HOW NOT TO RUN A NATIONAL PASTIME
Over the years major league baseball has suffered from an all-too-obvious leadership crisis. Part of the problem is Bowie Kuhn, who will probably be best remembered as the commissioner who forced the World Series into evening hours in the northern latitudes in October, a time slot perfect for TV and frostbite and bad only for baseball. Just to make sure he'd be remembered, of course, Kuhn then convincingly played the buffoon by refusing to wear an overcoat at games played under arctic conditions.
In fairness to Kuhn, however, baseball's leadership problem is compounded by a bizarre hierarchical structure in which a number of decisions are handled not by himself but by the league presidents, while those pertaining to labor-management relations are the responsibility of yet another authority figure, Ray Grebey. No wonder one league has designated hitters and the other doesn't. No wonder one has 14 teams and a high strike zone, the other 12 teams and a low one. No wonder the game has suffered a plague of beanball incidents that threaten to reduce it to the level of the National Hockey League. No wonder last year's pointless strike was followed by adoption of the ill-conceived split season. No wonder the owners, Kuhn and Grebey go around blaming everybody but themselves for what they decry as preposterously high player salaries.
The leadership vacuum was underscored last week when the owners met in San Diego to decide 1) whether or not to fire Kuhn and 2) whether or not to undertake a badly needed streamlining of the game's chain of command only to 3) do nothing one way or another on either of the previous questions. We won't bore you with all the breathless maneuverings that led to these typically inconclusive results, except to note that insofar as the resolution of Kuhn's future is concerned, the meeting was like a rain-marred game in which the side that's behind stalls until the contest is called before becoming official. Under procedures that typify the game's Byzantine way of doing business, either league can unilaterally oust Kuhn—and as few as four National League or five American League votes are needed. At least five National League owners were reportedly prepared to vote to do just that last week when pro-Kuhn owners, needing just a simple majority to postpone a decision, succeeded in doing that.
As for why the owners didn't salvage something from the meeting by at least voting to restructure, one of them pleaded, "How can you make decisions about restructuring when you don't know who the commissioner is?" But then, how can anybody vote on who the commissioner should be without knowing what role he's going to perform? One proposal called for creation of a new chief executive for business matters, leaving ceremonial duties to the commissioner, but the question of which of the two officials would be at the top of the organizational chart remained in dispute. Just before the owners dispersed, having somehow agreed, mercifully, to adjourn—the vote on that one was 10-4 in the American League and 11-1 in the National—it was left to the White Sox's Eddie Einhorn to sum up the situation. Lamented Einhorn, "We can't even come to a decision on how to make a decision."
Joe Tex, who died on Aug. 13 at the age of 47 at his home in Navasota, Texas, was a soul singer who recorded a number of hits with evocative titles, such as Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman). Some Houston Oiler fans may also remember Tex as the vocalist who recorded Here Come Number 34 (Do the Earl Campbell). That one, recorded on the Handshake label, included such lines as, "Drag 'em, Earl, drag 'em baby!" and "Give the man some Gatorade, some Gatorade!"
BRING ON ST. JOHN'S!
Not since the glory days of the Seven Blocks of Granite has a football team at Fordham caused such jubilation. The unaccustomed excitement over the Rams occurred Saturday during an Elephant Weekend celebration at the Bronx Zoo, where as part of similar festivities a year ago a 5,400-pound, 11-year-old female performing elephant named Grumpy outmuscled 20 Fordham players in a tug-of-war. For last week's rematch. Grumpy was 200 pounds heavier, a normal weight gain for a maturing pachyderm. What's more, her trainer, Larry Joyner, confided that she'd prepared for the contest by increasing her headstand reps to strengthen her shoulders. This, along with a lot of walking and daily massages and baths, and she was ready.
When Grumpy lumbered onto the field the psychological advantage was immediately hers. Fordham co-captain Art Troilo whispered, "That is one big elephant." But the Rams, clad in their maroon and gold jerseys, had been in the thick of preseason training, and they were also ready. Their starting lineup for the tug-of-war consisted of 15 men with a total weight of 3,000 pounds. Faster than you could say Frankie Frisch, Grumpy, her end of the rope attached to a harness on her back, was dragging a grunting mass of Rams across the line. A cheer went up from the crowd and sea lions barked from a neighboring pool. The elephant obviously had the home-zoo advantage. But for some unexplained reason, a false start was called. The contestants had to begin anew.
Fordham took advantage of the delay to flesh out its ranks with several more players—and an additional ton or so of heft. This time there was a fair start, and a burst of Ram power stopped Grumpy's initial surge. After a brief stand-off, the elephant gave ground. As the Rams heaved and ho-ed, Grumpy retreated and crossed the line, a loser. A groan rose from the partisan crowd. The Fordham contingent whooped it up. On cue from Joyner, Grumpy graciously curtsied to the victors, and Ram Coach O'Neal Tutein presented her with a yellow Fordham cap that didn't quite fit. But somewhere in the mob of Fordham revelers, one player was overheard to say soberly, "Sure we won, but it took 20 of us to push around one girl."
Road sign in the oceanside hamlet of Westhampton Beach, N.Y.: TO BEACH. Graffiti scrawled under those words: OR NOT TO BEACH. THAT IS THE QUESTION. Didn't we tell you it was a hamlet?
