SELLING THE FARM?
New Hampshire is a unique state. It's the only one in the U.S. with no income tax and no sales tax. It also has the largest state legislature in the country, with 424 members who receive a $200 biennial salary and mileage expenses. Enter into this frugal environment Delaware North Companies, Inc. (DNC) of Buffalo, N.Y., owned by Max, Jeremy and Lawrence Jacobs. Delaware North is descended from the Emprise Corp. (SI, May 29, 1972), which was convicted in 1972 of conspiracy and interstate transportation to aid racketeering.
After Rockingham Park in Salem, N.H., burned down last July, Governor Hugh Gallen wondered aloud if the horse track couldn't be rebuilt with state-approved low-interest revenue bonds, legally available only to industrial concerns. DNC, which owns Boston Garden and the Boston Bruins, grabbed at the suggestion. To the dismay of Boston fans, DNC proposed to abandon the Garden and move the Bruins to Salem, where the company would rebuild the horse track, and construct a dog track and an arena for the hockey team. Although Salem had voted down dog racing referenda three times in the last 10 years, DNC said that if it didn't get the dog track the whole deal was off. So a fortnight ago the Salem citizenry approved greyhound racing with the condition that the arena had to be under construction before the dogs could run.
But the matter isn't as simple as that. Besides seeking the $40 million in revenue bonds to build the complex, DNC wants a $125 million tax break from the state. Thus, the company has asked that it be allowed to keep the first $5 million of pari-mutuel taxes for each of the next 25 years, a measure that it didn't raise with Governor Gallen in initial talks. The legislature would have to approve any such tax break, and Dayton Duncan, chief of staff to the governor, says, "The legislature is dealing with this with some skepticism. We'd like the Bruins, but we're not willing to sell the farm for them."
There's also the question of where the NHL stands. Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, who has been trying to keep the Bruins in Boston, says he spoke to Commissioner John Ziegler, "and asked if it upset anybody that the Bruins were being dangled as a bauble for dog racing. Ziegler said, 'Well, that's not what the Jacobses told us they're doing, and we're obligated to believe them.' Not one of the other owners in hockey has spoken out—the NHL seems to be a very closed group. I was frankly astounded by the utter lack of embarrassment about what was going on."
Imagine the AFC championship game between the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills being played at Legion Field in Birmingham. Or an NFC championship game between Minnesota and Philadelphia being held at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. Or perhaps at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. Or the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
Don't laugh. If Tex Schramm, the president of the Cowboys, has his way, that's what will happen to the NFL conference championship games. At the league meeting on Maui last week, Schramm, the chairman of the NFL competition committee, the group that proposes new rules, suggested that the NFC and AFC finals be shifted to non-NFL, warm-weather sites. Said Schramm, "Our fans would rather see our teams play under good conditions, even if it means losing their chance to see a championship game at home." Had Schramm taken a survey? No, he hadn't, but last December he proposed Pontiac's Silver-dome as a possible site if either Minnesota or Buffalo became the home team and had an unplayable field. Pete Rozelle went so far as to check on the Silverdome but learned it was unavailable because of a boat show.
Schramm's idea, which was backed by fellow committee members Don Shula of the Dolphins and Eddie LeBaron of the Falcons, will be studied and brought up again at the league's June meeting in Detroit. By no means is everyone for it. General Manager Jim Murray of the Eagles says, "I called our owner, Leonard Tose, to tell him about it, and I had to hold the phone at arm's length because he was yelling so loud. Our fans would come after us with tire irons."
OUT OF THE MOOD
This Saturday Hialeah holds its most famous race, the Flamingo Stakes, named after the colony of flamingos that resides on a small island in the track's infield. While horseplayers are getting ready for action, the same cannot be said of the birds. Imported to Hialeah from Cuba in the 1920s, the flamingos multiplied, reaching a peak population of more than 600 a decade ago. But no flamingos have been born since 1972, and male and female birds have lately shown virtually no interest in each other. As a result, the flock has dwindled to barely 400, prompting Angelo Testa, Hialeah's director of operations and resident birdman, to say, "I'm very much concerned. The flamingos are synonymous with Hialeah, and since you can't barter or trade for more birds under the endangered-species laws, we could lose them."
Testa thinks he knows what disrupted the flamingos' breeding habits. By tradition, Hialeah's winter meeting ran from January to early March, ending just in time for the flamingos' four-week mating season. But in 1972, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Hialeah had to swap dates with Gulfstream, with the result that every other year Hialeah's meeting now runs from March through May. Pity the poor flamingos. Suddenly their March mating season was being intruded upon by hundreds of galloping horses and thousands of screaming fans, a distraction that apparently put them very much out of the mood.
Testa has tried everything. He has mined the flamingos' island with artificial eggs, hoping they would get the message. He has constructed clay replicas of the cone-shaped mounds of earth that flamingos use as nests. On the advice of curators of the Indianapolis and St. Louis zoos, where flamingos were found to be more amorous after warm drizzles, he set up a sprinkler system and showered the island. After the artificial rain subsided, the males strutted, honked and raised their wings in a mating dance and constructed nests. Alas, not an egg was laid. Testa vows to struggle on, but he's not optimistic, warning that unless the racing commission restores Hialeah's traditional dates, the result for the flamingos could be "a complete disaster."
