"We've reached the bottom of the barrel now." So saying, Baltimore Colt owner Robert Irsay summed up the situation between his football club and star Running Back Lydell Mitchell. Stalled in their contract negotiations, and with Mitchell being fined $500 a day for missing training camp, push turned to shove last week as Mitchell filed a racial grievance against the Colts and Irsay threatened to sue for defamation of character. The Player-Club Relations Committee will hear the grievance on Aug. 21.
Surprise, surprise, it all began over money. Mitchell has been seeking a reported 100% raise in his $90,000 to $100,000 salary, which does not seem that unreasonable in the light of his durability and performance—1,000 yards rushing each of the last three years and an average of 56 pass receptions over the past five seasons. But the Colts claim they could not get so much as a first-round draft choice when they tried to trade Mitchell last winter. They have offered Lydell between $125,000 and $200,000 to sign, which they feel is fair, because if Mitchell were to play out his option this year and received that much from another club, whoever signed him would have to compensate the Colts with a first- and second-round choice. If his salary were $200,000 or more, the prescribed compensation would be two first-round picks. All right. Both sides have a case, and they were apparently making progress in negotiations. Sources close to Mitchell said they were only about $20,000 apart at one point.
Then the racial grievance was filed, and it quickly replaced money as the overriding issue. Irsay now says he won't talk further with Mitchell until Lydell publicly apologizes.
It is unclear whether Mitchell's grievance is sincere or simply a ploy to force management into agreeing to terms. The Colt running back is also the team's highly respected player representative, and while none of the other blacks on the team have complained of racial discrimination, beyond what they find elsewhere, return specialist Howard Stevens says, "I feel that deep down in Lydell's heart he believed he has been discriminated against in negotiations." Both Mitchell and his attorney say they filed the grievance only after a great deal of consideration.
It is hoped that Mitchell will, indeed, follow through as an indication that he sincerely feels he was the victim of discrimination. If a money dispute, commonplace in sports, has led to a cry of racial wolf, that is indefensible. To be sure, Irsay has shown a certain callousness toward the Colts' alltime leading rusher from the start of the contract squabble. Last January he said, "He'll sign or I'll sit him in a rocking chair. He'll play. He needs the money. These guys think that all this TV money is going to them." Indeed, several Colt players, both black and white, have expressed dissatisfaction with management tactics during contract negotiations but that is one thing and a charge of racial discrimination is another.
Said Quarterback Bert Jones, "This is the most serious charge he could make against the Colts."
If Affirmed once again defeats Alydar and the rest of the field in Saturday's 109th running of the Travers Stakes in Saratoga, N.Y., he will become only the second horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont and Travers. The first was Whirlaway in 1941.
Most observers feel that the Travers will again be a two-horse race, but if a long shot has a chance to upset these two magnificent thoroughbreds anywhere, the Travers could be the place. It was in that race, back in 1930, that a 100-to-1 shot named Jim Dandy sneaked past Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox, who went off at odds of 3 to 5 in what is regarded by some as the biggest upset in racing history. One can imagine Gallant Fox thinking to himself as the long shot went shooting by, "Now isn't this just Jim Dandy?" It was, and the upset eventually led to Saratoga naming a stakes race after Jim Dandy, which was won by Affirmed last week (page 24).
If you have been tempted to wash your tennis game, equipment and instructor down the nearest drain, a book has been written just for you. It's called Bathroom Tennis, and according to author Alan S. Boltin, the only thing keeping you from cleaning up against your local Bjorn Borg is the failure to read his booklet during a daily eight-minute stint in the bathroom.
