THE RELUCTANT OLYMPIAN
The U.S. has often fared poorly in international amateur baseball competition against Cuba, Japan and other countries. One reason is that American high school and college stars are too quickly spirited away by pro teams. To prevent this from happening at the 1984 Olympics, where baseball is to be a demonstration sport, U.S. amateur baseball officials entered what they hailed as a breakthrough agreement with the major leagues covering players chosen for the U.S. national team preparing for the Games: If any such player was subsequently drafted by a major league club, he couldn't report to it until he was cut from the national team or until baseball ended at the Olympics on Aug. 7. Big league officials were happy about the accord, too, seeing it as a gesture of good will toward the amateurs.
One person the cozy arrangement didn't make happy was Billy Swift, a University of Maine senior who was taken by the Seattle Mariners last week as the second pick overall in baseball's amateur draft. A righthanded pitcher who has represented the U.S. in international competition the past two years, including the 1983 Pan American Games, the 22-year-old Swift was notably unexcited when U.S. Baseball Federation selectors included him on the 30-man team preparing for the Olympics. For one thing, because it's only a demonstration sport in L.A., no official medals will be awarded in baseball. Also, Swift doesn't relish the grueling schedule that will have the U.S. team playing 40 games in 33 cities before the Olympics. But most of all, Swift doesn't want to wait two months to join the Mariner organization.
"I'd like to get started with my pro career," he says. "I've got to start thinking about the future. I saw my name on that Olympic list, and I didn't go to tryouts or anything. I think that's pretty strange. I think it should be my choice."
Although they're obviously eager to get such a highly regarded prospect in the uniform of one of their minor league teams, the Mariners' hands are tied. Under the agreement with the amateurs, a big league club can sign a national team member to a contract, but the player can't report to the club and bonuses must be deferred; the major leagues took out an insurance policy to guarantee that if a player is injured in the Olympics, he would still get his bonus and the club would be reimbursed. "We support the Olympic team," said Jeff Scott, the Mariners' director of player development. "Until we're told that Swift's cut from the Olympics or that they're over, that's it." U.S. Olympic coach Rod Dedeaux was equally unyielding, saying, "Once a kid is on the Olympic team, he's untouchable."
The 30 national team members were to begin working out this week in Louisville and then face cuts that will reduce their number to 25 on June 18 and, finally, to 20 Olympians on July 15. Swift said he intended to report to Louisville and wouldn't deliberately play poorly. "I know I could go out and hit the first nine batters I face, and I'd get cut, but I wouldn't do that," he says. "I'll try my best. It's just that I'd rather be somewhere else."
It would be a nice resolution of the situation if, once the U.S. team gets into full swing, Swift changes his mind and decides he actually wants to be an Olympian. But it would have been better still if he'd been dropped from the team as he initially desired. At a time when a lot of outstanding athletes are being wrongly prevented from competing in the Olympics, it seems equally muleheaded to force one to do so.
STRICTLY A DEFENSIVE MOVE
A lot of athletes cross themselves at critical moments during competition, and Fresno State University shortstop Joe Xavier is one of them. At a recent sports luncheon, Xavier was asked by a nonbeliever whether he actually thought that making the sign of the cross before he stepped to the plate helped him hit.
Xavier shrugged and said, "No sir, but I think it helps me from getting hit."
HERE'S THE BEEF
Every year Joe Terranova, a Ford Motor Company training and communications supervisor who lives in Dearborn, Mich., assays the latest herd of college football recruits and tries to decide which schools got the primest cuts. Then, in a prose style that has spent a little too much time on the broiler, he divulges the winners. This year's picks:
1. Illinois. Although the Fighting Illini, who last year "managed to turn Champaign's Memorial Stadium into an outdoor insane asylum," have lost a lot of talent, coach Mike White has filled the gaps with 17 high schoolers and 10 J.C. transfers. Promising newcomers include defensive tackle Alec Gibson, tight end Jerry Reese, wide receiver Stephen Pierce, defensive back Todd Avery and, assuming he meets academic eligibility requirements, Guy Teafatiller, the nation's top J.C. defensive lineman last year while at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif. White also signed Jim Bennett, who completed 117 of 201 passes for 1,995 yards and 22 TDs for Aurora (Ill.) West High. Terranova concludes, "Although the Illini found a bed of thorns, not roses, in Pasadena, a return trip is definitely in the cards."
2. Auburn. "J. Edgar Hoover would be proud of this group, for their mug shots appeared on most-wanted posters throughout the South." Pat Dye's posse rounded them up, and they include, on the defensive line, "a trio of buffet lovers: Nate Hill (6'5", 250), Tracy Rocker (6'3", 250) and Ron Stallworth (6'5", 240)." Dye also corralled Jim Thompson (6'6", 230), "one of the finest pure-center prospects in the country," and fullback Reggie Ware, "your basic Whopper with Everything." In addition, there are 16 "linemen/linebacker types" headed Dye's way.
