WATCHWORD FOR OUR TIMES
With talk of a baseball players' strike in the air and with big salary arbitration awards being announced almost daily, Philadelphia Phillie Slugger Mike Schmidt was probably lucky to get a word in edgewise. Everything considered, he uttered a well-chosen one the other evening at a sports banquet in Wilmington, Del. when Phillie President Ruly Carpenter, acknowledging Schmidt's presence on the dais, rhetorically asked the audience, "What can I say about Mike Schmidt after his being named MVP for both the National League and the World Series?" Whereupon the seated Schmidt shouted, "Renegotiate!"
Massimo Ottolenghi's classmates in Milan were startled to hear him being hailed on TV as a soccer hero. Massimo, 14, had supposedly been the star of a team representing the Internazionale soccer club that had beaten a team from Bolivia to win a tournament in Buenos Aires for boys 14 and under. But Massimo's friends knew he'd been dutifully attending classes while the tournament was taking place. They told their elders, and pretty soon the newspapers got wind of the story and began investigating.
What they uncovered might be called Kiddiescam. The newspapers reported that with the connivance of Massimo, the coach, team officials and the players, a lad who was over the tournament's age limit had performed under Massimo's name, scoring seven goals and being named the tournament MVP. So, how did Massimo wind up being celebrated on Italian TV? Easy. The ringer was identified as 15-year-old Massimo Pellegrini. When the plane carrying the triumphant Internazionale team made a stopover in Rome en route to Milan, he supposedly got off and his place was taken by a waiting Massimo Ottolenghi, who until his classmates blew the whistle on him proceeded to make public appearances as if he had been the star of the big victory in Argentina. Internazionale suspended the coach and two team officials, and the Milan public prosecutor was investigating the possibility that Massimo Pellegrini had traveled abroad on Massimo Ottolenghi's passport.
PORTRAITS IN GOLD
What happens when you take six U.S. Olympic gold medalists, give them paint and canvas and ask them to create works of art through their "athletic medium"? To find out—and to raise funds for the U.S. Olympic Committee—Anheuser-Busch, Inc. recently underwrote just such a project. The resulting paintings will be exhibited starting April 11 in Manhattan's Spectrum Fine Art Gallery, after which they will be auctioned off. Each work will also be reproduced in a signed edition of 1,984 prints. And there are plans to market posters of the paintings, tentatively priced, for the set of six, at $19.84. That number, of course, represents the next Olympic year.
The athletes showed world-class resourcefulness in creating their master-works. Hockey player Mike Eruzione slap-shot paint-doused pucks at a canvas and then put on blades and "skated" a trail of paint across his work. After putting paint to canvas, swimmer John Naber lifted, kinked and tilted it in motions vaguely similar to swimming strokes. Al Oerter tossed discuses at a paint-covered canvas. Sprinter Wilma Rudolph ran through a blob of paint in track shoes and re-created on canvas her "first stride" out of the starting blocks. Bill Russell dribbled a basketball across a paint-covered canvas. And, finally, Marathoner Frank Shorter put a glob of paint on canvas and let it stream across the surface. Shorter explained that he was letting the color "run."
Minnesota Twins Owner Calvin Griffith, 69, is a tightfisted oldtimer whose ability to operate in baseball's current free-wheeling economic climate has been increasingly open to question. While rival owners were lavishing lucrative long-term contracts on their players, Griffith refused to follow suit. As a result, he lost a dozen free agents to other teams, including such notables as Larry Hisle, Lyman Bostock, Bill Campbell, Dave Goltz and Geoff Zahn. Furthermore, when Rod Carew and Bert Blyleven threatened to play out their options, Griffith traded them rather than pay them what they demanded. Owing partly to Griffith's skinflint ways, the Twins last season finished 19½ games behind Kansas City in the American League West and drew only 769,206 fans, the lowest attendance in the majors. The Twins' struggles have raised doubts about whether the team will even be around to move as scheduled in 1982 into a new domed stadium now under construction in downtown Minneapolis, a change of venue Griffith has characteristically resisted.
But the idea that the Twins are about to go down the tube is flatly rejected by Griffith's son, Clark, 39, the team's executive vice-president and heir apparent to his father. "The dinosaur lived 140 million years before it became extinct," says the younger Griffith, who is generally credited with a couple of evolutionary adaptations the club has recently made. Faced with the loss of Catcher Butch Wynegar, the Twins startled everybody a month ago by signing him to a five-year contract at $400,000 per, then the richest in the club's history. Last week the Twins eclipsed that record by agreeing to give Shortstop Roy Smalley a four-year, $2.4 million deal. "Calvin wasn't happy about spending so much money," conceded Clark Griffith. "None of us were. But it was either that or lose our catcher and shortstop."
The younger Griffith reportedly had to argue heatedly with his father before the latter would consent to loosen the purse strings, and it seemed significant that Calvin was in Florida when the Wynegar and Smalley contracts were announced, leaving Clark to preside over press conferences in Minneapolis. And while Clark confirms that the Twins are now willing to "extend our life-span by signing our own players," he hastens to emphasize that the club will continue to refrain from bidding for free agents from other teams. Even so, Wynegar was sufficiently stunned by his fat new contract to say, "I fell to my knees. I had my wife give me a little slap to see if I was all right."