Maryland fishermen and biologists are disturbed by the dramatic decline of fish in Chesapeake Bay, the most productive estuary in the world. Individual fish populations have their ups and downs, but four different species that spawn in Maryland waters—striped bass, yellow perch, river herring and shad—have all slumped in numbers in recent years. For example, the shad catch plummeted from one million pounds in 1972 to 47,000 pounds in 1979 before the state imposed a fishing ban last year that's still in effect. More ominously, biologists who regularly make beach seine surveys in the summer to determine the success of the previous spring's spawning netted only 28 juvenile shad in the last two years. Previously they had caught hundreds each season. Various suggestions have been made to explain the declines, such as contamination by chemicals or heavy metals, but now Dr. Joseph Mihursky, professor of ecology at the University of Maryland's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, thinks he may have a clue, at least as far as striped bass in the Potomac River are concerned. This species is of particular concern because its numbers have dropped elsewhere on the East Coast and in California in recent years.
According to Mihursky, who headed a team of researchers, the key to having a super crop of baby striped bass—what biologists call a "dominant year-class"—has nothing at all to do with the number of adults that spawn. Instead, a dominant year-class of baby bass results if an abundance of food is available when the infant fish first begin to feed on their own. The food they eat are microscopic organisms called zooplankton that in turn devour detritus. Thus the abundance of zooplankton depends on the amount of dead leaf and grass litter that washes into the Potomac from adjacent lands and marshes.
By correlating beach seine and weather records for 25 years, Mihursky calculates that the success of a striped bass year-class in the Potomac is dependent on below-average winter temperatures starting in December and an above-average runoff for a five-day period the following April. "If there is cold weather starting in December, the leaf and grass litter doesn't rot out, but is frozen in place," he explains. "Then the scour in April washes it into the river. This allows the zooplankton population to start building, and they in turn become food for the larval bass at the right time. We haven't had those two weather conditions in the Potomac since 1970, and that's when we had our last big year-class."
Mihursky adds, "If we have those two weather conditions, and we still don't get a big year-class, then we should focus on contaminants."
P.A. announcer Kevin Slaten of the St. Louis Steamers of the Major Indoor Soccer League is known for his flamboyant delivery and for being a "homer." Slaten exuberantly pours it on as he introduces the Steamer players, each of whom dramatically emerges from a heavy cloud of vapor as his name is called, and when a Steamer scores, Slaten gets so carried away—and the fans with him—that the referee has to wait for the crowd to quiet down before allowing play to resume.
Last week Slaten outdid himself during a playoff game against the Buffalo Stallions and became, as far as is known, the first P.A. announcer in any sport to get thrown out of a game. Referee Heins Wohlmerath, who cautioned Slaten before the game to be impartial, ejected him "for violent contact with a player and for using foul and abusive language." The incident occurred before the half when Slaten tried to punch John Dolinsky of Buffalo, who had been sent to the penalty box. "He kept taunting me, wanting me to lose my cool," Dolinsky says. "He wanted me to fight, but I just laughed at him and he couldn't handle that."
Besides getting bounced out of the game, Slaten got bounced from his job on the orders of Earl Foreman, the league commissioner who also fined the Steamers. The president of the Steamers, Stan Musial, said, "Although I wasn't at the game, I abhor any violence connected with sports. I in no way condone the action by Mr. Slaten and certainly understand the position of the commissioner in this matter and agree with him."
NHL commissioner and owners please take note.
TICKETS FOR SALE: 1981 NCAA Finals, March 28-30, in Philadelphia. 8 choice tickets for March 28 & March 30th games. Will sell in lots of 4 or 8 only. Call Dick Remien, 812-426-2281.
This classified ad ran in Baton Rouge last week, and sportswriter Sam King of the State-Times called the number and spoke to Remien. He wanted $2,400 for eight tickets or $1,200 for four, $266 per ticket more than their $34 face value. "I know they're expensive," Remien explained, "but let me tell you that we're not in the ticket brokerage business. We've got a manufacturing company [in Evansville, Ind.] and have a lot of Chicago customers that would like to have watched DePaul play in the final four. We also have some friends in the Lexington area that were sure Kentucky would be in the finals, so we went out of the way and bought these tickets for them at exactly the price we're trying to sell them."
By last weekend, Remien had lowered the price to $2,000 for eight tickets and $1,000 for four, but he still didn't have a buyer. He wasn't having very much luck, either. The day before another of his ads was to run in the Provo, Utah, Daily Herald, BYU got beat.
THEY SAID IT
•Billy Martin, skipper of the Oakland A's: "I believe if God had ever managed, He would have been very aggressive, the way I manage."
•Glenn Abbott, Seattle pitcher, on the Mariners' acquisition of sluggers Richie Zisk and Jeff Burroughs: "We lost a lot of games last year 3-2 and 4-3. Now we'll have a chance to lose 9-8."