3. USC. Does Ryan Knight really run "like a butterfly with hiccups," as Terranova claims? He'd better, because if he "had not signed with USC, the most exciting thing about Trojan football in 1984 would have been the National Anthem." Knight set California schoolboy records for rushing yardage in both a season (2,620) and a game (501). He had 57 touchdowns in two years, not bad for a hiccuping butterfly.
4. UCLA. Gaston Green and Eric Ball will give USC's crosstown rivals a running threat, too; Terranova calls them "a tailback tandem equal in potential to that of SMU's former Pony Express, Eric Dickerson and Craig James. Ball is so good he started autographing footballs in the Pop Warner League."
5. Georgia. "The Bulldogs' main recruiting goal in 1984 was to perk up the offense, and Maxwell House couldn't have done it better." Six quarterbacks who passed for a total of 11,595 yards as high school seniors should certainly get things brewing, and running back Cleveland Gary "could be as dominant an SEC player as Herschel Walker or Bo Jackson."
Completing the Top 10 are Michigan, Texas A&M, Washington, Pittsburgh and Florida. Terranova promises that none of them will go hungry this fall.
SELF-KNOWLEDGE AT PRINCETON
Princeton's sports information office recently issued a press release announcing that the Robert L. Peters Jr. '42 Award, which annually honors an alumnus "for significant contributions to the athletic community," would be bestowed this year on baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, '48. The release was obviously the handiwork of a Princetonian with a deep philosophical bent. It said that news of the award was to be embargoed until after the ceremony because "the recipient does not know his identity."
First the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow as a way of rebuking the Soviet Union for invading Afghanistan. Then the Soviets decided to skip the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, a move that many observers feel was made at least partly in retaliation for the U.S. boycott. Now the spirit of vindictiveness has infected the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, albeit on a far smaller scale. Last week LAOOC general manager Harry L. Usher said that the 14 boycotting Soviet bloc nations won't receive the 10,000-plus tickets that had been allocated to them but will get refunds for any money they've paid—minus, Usher said with a smile, a handling charge of "at least a dollar a ticket." Alluding to explanations by the Soviet bloc countries that they were boycotting out of a fear that their athletes would be in physical danger in L.A., Usher sarcastically said that the LAOOC was withholding the tickets because "we felt it's probably important not to subject any tourists to any claims of physical injury."
The fact that everybody is seemingly using the Olympics to get even with everybody else lends a certain unintended bite to this summer's promotional plans of Twentieth Century Fox, which has bought exclusive rights to advertise movies on ABC-TV during the network's coverage of the Olympics. The first film that Fox plans to promote in this fashion deals with a couple of young computer whizzes who decide to fight back after getting picked on by bullies because they wear thick glasses and are hopelessly square. The ads should stir up all sorts of interesting associations for Olympic TV watchers. The movie's title is Revenge of the Nerds.
COACHES ON THE MOVE (CONT'D)
In leaving his returning players and high school recruits in the lurch by quitting at such a late date as the University of Miami's head football coach to become coach of the USFL's Washington Federals, Howard Schnellenberger was guilty of atrocious timing (SCORECARD, June 11). That raises the question of what Oklahoma State coach Jimmy Johnson was guilty of when he quit the Cowboys last week to assume the vacant Miami job. Whereas Schnellenberger had made his move on May 25, Johnson made his nearly two weeks later—on June 5.
The first time we came across the question it was in Herb Caen's column in the San Francisco Chronicle. A local bartender, Caen reported, had asked what Michael Jackson and the Giants, who led the National League in errors last year and are challenging in that department again this season, have in common. The next time we heard it was after the Phillies made five errors in a 12-3 loss to the Cubs. A newspaperman of our acquaintance asked what Michael Jackson had in common with the Phillies. And we've no doubt the question will be posed again and again in reference to other teams having fielding problems.
Oh, yes, the answer: They wear gloves on one hand for no apparent reason. Of course.
An early salvo in the 1984 Battle for the Heisman Trophy was fired the other day when Naval Academy publicists hauled star running back Napoleon McCallum over to Baltimore's Inner Harbor to photograph him in an 18th century naval uniform in front of the frigate U.S.S. Constellation. The word out of Annapolis is that the photo will appear on a poster bearing the legend, with apologies to another Navy hero, John Paul Jones I HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO RUN.
THEY SAID IT
•Tom Tunnicliffe, ex-University of Arizona quarterback, after being passed over in the NFL draft, supposedly because he's only six feet tall: "Any coach who feels I'm too short or too small to play is too stupid for me to play for anyway."
•Don Baylor, New York Yankees designated hitter, after belting a home run in Seattle's cozy Kingdome: "In this ball park, I feel that when you walk to the plate you're in scoring position."