ON BALANCE, QUITE COMPETITIVE
Maybe it's time that Bowie Kuhn, who keeps saying the free-agent market is going to destroy baseball's competitive balance, took a look at the major league standings. Destroy competitive balance? The defending champion Yankees and Dodgers are down, traditional have-nots Montreal and Houston are up and, of the four current division leaders, only Baltimore has ever won a pennant—and it last did so eight years ago. The Phillies, who added free agent Pete Rose after winning three straight divisional titles, are mired in fourth place. As Boston Red Sox Manager Don Zimmer notes, "The races are close all the way around, in both leagues."
Zimmer's assessment is borne out by the fact that with the season nearly two-thirds over, most clubs are within at least striking distance of .500. Indeed, only two teams, Oakland and Toronto, can be dismissed. Oakland has been decimated by the free-agent draft, but owner Charlie Finley's recent operation of that franchise is a bewilderingly special case; Baltimore and Minnesota, also stung by free-agent defections, are doing just fine. Toronto is a 2-year-old expansion club that has chosen to rely on young players. There is certainly nothing wrong with that but the Toronto Star suggested in a recent editorial that the Blue Jays might achieve respectability more quickly by also going after free agents.
That was the course followed by California and Texas, onetime weaklings that have become powerful largely by boldly fishing in free-agent waters, thereby increasing competitive balance. Nor have the two clubs necessarily overextended themselves in the process. Buzzie Bavasi, California's executive vice-president, says that the acquisition of free agent Rod Carew has more than paid for itself in season-ticket sales.
Of course, it is still conceivable that, as Kuhn fears, one or two wealthy teams will wind up monopolizing talent. "You've got to wait a couple more years to see," says Dodger President Peter O'Malley. "The dust hasn't settled." But many baseball men privately agree with Bavasi, who says cautiously of Kuhn's alarums on the subject, "it appears right now he may have been wrong."
FIE ON THE FEES
Last year the National Football League began considering a new rule that would have prohibited team owners from holding financial interest in franchises in other major team sports. Jay Moyer, the NFL's legal counsel, said, "Because we compete with the other leagues for the entertainment dollar, we feel that cross-ownership is a conflict. You don't see Ford people sitting on the board of General Motors, do you?" Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and 90% of the North American Soccer League's Dallas Tornado, was understandably concerned. The proposed rule would have forced him to divest himself of one or the other of his holdings and he didn't like the idea. "I don't think soccer is a threat to the NFL," he said.
If Hunt was unhappy then, he was unhappier still when the NASL, contending that a prohibition against cross-ownership would violate antitrust laws, sued the NFL last fall in the U.S. District Court in New York. The court temporarily enjoined the NFL from adopting the rule, and the case is now heading for trial. As an owner in both leagues, Hunt finds himself on both sides of the suit. He says, "Somebody pointed out to me the other day that I can't lose. But I don't think it's funny. I'm paying 100% of [1/28] of the NFL's legal costs and 90% of [1/24] of the NASL's legal costs." In other words, he can't win, either.
Molly the Dolphin is cavorting this summer in the aquarium in Hull, Mass., but don't bother taking the kids to see her. The aquarium has been closed to the public since going broke a couple of years ago, and Molly is being prepared for two projects as dramatic as they are hush-hush. If all goes according to plan, she will 1) track down and take pictures of the Loch Ness Monster and 2) help recover sunken treasure off the Florida Keys.
The Loch Ness quest is sponsored by the Boston-based Academy of Applied Science, which has made annual expeditions to the Scottish lake in hopes of photographing the strange creature long rumored to reside in its depths. Using strobes and high-speed film sensitive enough to record images in Loch Ness' cloudy waters from 40 feet away, the academy at first suspended sonar-triggered underwater cameras from a floating platform and programmed them to click when large objects passed. Concluding that this approach was too passive, academy officials got the idea of outfitting dolphins with harnesses rigged with cameras and strobes and teaching them to target in on whatever creatures may lurk in Loch Ness. Trainers began turning Molly and another dolphin, Sammy, into shutterbugs, using turtles and scuba divers as photographic subjects.
The dolphins were originally scheduled to go to Scotland this summer. Plans were made to keep them in saltwater pens and to release them into Loch Ness for a few hours a day. A floating cage was to be used to move them from one spot to another. But six weeks ago Sammy died of unknown causes. The academy wants to use two dolphins and, because a new one will take time to train, the expedition probably will be postponed until next June.
Lest Molly grow bored in the meantime, negotiations were under way last week to send her to Florida to dive for sunken treasure. Dolphins can be trained to differentiate among metals, and a salvage company was interested in using Molly to comb the ocean bottom in search of muskets, cannonballs, silver and gold. Robert Borofsky, an academy spokesman, says, "Everybody knows that dolphins are intelligent, but we haven't even begun to explore the ways they can be used. They can do a lot more than just jump through hoops."
Tom Fears, the former NFL pass-receiving great who later coached in the league, was visiting a Houston Oiler practice session the other day when the San Angelo Standard-Times' Frank Rudnicki asked what he thought of the team. Far from being an idle kibitzer, Fears runs a talent-appraisal service that includes Houston among its clients. Considering that his analyses are supposedly confidential, he was strikingly candid.
