TRIUMPH OF THE DOLLAR SQUEEZERS
It turns out that American athletes didn't make off with the biggest gold haul at the Summer Olympics after all. That distinction belongs to the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, which last week announced that the Games produced a surplus of about $150 million. The LAOOC had originally projected a surplus of $15.5 million, and president Peter V. Ueberroth kidded, "We only missed by a zero." The surplus was described as "spectacular" by LAOOC chairman Paul Ziffren, while Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley called it "staggering."
Let's compromise and call it staggeringly spectacular. Under terms of the charter governing the Games, at least $75 million of the surplus will go to the U.S. Olympic Committee, a bonanza that, together with the $26 million it has so far received from the U.S. government's Olympic coin program, should make the USOC's familiar pleas of poverty sound more hollow than ever. An additional $50 million is earmarked for a new foundation to foster youth sports in Southern California, with the remaining $25 million to be held in reserve to cover the LAOOC's wrap-up costs. Ueberroth said a portion of that money might be channeled to athletic programs in Third World nations.
How did the LAOOC realize these eye-popping riches? Thanks largely to the decision to use existing facilities whenever possible, the Committee held expenditures to a bare-bones $469 million, of which the biggest outlays were for salaries and bonuses to its 40,000 employees ($99.5 million) and construction ($91.7 million). Revenues totaled $619 million, the main sources being broadcast-rights fees and ticket sales—$239 million and $151 million, respectively. The former figure was so big because high TV ratings resulted in ABC's making full payment to the LAOOC; the decision of Soviet-bloc nations to boycott would have entitled the network to withhold some payments had the ratings suffered. Ticket receipts were swollen by a last-minute box-office rush, for which the LAOOC could thank, among other things, the strong performance of U.S. athletes—could the Soviet boycott actually have been good for Olympic business?—and the fact that the horrendous smog and traffic problems that everybody had been predicting never materialized. This prompted Ueberroth to remark, "Some say the harder you work, the luckier you get. We were very lucky."
But luck was only part of the story. The LAOOC was also canny, well-organized and, in some ways, rapacious. The final figures suggested that Ueberroth & Co. needn't have scaled ticket prices so high, that they'd engaged in uncalled-for histrionics in pressing Washington to launch the Olympic coin program and that they had no cause to be so hard-nosed with sponsors, whose "exclusive" deals sometimes turned out to be something less than that, or with foreign Olympic committees. It also seems likely that the LAOOC intentionally understated pre-Olympic projections to justify such tactics. One LAOOC-watcher says that even after the boycott was announced and even without the late surge in ticket sales, "They knew they were sitting on at least a $75 million surplus. They've got to have known it. At some point they could've softened their stance and not extracted every ounce of blood."
In its euphoric summing-up, the LAOOC insisted it had kept its pledge—one that the city of Los Angeles had also made—that no public funds would be spent on the Games. In fact, federal, state and local governments picked up the tab for more than $100 million in security and other costs. Had the LAOOC been obliged to pay that sum, its surplus obviously would have been far smaller. L.A. officials joined in the charade by asserting that the city's Olympic-related expenditures of $31 million were more than offset by approximately $15 million in payments from the LAOOC, at least $9 million generated for Olympic purposes by a special one-half-percent hotel tax levied in 1978 and expiring next week, and $8 million or so from taxes on Olympic tickets. It's foolish to pretend, as the city does, that the hotel-tax receipts, raised by means of its taxation authority, aren't public monies. Also, the city's reckoning of Olympic costs didn't take into account tax losses suffered because of a substantial decline in non-Olympic economic activity during the Games.
But L.A. certainly spent far less on its Games than any other host city of recent times, and city controller James Hahn wasn't alone in implying that the Olympics would have been a bargain at almost any cost. Hahn told SI's Julie Vader that one of the Olympics' "incalculable" benefits was to "dispel a number of myths about L.A.—that there's choking smog and traffic so bad no one can move and that you can't walk the streets because of the crime." Something else the Games proved to the world, Hahn added, was that L.A. had shrewd businessmen. Of Ueberroth and other LAOOC officials, he said, "They figured out every way to squeeze every dollar."
A story making the rounds: A Dallas Cowboy fan showed up for one of the team's early-season games accompanied by a monkey. The Cowboys scored in the first quarter and the monkey leaped into the air, executed a perfect flip and landed in his seat. Moments later the Cowboys intercepted a pass and returned it for another touchdown, whereupon the monkey sprang to his feet, saluted and began singing, The Eyes of Texas. At this point an amazed onlooker turned to the monkey's owner and said, "Hey, this is a meaningless early-season game. What in the world does the monkey do when the Cowboys win a big game?"
