WHO HURT J.R.?
Here's an update on J.R. Richard, the gifted Houston Astro pitcher who suffered a career-ending stroke in 1980 and subsequently brought malpractice suits against four Houston doctors who had treated him. SI has been told by sources close to the situation that three of those suits, against Drs. Harold Brelsford, Charles McCollum and Ben Cooper, have been settled out of court for a total of approximately $2 million. Richard's remaining suit, against the fourth doctor, internist Michael Feltovich, is still pending, with the trial scheduled to begin Nov. 11 in Houston.
One source says Richard is likely to be asked in depositions about rumors that he used cocaine during his playing days. Last year Richard admitted in an interview with SI's Armen Keteyian that he did use cocaine. "I done [cocaine] here and there," he said. But he added, "Drugs have not been a large influence on my life. When I did any drugs I didn't do that much, and I never did keep it on me. I wasn't to the point where I had to have drugs, and I never did hang around those guys who did a lot of drugs."
The unanswered question, one that presumably will be explored if the suit against Feltovich proceeds, is whether there was any link between Richard's admitted drug use and the stroke that sidelined him at the age of 30.
SPARING THE ROD
Is the John (Hot Rod) Williams point-shaving case over? Last week in New Orleans, Judge Alvin Oser, who earlier had declared a mistrial because of prosecution misconduct (SCORECARD, Aug. 26), refused a state motion to retry the case and dismissed all charges against Williams, who had been accused of taking part in schemes to shave points in three college basketball games last season. The judge gave the state two weeks to appeal. The NBA said it might wait until all state or federal action is completed before deciding whether Williams will be allowed to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, a statement that prompted Williams's attorney, Michael Green, to threaten the NBA with a lawsuit.
In New Orleans, U.S. Attorney John Volz had indicated earlier that he might bring federal charges against Williams if the state's appeal is rejected. Last week, however, Volz wasn't sounding very prosecutorial. He told SI that Justice Department policy generally prohibits dual prosecution and that he would need authorization from higher-ups to bring federal charges. He said he must determine if there's "any compelling federal interest" in prosecuting Williams and whether the case merits the time and money that would be required before he asked for authorization.
How many times has Volz sought such authorization? "Not too many," he said. How many? "Let me put it this way," he said. "I've been here since 1978 and I've never asked for it. Maybe that will give you an idea."
Forty percent of the top books (that's six of 15) on The New York Times's current nonfiction bestseller list are on or related to sports. There are autobiographies by Martina Navratilova and Mickey Mantle, a humorous golf book by Bob Hope, a treatment of Olympic rowing by David Halberstam, a collection of essays on outdoor life by Patrick McManus and Ernest Hemingway's account of a summer of bullfighting.
Is it just a happy coincidence that so many sports books are selling well? Some publishers and booksellers say it's more than that—that the popularity of sports books stems from a reawakened interest in heroes and their accomplishments. "It reflects a return to conservative values," says Belle Newton, publicity director at Doubleday (which published the Mantle and Hope books). Barbara Grossman, senior editor at Crown Publishers, says, "We've had this self-love since the Olympics. Some would say since the hostage crisis."
THE LONG VIEW
In the summer of 1949, in the 15-and-under Eastern boys clay court championships at Forest Hills, unranked Pete Bostwick, 14, of Westbury, N.Y., faced No. 1-ranked Don Thompson, 15, of New York City and lost 6-0, 6-2.
Time passed—36 years, in fact. Then, this summer, in the second round of the Eastern masters 45-and-over championships at Glen Cove, N.Y., the two met again. More or less echoing their earlier encounter, Bostwick, who just turned 51, was unseeded while Thompson, also 51, was seeded fourth. This time Bostwick prevailed, upsetting Thompson in a spirited battle 7-6, 7-5.
Now the two are looking forward to the rubber match, which they expect to play in the year 2021 at an 85-and-over tournament.
Walter Payton, the superb running back of the Chicago Bears, seldom blows his own horn, but he says he would like the respect that ought to be his now that he has broken Jim Brown's NFL career rushing record. "This is my 11th year, and nobody takes me seriously," Payton says. "You talk about the running backs that have been in the league, you ask, 'What about the running backs?' and the first names that pop into people's minds are Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Curt Warner. Or Billy Sims, William Andrews, George Rogers. Every year Payton's on the back burner."
Great runners have come and gone during Payton's career. He had played three seasons in the NFL before Earl Campbell arrived, for example, and last year he outrushed the battered Campbell by 1,216 yards.
"If you chart it [other runners' careers], you see peaks and valleys," Payton says. "Whereas my career, I like to think, has been like IBM or Xerox. I've been playing at the same level, and sometimes above, for at least nine years. I guess the people have come to expect that. Rain, sleet, snow, sprained ankle...or whatever, he's going to be there. Sometimes people tend to—not knowingly—they sometimes take things for granted. I guess I've been the Rodney Dangerfield of running backs.
