A BOOST FROM THE PUBLIC SECTOR
The Great Olympic Commemorative Coin Battle is nearing a resolution. When last we looked in on this conflict (SCORECARD, March 29), the Senate had passed a bill supported by the White House, the organizers of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, under which the Treasury Department would issue a set of 25 commemorative coins for the '84 Games that would be marketed by private firms and, it was hoped, produce $200 million for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and the USOC. But efforts to get a similar measure through the House of Representatives were being blocked by Illinois Congressman Frank Annunzio, chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs and Coinage, who was under intense pressure from Olympic athletes and officials because of his refusal to so much as hold hearings.
Annunzio has since relented and held those hearings, during which he made clear his own preference for a set of no more than three coins to be sold by the federal government rather than by private firms. But Annunzio has apparently lost his battle. Last week the House Banking Committee spurned an Annunzio-authored bill and approved one that bears a closer resemblance to the one passed in the Senate. Sponsored by the committee chairman, Fernand J. St Germain of Rhode Island, the bill provides for private marketing of 17 coins. That measure will probably be approved by the House this week, after which it will have to be reconciled with the Senate bill. The plan is for President Reagan to sign the final measure by Memorial Day, with coins going on sale by Christmas.
What emerged from the legislative battle over the coin issue was a clear desire by the Reagan Administration and both houses of Congress to celebrate the holding of the '84 Games in this country and to help the U.S. Olympic effort by issuing legal tender in the form of commemorative coins. And give Annunzio his due: His stubbornness about the kind of bill he wanted was largely responsible for essential safeguards being imposed on the envisioned coin program, including provisions for auditing by the General Accounting Office of sales figures and review by the Treasury Department of advertising content. Fine-tuning of the bill also resulted in the stipulation that coin purchases wouldn't be tax deductible; if purchases were deducted, the federal treasury could have lost more than $100 million in taxes.
Annunzio wasn't the only one who opposed a private marketing scheme. So did many coin dealers, who didn't relish having to traffic in large, expensive, slickly promoted sets of what some of them call "junk coins." But Olympic officials and spokesmen for the two companies that are expected to wind up marketing the coins, Lazard Freres and Occidental Petroleum, insisted that the coins will be Olympic souvenirs that the public will cherish. They also argued that Olympic coins would yield greater revenue if marketed privately than they would if sold by the Government.
USOC and LAOOC officials have reason to be gratified by their apparent victory. Yet they also have cause to be embarrassed by certain scare tactics they employed in achieving it. Particularly objectionable were intimations by LAOOC President Peter V. Ueberroth that failure to adopt a coin program would deal a "death blow" to the L.A. Games. Actually, coin revenues aren't even part of the LAOOC budget, and Ueberroth admits when pressed that they would be a windfall that would enable the Games "to go first-class."
Ueberroth and other LAOOC officials are also guilty of posturing in repeatedly saying that the '84 Games will be financed entirely by "the private sector," a phrase they utter with the utmost reverence. That claim is belied by the LAOOC's refusal to pay any more than $3 million of the $20 million that the city of Los Angeles expects to incur for security and other Olympic-related expenses and its related reluctance to hire private security guards as it had earlier indicated it would. The claim is further undercut by the LAOOC's ardent and unquestioning support for an Olympic coin bill that, as originally drawn, might have cost the federal treasury $100 million in tax deductions for coin purchases to benefit the L.A. Games. In fact, if the LAOOC really had wanted to express faith in the private sector, it would have undertaken to strike commemorative medallions that didn't have the status of legal tender, thereby leaving Washington out of the picture. The expected passage of the Olympic-coin bill should be appreciated for exactly what it is: a major boost for both the LAOOC, and the U.S. Olympic Committee from the public sector.