"I don't know," came the reply. "I've only had him for five years."
The story, we're told, is true. A star running back for a certain college football power was filling out a biographical form for his school's sports information department. Asked to provide the name of his hometown paper, he put down USA Today.
So you daydream about being the next Marv Albert or Phyllis George? This could be your big chance. The Continental Basketball Association is conducting a talent search for a color commentator for its game of the week telecasts during the coming season on the BET Cable Network, which reaches seven million households in 43 states. The only condition is that applicants have no broadcasting experience. "We don't want anybody who's covered high school basketball on a 50-watt station or once did the Toledo Mud Hens," says CBA commissioner Jim Drucker. "We're looking for a fresh face."
The CBA is also looking to save a few dollars. After signing with BET, which will air 15 taped-delay games on Saturday nights, the CBA hired Bob Lewandoski, who does have TV experience, to handle play-by-play. But the announcers and ex-jocks Drucker approached about doing color either wanted too much money or had schedule conflicts. That's when Drucker decided to go the Ted Mack route. "I'm sure there are guys who sit at home and watch the network announcers and say, 'I can do that,' " he says. "A lot of guys I talked to admitted that at times they've turned down the sound and fantasized by doing their own play-by-play. I'm sure that out of a population of 250 million, we can find one guy who's really good."
Applicants will be invited to first-round tryouts in Boston on Oct. 15, New York on Oct. 29 and Philadelphia on Nov. 5, and those surviving the cut will compete in finals in Philly on Nov. 6. Each hopeful will be provided with rosters and other information and then will be asked to do commentary on videotaped CBA action from last season. Judging will be based on such things as vocal clarity, enthusiasm, knowledge of basketball and "personal charisma." The pay is hardly Cosellian—just $1,500 for the season—but it's the kick of being on TV that counts, right? As Drucker puts it, "This is Walter Mitty come to life."
COUNTRY JOE, THE SINGING UMPIRE
Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be umpires. That seems to be the message in Blue Cowboy, a ground-rule single written and sung by a man in blue, National League umpire Joe West (shown at right). The ballad, released by Colonial Records of Nashville, goes like this:
They call me a blue cowboy in some circles,
The cowboy's for the clothes I choose to wear,
But the blue has a touchin' sort of meaning,
It describes my heart when you're not there.
West, who's 31 and lives in Houston, came by his country ways naturally, having been born in western North Carolina. He became an umpire after quarterbacking the Elon College football team to three conference championships, and made it to the majors as an arbiter when he was 25. West has developed a reputation for on-field volatility, although this year he has ejected only one player and one coach. He earned some kind of award for originality earlier in the season when he threw two TV cameramen out of a game because they were showing replays to the Mets.
Blue Cowboy is also the title track on West's upcoming album, which features two other songs he wrote as well as a spirited country version of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Some of the tunes were recorded at the legendary Gilley's in Houston. West also has done a music video of Blue Cowboy, created by NBC Sports for a telecast in July. The video isn't exactly Thriller, but it does have its moments: West mouths the words of the song while talking on a hotel phone, walking out of the hotel through a revolving door, boarding a plane (or, rather, a "silver horse") and looking wistfully out the airplane window. Three flight attendants sing background.
In the off-season West will be appearing on the same bill in Las Vegas with country star Mel Tillis, and he has already made an appearance on the syndicated TV show Nashville Now. "The response has been great so far," says West. "I don't ever think I'll give up umpiring for singing, or vice versa. In a way, the singing may have helped my umpiring. It's kept me from being a 24-hour-a-day umpire."
In dealing with crises during games, like a manager throwing a tantrum or a beanball skirmish, West might one day be tempted to defuse the situation by breaking into another of his songs, You Can't Run With the Big Dogs (If You Act Like a Puppy). It's his personal favorite:
You can't run with the big dogs if you act like a puppy,
You can't swim with the big fish if you splash like a guppy,
You can't run with the stallions if you trot like a colt,
And you can't tighten that lug nut if you don't have the bolt.
THEY SAID IT
•Yogi Berra, Yankee manager, asked if first baseman Don Mattingly had exceeded his expectations this season: "I'd say he's done more than that."
•Earle Bruce, Ohio State football coach, on his 6'4", 282-pound—with size-16 feet—offensive tackle Mark Krerowicz: "He doesn't shine his shoes, he drives them through a car wash."
•Greg Kampe, hired at the age of 28 as head basketball coach at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.: "I told my wife three years ago that my goal was to be a head coach by the age of 30. My goal now is to still be a head coach at the age of 30."