Say what you will about Bowie Kuhn, he has often acted forcefully when he felt "the integrity of baseball" was threatened. For better or worse, Kuhn opened spring training camps to break an owners' lockout in 1976, canceled some of Charlie Finley's big-dollar player sales and last week fined Bill Lee $250 for having admitted using marijuana. By any measure, he is an activist commissioner.
In the current umpires' job action, Kuhn has done nothing. He has never spoken to Richie Phillips, the lawyer for the umpires, and he has remained conspicuously unresponsive to complaints that the substitute umps have blown more than their share of calls. It is increasingly clear that insofar as the quality of umpiring is concerned, the big leagues are no longer big league. But Kuhn has left the resolution of the dispute to Lee MacPhail and Chub Feeney, presidents of the American and National Leagues, respectively.
Last week, discussing the job action with SI's Jim Kaplan, Kuhn noted that relations with umpires properly come under the control of the league presidents. He added that while he would like to see umpires "centralized" under his own control, the owners have so far blocked such a change. He allowed that he could intervene if his cherished "integrity of baseball" were at stake in the job action but he disputed those who say it is.
"I don't say the substitute umpires are as good as major league umpires," Kuhn said. "I think they're doing a workmanlike job and there's no question about their honesty. The issue of 'integrity' is contrived."
Kuhn neatly sidestepped the question of the umpires' demand for more pay. "The two things to keep in mind are procedure and substance," he said. "I've acted in the past because I've been dissatisfied with procedure. In this case, on procedure, I feel the league presidents have been correct. The proper course would be for the umpires to sign their contracts, report and develop meaningful communications. They're scheduled to discuss pensions in August and they could discuss other matters as well. The league presidents have said they will be open-minded. If they are not, I will act."
This last vow offers a glimmer of hope for the umps as well as for baseball fans. With a little prodding from Kuhn, MacPhail and Feeney could promise to conduct meaningful negotiations if the umpires returned to work. While that alone probably would not satisfy the umpires, an additional guarantee of mediation or binding arbitration might. Such a course would be in baseball's own best interests. Even Kuhn admitted last week that public opinion was shifting in favor of the umpires. Encouragingly, MacPhail and Feeney were huddling with Phillips at week's end in hopes of getting the umpires back to work.
A 'T' ON THE NCAA
Notre Dame's annual All-Campus Bookstore Basketball Tournament (SI, May 15, 1978) is a special kind of undergraduate madness. By tradition, it involves hundreds of loosely assembled teams consisting both of Joe O'Colleges and, until now, of members of the Irish varsity, who were dispersed for the occasion, no more than one to any team. Thus, over the years ordinary students had a chance to play with stars like John Shumate, Adrian Dantley and Kelly Tripucka.
When this year's 10-day tournament began last week, members of Digger Phelps' varsity were on the sidelines. The NCAA had ruled that Notre Dame basketball players who took part would be violating the prohibition against outside "organized competition." The NCAA obviously was concerned that unless it cracked down on Notre Dame, other schools might institute similar events as a way of sneaking in extra practice.
One wonders, though, why the NCAA can't simply decide on a case-by-case basis whether something sinister is going on. As Leo Latz, the tournament director, points out, Notre Dame's just-for-fun event promoted the kind of fraternization between athletes and ordinary students that the NCAA has always professed to believe in. Latz also charges that by forcing varsity players out of a school activity open to other students, the NCAA is guilty of discriminating against them.
SEAGULLS IN THE DESERT
Las Vegas, which is smack in the middle of the desert 250 miles from the nearest ocean, has an American Soccer League franchise called—no joke—the Seagulls. Owner Victor Mevo explains the curious nickname in a little essay in the team program. It seems that Mevo, an airline marketing man, lives in Elmont, N.Y., a suburban town on Long Island. When he founded a semipro soccer team there in 1971 and was in need of a name, he thought of his many pleasant hours spent fishing on Long Island Sound. He writes, "I couldn't help but admire the majestic white-gray creatures as they soared overhead, then swooped down into the cool waters of the Sound searching out their prey." The birds Mevo fondly recalls were evidently herring gulls, which are primarily scavengers but occasionally dive for fish. At any rate, Mevo called his team the Long Island Seagulls and kept the name when he moved the club to Las Vegas this season.
Given all this, Mevo naturally was pleased when gulls alighted recently in Las Vegas' Silver Bowl Stadium, the team's home field. Ornithologists say they probably were California gulls, which often winter in Nevada. But Mevo prefers to think of the birds' advent as something more out of the ordinary. "There must have been a storm on the West Coast," he says. "Maybe they thought the field was a lake."
Or maybe they were attracted by the club's mascot—a costumed seagull with a six-foot wingspan named Siggy.
There has been a change of plans for the prison that organizers mean to use as an Olympic Village for the 1980 Winter Games (SI, April 9). Under pressure from the International Olympic Committee, which was concerned about complaints that housing arrangements in the compound were claustrophobic, Lake Placid officials have decided to convert four-person rooms to triples, triples to doubles and doubles to singles. To make up for a resulting loss of 766 beds, they say that displaced athletes will be lodged in house trailers parked on the prison grounds.
