On the basis of courtroom testimony, official investigations, telltale betting patterns and the confessions in this magazine of convicted master fixer Tony Ciulla (Nov. 6, 1978), it is generally accepted that a score or more of races involving at least nine jockeys were rigged at New York State thoroughbred tracks in the mid-1970s. But only one person, ex-jockey Con Errico, has been convicted as a consequence of such wrongdoing, and no further criminal proceedings appear likely. The impasse was caused by bungled law-enforcement work, refusal of key witnesses to cooperate and the do-nothing approach of racing officials, who seemed blithely uninterested in pursuing leads back when the scandal broke.
Last week the New York Racing Association, which runs the state's three major tracks—Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga—made clear that doing nothing is still very much its policy. More than half the races suspected of having been fixed in the '70s were those designated as trifectas, in which bettors try to pick the first three finishers in a race in order, and the NYRA's 23-member board of trustees acknowledged that situation by unanimously passing a resolution opposing such "triples" because of their "appeal to those who would operate outside the law." While concluding that the sport's "best interest" would be served by abolishing trifecta betting, however, the board said it wouldn't take such action because of the "potentially drastic financial effects" it would have on the tracks and on state and local tax revenues. The NYRA was saying, in other words, that it couldn't afford to do what it felt was the right thing.
The decision to choose profits over integrity has disturbing implications. Although the trustees tried to imply that the number of fixed races at New York tracks has been relatively low, the proportion of fixed trifecta races has been shockingly high; trifecta betting occurs only in the ninth race in New York, and during one period in late 1974 and early 1975, 10% of all such races at Aqueduct, the statistical equivalent of 22 games during a single NFL season, are believed to have been rigged. Given that degree of crookedness, horse racing ceases to be a sport in which the true athletic abilities of horse and jockey are showcased and in which bettors can hope to use their smarts to pick winners, and becomes instead a kind of lottery in which the odds are heavily stacked in favor of cheaters. The NYRA's appallingly cynical inaction thus comes as fair notice: Let the buyer—or in this case, the horseplayer—beware.
HOW SILLY CAN YOU GET?
Let it be recorded for posterity that as a show of union solidarity in the NFL Players Association's current collective bargaining dispute with management, players on both teams gathered at mid-field before the start of last week's Oilers-Saints exhibition game and shook hands. The same thing happened at 11 other NFL games. Take that, owners.
VERY SILLY INDEED
Let future generations further take note that the NFL Management Council wasn't about to suffer those handshakes silently. Citing a rule prohibiting pre-game fraternization, the council announced that it was advising clubs to fine rival gladiators who pressed the flesh at least $100 each. Take that, players.
THE PITS OF THE WORLD, YEAH, YEAH
John McEnroe is No. 1 in the Association of Tennis Professionals' world rankings, No. 5 on the World Championship Tennis list and No. 32 on this week's Billboard Top 100 LPs chart. The tennis star with the punk look and the operatic lungs has joined doubles partner Peter Fleming, tennis pal Peter Rennert and a number of roadies, hangers-on and rock notables like Jimmy Buffett in an ad hoc backup group that performs with Glenn Frey, a lead singer with the now-disbanded Eagles, on a song on a newly released album called No Fun Aloud. The song is called Partytown. Mac and the rest of the backup group have just one line, but they repeat it over and again: "Yeah, yeah." Or, rather: "YEAH, YEAH." Loud and clear. That's Mac's accustomed volume, as any number of linesmen and umpires can attest.
McEnroe's gig took place last April. He happened to be sitting in the office of Irving Azoff, an L.A. rock entrepreneur who handles his exhibition matches, when Frey, another of Azoff's clients, called on the phone. "Glenn was putting out an SOS to Irving that he needed some people for a song he was recording that night," says Larry Solters, an Azoff associate. "Irving asked John if he'd like to try it." McEnroe, whose not-so-secret fantasy is to be a rock star—he plays the guitar and has jammed in concert with the rock group Santana—jumped at the chance. That night, clad in a tight T shirt, faded jeans and tennis shoes, McEnroe became an official member of the Monstertones, the backup group which, with a shifting cast of characters, used to perform on Eagles albums and was now being more or less reconstituted by Frey.