GOOD CATCH, CATCHER
To hype attendance at home games, UCLA staged all sorts of promotions during the just-completed college baseball season, including Cap Day, Helmet Night and Batting Glove Day. Then there was the Arizona State game (the Bruins lost 4-2) on what was billed as Las Vegas Day, an occasion highlighted by a door prize of a three-day, expenses-paid excursion to that city. Lest the giveaway be construed as a lottery, which would have been illegal, tickets for the drawing were handed out at the gate not only to the 617 paying customers but also to the handful of people, most of them associated with UCLA's athletic program, who got in on passes.
Well, what do you know? When the winning ticket number was announced over the P.A. system, the "fan" holding it turned out to be Steve Bono, a third-string UCLA catcher who hadn't suited up for the game and was watching from the stands. When they realized that the lucky ticket holder was a Bruin player, officials were chagrined and the P.A. announcer prudently refrained from revealing Bono's identity to the crowd. At the same time, it was probably a good thing' that Bono happened to be in the stands when the Vegas trip, something he could actually use, was being given away. After all, he already had a cap, helmet and batting glove.
If, as appears increasingly likely, the Oakland Raiders move to the Los Angeles Coliseum (SCORECARD, May 17), the 54,616-seat Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum will lose its principal tenant. One Southern California observer, Joe Jares, sports editor of the Daily News in Van Nuys, last week referred to Oakland's stadium in suitably Hollywoodesque terms. He called it the Ark of the Lost Raiders.
CROSSING THE DELAWARE WITH BEN HOGAN AND JACK DEMPSEY
The Texas Rangers were struggling under the burden of the worst record in baseball, with just six wins in 21 games, and were languishing 8½ games out of first place in the American League West' when, on May 6, their director of media relations, Burton Hawkins, decided to take matters into his own hands. In his notes to the media that day, Hawkins wrote the following "editorial":
"...Despite all the misfortune, much self-inflicted, the Rangers find themselves only six games back in the lost column with 141 games to play.... George Washington isn't remembered for sinking into the icy waters of the Delaware.
"Talent is present, but the pitching has been miserable, the hitting untimely and the fielding shoddy.... There can be moaning about bad luck and sulkers can find solace in the company of co-complainers with imagined grievances, but admiration seldom is bestowed on those who slink into the cozy comfort of mediocrity, on those who are soothed by an excess, of excuses.... Question marks can become exclamation points if the proper key is found.
"There can be, at this point, an overwhelming desire to be asphyxiated by the enticing fumes of failure, to collapse into the loving arms of adversity...to say, 'The hell with it—the check will be there on the first and fifteenth'...Harry Truman didn't defeat Tom Dewey with that attitude.
"There have been many memorable occasions in sports...Ben Hogan surging back from near-fatal wreckage to capture the esteem of the most jaded...Dempsey destroying Firpo after being clobbered...the 1951 Giants coming from 13½ games back in August to win the National League pennant on Bobby Thomson's dramatic home run.
"The list goes on and on.... There also is the unforgettable disgrace of a Roberto Duran murmuring 'No Mas, No Mas.'... 'No more,' he said, when fighting Sugar Ray Leonard for a world championship.... He took his mountain of money and ran.... He ran into a living hell of deserved dishonor from which he never will escape.
"There is a choice."
The Rangers then went out and lost four of their next five games.
The June 11 WBC heavyweight championship fight between Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney won't have one of the promotional wrinkles that had been planned for it. Not one to miss a trick, promoter Don King had made a deal with R.J. Reynolds Industries, Inc. to prominently display the logo of Camel cigarettes on two of the ring posts and on the center of the mat. King had much the same arrangement with Reynolds before a Feb. 24 bout at the Playboy Club in Atlantic City, during which the Camel logo was displayed on two ring posts and also on sashes worn by the Playboy Bunnies who carried the round cards. The tie-in with Camels then was a natural: One of the fighters was Marvin Camel, who lost on an eighth-round TKO to WBC Cruiser-weight champion Carlos DeLeon.
But trouble arose after word of similar promotional plans for the Cooney-Holmes fight reached Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, which monitors compliance with the 1970 law barring cigarette advertising on TV. The Camel-DeLeon fight hadn't been televised, but the Cooney-Holmes showdown will be carried on closed circuit and pay cable TV, both of which fall within the province of the ban. Waxman got the Justice Department in on the case, and after a meeting with Justice lawyers, Reynolds agreed to keep its logos out of camera range.
