AN EXERCISE IN SURVIVAL
A University of Illinois psychologist named Douglas A. Bernstein offered an observation about the NFL strike that came as a big relief to us. Although conceding that the strike could make fans "uncomfortable" and oblige them to work out adjustments in their lives, Bernstein said that the loss of the NFL was "not in the same category as the loss of a loved one." In support of Bernstein's thesis, we were comforted to discover that, indeed, coming on the heels of last year's 50-day baseball strike, an in-season walkout in a major sport didn't seem quite so shocking the second time around. Besides, whereas the baseball strike had resulted in practically daily deprivation, NFL fans stood to suffer withdrawal symptoms only once a week. The pain of the shutdown was further eased by the knowledge that as the walkout ended its first full week, it had so far resulted in the cancellation of just [1/16] of the season; by contrast, the baseball strike wiped out one-third of a season. Obviously, the NFL owners and players still had a while to go before they could truthfully call their impasse calamitous.
This quasi-benign situation mocked the ringing words of Redskin Chairman Jack Kent Cooke, who had pleaded for a settlement to avert a strike, saying portentously, "In the national interest, let's play football." But, of course, it was merely the NFL and not football that was shut down. True, not all residents of Hawaii found it worthwhile to bestir themselves at daybreak on Sunday, as they would have had to do because of the time difference, to watch NBC's substitute telecast of two Canadian Football League games, an attraction that Honolulu disc jockey Ron Jacobs twitted as follows: "Get ready for a big weekend, football freaks. Wake up Sunday, watch a one-hour pregame show at 6:30 a.m., and then catch the big Canadian Football doubleheader and those funny guys in their striped suits with their long field and their three downs. And don't forget to bring your rouge."
But even if CFL action didn't quite do the trick for everybody (page 85), an abundance of high school and college football, not to mention baseball, helped fill the sporting void. And, if the strike goes on, the approaching basketball and hockey seasons figure to help even more. There were fewer such alternatives during the baseball walkout.
In short, surviving the NFL strike appeared to be less difficult than one might have imagined. It behooved the owners and players to work out a settlement before the fans realized as much.
HOLD THAT (PICKET) LINE
Wanting to keep in shape during the strike, members of the San Francisco 49ers arranged to meet last Wednesday morning at a practice field at Stanford, where they assumed they could work out while momentarily putting the thorny subject of labor relations out of mind. No such luck. Unknown to the 49ers, Stanford had been hit by a strike of 800 technical, maintenance and service employees, resulting in picketing at campus construction sites as well as scattered outbreaks of violence, including the slashing of tires on university vehicles. Given their own circumstances, the NFLers concluded that it might be a bit awkward to cross the picket lines of Service Employees' International Local 715, so they moved their workout down the road to Menlo College.
THE MUSHROOM SLAYER
It's a rule of golf that any effort to strike the ball, whether or not contact is made, must be counted as a stroke. So it was on a recent Sunday that after a 16 handicap-per named Al Safro attempted to play his second shot on the par-5 17th at Baltimore's Bonnie View Country Club, another member of his foursome argued—in vain—that Safro should be assessed a penalty stroke.
The dispute arose when the 62-year-old Safro, playing out of the rough, took a mighty swing with a five-wood at an object he thought was his ball. It turned out to be a mushroom of the Calvatia gigantea (giant puffball) variety, a species that can indeed look very much like a golf ball. The fungus splattered, and it was only then that Safro and his playing partners spotted his ball—the real one—15 feet away. The debate about whether Safro should have taken a penalty made the local newspapers, and there's probably not an official of the USGA who by now hasn't been asked his view of the matter.
The consensus seems to be that no penalty was called for. The reasoning used in reaching that conclusion has sometimes bordered on the metaphysical. "I'd say it wouldn't be a stroke," said Ed Johnston, a Baltimore lawyer and president of the Middle Atlantic Golf Association. "Even though he thought it was a golf ball, it wasn't a golf ball." After conferring with William J. Williams Jr., chairman of the USGA's Rules of Golf Committee, that organization's director of communications, John Morris, declared, "There are rules for striking a ball, but this wasn't a ball. There is nothing in the rules prohibiting a player from hitting a mushroom. Or an apple. Or a marshmallow." And what does Safro, who wound up with a bogey 6 on the hole and 84 for the round, have to say about his famous non-shot? "It was a practice swing," deadpans the mushroom slayer.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, who won only 15 of 82 games last season for the worst record in the NBA, have come up with an innovative ticket-sales scheme for 1982-83. In a letter to prospective customers, Cavs President Ted Stepien has promised to give season-ticket holders refunds if Cleveland fails to win 30 games. The refund would be 5% if the Cavs win 29 games, 10% if they win 28, 15% if they win 27, and so on. The maximum would be 50%, which would be granted in the event that Cleveland wins 20 or fewer games.
Stepien's well-intentioned offer conforms to the belief, one embodied in American jurisprudence, that victims of negligence should be compensated for their suffering. And Cavalier fans have certainly been so victimized. Still, we'd have to question the wisdom of any ticket-selling scheme that under certain easily foreseeable circumstances—imagine, for example, the Cavs being out of playoff contention and having 19 victories with two home games to play—would give the local fans a financial incentive to root for the other team.