"The first thing John said was, 'Do I sing or do I yell?' " says Solters. "And Glenn said, 'If you can sing, sing. If you can't, yell.' So he yelled." Frey, a sports nut—and hockey superfan—who never goes anywhere without his Converse All Stars and an NHL schedule, was only too happy to have Wimbledon Mac—not to be confused with Fleetwood Mac—participate in the recording session. As Solters, whose conversation sounds like a succession of pop song lyrics, puts it, "Most rock stars wish they were pro athletes, and most pro athletes wish they were rock stars. They run in the same circles and have similar lifestyles. With both, the clock is always ticking. The highs are high; the lows are low. Sometimes you're hot; sometimes you're not. It's life in the fast lane." Now that No Fun Aloud is hot—Billboard accords the album a "bullet," meaning it's rising fast on the charts—will Mac be asked to perform again with Frey? Replies Solters, "John can scream for us anytime."
SPRING FORWARD, QUARTER BACK
In a recent article in the Long Island newspaper Newsday, John Jeansonne addressed the question of whether the United States Football League, which plans to operate in the spring and early summer starting in 1983, was on to a good thing with its "Other Season" concept. Jeansonne quoted USFL founder Dave Dixon as declaring, "It's absurd to say you only chew gum in the spring or make love in the summer. If you like doing something, you like doing [it] year-round." That sounded like an ironclad argument until Jeansonne, playing devil's advocate, issued a reminder that "lemonade isn't so great in the winter, or hot chocolate in the summer, and absence makes the heart grow fonder." There's many a sports fan, Jeansonne went on, "who finds a delicious anticipation in the off-season; who likes the buildup from season to season...who likes red and gold lawn leaves on his drive to the stadium."
The possibility that the Other Season may be ill-advised has also been raised by New York Giant President Wellington Mara, who as an NFL boss has an obvious reason to hope so. Mara has pointedly noted that the NFL once considered launching a springtime league but dropped the idea for fear that college players would thereby be induced to quit school in their senior year without waiting to get degrees. The same fear has been voiced by Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler, who warned that USFL coaches and scouts would be barred from his school's practice fields if they carry out their planned midwinter college draft. Schembechler said that such a draft followed by a spring season would prevent USFL-bound Wolverines from graduating on time. Of course, NFL personnel have always been welcome enough in Ann Arbor, even though the NFL makes a practice of flying college players around in the spring of their senior years to pre-draft tryouts and bringing them to rookie camps that frequently coincide with final exams. For the record, one recent study showed that more than 40% of Michigan alums playing in the NFL hadn't graduated. Also for the record, Mara's Giants have signed their share of non-graduates.
In any case, the USFL has already displayed a knack for creating controversy, something not necessarily incompatible with success in pro sports. Another dispute involves a USFL scheme giving each team the exclusive right to pick players from certain colleges, generally within their own territories, e.g., the Tampa Bay Bandits get the rights to all players from Florida and Florida State. But officials of rival USFL clubs grumbled that George Allen, coach and part owner of the USFL's Chicago Blitz, was approaching players whose rights belonged to other USFL teams. Some observers found it significant, for example, that it was only after Allen signed UCLA tight end (and Chicago Bears' third-round draftee) Tim Wrightman, whose USFL rights belonged to the league's San Diego franchise (since moved to Los Angeles), that a trade with San Diego for those rights was announced.
Similarly, Dick Coury, the coach and general manager of the USFL's New England franchise, which held the USFL rights to former Baltimore Colts Quarterback Greg Landry, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying that he dealt those rights to Allen only after the latter had begun negotiations with Landry, whom Allen wound up signing. "I told George I'd like to be able to talk with my players before he does," Coury said wryly. Noting that Allen had had trouble with league rules during his long career as an NFL coach—he once traded a draft choice his team didn't own and on another occasion was blocked in court from jumping from one coaching job to another—Coury called Allen's handling of the Landry deal "semi-aboveboard, which is pretty good for George." Coury also said, "Rozelle couldn't control George for 14 years. If we can somehow do it, we'll already be one step up on the NFL."
