THE WAVERING WAIVER SYSTEM
Baseball fans reacted indignantly last week when pitchers Tommy John and Don Sutton were dealt from trailing teams to the contending Angels and Brewers. There was resentment not only in Houston and New York, where the Astros, Sutton's old team, and the Yankees, John's former club, seemingly threw in the towel for 1982 and more or less gave away star players, and in Boston and Atlanta, where the battling Red Sox and Braves failed to obtain much-needed pitching help, but also in other cities where fans in general expressed the feeling, "It's not fair."
They're right, it's not fair. Nonetheless it's an old baseball custom. Theoretically, there's a June 15 deadline for trades in the major leagues, a rule that was established more than half a century ago, after the two rich New York teams—John McGraw's Giants and Jacob Ruppert's Yankees—made it a late-season practice to buy star players from poorer clubs to help in pennant drives. That June 15 deadline slowed the 11th-hour transfer of players, but it certainly didn't stop it. In baseball, rules are made to be broken, or at least circumvented. The "waiver" system, designed to facilitate the moving of marginal players, has always had lots of loopholes. Witness the wily Yankees of the Casey Stengel era who were able to pick up star slugger Johnny Mize in August 1949, star Pitcher Johnny Sain in August 1951, star Pitcher Ewell Blackwell in August 1952 and star Pitcher Sal Maglie in September 1957. The 1959 White Sox, striving for their first pennant in 40 years, got home-run hitter Ted Kluszewski from the National League late in August. Last year the Astros, on their way to winning the National League West's second-half championship, picked up Phil Garner, an accomplished second baseman, from the Pirates on Aug. 31. Last month, a few weeks before they obtained Sutton, the Brewers plucked Starting Pitcher Doc Medich from the Rangers.
What can be done about it? Not much. The pointlessness of the system was made glaringly evident when, in the midst of the furor over the John and Sutton transactions, the baseball commissioner's office sternly canceled a relatively minor waiver deal between the Phillies and the Cubs because of a technical violation of an obscure regulation. "To the best of my knowledge, this rule has never been used before," said a befuddled Paul Owens, the Philadelphia general manager. It was typical of the way baseball polices itself—cracking down on obscure misdemeanors while felonies are being openly committed.
Johnny Kelley, the renowned distance runner who celebrated his 75th birthday early this week, has run 110 marathons, has competed in the Boston 51 times and won it twice, and is still racing. In fact, he's entered in a 13-mile road race this week in Cleveland. No wonder his home phone number is listed in the Cape Cod phone book as "Kelley, John A. (marathon)...."
MOSES AND THE PROMISED LAND
Moses Malone in Philadelphia? If the 76ers were lucky enough to land the free-agent Malone, to whom they tendered an offer sheet last week that proposes to pay him $13.2 million over the next six years, what would it mean in terms of Philadelphia's team performance?
The sports-minded computer at National Economic Research Associates, Inc. (SI, Aug. 30) cleared its throat and brripped out some figures. The Sixers last season were better than the league average in most statistical categories, but they were a sobering 12.3% below average in offensive rebounding. The computer deftly deducted from the Philadelphia stats the contributions of the 76ers' erstwhile center, Darryl Dawkins, who was sent to the New Jersey Nets two weeks ago in a separate transaction. Then it inserted those of Malone, who hammered the boards in MVP fashion last season for the Houston Rockets. The computer spun around twice, coughed politely and projected these impressive figures: With Malone, the Sixers' offensive rebounds would increase from 1,031 to 1,368, a glittering 32.7% improvement. In other words, Moses Malone would help the 76ers tremendously just where they need help the most.
Besides, the computer went on, with Malone dominating the offensive backboard Philadelphia would score an additional 1,396 points next season, and its winning percentage would climb from an already impressive .707 to an overwhelming .810.
The computer tried to hold the attention of ecstatic Sixer fans for one more statement, but failed. No one heard it say quietly that all this is only projection and that the real data get processed on the court during the season.
One of the things long-distance runners like about their sport is that improving a place or two in the order of finish can be as gratifying to sloggers back in the ruck as winning can be for the stars. Thus, 39-year-old Steve Nordberg of Stevensville, Mich., competing in one of those triathlons (swimming, cycling and running legs) at La Porte, Ind. this summer, came into the final leg—the running phase—far behind but still full of hope, because running is his forte.
He had lost ground, or water, in the swim and had barely held his own in cycling ("I passed maybe 25 people, but another 25 passed me"). Now, though, he had improved his position maybe 50 places, and 100 yards from the finish he found he still had a chance to catch one more rival. "He was about my age," says Nordberg, "so I got inspired, mounted a ferocious sprint and outleaned him at the tape." Nordberg's gallant spurt improved his finishing position from 69th to 68th, reward enough for the true amateur—most of the time.
At La Porte, however, there was a joker. Trophies were given only to the top three finishers; everyone else was in a kind of raffle, with numbers corresponding to their finishing positions picked for various goodies. The grand prize for the also-rans was a $50 bond from a La Porte bank, and the winning number was—never mind the envelope—69.