THE GRAND EXPERIMENT
In hopes of reversing the trend toward low scoring in college basketball—scoring has declined for seven straight years, reaching a three-decade low of 135.08 combined points per game last season—the NCAA is allowing conferences to experiment during the 1982-83 season with a shot clock meant to combat widespread stall-ball tactics. As an antidote to zone defenses, similar experiments with a three-point field goal are also planned. Experiment, by the way, is just the right word for it. As things now stand, three conferences have adopted both shot clocks and three-point field goals. Four have gone for three-pointers only. Four will use clocks only. The three-point circle will range from 19 feet to 21'3" from the basket. The time on the shot clocks will be either 30 or 45 seconds; some will operate the entire game, others only until the last four or five minutes.
Edward Steitz, the secretary of the NCAA basketball rules committee, defends these variations as an ideal way of determining which rules will work best. But critics fear that the lack of standardization could cause chaos, and the National Association of Basketball Coaches accordingly plans to take up the disparity in rules at a special convention called for that and other purposes next week in Chicago. The association's president, Long Beach State Coach Tex Winter, says he hopes the NCAA committee can be persuaded to impose "some standardization" on the rules lest they "create havoc among coaches, fans and media."
In considering the issue, the NCAA rulemakers might be interested in the outcome of the Cavalier Classic, a recent benefit game in Charlottesville, Va. between teams consisting of former University of Virginia players. The Atlantic Coast Conference, where the trend toward stall ball and low scoring has been especially pronounced, has adopted a 19-foot three-point circle and a 30-second shot clock for all but the final four minutes, and those rules were in force during the game, which featured a remarkable 19 three-point field goals. Admittedly, the teams weren't playing much defense, but some players suggested that 19 feet, which is nearly five feet shorter in some spots than the NBA distance, wasn't enough. "It's a joke," said ex-Cavalier Jeff Lamp, an NBA rookie last season with Portland. "So many people can shoot it from 19 that it defeats the purpose of the three-point play." Ah, yes, Jeff, but just think how wickedly un-ACCish the game proved to be. Final score: 128-126.
CALLING SAM SPADE
Dialogue from the Pacific Coast League:
Tim Tolman, Tucson Toro batter, trying to convince Umpire Jim Joyce that a pitch from Hawaii Islander Pitcher Steve Fireovid entitled him to be awarded first base: "It hit me in the foot."
Joyce, examining the baseball for a telltale trace of black shoe polish: "I don't see anything. Get back in the box."
Tolman: "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm wearing white shoes."
At the Romanian national championships in Bucharest last month, long jumper Anisoara Cusmir got off a leap of 23'5½" to break the women's world record of 23'3¼" held by Vilma Bardauskiene of the Soviet Union. Cusmir's record lasted only until Vali Ionescu hit a 23'7½" jump less than five minutes later. It isn't often that world records are broken more than once in the same track meet, but it does happen. During the 1968 Olympics, the world record in the triple jump of 55'10½" held by Jozef Schmidt of Poland was broken nine times by five different athletes, the winner being Viktor Saneev of the Soviet Union, whose distance was 57'¾". Which brings us to a favorite trivia question of track and field nuts: What's the shortest time anybody has held a world record?
Well, it's not only a favorite question but also a sneaky one. It can be argued that during the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Olga Rukavishnikova of the Soviet Union held the world pentathlon record for exactly four-tenths of a second. The last pentathlon event was the 800-meter run, and another Soviet entrant, Olga Kuragina, won that race in 2:03.6, winding up with 4,875 points, 17 better than her own world record. Rukavishnikova was the runner-up in the 800 in 2:04.8, but had scored well enough in earlier events to place ahead of Kuragina overall, with 4,937 points. But the U.S.S.R.'s Nadyezhda Tkachenko, by placing third in the 800 in 2:05.2, took the gold medal with a world-record 5,083 points. Because the governing body in the sport, the IAAF, takes the position that points in the pentathlon are officially totaled only after all events are completed, Kuragina and Rukavishnikova weren't credited with records. But some track buffs argue that each should be credited with a record for the time—1.2 seconds and four-tenths of a second, respectively—that elapsed between the moment one finished the 800 and the moment the succeeding runner did.
Compared with the four-tenths of a second Rukavishnikova can at least unofficially claim to have held the record, Cusmir's few minutes of glory in the long jump in Bucharest seem an eternity.
THEY SAID IT
•Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini, recalling a recent White House visit with President Reagan: "It's like meeting Santa Claus. You go in, shake his hand, have your picture taken and then you leave."
•Gordon King, New York Giants 6'6", 275-pound tackle, explaining why rookie Joe Morris, a 5'7" running back, is a welcome addition to the team: "He leaves plenty of room in the huddle."
•Tony Ayala, boxer, charged last week with burglarizing a home in San Antonio, offering as an explanation that he'd been drinking and mistakenly thought he was in his own home: "I knew I was in the wrong house when I went to go upstairs to bed and there were no stairs."
•Pete Babcock, San Diego Clippers assistant coach, assessing one of his team's middle-round draft choices: "You asked me if he can play for the Clippers and if he can play in the NBA. That's two different questions."