next January to its 20-game regular schedule.
The game is played six men to a side on Astroturf laid over a bare hockey rink. There are three 20-minute periods, unlimited substitutions and even a penalty box for rowdy players. What pleased the promoters most in the Russian series was the scoring. With many more shot attempts than in the al fresco version of the game, goalies were defending for their lives. The winning scores were 8-4, 6-3 and 11-4. Apparently the Russians found out something by the time they got to St. Louis.
Says Forward Stan Startzell of the NASL champion Philadelphia Atoms, "It's a different game indoors. There are fewer long passes or runs and fewer head balls, but you can't match what the crowd's excitement does to you."
THEY SAID IT
•Johnny Bench, on the NCAA's decision that a pro in one sport can be an amateur in another: "I'm going back to college to play basketball. John Wooden could use me."
•Jake La Motta: "I fought Sugar Ray Robinson so many times it's a wonder I didn't get diabetes."
•Walt Alston, asked if he had enjoyed a pleasant winter: "It's not the winters that bother me. It's the summers."