Around the tennis circuit they're saying that when Martina Navratilova defected to the U.S., she asked the State Department, "Do you cache Czechs here?"
STRIKE, SORT OF
What did it all mean? The New England Patriots suddenly call a strike and refuse to play a preseason game with the New York Jets. The New York Giants call a half-hour work stoppage before an exhibition with the Miami Dolphins but are persuaded to call it off by an array of speakers, among them the coach and quarterback of the Dolphins. The St. Louis Cardinals vote 30-16 in favor of not playing, five votes short of a self-imposed 75% majority.
The Patriots said their strike—called a week before the regular season was scheduled to begin—was designed to shake up the leadership of the Players Association as much as it was to demonstrate discontent with the league—a bit of shock treatment designed to get contract negotiations moving forward again. Ed Garvey, executive director of the Players Association, was surprised by the Patriots' action; paradoxically, the New England club management, eyeing the meager advance sale for the game with the Jets, did not appear terribly upset.
What was going on? Were all these moves a subtle ploy by the Players Association? Was the New England thing a deliberately planned "wildcat strike" to show the league the players were boiling with rebellion and should be placated without delay? Would it set off a string of similar strikes around the league? Would it jar union and management into a settlement? Or would the Patriots' militant effort fizzle, as the Giants' had, with the players returning to the fold while the dreary deadlock continued?
It probably happened no more and no less than in previous years, but at the U.S. Open tennis championship at Forest Hills it seemed that more players than ever were protesting decisions by officials. Tennis permits such protests, and the umpire, the chief official, can ask a linesman to "yield"—that is, let his decision be changed.
In a column decrying the complexity and permissiveness of tennis officiating, David Condon of the Chicago Tribune quoted Bill Riordan, the controversial counsellor of Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase, two of the more volatile players around. Riordan, no friend of the Establishment, had surprisingly conservative views on the matter.
"I think an official's call should be final," Riordan said. "The worst thing that can be done is to encourage players to dispute decisions. Bill Klem, the old baseball umpire, used to say, 'They ain't nothin' till I call 'em,' but after Bill made the call, that was it. That's the way it should be in tennis."
Riordan had some other things to say about tennis—or, to be specific, about Connors. "I'm phasing myself out of the day-by-day routine with Jimmy," he told Bill Tanton of the Baltimore Evening Sun. "For one thing, I'm getting a little too old to travel all over the world with Jimmy, as I have the past few years. It's O.K. for him—he's just turned 23—but I'll soon be 56. I'm not disassociating from Connors; it's just that it's going to be better for me now."
As for Connors' decision to play Davis Cup tennis and the settling of his lawsuits, Riordan said, "It was time to change the image. A few years ago Jimmy had the talent, but it was the controversy that made him the biggest thing in tennis. That image served its purpose, but Jimmy is older now, more mature. He's a million-dollar business. The new image is better for his business interests.
"He wanted to go to Los Angeles after Forest Hills, even though he had a contract calling for him to be in Philadelphia. The old Connors would have gone straight to L.A., but I told him, 'Jimmy, this is business. Go to Philadelphia.' And he did."
KEEP ON TRUCKIN'
This item is dedicated to anybody who has ever vibrated to the fearful thunder of an oncoming truck-trailer on the highway, those monsters that roar up behind and fill your rear-vision mirror with the awesome image of their giant radiators. They seem to go awfully fast, right? Sure enough, one of them hit an official 132.154 mph the other day, and who knows what is to become of us all?
The clocking was achieved not on a highway, thank the Lord, but on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. It was done by a six-wheeled, 17,500-pound truck-tractor out of Fort Dodge, Iowa, the kind you might see behind you on any road: a conventional Kenworth about 10 feet high and one lane wide, powered by a 1,150-cu. in. Cummins diesel engine, turbo-charged and after-cooled to produce 600 hp. The outfit was driven by Harold Miller, who was accompanied by co-driver Larry Lange. Miller and Lange were thoughtful enough to unhitch the trailer first and park it off to one side; towing it along would have increased the rolling weight to 13 tons.
Barreling across the desert straightaway, air horns no doubt at the ready, Miller and Lange's Liberty Belle broke just about every record for such behemoths: in seven runs they smashed various standing-start and flying-start marks at a quarter mile, a half kilometer, a full kilometer and a mile—14 in all, each of which has been certified by the U.S. Auto Club as a national record.
The idea of the speed test was to glamorize long-line trucking, basically a well-meant mission, and to demonstrate that stock machines can hold up on high-speed runs. Miller and Lange were selected by Center Line, Inc., sponsor of the affair, precisely because neither had any racing experience and each was "typical of the thousands of truckers operating on the nation's expressways."
Their rig was pure stock, right off the shelf, so to speak, and Miller used only nine of the 20 gears available. If this is true, it means our worst suspicions are confirmed: no matter how hot your Mustang or Caddy or Firebird, there is no escape when one of these juggernauts flicks its lights and moves out to overtake you. You might as well pull over to the right and slow down.