Sources familiar with the workings of the 1970 law are careful to distinguish this case from the tobacco industry's involvement in such events as the Marlboro Cup horse race or the Virginia Slims tennis circuit. "The display of the Camel logo was clearly intended for TV," says one of them. "It was to be placed on the inside of the ring posts and the floor of the ring, which could be clearly seen only by the cameras. At a tennis tournament, Virginia Slims wouldn't have its name posted where it can be seen by the camera on every shot."
SHIFT OF FOCUS
Starting on July 1, the George D. Aiken Sugar Maple Laboratory in Burlington, Vt., which was founded by the U.S. Forest Service nine years ago to develop improved techniques for producing maple syrup, will wind down that work and undertake what its directors now see as a more urgent mission: a study of the ravages of acid precipitation.
THE FLESH PEDDLERS
After being traded last week by the New York Yankees to the Minnesota Twins, Utility Infielder Larry Milbourne said, "I'm going from one crazy owner to another." The gentlemen to whom Milbourne was referring (not necessarily in order of number of marbles possessed) were:
1) The Yankees' George Steinbrenner, who can't make up his mind whether his team should be characterized by power, speed or some combination thereof—spower, maybe? In quest of the right chemistry and to plug gaps caused by injuries, Steinbrenner has, in less than two months, traded away Bob Watson, Dave Revering, Ron Davis, Dennis Werth, Bill Castro, Milbourne and no fewer than seven minor-leaguers. This last has prompted critics to accuse the boss of ravaging the Yankee farm system.
2) The Twins' Calvin Griffith, who in recent years has allowed such stars as Bill Campbell, Larry Hisle, Lyman Bostock, Dave Goltz and Geoff Zahn to sign as free agents with other teams and has traded Bert Blyleven, Rod Carew and Ken Landreaux rather than meet their salary demands. Griffith briefly abandoned his skinflint ways last year at the urging of his son, Clark, a Twins executive vice-president, and signed Catcher Butch Wynegar and Shortstop Roy Smalley to generous, long-term contracts. He has since recovered from that lapse and resumed trading away almost anybody who earns a substantial salary. After having disposed of Smalley, Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong in recent weeks, he let Wynegar and Pitcher Roger Erickson go in last week's deal for Milbourne and two minor-leaguers. The rap against Griffith is different from the one against Steinbrenner: He's accused of ravaging not the Minnesota farm system but the Twins themselves.
But are the swap-happy Steinbrenner and Griffith crazy? Say whatever else you will about him, Steinbrenner has, at least until now, proved himself a sound baseball man whose manic flesh-peddling has helped make his team a winner and moneymaker. Griffith keeps getting rid of his best—or at least most expensive—players, a strategy that has enabled him to pare his 1982 payroll to $1.7 million, scarcely more than what the Yankees pay one man, Dave Winfield. But then it's Griffith's skill in developing talented players in the first place that—shades of Charlie Finley—has helped him stay financially afloat in a relatively unrewarding TV market. Of course, Steinbrenner and Griffith do keep their clubs in constant turmoil, but this doesn't make them crazy. It just makes their presence awkward for those members of baseball's hierarchy who, whenever a free agent takes it upon himself to switch teams, piously complain that roster stability is essential to fan loyalty.
THEY SAID IT
•Doug Dieken, Cleveland Brown offensive tackle, at a roast for Houston Oiler Defensive End Elvin Bethea, a 14-year veteran: "Elvin is so old he had to use a jumper cable to get started last year."
•Jim Brovelli, University of San Diego basketball coach, whose team had an 11-15 record this season but placed six players on the 14-member WCAC all-academic team: "We're awaiting an invitation to the NCAA chess tournament."
•Pat McInally, Cincinnati Bengal punter and wide receiver, asked how the art history courses he took at Harvard have helped him in the NFL: "Well, we do have a draw play."