Boltin is a tennis pro who has instructed the likes of Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Priscilla Presley, and his "book," which is actually a kit, includes a 64-page manual and four waterproof charts. The manual is based largely on the Zen philosophy of mind over matter and banks on the capitalist-pig philosophy that a tennis addict will buy anything. To be sure, the manual does offer elementary advice on how to stroke a tennis ball, but the bread and butter of Bathroom Tennis deals with the mental aspects of the game. A chapter like "Make The Ball Your Friend," for instance—a concept Boltin doubtless borrowed from Jimmy (Love-that-Ball) Connors—can easily be mastered while lathering up. Another section discusses the Zen method of retrieving a particularly difficult shot. "You [and the ball] both exist in a new reality together. You are the ball, and the ball is you...."
To facilitate practicing in the shower, two of the acetate charts depict empty tennis courts and have space at the top in which vindictively to write the name of your chosen opponent. "You can't lose in the shower," Boltin gleefully points out. While washing the soap from his ears, the conscientious student imagines running deep to his forehand, executing a perfect lob, then dashing to the net for the killing volley. "Your nervous system doesn't know the difference if you're actually playing or just imagining yourself on the court," Boltin says. "This practice is effective because you are fooling your nervous system. It thinks you're on a court in the hot sun practicing and sweating like a pig...."
One can imagine bathrooms all over the country being tied up by tennis fanatics, and harried spouses pleading, "Hey in there, get off the court."
"Later, dear. I've got Nastase 5-1."
You can look it up. In a Babe Ruth League game in Manchester, N.H. on July 22, Steve Lapointe, whose team was leading 7-0, was one out away from pitching a no-hitter. Then, with runners on first and second via walks, the batter, Andy Hebert, hit a routine ground ball between first and second, but the runner on first was struck by the ball before it could be fielded. The runner was called out, the game was over and Lapointe had his no-hitter, right? Wrong.
According to the rules of baseball, a base hit shall be scored in the following case: "When a fair ball which has not been touched by a fielder touches a runner or an umpire."
A SERPENT IN THE GARDEN
When new Boston Celtic owner John Y. Brown called Marvin (I-Ain't-Starvin') Barnes to find out what he could do to make him hustle as he did in college and in his first year in the pros, he was ill-prepared for Barnes' response. Barnes asked Brown to delete the guaranteed-payment clause in his contract, which still had three seasons to run.
"I thought about it and decided that with the guaranteed clause off my contract, I would have to produce," Barnes says. "I knew Red Auerbach would cut me if I didn't." Then Barnes took a page from Lyman Bostock's book, claiming, "In fact, I told John if I had the money he paid me for last year [at Buffalo], I'd give it back to him. But I don't have it, I spent it." Hmmm.
Says Brown, who took Barnes up on his offer, "If there is anything that has taken away from teamwork, that has kept players from reaching out for their full potential, it is the long-term guaranteed contract. It still pays the athlete, even if he does nothing but show up for practice. We all need pressure. I need pressure. I'm not working as hard now as when I was out selling encyclopedias to get through college."
The above calls to mind a Doonesbury strip in which Zonker asks his begonia what it thinks of President Carter. Says the begonia, "I'm all for him. As long as he doesn't make good on his pledge to make government as nice as the American people.... I mean, the whole reason government exists in the first place is that people are not inherently unselfish and kind!"
The same can be said of athletes' contracts. But who ever listens to begonias?
The amazing part of the shake-up in Los Angeles is not that George Allen lost his job as head coach of the Rams last week after only two exhibition-game defeats, but that Allen kept the job as long as he did. At Washington, he motivated players by controlling their purse strings. People ran through brick walls for George because he gave them even more money than they thought they were worth. In L.A. he didn't control the money, and four starters walked out of camp, two of them over contract problems. It's not hard to imagine Allen calling the salary hassles "distractions" and pestering owner Carroll Rosenbloom and general manager Don Klosterman to resolve them. Nor is it difficult to imagine Rosenbloom and Klosterman telling Allen that money is none of his business, that he was hired to coach. But to Allen, coaching is manipulating money. He had lost his source of rapport with his players. Rosenbloom apparently understood this. As Allen said after the announcement of his firing, "Carroll told me I'd be better off to be a head coach and general manager." But elsewhere.