Although Coury later denied having spoken so harshly of him, the question of "controlling" Allen was subsequently brought up at a meeting of league officials. But USFL Commissioner Chet Simmons said he had determined that the signing of Wrightman and Landry had involved no violation of league rules against tampering.
Will spring never arrive?
RENEE STEPS ASIDE
With Renee Richards as her coach and Nancy Lieberman as her trainer, Martina Navratilova has won 59 of 60 matches this year, taken the first two legs of the Grand Slam and amassed more than $1 million in prize money. Navratilova, who in the past sometimes seemed emotionally vulnerable, has also displayed signs of the mental toughness she'll need to win her first U.S. Open, which would earn her $90,000 in prize money and an additional $500,000 from something called the Playtex Challenge, a $1 million jackpot offered this year to anybody who won four selected women's events. Navratilova has already received $500,000 for winning three of them; an Open victory would complete the sweep.
But last week the outward serenity of Navratilova's magnificent season was disturbed by the abrupt resignation of Richards, who had coached her for nearly a year but who now insists that Navratilova can win the tournament with only Lieberman in her corner. "She's a fighter, and Nancy is a pretty positive influence on her," Richards told SI. "There's probably enough mental support from Nancy to carry Martina through." Why did Richards step aside? She says she had resumed her ophthalmology practice on a part-time basis last January and had planned to work at it full time after the U.S. Open but moved up the date because of a personality clash with Lieberman. "Nancy had begun to assert a greater role as Martina's adviser, calling the shots, and I felt I was losing my effectiveness," Richards says. "I began to feel a little left out, a little unappreciated. It was a gradual erosion, but if you want to know a particular incident that punctuated it, I wasn't invited to Nancy's birthday party at Wimbledon. Everyone and their brother was invited but I wasn't."
DEATH OF A CHAMPION
At 3:30 a.m. last Thursday, on a highway north of Queretaro, Mexico, Salvador Sanchez, the WBC featherweight champion, was killed in a collision involving his white 1981 Porsche and two trucks. Police said that "excess speeding on the part of Sanchez" appeared to be the cause of the collision. Like WBC lightweight champion Alexis Arguello, the 23-year-old Sanchez had only recently come to be fully appreciated by this country's fight fans, although in his native Mexico he had long been a national hero. He had gained ever-wider acceptance as the outstanding featherweight of recent times; not long ago Ring magazine ranked him No. 6 in the world among all current boxers, regardless of class. The quickness and crisp punching power with which he won his title in February 1980 from Danny Lopez is still fresh in memory. So is the ease with which he dispatched the formidable Wilfredo Gomez in eight rounds in Las Vegas a year ago.
Barely three weeks before his death, Sanchez defended his title for the ninth time, knocking out Ghana's Azumah Nelson in the 15th round in Madison Square Garden to bring his record to 43-1-1. The next evening he was relaxing in the bar of a Manhattan hotel. Sanchez was full of plans. He had a firm date, he told SI's Clive Gammon, with Juan La Porte at the Garden in September. "Salvador Sanchez will triumph in New York again," he said, a grin spreading over handsome features marred only by a squashed nose, a legacy of his second professional fight, in which he knocked out Miguel Ortiz in 1975. More than anything, though, he said, he looked forward to moving up in weight to challenge Arguello, a match that would surely have preempted every TV set in Latin America. "I want him very much. I have the weaponry to beat him," Sanchez said. Then, with another grin, he declared, "Mi horizonte es muy negro" (My future is very black). This was said in a winking, just-kidding manner, the words rich in irony. Friends slapped him on the back to acknowledge the little jest. His future, in fact, could never have been brighter. Or so it seemed less than a month ago.
THEY SAID IT
•Ernie Banks, former Chicago Cub star and determined positive thinker, asked by a reporter why the team is so "terrible" this season: "Did you hear that? I didn't hear anything. Put that question another way."
•Johnny Carson, discussing the current recession: "There are close to 11 million unemployed and half of them are New York Yankee managers."