Fears said that the Oilers' talent was, at best, average and that he was surprised they made the playoffs last season. He added that it was probably "emotions" that carried them to the AFC final, in which they lost to Pittsburgh. He also confided that his service, which is used by Green Bay and Washington as well as Houston, rates players on a scale of 0 to 9 and divides them into three groups: Gold Nuggets (the best). Blue Chippers (a middle category) and Greens (least capable). The only Oilers deemed to be Gold Nuggets were Quarterback Dan Pastorini, Wide Receiver Ken Burrough, Linebacker Robert Brazile and Running Back Earl Campbell. Campbell scored a perfect 9. Fears credited this last Gold Nugget for much of the Oilers' success last year, saying, "Campbell's so good, he makes everybody look better." By contrast Pittsburgh had 19 Gold Nuggets—nine on the defensive team and everybody but Rocky Bleier on offense.
With a new, hopeful season soon to begin, Fears' downbeat analysis was hardly the sort of thing Houston Coach Bum Phillips wanted to hear. Concluded Bum: "Tom exercised very bad judgment in giving out this information."
ADVICE FOR THE DOG DAYS
Joggers whose dogs tag along with them may not realize it, but Fido runs a real risk of being overcome by heat. So says Dr. Robert Batchelor, president of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, who warns that while most cases of heatstroke in dogs are the result of confinement in closed cars and the like, the number of jogging-induced cases is on the increase.
The problem is that a dog will often loyally follow its master even in distress. Last summer Dr. Anne Rosin of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine treated a German shepherd and a Weimaraner for jogging heatstroke. "The German shepherd made it because the owners recognized the symptoms and had immersed the dog in a cold bath before bringing it in," says Rosin. "But the owner of the Weimaraner allowed the dog to pant excessively for an hour before we saw it, and it died." Rosin notes that dogs don't perspire but deal with overheating by panting, which is not always efficient; in fact, at body temperatures of above 105°—normal temperature for a dog is between 100° and 102.5°—panting will only exacerbate the heat buildup.
"If your dog is overweight, old or out of shape, don't let it run with you in hot weather," Rosin advises. "If you do run with your dog, go early in the morning or in the evening. Make sure the animal gets lots of water. It needs more water than a person does. And when you're finished, spray the dog with a cold hose. After all, you'd enjoy a cold shower after a long run, and so would your dog." She adds that if the dog shows signs of heatstroke, the most important thing is to lower the animal's temperature, perhaps in an ice bath.
TO RUSSIA, WITH LOTHAR
The sports world first heard of Lothar Bock in 1977 when the West German promoter single-handedly delivered American TV rights to the 1980 Moscow Olympics to NBC for $85 million. For that coup Bock earned a fee of $1.8 million. Bock continues to hustle in the gray netherworld between East and West. For example, he helped persuade the Soviet Union to open its Spartakiade to foreign athletes (page 18), then set about selling the TV rights.
The Spartakiade negotiations were a considerable test of Bock's wiles. NBC refused to buy the rights for fear of diluting the attraction of live TV from Russia in 1980. Neither ABC nor CBS was interested in putting on a program that would promote NBC's 1980 Moscow extravaganza. So Bock settled for a deal with Syndicast Services, Inc., the company that produced the Nixon-Frost interviews. Syndicast lined up some 50 stations, which are airing 32 hours of the Spartakiade. Syndicast says the package produced $2.2 million in ad revenues, but Bock admits, "We got considerably less than I figured."
Undaunted, Bock recently received the go-ahead from the International Olympic Committee to produce a series of televised cartoon and puppet shows starring a character named Homer the Lion. Bock gushes that the program, called The Olym-Pets, "will tell all the little children of the world about Olympic principles and good conditioning of the body and spirit." Bock also plans to stage 36 open-air rock concerts throughout the Soviet Union a month or so before the start of the '80 Olympics, an undertaking he believes will offer untold opportunities for TV packaging and Olympic merchandising. Of this scheme Bock enthuses, "It is huge! So huge I shiver over its size. It is unprecedented!" Unprecedented may also be the best word to describe that go-getting promoter Lothar Bock.
Memphis businessman Ron Barassi plays a lot of racquetball and has also encouraged his son to take up the game, as a way of developing hand-eye coordination. "I'm not trying to push him to be a champion," Barassi says. "If he winds up preferring to play the violin or something, that's fine." In the meantime, when the International Racquetball Association held its national junior championships in Memphis, he consented to let his boy enter the 10-and-under division. Ron Jr. lost to 9-year-old Ed Blaess of Fort Lauderdale in the first round 21-3, 21-5. "I played good," Ron said afterward. Blaess agreed. He sportingly hit the ball to Ron as much as possible and conceded that at least a couple of his opponent's shots were too hot to handle. The violin may have to wait. But then, being just three years old, Ron still has time to make up his mind about such things.
THEY SAID IT
•Calvin Peete, after winning the Greater Milwaukee Open, his first PGA victory: "I was playing so good, it was like the hole kept getting in the way of my ball."
•Hank Greenwald, San Francisco Giant announcer: "If Houston and Montreal stay on top, it'll be the first time the National League playoffs take place entirely outside the United States."