BUCKING THE SYSTEM
When bettors at Connecticut's three jai alai frontons say their money has flown South, they aren't kidding. Theodore A. Driscoll, in a series of articles in The Hartford Courant, reports that last year two-thirds of the big winnings at the frontons went to out-of-state residents, the most conspicuous of whom were a group of young gamblers from Florida who specialize in buying inside information.
Known as the "Miami syndicate," the principals in the group, which was headed by Rodney Woods, were familiar figures at the Connecticut frontons until very recently. Too familiar for the gaming commission. Betting trifectas—picking the first three teams in the order of their finish—the group improved its chance by paying "gratuities" to fronton employees for data not generally available to other bettors. At all three frontons the syndicate had access to computer printouts that summarized the action every 90 seconds while the wagering was still going on. In system betting that kind of information is a bit like knowing your opponent's hole cards in stud poker.
For one thing, a running account of how many bets have been placed on each of the 336 trifecta combinations allows the system bettor to lay off the heavily played numbers and play the less popular ones. Also, the printout permits high rollers to drive other system players out of the game by betting the rivals' numbers so heavily that they will lose money even if their number wins, which is a tactic that the Miami group allegedly used.
According to the Courant, Woods' system could have netted nearly $1 million in just the first seven months of 1976. Over a complete season, says the Courant, the system could win about $1.12 for every $1 bet—a 12% profit. By comparison, the average bettor wins about 820 for every $1 bet, or a loss of 18%.
Woods wagered about $5 million annually in Connecticut, and he and his compatriots were hosted royally. Rarely did they stand in line or pay cash for their tickets. Those duties were performed by fronton employees, says the Courant, some of whom earned more from Woods than they did from their regular jobs.
At Bridgeport Jai Alai, which provided the Miami group with a private lounge complete with TV monitors and ticket-punching machines, Woods reportedly got the printouts from Basil French, the mutuels manager.
At Hartford Jai Alai, he got his printouts from Mark Wiesenfeld, the assistant mutuels manager. When management halted that practice, Woods worked through John DeWees, a ticket puncher who was allegedly in contact with Wiesenfeld in the computer room. DeWees is no longer a fronton employee. French and Wiesenfeld are still on the job.
But it was at Milford Jai Alai, where Woods had a cozy relationship with Frederick Vines, the official handicapper, that the Florida mastermind ran afoul of the law. Last month Woods pleaded guilty to charges that he bribed Vines to rig his picks. Vines also pleaded guilty to the bribery charge. After he paid a $7,500 fine, Woods was barred from pari-mutuel betting in Connecticut and he and his partners faded from the scene.
While safeguards have been taken to prevent the reemergence of a Woods & Co., Lester Snyder, of the gaming commission, fears, "They could still be betting through agents and friends, so there's no way of knowing if they really are out of business in Connecticut."
But are the safeguards sufficient to protect the honest bettor? Astonishingly, French, Wiesenfeld and DeWees were not committing any crime when they gave the printouts to Woods. Bettors beware.
At the Hillside Golf Club in Umtali, Rhodesia, when members talk about assaulting a bunker they don't necessarily mean what you think. The club directors recently devised a new rule that allows a player whose shot has landed in a mortar-shell crater to move the ball without penalty. The course had been struck by 21 shells during an artillery barrage by black nationalist guerrillas.
NATURE'S FIRST CURATOR
The scene was right out of the late, late spook show. In the dead of night, while coyotes howled in the distance, someone or—shudder!—some thing was prowling the dank recesses of the man-made cave in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson and making off with the bones and fur from the prehistoric ground sloth exhibit. Clearly a caper worthy of Vincent Price or The Blob.
The dark mystery came to light a few weeks ago when William Panczner, the museum's curator of earth sciences, noted the disappearance of a swatch of acrylic sloth fur. Then, one by one, the ceramic bones and other bits of the exhibit vanished. On occasion, the marauder seemed bent on making the display more authentic by leaving behind prickly pears and coyote bones. Other times, as if to debunk the prehistoric label, he/she/it strewed the area with gum wrappers.
As suspicions mounted, Panczner took flashlight in hand and, following a telltale trail to a niche in the plastic rocks, discovered the culprit's hideout—a pack rat's nest furnished with sloth fur.
An indulgent landlord, Panczner says he is "delighted that a pack rat found our depiction of a limestone cave so realistic that he moved in." Though he "only met the critter once"—a brief, chance encounter one rainy afternoon—he recognizes its squatter's rights. The acquisitive pack rats, he says, are "nature's first curators, collecting cactus and other local plant and animal remains for their nests." In fact, pack-rat middens, preserved in urine and dating back some 20,000 years, are now recognized as "miniature museums" and are a rich source of study for paleontologists.
"Our guest was merely building his own display," says Panczner, who has worked out a loan arrangement with the wee timorous beastie. Artifacts borrowed at night are recovered by day—with one exception. "We finally gave up on the simulated hair," Panczner says. "If he felt he needed it worse than we did, we let him have it. He's probably the only pack rat in existence with a fur-lined nest."
