After squabbling for nearly 37 months, or since their last contract expired, the National Football League owners and players reached agreement last week.
The savage blast directed at Agent Jerry Kapstein a couple of weeks ago by Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, was prompted as much by Miller's concern that the hard-earned agreement the Players Association reached last spring with the owners was being undercut as it was by his stated fear that some agents were giving their clients the fast shuffle.
Miller's credibility was at stake. Next time he sits down to work out an agreement with the owners, he has to be able to reassure them that what they see is indeed what they get, that he, Marvin Miller, is the true and final voice of the players, and that a cacophonous choir of agents from Boston to Los Angeles is not the music the owners ought to be paying attention to.
To reestablish his authority and that of the Players Association, Miller has to bring the agents under some sort of control. In pursuit of this, late in January he sent a letter to every agent he could track down. Citing recommendations from the House Select Committee on Professional Sports, he asked them for "their views" on such things as the need for standards of ethical and professional behavior for agents in all sports, as well as for a uniform approach to agent-client relationships. He specifically mentioned such potentially ticklish subjects as fee arrangements, which can be construed as a nice term for kickbacks, conflict of interest, solicitation of players and, most significantly, the relationship of agents to various players associations and to the collective bargaining agreements achieved by those associations.
Some shoot-from-the-hip critics accused Miller of attacking agents because of sour grapes—that he resents players turning to agents after Miller and the Baseball Players Association achieved the breakthrough that made the money tree grow. It's more than that. Miller, an old labor negotiator, understands the frustration building in the owners. When the owners signed the contract with the players' union they made important concessions in exchange for what they assumed to be a stable situation. They did not expect to find themselves in a situation more unstable than ever. Instability can lead to chaos—owners abandoning franchises, clubs folding, contraction of pro sport instead of expansion—and chaos means nobody wins, not even a player with a 10-year, $5 million contract.
MAYBE JUST A LITTLE
If Marvin Miller's disenchantment with agents surprises you, you must remember that agents are inconsistent. Bob Woolf, the highly respected Boston lawyer who represents some very prominent athletes, wrote an article a couple of months ago for The New York Times in which he said he would not allow clients of his to renegotiate a contract. Perhaps in a technical sense it was not renegotiating, but last spring Woolf and one of his clients, Pitcher Luis Tiant, talked rather sternly with the Boston Red Sox about what Luis felt was inadequate recompense in his existing contract, and Tiant did not report to spring training until owner Tom Yawkey stepped in and saw to it that Luis was made happy. Now Tiant, still represented by Woolf, is threatening to sit out 1977 unless the contract arrangement he agreed to a year ago is rearranged to Tiant's (and, presumably, Woolfs) satisfaction.
Tyrone Phelps, welterweight, fought hard and won a close but unanimous decision over Miciah (Mike) Bullock last week at Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, New York City. But instead of the usual victor's dance around the ring, arms upraised in triumph, Phelps took the microphone away from the ring announcer, clutched his opponent by the sleeve of his terry-cloth robe and told the crowd that in his opinion Bullock had won the fight. "This is one decision I don't deserve," he said.
Well. Everybody at ringside agreed it was a historic first, that no fighter anyone could recall had ever disowned a win. Phelps' distraught manager followed his fighter from the ring, pounding his fist in his palm and shouting disjointedly, "Never...don't ever...you won fair...oh, my God, oh, my God."
Despite Phelps' disclaimer, the decision stood.
Television, which has been trying to revive interest in fighting in the divisions below heavyweight, should have had its cameras on a recent match in the British All-Comers Choir Loft Competition in Andover, England. Lloyd Ponting, organist at St. Mary's Church, mixed it up with the vicar of the church, the Rev. Peter Chandler, in the choir loft before a fascinated crowd of choir and congregation. The vicar had instructed Ponting to accompany Sunday evening services on a piano in the loft instead of on the church organ. Ponting insisted on using the organ. "After two verses," Ponting said, "the vicar appeared in the loft and snatched my music. I attempted to retrieve it, and there was a bit of a tussle."
The bout ended in a draw, Ponting still playing the organ, the vicar playing the piano, and the choir and congregation singing The Magnificat.
The Sporting News, the venerable "Baseball Bible," says there is a decline in the number of black kids coming into baseball. About 20% of the players now on major league rosters are American blacks, but a random survey of minor league, high school and college teams by The Sporting News indicates the number of black players at those levels has dropped substantially below 20%.
