Despite gambling's unsavory ambience, the darndest people keep flirting with it. In June, United Press International announced that it had worked out a deal with American Sports Advisors to form Telesports Communications Corporation, which is designed to provide up-to-the-minute sports information to subscribers through a computer-printout system in subscribers' homes. The fee would be $299 a month. What kind of sports fan would pay $299 a month for information on injuries, weather, late trades and, of course, Las Vegas odds and point spreads?
Well, American Sports Advisors is a tout service (the four tip sheets it peddles are less elegantly named: The A Play, The Professor's Weekly Report, Big Apple Sports and The Austin Edge). Tout services have come under scrutiny by federal law enforcement officials for possible mail and wire fraud. And while ASA came up clean, even board chairman Ed Horowitz (the Professor himself) calls ASA "the leading company in a gray area."
How gray? Last winter someone at UPI apparently felt uneasy, and two top reporters, Timothy Bannon and Gregory Gordon, were asked to look into ASA. They made a preliminary report but were not assigned to do a story. "What the reporters were asked to do," says UPI spokesman William Adler, "was to provide information. Edit was told a story was not necessary."
But managing editor Ron Cohen, knowing that the wire service prides itself on "integrity and independence," let the reporters do some more digging. After six weeks, they turned in a 2,170-word story that ran on UPI's weekend wire last March 30-31. "The story was good," Cohen says. "We let the chips fall where they may." The story was critical of tip services in general and ASA in particular, claiming that high-pressure phone salesmen promised customers sure winners, failed to fulfill money-back guarantees, sometimes mischarged customer credit cards and in general harassed prospects and customers. The story had Horowitz saying, "The idea of the business is to get as much money as you can up front and, if we're good [i.e., are right with touted predictions], get more. If we don't [expletive deleted]. We'll advertise again."
Horowitz says the charges in the story came from "jealous competitors" and "scam customers," but Bannon and Gordon say, "We wrote what we could prove."
Why then would UPI go ahead with the deal when its own investigation cast serious doubt on the ethical standards of ASA? Money, mostly. UPI has had hard times financially and badly needs another source of revenue. Adler says there is a "safeguard" in the agreement that limits UPI's liability (it is a 25% owner of Tele-sports). "It's a low-risk agreement," Adler says. "It's not our role to moralize on how the information is used."
As for Horowitz, he says he's more concerned about brightening ASA's gray image into a lighter shade. He says he wants to get out of touting and into the "electronic communications" business. "We won't have to worry about winning," he says. "Let them [the bettors] worry about that."
Distance runner Nick Marshall of Camp Hill, Pa. won a 32-hour, 165-mile race from Wheeling to Charleston, W. Va. the other day after catching and passing rival Jack Brinston in the stretch—well, at the 132-mile mark. Brinston dropped out with Achilles tendon problems. Winner Marshall said after the race, "I was chasing him for more than 21 hours. I was very close to exhaustion. All the muscles in my legs were screaming. I thought I was going to run out of time but, fortunately from my standpoint, things didn't go well for him. However, he nearly destroyed me."
The name of the race, we shouldn't forget to mention, is the H.C. Rogers Fun Run.
AH, SWEET MEMORIES...
Don't think for a minute that ultra-distance runners have all the fun. What about women wrestlers? Twenty from the old school gathered recently at a convention in Las Vegas, and they spent a lot of the three-day session talking about past glories. One of the women was Gladys Gilem, nicknamed Kill 'Em, who rassled in carnival shows more than 40 years ago, when women's wrestling shared billing with bearded ladies and two-headed goats. After leaving the profession, Gladys settled for a quieter life as a lion trainer and alligator wrestler.
Belle Starr, Bonnie Watson, Johnnie Mae Young, the Fabulous Moolah out of Columbia, S.C. (one of several still active; she's in her fourth decade in the game), they were all there in Vegas. Ella Waldek Mecouch of Lutz, Fla. recalled, "There were places where I was in constant fear of my life. It didn't make any difference whether we were scientific or dirty wrestlers. We'd need three or four escorts just to get into the ring."
June Byers of Houston, who had a 20-year career before retiring in 1964, said that she cracked nine ribs, suffered five concussions, fractured her pelvis, broke all her fingers and toes and still has double vision from the effects of a bottle thrown by a spectator in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan that hit her between the eyes.
"Some of the ladies I got along with," Mae Weston of Westerville, Ohio said fondly, "and some I didn't. But when I look back I realize that we had a wonderful camaraderie. These ladies here, they're my memories."
The ladies say they hope to establish a Hall of Fame. More to the point, they hope to build a nursing home nd convalescent center.
