OPENING TO THE EAST
The San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres announced last week that they will open the 1980 season with a three-game series on March 28, 29 and 30 in Japan. The teams plan to conclude their preseason schedule with two exhibition games in Honolulu and two more in Japan before playing the season-opening series in Japan. Then they will return to the U.S. for three days of rest before resuming their 162-game schedule. Other major league clubs will start their season in early April as usual.
The transplanted opener is being underwritten by a Tokyo newspaper, Sports Nippon. Although the trip to Japan appears all set, Giant players plan to vote on it and to raise the matter with the Baseball Players Association. They complain that it can be cold in Japan in late March, an argument that if taken seriously might apply equally to early-season games in Minnesota, Cleveland, Montreal, Boston, et al. Some San Diego fans may also be unhappy about the departure from tradition since the three games otherwise would have been played in San Diego Stadium.
Padre Executive Vice-President Ballard Smith defends the Japanese opener as "a first step toward what we hope will someday lead to a global World Series." Since major league teams have been playing exhibitions in Japan for more than 40 years—and often against Japanese teams—it may be stretching things to call a series between two National League clubs, no matter where played, any kind of first step. Yet a World Series that is truly a World Series is a worthwhile goal, and anything that gets people even thinking about it is welcome.
COLOR THEM SPECIAL
A horse of a very different color is living in Barn 44 at New York's Belmont Park. His name is Clarence Stewart, and the 2-year-old is only the fourth thoroughbred—and first thoroughbred colt—to be registered as white by The Jockey Club. There have been roughly 750,000 thoroughbreds foaled in North America since 1803, which makes Clarence Stewart a genetic 187,500-to-1 shot. He is not an albino—his eyes are dark—and his sire and dam are brown and bay, respectively. Clarence Stewart is an oddity.
So is the man he's named after, his trainer. Clarence Stewart is one of a handful of black trainers in thoroughbred racing. Unusual though his namesake is, the trainer is not about to put the horse in a sideshow. "I've been in this game 31 years, so I think I should know a good horse when I see one," says Clarence Stewart, the man. "This looks like a good one. And he's the most beautiful horse I've ever seen."
Clarence Stewart, the horse, was born on March 24, 1977 in Montauk, N.Y., and his groom, Mark Hubley, was there. "His legs came out and they were white," says Hubley. "Then his nose came out and that was white. And then the whole foal came out. He looked like a quart of milk. We couldn't believe it." Neither could Jockey Club officials, who conducted blood tests on the foal to make sure of his pedigree.
Clarence Stewart plans to run Clarence Stewart this summer. In the meantime, Stewart and Hubley are working to overcome two problems. The colt sunburns easily, so he must be kept indoors a lot. And, as anyone with a white suit might guess, he is a chore to keep clean.
Authorities at the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond wouldn't have dreamed of issuing a hacksaw or a ladder to any of their inmates, and certainly not to Michael Cross, a convicted murderer whose record included an unsuccessful escape attempt. But they did let Cross take up running and that may have been just as ill-advised. Cross trained hard and last October completed a marathon—running more than 100 laps around the small prison yard. A month ago Cross somehow cut through a metal air vent, crawled across a rooftop and lowered himself by a rope to the street. Then he outran guards who chased him on foot. He is still at large.
The trend in women's competitive swim-wear in recent years has been toward ever thinner, ever tighter, ever more revealing suits. One lingering concession to modesty is the requirement at most levels of the sport that, thin or not, only one-piece suits may be worn. Now Hind-Wells, Inc., a swimwear manufacturer in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is trying to change that with introduction of a conservatively cut two-piece racing suit that wouldn't draw a second look at the beach but has the swimming world in a spin.
Hind-Wells was sneaky about unveiling its new suit, secretly persuading Stanford's women's team to wear it at last month's AIAW championships in Pittsburgh. The AIAW is one of the few organizations that have no rules governing swimwear but, just to be safe, Hind-Wells sewed a strip of fabric to connect the bottom and top of each suit, reasoning that this made it a one-piece garment.
Before the start of the 200-yard medley relay, Stanford swimmers in the stands mysteriously began chanting, "Take it off, Stanford, take it off...." The four members of the school's relay team removed their sweats and the crowd gasped and screamed. The Stanford swimmers stroked to an American record of 1:44.87 and soon members of other teams were competing in the two-piece suits, too.
Fanciers of the racing bikini say it offers more freedom of movement than a one-piece suit and has the psychological advantage of letting the swimmer feel water over more of the body. Some coaches also feel that appearing in public in bare midriffs might encourage swimmers to keep their stomachs trim. But others contend that the two-piece suit increases drag because it creates three surfaces—fabric, bare stomach, fabric again—for water to roll across.
These arguments will continue at next week's AAU short course (25-yard pool) championships in Los Angeles. Unlike the AIAW, the AAU prohibits two-piece suits, but its 27-member rules subcommittee could change that regulation in Los Angeles. If it doesn't, Dr. Stan Brown, AAU chairman of senior swimming, will have to rule in his capacity as meet referee on whether the sewn-on strip qualifies the garment as a one-piece suit. Last week Brown said, "From the way it's been described to me, it sounds like a two-piece suit."