For instance, Syracuse, a New York Yankee farm club, had three U.S. blacks on its 21-man roster late last year. Phoenix, a San Francisco farm, began the season with four black players and ended with two. At one point during the year the Detroit farm in Evansville, Ind. had only one black. Last June, when the Chicago White Sox farm club in Knoxville went to Jacksonville for a series, their one black player was not along. Knoxville Manager Gordy Lund said, "We really don't have many black players in our minor league system. I can think of nine, and that's it. I couldn't tell you the reason why there aren't more."
But two Jacksonville players, both black, thought they knew. "More black kids are playing basketball and running track now," said Joe Gates. Charlie Beamon said, "They think basketball is more fun. I try to tell a lot of those kids that you don't have to be tall to play baseball, but most of them don't listen."
Walt Ambrose of Vashon High School in St. Louis, which produced Elston Howard, the first black to be named Most Valuable Player in the American League, agrees. "When I was a boy we played baseball every available minute," he says, "but black kids today seem to feel it's more fun playing basketball. Interest in baseball just isn't as great. We used to have 75 to 80 players turn out for baseball. Last year we had about 25."
Basketball and football certainly seem to be capturing the better young black athletes. Whereas athletic scholarships are common among black basketball and football players, comparatively few go to black baseball players. The Sporting News notes a concomitant paucity of blacks on its All-America college baseball teams—only 10 in the past seven years. In contrast, all five players on The Sporting News' 1976 All-America basketball team were black, as were 13 of the 24 on its All-America football team.
Walter Shannon, supervisor of scouting for the California Angels, says, "Black youngsters are becoming harder to sign. The jobs open to them are more attractive than minor league baseball. Basketball and football players can go right from college to the major leagues, but a baseball player generally has to work his way up, and the salaries in the minor leagues are small."
Jim Taylor, the tough fullback of Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, is critical of today's NFL players.
"The modern player is basically selfish," Taylor says. "Spiking the ball in the end zone illustrates this. When I scored a touchdown, I used to realize it took 10 other guys to get me there. There are only a few left like me."
Taylor's comment on the much larger salaries the players are being paid is less caustic. "I say fine, let them get all they can get," he says, "but let them support it with performance."
He is critical of the owners, too. "The trouble between the players and the owners started when Billy Howton [then offensive end with the Packers] pointed out that football management had not provided a major medical plan for the players. Baseball and other sports had medical plans, but we didn't.
"This is where I blame the owners. They've had to be forced to do everything, first by the union and now by the courts."
Golfers are a hearty—or is it a crazy—lot. Neither rain nor sleet nor snow, etc. keeps them from their appointed rounds. With that in mind, and with snow all around and the temperature in Pittsburgh at 11° below, the Allegheny County Parks Department set about laying out a nine-hole Tom Thumb course—on a frozen lake. A bulldozer was driven onto the lake to scrape the snow off and leave icy-smooth putting greens (or whites). Holes were to be drilled into the thick ice and cups inserted. However, the two men working on the would-be course scored an inadvertent hole in one when they and their four-ton tractor went through the four-inch-thick ice.
Blue-lipped and red-faced, they scrambled ashore and with other parks department employees set to work fishing out the machine amid the same kind of secrecy that surrounded the CIA's recovery of all or part of a sunken Russian submarine several years ago. When news of the dunking leaked to a county commissioner three weeks later, everybody denied it. A lively little debate ensued.
The ambitious project was not revived, although with the temperature soaring to a balmy 11° above, the holes could have been chopped out with an icepick. Whatever, County Parks Director David O'Loughlin, one of those who denied the incident took place, is about to become the county's planning director.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE...
Blue Mountain Community College of Pendleton, Ore. traveled 300 miles across the state for a game with Lane Community College in Eugene. There, Mike Wick of Blue Mountain, who previously had attended the University of Oregon, which is in Eugene, was boisterously greeted by about 20 of his old fraternity brothers. During the game they sat behind the Blue Mountain bench and cheered raucously for the visitors, even though Wick was the only player they knew. They made so much noise that the officials finally called a technical foul against Blue Mountain.
"I told the referee I didn't even know them," said Coach Jerry Mosby of Blue Mountain, a bit stunned by it all. "How can they call a technical because of the crowd when we're 300 miles from home?"
THEY SAID IT
•Heidi Preuss, 15-year-old ski champion, explaining why she thought she could have had a faster time in one race: "I had a fuzz ball in my goggles and I was watching that for the first half of the run."
•Hank Peters, Oriole general manager, on the trade he made last year with the A's for Reggie Jackson, who later jumped to the Yankees: "If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have made it. But if I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have voted for Richard Nixon."
•Tom Gorman, recently retired National League umpire: "Any time I got those bang-bang plays at first base, I called 'em out. It made the game shorter."