A SIDESHOW WE DIDN'T NEED
Who was right in the baseball umpires' strike? Reflecting on the strike, which ended on Sunday with the umps and leagues agreeing to let new commissioner Peter Ueberroth resolve the areas of dispute in binding arbitration, SI's Jim Kaplan concludes that the answer to that question is a judgment call. He writes: "The leagues were justified in resisting the union's demand that shares of the playoff pool be paid to umpires who didn't work the playoffs. The umps were right in demanding that firings no longer be appealed to the very men who do the firing, the league presidents. But the issue wasn't the issues; it was the presence of substitute umps for seven of the two leagues' eight playoff games.
"To the relief of everyone but the strikers, the fill-in umps blew few critical calls, although the strike zone often seemed to take some strange shifts. As a result the not so indispensable strikers lost not only money but also face. But baseball lost something, too. Instead of being able to concentrate fully on the games, fans were needlessly distracted by questions of whether or not the stand-in umps were qualified and whether the regular ones were justified in striking.
"As usual, the two leagues behaved as if they were on different planets. Uniformity? National League president Chub Feeney used only four umpires from the amateur ranks to replace the usual playoff complement of six umps. Feeney also told managers Jim Frey of Chicago and Dick Williams of San Diego to keep their beefs to umpires as brief as possible. By contrast, American League president Bobby Brown used six-man crews and had no rules of etiquette for managers Dick Howser of Kansas City and Sparky Anderson of Detroit.
"Also as usual, the commissioner took a detached view of the situation. This time the guilty party wasn't Bowie Kuhn but Ueberroth, the president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee who replaced Kuhn on the eve of the playoffs. Asked the next day if he would try to end the strike, Ueberroth replied, 'Certainly not in my second day. Maybe further ahead.' That raised the wry question of why baseball hadn't postponed its playoffs until its new commissioner was ready for the job. Although Ueberroth eventually stepped in as arbitrator, he took pains to say he was doing so only on invitation of the disputants. By some muddled reasoning, he seemed to think that intervening on his own would have been uncommissionerly.
"But the most important as-usual was that, once again, baseball had failed to deliver its best product. It isn't just that real fans don't enjoy labor disputes or other sideshows with their baseball. It's also that during showcase events like the league championship playoffs, the game's higher-ups shouldn't have been gambling that they'd get lucky and that the substitute umps wouldn't mess up. As Williams said, 'If we have the best teams, we should have the best people controlling them.' "
PRESS DOUBLE TAKE NO. 1
From The Province in Vancouver, B.C. of Oct. 5, 1984:
"EDMUNDSTON, N.B.—Former Triple Crown winner Ron Turcotte pleaded guilty to night hunting in provincial court here yesterday."
CRITICAL JUNCTURES FOR SOCCER
Professional soccer's life-or-death struggle for survival in the U.S. took a couple of jokingly dissimilar turns last week. On the one hand, there was the Chicago Sting, which wrapped up the NASL championship with a 3-2 Soccer Bowl win in Toronto that completed a two-game sweep of the hometown Blizzard. Not only did the Sting's achievement go virtually unnoticed even in Chicago, where the Cubs hogged the headlines, but also, embarrassingly enough, the Sting is now leaving the NASL to play in the Major Indoor Soccer League. That will reduce the reeling NASL, which had 26 teams just four years ago, to only five certain survivors.
On the other hand, there was the U.S. national team, which began what it hopes will be a march to a berth in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City by beating the Netherlands Antilles 4-0 in St. Louis in the final of their two-game series (the first game was a 0-0 tie) to advance to a round-robin tournament with Trinidad/Tobago and Costa Rica. If the U.S. wins that event and a second regional round robin, it will qualify for the 24-team World Cup field.
In contrast to the languor in the NASL, the mood in St. Louis was upbeat. Buoyed by NBC-TV's same-day taped coverage of the final game (in the U.S., the NASL championship game was shown only on local cable in Chicago) and by the large and enthusiastic crowds that attended Olympic soccer matches in Los Angeles, folks in St. Louis, including a number of present and former NASL officials, were talking about the possibility of starting a new six-, eight- or 10-team North American league that would play real international-style soccer, not a game with Americanized NASL rules.
In other words, professional soccer in the U.S. may have been enjoying the first stirrings of rebirth even as it appeared to be dying.