Approval of the suit would put the AAU on a collision course with FINA, the world swimming federation, which requires women competing in international competition or those setting world records to swim in one-piece suits "devoid of openwork except at the back." U.S. swim officials could try to lobby to change the rule. The alternative would be to confine the use of two-piece suits to 25-yard pools, which are found mainly in the U.S.
THE STARTING LINE
The 83rd Boston Marathon will be run next week and for the first time a line on the race is available in Las Vegas. Two-time champion Bill Rodgers is a 2-to-1 favorite, followed by Ian Thompson and Esa Tikkanen (both 3 to 1), Jeff Wells (5 to 1) and Hideki Kita (6 to 1). Frank Shorter, at 10 to 1, is said to be attracting a lot of action. The odds on any woman to finish first are 1,000 to 1.
BIG BIRD, LITTLE BYRD
Bird may have been the word in college basketball this past season, but so was Byrd. While Indiana State's 6'9½" Larry Bird was being named the best college player of the year, Columbia's 5'8¼" Alton Byrd was also earning a bit of recognition. Something called the Frances Pomeroy Naismith-Hall of Fame Award—Frances Pomeroy Naismith was the daughter-in-law of the inventor of basketball—is bestowed annually on the best college senior under six feet tall, and Byrd has been selected as its recipient. A product of San Francisco's playgrounds, where he was known as A. B. Slick, the speedy Byrd averaged 15 points and 7.4 assists while leading Columbia to a 17-9 record and the runner-up spot in the Ivy League behind Penn.
Although his size is against him, Byrd hopes to be drafted by the NBA. Noting that 5'8" Charlie Criss plays for the Atlanta Hawks, he says, "Sure I can play in the NBA." "Why not?" Columbia Coach Buddy Mahar agrees. "Alton was the best point guard in the country," he says. "I've never seen anybody run a team the way he can." What if Bird and Byrd had been teammates against Michigan State in the NCAA finals? "The way Alton passes, he would have gotten the ball to Bird," Mahar says. "Indiana State would have won."
When Luke Easter joined the Cleveland Indians late in the 1949 season, he gave his birthday as Aug. 4, 1921. Like Satchel Paige, who had joined the Indians the year before, Easter was suspected of being older by people who remembered seeing him play years earlier in the Negro National League. "Aw, you must be thinking of one of my brothers," the 6'4½", 240-pound first baseman would say. But Easter slyly allowed that the date he had provided was merely his "baseball birthday."
Easter suffered from knee ailments and lasted in the majors only until 1954, finishing with a career batting average of .274 and 93 home runs, including a 477-foot blast on June 23, 1950 that remains the longest ever hit in Cleveland Stadium. For the past 15 years Easter worked as a chief union steward at TRW Inc. near Cleveland. Last week he stepped out of a bank after cashing $5,000 in payroll checks for union members and was shot to death by robbers. Two suspects were captured following a chase and shootout with police.
TRW said its records showed Easter's date of birth as Aug. 4, 1915 and Virgil Easter, his wife of 31 years, said that this was also the date written in a family Bible. Thus Easter had been 34 as a rookie, had left the Indians when he was nearly 40 and was 63 when he died. As with Paige, Easter got his late start because of baseball's long-standing color barrier, and he presumably passed himself off as younger to enhance his chances of sticking in the majors once the barrier was lifted in 1947. Al Rosen, an Indian teammate who is now president of the New York Yankees, says, "Too bad he didn't come up to the majors 15 years earlier. He could hit a ball as far as anybody who ever walked."
THE HIGH COST OF IMAGINATION
The play that enabled underdog Maine to tie New Hampshire 7-7 last season caused a sensation in college football. After lining up for what appeared to be a field-goal attempt from New Hampshire's 28-yard line, Maine's "holder" tossed the ball into the air and the "kicker" punched it with a fist into the end zone, where a teammate pounced on it. It was a touchdown. Under a little-known rule, batting a backward pass for the purpose of gaining yardage was legal so long as the ball stayed inbounds.
Maine Coach Jack Bicknell had read about such a "bat-ball play" in a book written by University of Delaware Athletic Director Dave Nelson, the secretary of the NCAA football rules committee. Nelson promptly hailed Bicknell's use of the stratagem as an example of the "imagination" he felt was needed to enliven the game. But there can be such a thing as too much imagination. Inspired by Maine's successful use of the play, other coaches began mulling over variations. For instance, on a kickoff return the player receiving the ball could flip it backward, allowing a teammate to punch it over the heads of onrushing tacklers. And what was to prevent a ballcarrier trapped for an apparent loss from punching the ball himself? As the possibilities mounted, a suddenly worried Nelson admitted, "People are coming up with ideas that would turn the game into volleyball."
Which is why the NCAA rules committee has outlawed the bat-ball play. The vote by Nelson and the 14 other members was unanimous.
THEY SAID IT
•Bill Walsh, the San Francisco 49ers' pass-conscious coach, on teams that run a lot: "Our turnovers are downfield. Their turnovers are at the line of scrimmage."
•Jim Kern, Texas Ranger pitcher, recalling an occasion when a manager removed him for a reliever: "I told him I wasn't tired. He told me, 'No, but the outfielders sure are.' "