ON CHANGING THE ENDING
Muhammad Ali is talking, apparently seriously, about coming out of retirement to challenge John Tate next summer for the World Boxing Association heavyweight title. If Ali were to dethrone Tate, it would be the fourth time he would have worn the crown, a prospect that pleases him almost as much as the envisioned $6 million payday, which he could use to support his free-spending ways. But at 38 and with his once-splendid skills doubtlessly further eroded by his 18-month layoff, Ali would be courting danger by returning to the ring.
Ali absorbed heavy punishment in each of his three bouts with Joe Frazier, as well as in his fights with Ken Norton in 1976 and with Earnie Shavers in 1977. Friends detect a slight slur in his speech and a raspiness that might have been caused by blows to the throat. "I don't want to end up like Joe Louis," Ali himself said last year—regrettably, to a Las Vegas audience that included Louis, who has suffered a stroke—and much the same thought occurs to Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, Ali's former physician, who urged him to retire as far back as 1976. "With any older fighter, the strain and trauma of the ring will accelerate the deterioration of the kidneys, liver, heart and brain," Pacheco told SI's Paula Phelps last week. "Ali should never, never, never fight again. If he keeps putting new endings on his story, one of them is going to be tragic."
THEY KNOW YOU, AL
The Oakland Raiders have signed an agreement to play next season in the Los Angeles Coliseum, greatly distressing fans in Oakland, where the team has sold out regularly for the past 11 years. Al Davis, the Raiders' managing general partner, says he decided to move his club because the commission that runs the Oakland Coliseum was slow to give him the luxury boxes and other improvements the L.A. Coliseum has offered. Davis says these improvements include creature comforts that the modern fan demands. "I believe professional football in the '80s must have a stadium that's comfortable," he argues.
But Oakland fans gave every evidence of supporting their team without some of those supposedly essential creature comforts. And whatever its negotiating posture earlier, the Oakland commission had considerably sweetened its offer lately. Davis' decision to move anyway heightens suspicions that what he really has in mind are the pay-television riches that could very well await him in L.A.
The Raiders' move southward is being resisted in the courts by 1) the NFL, which is upset that Davis didn't bother to get the approval of 21 clubs as required by the league constitution in the case of franchise shifts, 2) a Los Angeles taxpayer who considers the L.A. Coliseum's $17 million offer a misappropriation of public funds, and 3) the city of Oakland, which has started eminent domain proceedings calculated to block any move by the team that local bumper stickers refer to, with justification, as the Oakland Traitors.
THE UBIQUITOUS DIGIT
Uncle Sam uses his index finger to let it be known that he wants you, and others employ the same digit to scold their kids and issue directions. But the finger that Anglo-Saxons called "towcher" and schoolchildren refer to as "pointer" is proving to be especially valuable these days to athletes who insist on holding it aloft after victories. How else can they tell the world they're No. 1?
Well, maybe they could let the world decide for itself. It's probably forgivable that members of the U.S. Olympic hockey team flashed the No. 1 sign after receiving their gold medals at Lake Placid—at least they are No. 1—but many an athlete who thrusts his index finger skyward is being presumptuous. Take the USC and Houston football players who gave the No. 1 sign following their Rose and Cotton Bowl victories, respectively. Inasmuch as Alabama won the national championship, what those Trojan and Cougar players actually were doing was some not-very-discreet—and notably unsuccessful—lobbying.
Perhaps it's time to recall what the humorist H. Allen Smith said about the index finger. In his essay A Short History of Fingers, Smith noted that in bygone days, Europeans considered the index finger to be poisonous and felt that "if it were used to touch a wound, that wound would never heal. It was loaded with toxins, hence they always kept it well away from their soup."
DANGER: FIDO AHEAD
When menaced by dogs, a bane of their existence, some runners aren't bashful about responding with force. They think nothing of swinging or kicking at small mutts and they fend off larger ones with Mace, sticks and belts. In The Complete Book of Running, James Fixx has proposed a less violent but nevertheless extreme strategy. "When the dog is nearly upon you, turn, make a blood-curdling noise and flail your arms as if demented," he writes. "Even a dog seriously bent on mischief will think twice about pursuing a relationship with so unpredictable a soul."
Now comes Dr. George Sheehan, the running cardiologist and author, to counsel a calmer approach. In a weekly column on running that appears in The Daily Register in Shrewsbury, N.J. and in several other newspapers, Sheehan advises runners to give dogs the widest possible berth. "Keep away from the dog's territory," he writes. "Cross the road to avoid a dog up ahead. Pick up a convenient branch or stone or bottle to brandish. And if all this fails, face the dog (never try to outrun one) and keep talking until the animal cools off."
Sheehan says that he has never been bitten by a dog while running, which may have something to do with the fact that he seldom ventures near residential developments. "Owners of dogs in developments tend to let their dogs loose," he says. Surprisingly, Sheehan sees the automobile, another supposed nemesis of runners, as a potential ally against dogs. He says streets with automobile traffic are "safer for the runner because they are dangerous for dogs, and the owners are more likely to tie them up."