A MINIMUM OF BALL-DERDASH
There used to be a feeling, before the Olympic boycotts, of course, that sports could cure international problems, that all sorts of amity and goodwill would ensue if folks just got out on the playing fields together.
Now and then a glimmer of the old feeling breaks through. This September the Los Angeles tennis pro Alan Boltin will lead a group of American tourists on a "friendship-tennis" tour of the Soviet Union. At a cost of $2,200 apiece the tourists will spend two weeks playing tennis with Russian counterparts in the cities of Moscow, Kiev and Tbilisi. While working out the details with Russian officials last spring, Boltin ran into a slight snag about tennis balls. An official at In-tourist, the Soviet agency that controls tourism, wondered what kind would be used. Boltin, not wanting to make waves, said the Russian variety would do nicely. To his surprise, the Russian said, "No, yours are better." Such graciousness, or frankness, seemed uncharacteristic. The discussion ended in a happy compromise: Boltin would provide some, the Russians would provide some.
A small thing, true, but a refreshing change.
Written on the lifeguards' blackboard at Sea Girt, N.J. on July 4: "High tide: 9:49 a.m./Low tide: 3:37 p.m./Water temp. 63°/And for the support of these declarations...we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."
A WOMAN'S PLACE IS IN THE PITS
When you're part of the first full-time, all woman pit crew on the Auto Racing Club of America circuit, the badinage is as deft as tire irons. "Like this one guy comes up to me when I got this wrench in my hand," says tire changer Holly Fischer. "He asks me, 'Sure you know how to work that thing, darlin'?' I about showed him how on his face."
Fischer is a member of the 10-woman Permatex Ultra-Blue crew, who jack 'em up, change the rubber, clean the glass and fill the tank the way the men crews do. The lucky car is No. 35, the Monte Carlo driven by Bill Venturini of Chicago (above).
"Yeah, there's a little show biz involved here," admits Venturini, but if the girls couldn't keep up with the guys, they wouldn't be working in my pits."
Nor is this a sultan-and-his-harem arrangement. Venturini's wife, Cathy (sitting above numeral), owns No. 35. And she's the original Ultra-Blue crew woman.
"Most racing wives are supposed to time laps, keep score, that kind of stuff," she says. "I just sat in the stands going, heck, it's my car, my money and my husband, so I might as well have a say about what goes on."
In 1978 Cathy Venturini went into the pits and later became the only female crew chief on the blocks. "I figured if I could do it," she says, "there must be other women who'd like a chance." So she and Bill took out a newspaper ad that read: WANTED: WOMEN TO WORK IN RACING PIT CREW. NO PAY. LOUSY HOURS. MUCH FUN.
Fischer, who used to be a mud wrestler, was one of those who responded. "I thought working a pit would be a step up, but it's no cleaner," she says. When 116-pound Laura Lee isn't rolling 85-pound Goodyears for the crew, she works as a hairdresser. At the beauty parlor she always gets the same question: "Did you wash your hands first?"
Working in the pits has meant some sacrifices. The women have trimmed their nails "down to nothing," says one crew member, "because Bill didn't want to hear even one crack about broken nails." Another, Betty Foster, says, "If I'd known how banged up you can get dragging a 65-pound jack over to pump up a two-ton car, I might never have volunteered to be jackgirl."
"Jack woman" corrects a teammate.
Venturini shares a trailer with his crew. "We're like family at this point," he says. ".We just turn our heads when we all change together before the race."
"I don't," confesses a tire changer.
Venturini claims that once they're on the track, he forgets they're women. "I scream and curse and order them about as if they were guys," he says.
Their fastest stop to date is 16 seconds. Last year at a short-track pit crew championship, they placed third but, unlike the men, didn't get a single penalty. "Men may be a little stronger or faster," says Cathy Venturini, "but women will always be more careful. Which is a good thing, since that's my husband going 200 miles an hour out there."
SAM Q. WEISSMAN
The ladies of the club—er, pit crew—responded to an ad promising hard work and no pay.
THEY SAID IT
•George Frazier, Chicago Cubs reliever: "Long relief is like being a plumber. Some days it's O.K., but when 30 septic tanks back up, it's no fun."
•Ralph Garr, the National League batting champion in 1974, asked what kind of a hitter he was when he was in the big leagues: "I was a ball hitter. If I saw the ball, I hit it. If I didn't see it, I didn't hit it."
•Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago White Sox co-owner, disgruntled by his team's in-and-out play so far this season: "Maybe we have to shock the club by eliminating somebody who thinks he's a frontliner. Send him down to Buffalo. Or Pittsburgh."