Besides, it wouldn't do for a fellow curator to bed down on cactus spines.
A year ago, after she was barred from the locker rooms at Yankee Stadium during the 1977 World Series, SI Reporter Melissa Ludtke Lincoln—and Time Inc.—brought a suit based on sex discrimination against the club, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and the City of New York. Last week, stating that the locker-room ban on female reporters put them at a "severe competitive disadvantage" with their male colleagues, U.S. District Court Judge Constance Baker Motley ordered that women be given equal access to those rooms at the Stadium.
The Yankee locker room immediately became a showcase for female TV reporters, apparently there to show how their presence affected the ballplayers. It didn't. When the opening-night hoopla subsided, the women sports reporters made use of their newly won access, uneventfully joining their male counterparts in postgame interviews.
Indeed, as Newsday Columnist Bill Nack was told by Yankee Outfielder Paul Blair, "If she's got a serious job to do, I can put up with it. I'm uncomfortable about it, but I don't begrudge people doing their jobs." Added Pitcher Ron Guidry, "If you have something personal about it, if you feel shy, all you have to do is drape a towel around yourself."
Nonetheless, the Yankee front office and Kuhn disagreed. At week's end, Judge Motley granted a defense motion to amend her original order so that the players would have the option of dressing in complete privacy. All reporters, male and female, would be admitted for 15 minutes immediately after the game. Then the locker room would be closed for 30 more minutes before being reopened. This seemed hardly Solomonic to many reporters, who interpreted it as a deliberate attempt to turn the men writers against the women.
What dismays us is Kuhn's stance. Last fall, before Lincoln filed her suit, he asserted that if baseball's locker-room access rule was shown to be unfair, he would willingly change it. But last week, stonewalling—not change—seemed to be foremost on Kuhn's mind. Not only did he return to court to obtain the ruling, but he also seemed intent on limiting any change to Yankee Stadium. In a message to the other 25 clubs, Kuhn told them not to worry. They were not affected by the new rule, he said. It appeared that Kuhn hadn't gotten the message: The times they are a-changin'.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
When Pete Rose visited the nation's capital last week to meet President Carter and be honored by Congress, at least one Washington notable was not sure what position he plays. Elizabeth Ray, former secretary to Representative Wayne Hays, was standing on the steps of the Capitol when Rose and his entourage departed. "I came back for some things I left in my office two years ago," she explained. "What's all the excitement about?"
"Pete Rose was just here," she was told. "Oh, I know him," she said. "Wasn't he on the House Ways and Means Committee with Wayne?"
No one ever accused Calvin Griffith of putting one foot in his mouth when two are better. Still, appearing before the Lions Club in Waseca, Minn. last week, the flinty owner of the Minnesota Twins must have set some kind of Guinness record for MOST TOES STEPPED ON IN A 40-MINUTE HARANGUE.
For example, according to a copyrighted story in the Minneapolis Tribune by Nick Coleman, when asked why he moved the team north from Washington, D.C., Griffith said, "I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when I found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don't go to ball games, but they'll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it'll scare you to death. It's unbelievable. We came here because you've got good, hard-working white people here."
Other bum mots:
•Rod Carew is "a damn fool for signing that contract. He only gets $170,000, and we all know he's worth more than that."
•Butch Wynegar "had a miserable year. He was playing 'hands' with his wife during spring training, and instead of running around the outfield he did his running around the bedroom. Now, love is love. But it comes pretty cheap for these young ballplayers these days, and I think they should take advantage of that and wait to get married."
•Modern players "all carry an attachè case with a hair dryer in it. And they've all got to have headphones on. You've got to have three seats on a plane for every two ballplayers so they can put their hi-fis and hair dryers down."
When the Tribune story broke, the reaction was immediate and sharp. Carew said, "I will not come back and play for a bigot. I'm not going to be another nigger on his plantation. The days of Kunta Kinte are over. I will never sign another contract with this organization." Griffith's response was true to form: "I believe in being blunt and honest."
When the 1977 TV movie A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story premiered on Greek TV recently, the film lost its subtitle but gained a racy subplot. Next to a scene from the film showing the Yankees' legendary No. 3 and No. 4—portrayed by actors Ramon Bieri and Edward Herrmann—locked in warm embrace, the blurb in Greece's TV guide magazine reported:
"A Love Affair is the title of a dramatic adventure that really happened. The film is about the love link between baseball player Lou Gehrig and the beautiful Babe Ruth. The idyll of the two young people ended up in marriage. But their happiness didn't last long. Mrs. Babe became very ill and...."
No wonder they wanted to bust up the Yankees.
THEY SAID IT
•Chuck Wepner, heavyweight boxer: "I was 6'1" when I started fighting, but with all the uppercuts I'm up to 6'5"."
•Johnny Unitas, on Billy Kilmer's wobbly option passes: "You have the option of catching it by either end."