WHY IT'S NOT CALLED A GIRLCOTT
Although male runners compete in the Olympics in the 5,000, 10,000 and marathon, the all-male International Olympic Committee has yet to approve a race for women longer than 1,500 meters. Understandably unhappy about this, women distance runners were only partly appeased last fall when the world track and field federation, the IAAF, announced that it would stage world championships for women in the 3,000 meters and another non-Olympic event, the 400-meter hurdles, in August of this year in the Netherlands. But those two events would be little more than an afterthought to the Moscow Olympics, which are scheduled to conclude barely a week earlier.
Thanks to the Olympic boycott movement, though, these stepchildren may yet pull a Cinderella. The boycott would seriously reduce the caliber of competition in Moscow just as a "counter-Olympics" would be diminished by the almost certain absence of Soviet-bloc competitors. Because the two isolated world-championship events in the Netherlands presumably will attract athletes from both sides, they could, ironically, end up as the most glamorous events on this year's track calendar.
TRIPLE THREAT, 1980-STYLE
There was a new development last week in college sport's malodorous academic transcript scandal. The Los Angeles Community College District asked the FBI and local officials to investigate transcript improprieties at its 10 schools and announced its own inquiry into evidence of "dual and triple enrollments in classes held at the same time." Forged transfer credits from one of the schools, Los Angeles Valley College, had previously turned up on transcripts of athletes at Oregon and UCLA. Dr. Alice Thurston, L.A. Valley's president, says that at least eight athletes at her college had received credit for different courses offered at the same hour. Asked how this was possible, Thurston said wearily, "You'd have to be creative about it. Like you jog through the swimming pool with a tennis racket in your hand. That way you could get credit for jogging, swimming and tennis."
THOSE WERE THE DAYS
Not counting the decathlon, there are 20 individual Olympic men's track and field events, and the best-ever performances in five of them occurred on Wednesdays. Four best-ever performances took place on Fridays, four on Saturdays, four on Sundays, two on Mondays and one on a Thursday. And, oh yes, Sebastian Coe's world record of 3:49 in the mile, the most celebrated non-Olympic event, was set on a Tuesday.
This information comes courtesy of Columbia University law student Jed Brickner, a track and field nut who realized a while ago that he could fill a rare and, to him, unpardonable gap in the statistical esoterica that attends the sport by analyzing top performances in men's track events on the basis of which days of the week they occurred. Brickner's research consumed "hundreds of hours" ("Lawyers are trained to keep track of their time—that's how they bill," he says cheerfully) and yielded such tidbits as the fact that Brazil's versatile Joao Carlos de Oliveira not only set his world record in the triple jump on a Wednesday but also boasts the best distance ever achieved in that event on a Saturday as well as the best long jumps anybody has ever accomplished on either a Monday or a Saturday. And while West Germany's Karl-Hans Riehm has recorded the longest hammer throws in history on a Sunday, a Monday and a Tuesday, the "records" for each of the remaining days of the week belong to others. Brickner also has come up with the startling—some, admittedly, might say startlingly trivial—fact that only one athlete holds the record in his specialty for every day of the week. His identity will be divulged in this space next week.
Until last year baseball owners more than held their own in salary arbitration with their players. Under the rules, each side submits a salary figure, one of which is then selected by the arbitrator, no compromise allowed. After arbitration went into effect in 1974, owners won 32 of the first 53 cases, including seven of nine in 1978. But players won eight of 14 cases a year ago and 15 of 26 this year, easily the most noteworthy award being the one given last week to Chicago Cub Relief Pitcher Dave Sutter. The Cubs submitted an offer of $350,000, but the arbitrator opted instead for Sutter's formidable figure of $700,000.
Why are players now winning a majority of arbitration awards—and for such enormous sums? Arbitrators obviously have been influenced by the huge salaries some owners have voluntarily been paying their players, for example, Nolan Ryan's much-publicized million dollars a year. But it also appears that some clubs may have submitted intentionally low figures, all but assuring that they would lose in arbitration. The thinking is that while this may cost them more money than if they had made more realistic offers, they thus avoid setting precedents that might be invoked by other team members. Detroit General Manager Jim Campbell, for one, says that he followed this slightly Machiavellian strategy in offering $105,000 to Second Baseman Lou Whitaker, whose $130,000 demand was granted by an arbitrator.
"If I gave him what he wanted, what would Morris and Parrish say?" Campbell asks, referring to two other Tiger players who had already agreed to terms that presumably were less favorable than Whitaker's. "So I let them blame the arbitrator."
THEY SAID IT
•Billy Paultz, on the adjustment he had to make after being traded from the San Antonio Spurs to his new team, the Houston Rockets: "The warmup pants here have snaps. That's more complicated than the offense."
•George Raveling, Washington State basketball coach, one of the few blacks coaching a major college team: "When the athletic director said I should recruit more white players to keep the folks in Pullman happy, I signed Rufus White and Willie White."