Next year, says winner/loser Nordberg, he'll train for the marathon again, but this time not quite as hard.
THE BATTLE OF CLEVELAND
While the ineptly managed Cleveland Cavaliers have sunk to the NBA depths, another basketball team in that city, the Cleveland State University Vikings, has been flying high. To dramatize the difference, Merle Levin, Cleveland State's sports information director, mischievously poses the following question: In the last two years, which of the two teams has had the most first-round picks in the NBA college draft?
Well, O.K., college teams have their players taken in the draft, NBA teams do the taking. That understood, however, there's no question that the Vikings have, in a sense, showed up the Cavaliers in the NBA draft. Cleveland State's Franklin Edwards was a first-round choice of the 76ers' last year, and another Viking star, Darren Tillis, was taken in the first round by the Celtics this year. The Cavs, meanwhile, have just one first-rounder to show for those two drafts, Boston College's John Bagley, whom they landed this year. The 1981 draft? The Cavs traded away their first-round pick, just as they had improvidently done in both 1977 and 1979.
QUID PRO (SO TO SPEAK) QUO
Tufts University of Medford, Mass. is hardly known to college football fans in other parts of the country, except for those few whose esoteric knowledge includes the fact that the school's nickname, the Jumbos, came about because years ago Tufts acquired the stuffed skin of PT Barnum's famous 19th-century elephant. (There are also the purveyors of heavy humor who like to say that Tufts is the only college named for a movie actor, one of the many Sonny Tufts jokes in vogue some years ago.)
Never mind. Football at Tufts has something going for it that far more powerful football schools don't have. Head Coach Vic Gatto, a onetime Harvard football captain, spends much of his spare time each summer recruiting—not players, but companies. He has a list of 75 or so that he's talked to in the last few years who send representatives to Tufts to speak to players about life after graduation, careers they can follow, courses they ought to be taking. There are talks almost every week for team members. Often, companies take on Tufts players as summer interns or quasi-apprentices to give them a taste of the business world. Some have gone on to full-time careers with such companies.
"We want our players to have a sense of academic direction," Gatto says. "We want them to have a clear idea of how the mainstream of college life goes on outside football. At Tufts there are no athletic scholarships, and our football players aren't any different from the rest of the student body. But we do take up a lot of their time and energy, and this is one of the ways we try to pay them back."
SPANISH GOLD, AMERICAN HUNTERS
When two men representing five Florida treasure hunters contacted officials of the National Audubon Society last June with news that substantial treasure lay buried in the society's Rookery Bay Sanctuary near Naples, Fla., the Audubon people were naturally skeptical. But the agents insisted that this wasn't a run-of-the-mill cache. It was the legendary hoard of Chief Carlos of the Calusa Indians, who dominated southwestern Florida in the days of the Spanish Main. According to the old tales, Carlos had salvaged untold millions from Spanish galleons wrecked along the Florida coast. Now, said the agents, an ancient diary had revealed where Carlos had buried the treasure—and the site fell within the sanctuary. They proposed to scan the target area with a boxlike electronic detector to determine the precise location of the loot. Then they'd dig down, take it out and everybody would be rich.
Although this sounded like any one of a thousand other buried-treasure stories, the Audubon people didn't feel they could ignore it. The agents weren't fly-by-night types. One was Ron Miller, mayor of Sarasota, Fla., and the other was Benjamin Phipps, a lawyer who is a trustee of the Phipps Foundation, a general-purpose charitable organization that deals primarily with conservation matters. Further, if the public heard the rumors about Chief Carlos' cache, the bird sanctuary could be overrun and badly damaged by amateur treasure hunters, whether or not anything was actually buried there. An organized hunt would settle the question once and for all. And, of course, there was the possibility, however remote, that valuable treasure was there. While the hunters would get a substantial part of it, Audubon would get the rest.
The society decided to go ahead, and officials accompanied the treasure hunters to the general area indicated in the "diary." There, one of the hunters scanned the surface with the electronic box. Eventually, he marked off a 24-foot square and said, impressively, "The treasure is directly beneath this spot."
A soil corer ground down into the sand. And down. And down. Another hole was bored. And another. The hopes of the onlookers faded. When the search was completed, nothing had been found but water. Fresh water is a valuable commodity in Florida but hardly worth a king's ransom.
So the hunt was a failure, but at least rumors that treasure lay under the sanctuary were squelched. Or were they? Two months after the first expedition the agents were back, declaring, "We've been testing the box, and now it definitely works." They wanted another try. Audubon winced. Flocks of treasure hunters, as well as birds, now seem likely to seek sanctuary at Rookery Bay.
THEY SAID IT
•Al McGuire, ex-basketball coach: "What it takes to be a great player, beyond raw talent, is self-centeredness and a certain numbness to the crowd. Super-intelligent people can't be superb athletes. They're too aware."
•Dan Quisenberry, Kansas City Royals relief pitcher, more or less agreeing with McGuire: "You can't be thinking about too many things. Relief pitchers have to get into a zone of their own. I just hope I'm stupid enough."