WHERE THERE'S SMOKE
A couple of days before last weekend's big horse race, a sports announcer on WCBS in New York did something he probably should not have. He informed his listeners that Saturday's feature at Belmont did have a name, but that he wasn't allowed to speak it into his microphone. So, because cigarette advertising is banned from the air, the Marlboro Cup, an authentic sporting event, remained simply The Cup on CBS air. The Virginia Slims series of tennis tournaments has had the same sort of identification, or non-identification, problem.
The small cold logic involved is de-pressingly clear; perhaps it should be carried forthwith to its logical end. To avoid any possible ambiguities, let there be no more on-air mention of the late Sir bleep Churchill or to his speeches in the British bleep; no chatter in this bicentennial season about early colonists like Sir Walter bleep; no references to the bleep witch trials. And in the future, no coverage of the America's Cup off bleep, R.I. That, however, might just be the straw that breaks the bleep's back. Meanwhile, WCBS, keep your bleep.
All that bleep notwithstanding, there is a way to beat the system, if your name is Zenya Yoshida and you are one of the four owners of Wajima, the colt that won the Marlboro Cup by a nose from favored Forego (page 16). The TV cameras were focusing in on Yoshida and the other owners of Wajima at the victory ceremonies when the Japanese industrialist, grinning ever so slightly, took a pack of Marlboros from his pocket and held it up in front of him. The camera gulped, blushed and hastily looked away. It peeked again—after all, TV could not ignore the ceremonies—but each time it did the smiling Yoshida held up the villainous cigarettes and the camera had to run and hide again.
The TV camera should have stayed with him. It was only a Lark.
Some people don't know when to quit. John Blakeman came to the University of Missouri five years ago as a promising young football player, but mononucleosis and a broken wrist kept him out of all but two games his freshman season. The next year he was redshirted. The year after that he sat on the bench most of the time, seeing only a few minutes of playing time in two games. Last year he injured his knee in the first preseason scrimmage, underwent surgery and was out for the entire season.
"I thought of quitting several times, I can't remember how many," Blakeman says. "I was ready to pack up and go home. But my parents told me to stick it out."
In spring practice this year Blakeman, who in his unhappy career at Missouri had been used as a running back, a slot-back and a tight end, asked for a chance to try out at fullback. He began about as far down in the depth chart as you can get, but when the spring was over he was the No. 1 fullback. And, as you may recall, a couple of Mondays ago on national TV he was a prime mover in Missouri's 20-7 upset of Alabama, carrying the ball 16 times for 78 yards (an average of almost five yards a try) and bulling over from the nine for his team's second touchdown.
That's about all there is to the story. But it's a nice one, isn't it?
"Take me out to the ball game," the old song goes, "Take me out to the crowd: Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack: I don't care if I never get back." But nowadays, if it's Cracker Jack you're waiting for, you may never get back. A Cincinnati fan complained bitterly that he could not find Cracker Jack for sale at Riverfront Stadium, and George Rowe, the stadium manager, was obliged to make an official report on the matter to the Cincinnati City Council. Rowe admitted that it was true they didn't sell Cracker Jack at Riverfront anymore, but he argued that few stadiums or arenas around the country do. He said there were few requests for it, that other things to nibble on, such as popcorn and peanuts, were for sale, and anyway it was primarily a children's item, and the price that would have to be charged for it was out of the reach of children (a shaky argument if ever there was one). Whatever, the fact remained: no more Cracker Jack.
Football programs are disappearing, too. That is, those big glossy four-color jobs filled with photographs of all the players and the coaches and half the faculty and Old Main and the school fight song. Southern Methodist University decided to give up such programs because, says Athletic Director Dick Davis, "The rapid rise in cost of printing and paper makes a full program very expensive." SMU will sell flip cards instead, those small cardboard things that carry the names and numbers of the players on each team and very little else. "Flip cards will be much cheaper for a person to buy," says Davis, "and most people are interested mainly in the rosters, anyway." Perhaps, but it is hard to imagine someone stowing away old flip cards in a closet and digging them out years later and poring over them the way you do with old programs.
Cracker Jack first, then programs. Pennants will be next, probably, and then tubas, and before you know it the cost accountants will be eyeing the goalposts. "You really need those things, Coach?" they'll ask, rubbing their chins.
THEY SAID IT
•John McKay, USC football coach, asked if he objected to the same team appearing in the Rose Bowl year after year: "Well, yes I do. I don't think Ohio State should come every year."
•Ara Parseghian, former Notre Dame coach, on the lack of pressure he feels now as a TV football color man: "My stomach isn't rumbling. Can you imagine me eating a hot dog before a game when I was coaching?"
•Stephen Talley, 5-year-old Cincinnati baseball fan, asked by his mother after he got home from a Reds game whether they played The Star-Spangled Banner: "No, they played the Cardinals."