"But it doesn't bother me," he says, brightening. "Rodney makes a lot of movies, drinks a lot of light beer."
While some say Payton's reticence with the press is one reason why recognition hasn't kept pace with his accomplishments, he replies, "I think it's beautiful anytime I'm left alone."
Not long after The Cincinnati Enquirer installed posters of Pete Rose in its newspaper vending machines, it received in the mail three dollar bills and a note: "I am sending The Enquirer this three dollars and hope this will cover the cost for the Pete Rose poster I took out of one of your stands. I just could not resist it." It was signed, "Thank you, A Fan of Pete."
'NOBODY WANTED TO BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED'
Nebraska football players will wear the numeral 94 on their helmets this season in tribute to senior Brian Hiemer, 21, who died after shooting himself in the head on Aug. 13, the day he was to report for fall practice. Hiemer's death shocked an entire state. "Nobody wanted to believe what happened," says Bill Morgan, owner of the A and B Cafe in Shelby, Neb. (pop. 720), Hiemer's hometown. "Everyone wants to know why."
An all-state kicker and tight end as well as a yearbook editor and prom king, Hiemer had a storybook high school career. At Nebraska he was dubbed the Comeback Kid. When he was cut after his freshman season, he persuaded head coach Tom Osborne to give him another chance; he then rose rapidly from 10th on the Cornhusker depth charts to first string. Last season Hiemer caught 12 passes and led the team with four touchdown receptions. This spring, playing at a rock-solid 6'3", 218, he was a star of the intrasquad Red-White game, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a spectacular leaping catch between two defenders. In the classroom Hiemer had a 3.3 grade-point average (4.0 is the maximum) in mechanized agriculture. Says Husker receivers coach Gene Huey, "He was a high achiever. He didn't want to fail at anything."
Statistics show that from 1950 to 1981 suicides in the U.S. among the 15 to 24 age group increased from 4.5 to 12.3 per 100,000. Among males the rate is more than four times greater than among females. In colleges, suicide is the second-leading killer after accidents. Sitting at her dining room table, Brian's mother speaks softly of the hundreds of letters the family has received from parents whose children have committed suicide: "They're all the same type of kids, achievers, excellent students, and the parents all ask the same question. Why?"
Hiemer had returned to the family's 320-acre farm from the university on Friday evening, Aug. 9. Over the weekend, he mowed the lawn and walked the fields with his father. On Tuesday, however, Loyola Hiemer noticed that her son was unusually restless and quiet. That afternoon, while his father was in the north fields and his mother was in the house, Hiemer walked behind a wooden shed and sat down with a .22 caliber rifle, one bullet in the weapon. He was found about 4 p.m. by his father. Walking near the shed last week, Willard Hiemer said, "You look for something, a warning. Maybe there was a reason, but Brian didn't tell us."
Though rumors persist that a suicide note was found, family members and police say there was none. Close friends describe Hiemer, the youngest of five children, as introverted, yet quick with a quip. Kriss King, a classmate who dated him last spring, says that Hiemer, with an eye on a pro career, was trying unsuccessfully to put on extra weight. "At lunch one day he told me if he could put on 20 pounds he could be an All-America," says King. "He'd sit down with two entrees, two of everything. He said, 'I'm so sick of stuffing myself all the time.' I think he was a little frustrated." King and Gregg Reeves, a defensive end, both say that Hiemer was worried about a future life on the farm. "He didn't think that with just him and his dad it was economically feasible," says Reeves.
Hiemer shunned the limelight attending Nebraska football. "He told us that people made too much of it," says his mother. "Being on a Number One team, in the Number One position, it wasn't that big of a thing to Brian," said Dale Kerkman, Hiemer's high school basketball coach. "Brian's happiest moments were shoving, laughing, playing pickup games with his buddies."
Nebraska is now preparing for the season opener against Florida State this Saturday, Sept. 7, but the team has already suffered its biggest loss of the season. Hiemer is gone, and no one understands the reason. Huey says, "Whatever it was, it will rest with Brian."
SAM Q. WEISSMAN
A determined Hiemer became a first-string end.
THEY SAID IT
•Mike Ditka, Chicago Bears coach, shrugging off the $750-a-day fine—which reached a total of $20,250—he leveled against linebacker Mike Singletary for holding out 27 days: "You can't even join some real good country clubs for that."
•Hank Stram, broadcaster and former coach, on quarterback Archie Manning's retirement after 14 NFL seasons, mostly with also-ran teams: "He was a franchise player without a franchise."