NORTHWESTERN, EASTERN, NORTHERN
While Northwestern was ending its record 34-game losing streak Saturday with a 31-6 win over Northern Illinois (page 75), Eastern Michigan was getting shellacked 35-0 by Miami of Ohio for its 22nd straight loss. Eastern Michigan now has the longest current major-college losing streak. Its best chance for ending that streak—at 24—figures to come on Oct. 16, in its homecoming game against Ohio University. Failing that, the Hurons could conceivably end the streak the following week when Coach Mike Stock, an alumnus, as it happens, of Northwestern, sends his team up against an opponent that may or may not be ripe for the taking: Northern Illinois.
Wallace Bryant, the 7-foot, 265-pound center from the University of San Francisco who was a Chicago Bulls' second-round draft pick last spring, has gone off to play basketball in Italy, where the season began last week. He's just one more in a long line of U.S. players who have made that decision; at least 50 other Americans will be playing in Italy's 28-team league this year. Bryant decided to accept a $90,000, one-year deal with an Italian club when the Bulls wouldn't give him the guaranteed contract he wanted. Oddly enough, Chicago looks kindly on Bryant's decision. General Manager Rod Thorn says, "Our feeling is that he's not quite ready for the NBA. We still retain rights to him, and if he works hard, the experience will help him."
Though players on the fringe of the NBA have long regarded Italy as a place to sharpen their game, going there to play has never been merely a matter of flying to Milan and saying, "Here I am" (or "Eccomi!" if the player has taken the trouble to learn a little Italian). Despite the high salaries and perks players can pull down, basketball in Italy is considered amateur; Bryant, for example, is technically a highly paid employee of Ford Motor Co.'s Italian subsidiary who just happens to spend a lot of time playing hoops for the company-sponsored team. An American who has played pro ball and wants to suit up in Italy traditionally had to be over 30, or been out of pro ball at least a year or met certain other conditions. But on Aug. 27 the international basketball federation, FIBA, streamlined the rules so that any former professional player can be reinstated one time. That means Oscar Robertson could play in Italy. But such reinstatements don't apply to national teams, so an aging Big O couldn't play in the 1984 Olympics, even if he wanted to.
Bryant has been an amateur all along, so he still has his one allotted reinstatement coming. After finishing up in Italy, he could play in the NBA and then, reinstated as an amateur, return to Italy. There would, incidentally, be nothing to prevent him from playing in the NBA again—for a neat triple reverse.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER?
There won't be a Subway Series (Yankees-Mets) this year, and the first-ever Air Canada Series (Expos-Blue Jays) must await another day. But baseball beat writers have come up with names for several World Series showdowns that could still come off. These include a Freeway Series (Dodgers-Angels), a Sluggers Series (Brewers-Braves) and an Ozark Airlines Series (Royals-Cardinals), not to mention an Audubon Series. Audubon Series? Why, Cardinals-Orioles, of course.
HAVE SNEAKERS, WILL TRAVEL
During his first 11 years in professional basketball, Tom Owens played for the Memphis Tarns, Carolina Cougars, Spirits of St. Louis, Memphis (again), Kentucky Colonels, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs, all in the ABA, and the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana (again) in the NBA. When the Pacers traded Owens, a 33-year-old center, to the Detroit Pistons last week for a second-round draft choice in 1984, it was Owens' 10th change of uniforms, breaking the unofficial pro record for peripateticism jointly held by himself and Mack Calvin. Among traveling men generally, Owens now ranks somewhere behind the late Louis (Bobo) Newsom, who changed uniforms 17 times during a 20-year major league baseball career, and just ahead of Ulysses.
CRADLE OF SKIPPERS
Over the years, Western Hills High School of Cincinnati has sent no fewer than 11 players to the major leagues, the most celebrated being Pete Rose, class of '60. Western Hills has also distinguished itself as a fountainhead of big-league managers. Former Kansas City Manager Jim Frey and Don Zimmer, late of the Red Sox and Rangers, are Western Hills' products (both '49), as is Russ Nixon ('53), who was elevated by the Reds this past summer from third-base coach to manager to replace the fired John McNamara and was rehired last week for next season. And Eddie Brinkman is waiting in the wings. Brinkman, who guided the Birmingham Barons, a Tiger Double A farm team, to the runner-up spot in the second half of the 1982 Southern League season, has perfect credentials for a big-league skipper's job, having graduated from Western Hills in 1961.
THEY SAID IT
•Tommy John, California Angel pitcher, when asked following a clubhouse burglary whether he was missing anything: "My fastball."
•Bob Cooper, head of Seattle Teamsters Local 174, vowing to lend his union's support to NFL strikers in the event that the Seahawks tried to suit up a team of non-union players: "We would do all we could to help—and we deliver the beer."
•Skip Caray, Atlanta Brave broadcaster, upon being introduced to Ted Giannoulas, a.k.a. The Chicken: "Why did you cross the road?"
•Dwight Wallace, Ball State University football coach, informed that an expensive glass sculpture will be conferred on the Mid-American Conference's Player of the Year: "I hope they don't give it to one of my receivers."