PRESS DOUBLE TAKE NO. 2
From USA Today's account on Oct. 1, 1984 of the Indianapolis Colts' 31-17 win over the Buffalo Bills:
"Dickey, who had 72 yards, set up the Colts' go-ahead touchdown with a 31-yard run from the Baltimore 4."
OH AND FIVE, BUT OH, MY
It falls into the category of dubious distinctions, but Long Beach State is surely the best 0-5 college football team in the land. The 49ers led Oregon (now 4-1) 17-7 in the fourth quarter before losing 28-17. They lost 23-17 to UCLA (3-2), but only after a drive for the tying, and possibly winning, touchdown stalled late in the game. Fresno State (5-1) beat them 20-17 on a field goal with 1:46 left. Arizona (4-2) defeated them 31-24 on a touchdown and PAT with 33 seconds left. And last week they were tied 17-17 with UNLV (4-1) at the half before losing 41-23. In sum, Long Beach State has lost to teams with a collective 20-7 record by an average margin of just nine points. And one of the 49ers, linebacker Kevin Junior, had the pleasure of telling a booster club that SI's Douglas S. Looney had been wrong in his preseason designation of Long Beach State vs. UCLA as the "crummiest game of the year" (1984 College & Pro Football Spectacular). Junior said Looney should have singled out UCLA's game the following week—the Bruins' 42-3 loss to Nebraska.
WELCOME, TY ROSE
We have several fond wishes for Ty (actually Tyler Edward) Rose, the newborn—on Oct. 1, 8 pounds 11 ounces—son of Cincinnati Reds player-manager Pete Rose and his wife, Carol. As you may have heard, the Roses named the boy after Ty (actually Tyrus Raymond) Cobb, whose career record of 4,191 hits Pete is pursuing. First, we hope that next season little Ty's dad gets the 95 hits he needs to eclipse Cobb's mark. Then we hope the lad grows up and gets 4,200-plus hits of his own. After that we'd like to see some descendant of Cobb bestow the name Pete on a son whose destiny it then will be to bang out, oh, say, 4,300 hits. The career hits record having thus passed from Ty Cobb to Pete Rose to Ty Rose to Pete Cobb, our sense of historical continuity will have been fully satisfied.
PRESS DOUBLE TAKE NO. 3
From the TV listings in the British newspaper Guardian of Sept. 29, 1984:
AMERICAN FOOTBALL: San Diego Chargers v. LA Dodgers.
Few prominent baseball figures have receded into the mists of time as rapidly as Walter Alston, for 23 years the manager of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, who died last week at the age of 72. It's a shame, for Alston was one of the most successful managers in baseball history. Yet even his election last year to the Hall of Fame occurred without much fanfare; some unknowing baseball observers went so far as to suggest that he really didn't belong in the Cooperstown pantheon.
The curious indifference to Alston's remarkable managerial career stems in large part from his quiet, retiring nature. Unlike Leo Durocher and other colorful managers of the past, Alston was a man to whom legend and anecdote did not cling—and history, in a sense, is publicity. Ask the average fan who was the better manager, Alston or Durocher (with whom he is often compared, and not often favorably), and the probable reply will be, "Are you kidding? Durocher." Yet Alston's record is distinctly superior. Granted, where a team finishes in the standings isn't the ultimate criterion for judging managerial skills; nonetheless, it's revealing to compare Alston and Durocher that way. Durocher managed in the majors for 24 seasons, one more than Alston. Durocher won three pennants and one World Series and finished second seven times. Alston won seven pennants and four World Series and finished second eight times. Durocher, a George Patton in baseball spikes, could fire up a team for a game, or a stretch drive or a season. Alston, more the Omar Bradley type, sustained his achievements. As someone once said, summing up the contrast between the two men, "If you were in a room and the ceiling began to fall, Leo would figure a way to get you out. Walt would have had the ceiling fixed."
Except for those shifting strike zones, the fill-in umps did O.K.
SAM Q. WEISSMAN
THEY SAID IT
•Ron Meyer, New England Patriots coach, arguing that emotion is overrated in football: "There was a lot of emotion at the Alamo, and nobody survived."
•Jimmy Connors, dismissing suggestions that his behavior has improved with age: "I don't know that I changed all that much. They just found somebody worse."
•Don (Yogi) Smith, Atlanta Falcon defensive end, on teammate Jeff Yates, a 13-year NFL veteran and also a DE: "The thing that's kept Jeff around is his longevity."
•Don King, boxing promoter: "I never cease to amaze myself. I say this humbly."