Amid all the hoopla and oohs and aahs about the high-priced signing of baseball's free agents—a disproportionate number of them from Charlie Finley's disenchanted Oakland A's—it might be well to remember that Finley's multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn goes to trial in Chicago on Dec. 13.
Finley-Kuhn? Rudi-Fingers-Blue? Right. It seems longer ago, but it was only last spring that Finley, disturbed because he could not sign some of his recalcitrant players, began dealing them off. First, he traded Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman to the Orioles, hoping perhaps to shock other intransigents on his team into accepting contracts. When they would not, he suddenly sold Vida Blue to the Yankees and Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox. Kuhn canceled the deals as not being in the best interests of baseball. Finley managed to sign Blue in the middle of the hooraw, but Rudi and Fingers played unsigned the rest of the year, became free agents and now have joined other clubs, Rudi the Angels, Fingers the Padres.
It's a fascinating situation. If Kuhn had not canceled Finley's deals with New York and Boston, the Oakland owner would have received about $3.5 million for the three players. As it is, he still has Blue—and a shattered ball club—but nothing whatever to show for Rudi and Fingers, not to mention Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Don Baylor and Bert Campaneris, who also fled Finleyville after becoming free agents.
If Finley wins his suit against Kuhn, he will certainly expect the commissioner (or organized baseball) to pay him the money the Red Sox would have given him last June for Rudi and Fingers, Or the court could decide that the deal was in fact a fait accompli, that Rudi and Fingers belong (although still unsigned) to the Red Sox, and that the Boston club owes Charlie a couple of million dollars.
The latter decision would upset the Angels and the Padres and, presumably, Rudi and Fingers, who would become free agents all over again—wouldn't they?—if they chose not to sign with the Red Sox. Which would leave the Red Sox bereft of both the players and the money they would have to pay Finley. And what about the Yankee purchase of Blue? Who's Blue's?
Talk about a can of worms.
PLAYERS TO BE NAMED LATER
The pro football draft was declared illegal by a Federal Court five months after the New England Patriots traded quarterback Jim Plunkett to the San Francisco 49ers for one second-string player and four top 49er draft picks (two in 1976, before the draft was shot down in court, and two more in 1977). The court decision is being appealed, of course, and in any event some sort of draft apparatus seems sure to be worked out between the owners and the players. Even so, Patriot fans are wondering what might happen if the 1976 draft is canceled. They don't want Plunkett back, now that Steve Grogan has emerged as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. But neither do they like the idea of the 49ers keeping Plunkett for half price, while the Patriots sit there contemplating the egg on their faces.
Well, it turns out that such gloomy speculation is academic. Chuck Fairbanks, the Patriot head coach, anticipated the possible elimination of the draft when he made the Plunkett trade and had a solution written into the deal. If there is no 1977 draft, and the 49ers therefore are unable to give the Patriots the promised first and second picks, there will be a private "draft," involving only New England and San Francisco. The word is that the 49ers can protect Plunkett and three more players, after which the Patriots can select any two of the 39 other names on the San Francisco roster. That's not such a bad option play.
With all the talk about so many animals being placed on the endangered species list because of the depredations of man, it is probably only fair to report that there is another list, although a much smaller one, of wild animals that are distinctly not endangered by man but seem to flourish in close proximity to him.
Prominent on this roster are the armadillo, the coyote and the raccoon. These three not only have learned to live comfortably in man's environment, they show signs of preferring built-up areas to wild ones. Armadillos are found in relative abundance on the outskirts of towns and cities in many parts of the Sunbelt, and there are, supposedly, more coyotes running loose in the streets of Los Angeles than there are dogs.
As for raccoons, they're everyplace. In Memphis, for example, there are more raccoons per acre than there are in any forestland in the South. In one three-day period, in a small area around the Memphis zoo, 100 raccoons, including three albinos, were trapped and shipped off to the wild areas of the Great Smoky Mountains, where there is a shortage.
WINNING IS THE THING
Bill Veeck is often described as the best promotion man baseball has known, the man who comes up with the lots-of-fun gimmicks that bring people to the ball park and keep them coming back for more. Now Paul Richards, the venerable manager who came out of retirement at Veeck's request to run the White Sox last season and who has stepped aside to let Bob Lemon take over, has expressed a heretical opinion of Veeck's promotional bent. You understand that Richards and Veeck comprise a two-man mutual admiration society, and that Richards' remarks are those of a friend who is not afraid to say what he thinks about his good buddy.
In talking about Veeck's recent back operation, Richards said, "We were all worried, and so were the doctors. I'll tell you this: Bill's got to let up. He can't be making three speeches in the morning, flying to Peoria for lunch, driving up to Rockford for a dinner and then staying up half the night on the telephone. How many tickets does that sell, really? I've always felt Bill overemphasizes promotions and giveaways. When he had all those promotions in Cleveland and Chicago years ago, he had good teams, too, and a good team is what really brings people into the ball park. If the White Sox win, people will come to the park."