Jim Rice, the Red Sox slugger, may be leading the American League in home runs, but if you're talking long ball with him, you're talking dimples, not horsehide.
He routinely drives a golf ball more than 300 yards, and no less an authority than 1975 U.S. Open champion Lou Graham says, "He's as long as anybody playing today, and longer than anybody on the tour right now."
Graham had just spent an afternoon watching Rice outdrive him by an average of 60 yards during the pro-celebrity prelude to last week's $225,000 Pleasant Valley tournament in Sutton, Mass. Rice shot a 79 (he has a 10 handicap), pretty respectable for a man who has played golf only a year and a half. But his driving!
"He hits the ball as far as you have heard, read or can even imagine," says Red Sox announcer Ken Harrelson, who tried for three years to join the PGA Tour and is still a low-handicap golfer. "I've seen him hit it over 400 yards any number of times. Take Jimmy Rice's average drive and take Jack Nicklaus', and Jim's out 60, 80 yards ahead of Nicklaus. I have played with all the long hitters in the world. Rice is the longest hitter I've ever seen."
Tales of Rice's strength are becoming legendary. Joe Garagiola claims to have seen him drive a golf ball 200 yards with a baseball bat. Harrelson saw him break a specially constructed driver, with a shaft as thick as his thumb, simply by generating tremendous club-head speed. All that's needed to complete the Paul Bunyan image is for someone to give Rice a blue ox named Babe—though come to think of it, no one would know if it had been named after Mr. Ruth or Miss Didrikson.
THE KING CORPORATION
Standard Oil and IBM, move over. Gordon King, a rookie offensive lineman for the New York Giants, wants to join the ranks of corporate giants. King and his attorney, Leigh Steinberg, have received the green light from the Giants to approach the NFL for approval of their plan to incorporate King.
Steinberg believes that incorporation—a common practice for doctors, lawyers and other well-paid non-athletes—is the best solution to the harsh taxation and financial uncertainties that face athletes signing multiyear contracts. At least 15 NBA players and many more pro hockey players have already incorporated themselves. Yet despite the absence of major problems with incorporation in the NBA and NHL, the NFL denied a request from the Colts' Don McCauley in 1977 to incorporate. "Pro football has taken the stance that you may not be able to discipline a corporation or assign the contract of a corporation," Steinberg says. "But a player can sign a form guaranteeing that he will accept these matters in the same manner as other players." Such a form is used in the NBA and NHL.
Jay Moyer, counsel to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, says the league worries that if the IRS finds player incorporation "to be a sham to evade taxes, the club would be liable not only for the income taxes it should have withheld, but for a 100% penalty besides."
Steinberg says an underlying reason for NFL opposition may be that it will cost teams more money if players stop deferring salaries and incorporate as a means to ensure long-term financial security. Although many athletes now opt for deferred contracts, Steinberg sees two problems with deferment: the owner holds the money and benefits from the interest that accrues, and inflation makes it worth less when the player finally gets his hands on it.
One apparent disadvantage to incorporation is that King, or any other incorporated player, might have to drop out of the NFL pension program for which a player becomes eligible after four seasons. If a player begins taking his pension at age 55, every month he gets $110 for each year he was active. But that will be ho great loss to King. As a corporation, he could put up to 25% of his yearly earnings in a tax-free pension plan of his own. Steinberg calculates that if for 10 years King annually puts $25,000 into a pension plan that yields 8% interest, at 55 he will have $2.4 million in the bank.
Steinberg plans to huddle with Rozelle soon, but right now King's incorporation is facing a third-and-long situation.
THEY SAID IT
•Herman (Jackrabbit) Smith-Johannsen, 103-year-old Canadian cross-country skier, on the secret of long life: "Stay busy, get plenty of exercise and don't drink too much. Then again, don't drink too little."
•George E. Danielson, chairman of the House subcommittee studying the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, when told about the Olympic sport of luge: "I thought it was something to eat."