HERSCHEL'S BIG DECISION
Most observers believe that Herschel Walker, the fabulous freshman who led Georgia's football team to the national championship last season, is good enough to play in the NFL right now. Agent Mike Trope, for one, thinks the 18-year-old Walker would be a fool to wait. Trope reckons that by holding off three years before turning pro, Walker would forfeit "a couple of million dollars."
If Walker sought to play immediately in the NFL, he would have to buck that league's rules prohibiting any team from signing a college player until he 1) uses up his eligibility, 2) graduates, or 3) has been out of high school for five years. There are precedents for such a challenge. In 1977 Notre Dame Running Back Al Hunter was suspended from school for disciplinary reasons and threatened to sue the NFL if he weren't allowed to play that season. The league yielded, and Hunter wound up playing for the Seattle Seahawks during what would have been his senior year at Notre Dame. Jan Van Duser, the NFL's director of personnel, concedes that if Walker took the matter to court, he might force the league's hand just as the University of Detroit's Spencer Haywood succeeded in overturning a similar NBA prohibition in a court action in 1971. But Van Duser also says that because of the resulting litigation, "The kid might wind up in limbo for a couple of years before he could play." At any rate, the Canadian Football League has no restrictions regarding the signing of U.S. collegians, and the Montreal Alouettes have already acquired that league's negotiating rights to Walker.
Georgia boosters naturally would like to keep Walker out of the pro ranks for the time being, which may be one reason some of them were talking about setting him up in a potentially lucrative insurance business while he was still in college, an idea that Georgia Coach Vince Dooley said last week had been dropped; Dooley explained that the NCAA had advised him the scheme might jeopardize Walker's eligibility.
For his part, Walker describes himself as "still a boy who isn't ready to play with the men" and insists that because of his interest in a career as an FBI agent, he's not sure he'll ever play pro football. But Walker, currently a sprinter on the indoor track circuit, also says he'd consider dropping football if he felt it would help his chances of qualifying for the 1984 Olympics, which he calls "a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Hold your breath, Georgia fans.
HE'S PELL, I'M MEL
Purists may be interested to know that there is a place in basketball for running and gunning. The Northeast High Hurricanes of Oakland Park, Fla. have averaged a relatively modest 57.3 points a game while achieving an 18-10 record, but look who's on the team's bench: senior Guard Rodger Running and senior Forward Charles Gunning.
THE BIG THAW
The weather has played havoc with a number of U.S. ski resorts, especially in the West. A severe shortage of snow early in the season devastated Colorado's Breckenridge, which as of last week had been in full operation just 13 days all winter and had sold fewer than 40,000 lift tickets compared to 400,000 at the same point last year. Resorts that received more substantial snowfall or are equipped to make their own snow have fared better, but a recent mild spell across much of the nation has brought grief to many of them, too. In Los Angeles, where residents were flocking to the beaches and tennis courts last week to enjoy temperatures that reached a record 89°, a spokesman for Sandy's Ski Sports, which operates 10 shops in L.A. and nearby ski areas, moaned, "Business is terrible. It's almost a disaster."
Mild weather also disrupted plans for the annual Birkebeiner Race, the biggest cross-country ski marathon in the U.S. Organizers were expecting a record 7,000 skiers to participate in a 55-km. race through the woods of northern Wisconsin. The course had a snow base of 6 to 8 inches in early February, but temperatures in the 50s followed by heavy rains washed that away. Race officials postponed the mass-participation part of the Birkebeiner but decided to improvise mini-races for 54 "elite" competitors and 159 touring skiers from Europe and far-flung points in the U.S. The only significant snow available was on 1,770-foot Mount Telemark, ordinarily an alpine site, and organizers fashioned a six-km. loop on the slopes, which elite racers were to negotiate eight times. But the temperature hovered around 60° on race day, and after sloshing through the 48-km. course in 3 hours and 9 minutes to win the elite event, Jean-Paul Pierrat of France said, with considerable understatement, "It wasn't a good trail."
The next big cross-country event in the U.S. is a two-day, 100-km. marathon scheduled for this weekend in Bemidji, Minn. The course for that event was bare of snow last week, and organizers said that unless there was a fresh snowfall, the event would be staged as a 30-km. footrace, with competitors required to carry ski poles while running. The beleaguered Bemidji organizers might well sympathize with equally harassed officials in Pinzolo, Italy, a ski-resort community that has been afflicted by a shortage of snow. In their desperation to make a cross-country course, they recently dispatched trucks to bring in snow from surrounding areas, prompting bitter residents of neighboring communities to accuse them of "snow piracy."
THEY SAID IT
•Gordie Howe, asked whether he'd ever broken his nose while playing hockey: "No, but 11 other guys did."
•Mike Norris, Oakland A's pitcher, stoically accepting an arbitration award of $325,000 instead of the $450,000 he'd sought: "No problem. I was either going to wake up rich or richer."
•Pete Carril, Princeton's basketball coach, after setting up two plays during a time-out and then watching as the Tigers' Randy Melville threw in an off-balance 25-footer with two seconds left to beat Cornell 46-44: "It was the third of two options."