When the AAU International Track and Field Subcommittee met in New York Feb. 25 to select a site for the 1980 Olympic Trials, it had two eager bidders to choose from. One was Eugene, Ore., which had done an able job in staging the '72 and '76 Trials. The other was the track hotbed of Durham, N.C., whose representatives argued that if U.S. track was to be truly national in scope, the Trials ought to be held somewhere else for a change. By a vote of 15-14, the committee awarded the '80 Trials to Eugene.
Now it appears that the issue is still unresolved. Durham officials protested the vote, detailing such oversights as a failure to circulate copies of Durham's bid to all subcommittee members. The Durham contingent also blamed poor scheduling for the fact that nearly half of the 57 eligible voters had missed the meeting. The AAU Board of Athletics upheld the protest and the track subcommittee will reconvene at an undetermined location, probably in early June, to decide whether the irregularities justify another vote.
One of the Durham leaders is Duke Track Coach Al Buehler, who says, "We're not accusing anybody of dirty politics. It's just that we don't consider it a good example of the democratic process when only 29 of 57 vote on an issue." If the subcommittee decides to reopen the matter, its members will again have to wrestle with such questions as whether Durham's greater humidity (SCORECARD, Feb. 19) is more irksome to distance runners than Eugene's higher pollen count. Significantly, Durham's boosters have advanced no new substantive arguments in their favor and Dick Hollander, the Richmond, Va. lawyer who is chairman of the AAU subcommittee, says, "I've gone over the irregularities and I honestly can't see what difference they make."
RETURN TO ACTION
As a teen-ager in Miami in the late '50s, John (Buster) Turk defeated tennis hot-shots Charlie Pasarell and Frank Froehling III and was ranked 16th in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association's 15-and-under division. But Turk argued with linesmen and tournament officials and acquired a reputation as a troublemaker. After an altercation in 1960, he was suspended by the Florida Tennis Association.
During the next few years Turk drank heavily and took amphetamines. In 1966, at 24, he lay near death in a hospital with alcohol-drug neuritis. He survived but was hospitalized on other occasions and also spent time in an alcohol rehabilitation center. When he was well enough to work, Turk dived for golf balls and held odd jobs. Sometimes he slept at a halfway house, at other times under a bridge near the Miami International Airport.
Turk eventually quit drugs and alcohol and got to thinking about tennis. "I remembered that playing tennis was the best time I ever had in my life," he recalls. Two years ago, at 34, he played his first competitive matches in 16 years, reaching the finals of a "B" tournament. Last fall, at the urging of Al Schlazer, tennis coach at Miami-Dade Community College's New World campus, he enrolled in school, joined the tennis team and moved into a nearby rooming house. And he said, "This is a much healthier atmosphere than what I'm used to."
Turk now is maintaining close to a B-plus average in physical education. He weighs a firm 170 pounds, 20 fewer than when he entered school. On the court, he doesn't hit hard but relies on placement, and Schlazer calls him "one of the smartest players I've ever seen." Playing mostly No. 4 singles, Turk has a 14-2 record but recently suffered a minor fracture of the left kneecap. If the knee doesn't bother him too much, the 36-year-old freshman figures to be one of the favorites next month in the tough 29-school Florida junior college state tournament.
A DISTANCE YET TO GO
Joan Benoit, the Bowdoin College senior who set an American women's record of 2:35:15 in the Boston Marathon is unhappy with the International Olympic Committee. Noting that men compete at the Olympics in the 5,000-and 10,000-meter runs and marathon but that there is no women's race longer than 1,500 meters, Benoit says, "The Olympic Committee must think women are wimps."
The situation that aggrieves Benoit isn't likely to change quickly. Before longer events for women can be added to the Olympic program, they must be approved by the International Amateur Athletic Federation. That organization sanctioned a women's 3,000-meter run for the 1977 World Cup and may consider adding women's 5,000 and 10,000 events when it meets during the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. But a battle is shaping up; while women's distance running is popular in the U.S., West Germany and Scandinavia, it has not won favor in the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries, which are cool to the idea of adding the longer events.
Even if the IAAF approves a 5,000 and 10,000 (a women's marathon is not even under consideration), there can be quite a time lag before the IOC acts. The 3,000 is a case in point. Although it has been three years since the IAAF approved a women's 3,000, the question of adding it to the 1984 Olympics was shelved when the IOC met earlier this month in Montevideo. One IOC insider said last week that the organization wants to be sure there is enough worldwide participation to justify adding a 3,000. He added that it also wants to be sure women can "physically handle" the distance.
THEY SAID IT
•Oscar Gamble, Texas Ranger outfielder, on his disappointing 1978 season with the San Diego Padres, who had given him a six-year $2.85 million contract: "Most of the San Diego fans didn't even know my name. They just called me 2.85. It was a long, long year."