When New Jersey voters legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City last month there was speculation that casino operators in Las Vegas and Reno would be upset by this encroachment on what had been a virtual monopoly for Nevada. Gambling in the Western state generated about $1.7 billion last year, and it provided the state treasury with $91.2 million in taxes. Yet Nevadans have shown little worry over possible competition from Atlantic City.
"It's going to take a long time for anyone to compete with the Nevada style of gambling, plush as it is," says Jeffrey Silver, a member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. "They're going to need a lot of urban renewal before they get started."
"They've got an awful lot to learn," says Robbins Cahill of the Nevada Resort Association. "We're 30 years ahead of them."
The Westerners concede that high rollers from the East who pop out to Vegas four or five times a year might switch some of their play to Atlantic City, but they feel that most tourists, to whom gambling is only one of the attractions that Nevada offers—sunny weather, luxury hotels and big-name shows are others—will keep coming. Indeed, one Nevadan argues that the New Jersey experiment might well stimulate greater interest in the Nevada resort. "People who first try the tables in Atlantic City," he says, "will eventually come out here, too."
In the meantime, a real-life game of Monopoly is under way in the New Jersey city as business interests compete to buy hotels, restaurants, vacant land, almost anything. Real estate near the Boardwalk and on Pacific and Atlantic Avenues is as prized as it is in the famous board game, which was patterned after Atlantic City streets. "It's like throwing dice on the Monopoly board," says one of the leaders of the campaign that got gambling legalized.
When Tony Dorsett (or Anthony Dorset, if you prefer the way the Pitt star says his own name) locked up the Heisman Trophy with his record-shaking performance against Penn State last Friday night, he received a tremendous amount of well-deserved publicity. We now shift to the other end of the football spectrum, about as far from Dorsett and Pitt and nationally televised football as you can get, to the small city of Sarnia in Ontario, Canada. There, a high school player named Paul Elbourne did something on the football field that deserves a little attention, too.
Elbourne plays for Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School, known locally as SCITS. Last month, when SCITS played St. Patrick's High School, Elbourne went back to punt. In Canadian football a point is scored when a punt is kicked beyond the opponent's end zone, on roll or carry. Canadian end zones are 25 yards deep, rather than 10, as in the American game, and the field itself is 110 yards long.
SCITS was bogged down deep in its own territory, and Elbourne was standing 15 yards inside the end zone when he kicked the ball. It carried on the fly—it was a very windy day—all the way to the St. Patrick 40, where it bounced high and, aided by the wind, continued to bounce and roll all the way to and through the end zone for a SCITS point.
Add it up. It was a 150-yard punt.
ROUGH ROUGH EXAM
Dog owners can be insufferable when they talk about how smart their pets are. Psychologist Kathryn Coon of Baton Rouge, La., whose Daiquiri, a mixed-breed, flunked out of obedience school, got tired of hearing how intellectually superior other people's pooches were and worked up a way of measuring a dog's native, untrained intelligence.
She devised a test with 10 problems, each to be solved in no longer than 15 seconds. A dog is graded either "pass" or "fail" on each. A perfect score of 10 indicates a "brilliant" animal; a score of one means "very dumb." So far the average score has been 5.75.
The problems seem simple to the human mind—for instance, a dog watches as a food treat is placed under one of three cups; it must then select the right cup, turn it over and obtain the food—but they evaluate an animal's alertness and perceptiveness. For example, when food was put into a shoebox with a square opening on one side, fewer than half the dogs were able to get the treat within the 15-second time limit.
One significant finding is what Coon calls "the owner correlation." She says, "People who think their dogs are smart usually have dogs which do not do as well as they expected. And the opposite happens with owners who think their dogs are stupid."
Her own Daiquiri, for instance, obviously an underachiever in obedience school, did a lot better on the IQ test than Coon anticipated. "She wasn't as dumb as I thought," she says. The change in her attitude toward Daiquiri since the testing—a newfound respect?—apparently has been reflected in her pet's behavior. "Now when she chases her tail," Coon says, "she catches it."
THEY SAID IT
•Edward Steinberg, Silver Spring, Md. sports fan, commenting on Bowie Kuhn being named chairman of National Bible Week: "One wonders whether the baseball commissioner received this designation because the Bible starts with the words, 'In the big inning...' "
•Dwane Morrison, Georgia Tech basketball coach: "Everyplace I go there's interest in Georgia Tech basketball. But then I only go places where there's interest in Georgia Tech and basketball."
•Joe Morgan, on his back-to-back awards as the National League's MVP: "It's like children. That first one is something but you love 'em both as much."