THE FARM SYSTEM SPEAKS
The College Football Association, which represents 66 NCAA Division I-A schools, issued an ultimatum last week to the NFL. Unhappy with the league's creeping encroachment on both the class time and eligibility of college hotshots, the CFA threatened to deny the pros access to game films and practices unless it complies with two demands: 1) That NFL minicamps, now held in May, be rescheduled to after the school year, and 2) that underclassmen who are now permitted to leave college early to join the NFL be allowed to continue their educations at the league's expense, either through no-cut contracts for those drafted or through financial assistance for those signed as free agents.
The demands are reasonable ones and should be adopted by the NFL. Unquestionably, the profusion of time-consuming minicamps has become a burden, encouraging many college players to drop out of school in the spring of their senior year. New Orleans Saints general manager Jim Finks, the league's unofficial liaison with the college ranks, acknowledged as much, saying, "I think we are a classic case of overkill in scouting."
But the CFA's lofty position is undercut by the fact that the big football colleges don't always put academics first themselves. Though athletic officials purport to be distressed that underclassmen are forgoing their educations, they seem at least equally concerned that they're losing some prime football beef prematurely. CFA executive director Chuck Neinas may have been more revealing than he intended when he said, "We cooperate with the NFL. We want something more than lip service.... The pros better start paying attention to their farm system."
SINK YOUR SHOTS
Thanks to a company in the British Virgin Islands called Toronto Consolidated Ltd., you can now not only own a piece of history but also chip out of a bunker with it. The firm has melted down a propeller salvaged from the wreck of the British liner Lusitania, which was sunk by a German submarine in 1915, and forged 3,500 sets of golf clubs from it. "The Lusitania, known affectionately as Lucy, would be proud to see her damaged propeller transformed into a stunning set of clubs," declares one ad.
At $9,000 per set, the clubs have to be one of the most expensive and least appropriate "memorials" to come along in a while. Keep in mind that 1,198 passengers and crew went down with the Lusitania, whose sinking hastened the U.S. entry into World War I. But Toronto Consolidated looks upon its clubs with pride. Says the company's managing director, Alan Koenig, "We looked into a couple of other things—fireguards for fireplaces with a relief of the Lusitania on them, and miniature boats—but golf clubs have a universal appeal. We could have made tacky souvenirs, I guess."
LABOR OF LOVE LOST
Six batboys for the Double A Huntsville (Ala.) Stars have run afoul of child labor laws governing youngsters less than 16 years old. The batboys, who are 14 and 15, must now quit working before 9 p.m. in accordance with an Alabama statute. State officials had chosen not to enforce the law in the past but had no recourse after a parent whose son was not picked as a batboy filed a complaint with the Department of Industrial Relations.
"Our choices were to fire them or let them work until nine, and we're not going to fire them," says Stars general manager David Demonbreun. After the witching hour he replaces the batboys with clubhouse attendants. (Night games usually end by 10.) The batboys work an average of six hours on game days and are paid $12 a game.
While the Stars have been willing to keep the kids on, other teams might not be so accommodating. Similar child labor laws exist in all 50 states, though enforcement when it comes to batboys has been universally lax. Most of these statutes have exemptions for kids delivering newspapers or those working in a family business. Why not expand those exemptions to children who are living a summertime fantasy?
THE RAIDER REFERENDUM
Politicians who blithely assume that reeling in a big league sports franchise will increase their support among constituents should take note of recent election results in California. In the Los Angeles-area community of Irwindale last April, dark horse Fred Barbosa, who sued to block construction of a $110 million stadium intended to lure the Los Angeles Raiders to relocate there, defeated city councilman Joseph Breceda, a supporter of the stadium. And last week in Oakland, 12-year mayor Lionel Wilson, the prime mover in a $600 million effort to get the Raiders back, finished behind Elihu Harris and Wilson Riles, both opponents of that bid. Said Wilson's campaign manager, Paul Cobb, "If it hadn't been for the Raiders, the opposition wouldn't have had enough votes to get us into a runoff."
For the second year in a row, Pat Day was not among the five jockeys nominated for the Racing Hall of Fame. Day is qualified; he has ridden for 16 years—15 are required for enshrinement—and is a three-time Eclipse Award winner, with $89 million in career purses. Clearly, Day's omission is less a reflection on his talents than it is on the Hall's flawed nominating process.
That process begins with the 10 nominating committee members—all of them turf writers—making recommendations informally to Joe Hirsch, executive columnist of the Daily Racing Form. Five nominees are then placed on a ballot mailed to 100 voters, also turf writers. While the intent is to nominate jockeys for career achievement, some panelists' views may be unduly shaped by the past year's events. Bill Christine of the Los Angeles Times believes some of his fellow nominators omitted Day in the belief that Day should have got more out of Easy Goer, who won the 1989 Belmont with Day in the saddle but placed "only" second in the Kentucky Derby and in the Preakness.
Hirsch says that none of the committee members recommended Day. Christine says that he did. Clearly, a binding, recorded vote of the 10-member committee would be an improvement on the loose procedure now being followed. And perhaps eligibility for the Hall should be limited to jockeys who are retired, so their careers can be seen in broad perspective. Hirsch has predicted that Day's time will come, but under the current eligibility rules, it already has—twice.
THE INDIFFERENCE LINE
Baseball's Negro Leagues disbanded in the mid-1950s after five decades of existence, and today most of the 200 or so surviving players are impoverished and forgotten. Though many had the skills to compete in the majors, scant few were given the chance to cross the color line. Now they live without pensions to support them or much recognition to buoy their spirits.
To aid these Negro leaguers, Richard Berg, an adman and baseball historian, has helped form the Negro League Baseball Players Association Inc. (NLBPA), a not-for-profit organization that hopes to promote support for the former ballplayers through card shows, exhibition games and corporate sponsorships. "Major league baseball has taken care of major leaguers, but no one has taken care of these guys," says Berg. "And they were heroes, for all the racism and the abuse they had to endure just to play the game they loved."
With an average annual income of less than $10,000, according to the NLBPA, Negro leaguers need a helping hand. Sometimes they get just the opposite. Last March two men allegedly strong-armed their way into the St. Louis home of half-blind Hall of Famer James (Cool Papa) Bell, 87, and made off with several boxes of uniforms, pictures and programs worth up to $300,000 on the memorabilia market. (Bell was not inclined to sell the collection.) With the assistance of Berg and the organization, the FBI arrested Robert Retort and Ed Grybowski of New Castle, Pa., and charged them with interstate transportation of stolen property. The trial is set for July 9 in St. Louis.
The NLBPA plans to press the Hall of Fame to induct more Negro leaguers—11 are enshrined now—and to display more of their memorabilia. The association has expressed unhappiness that dozens of items provided by players to a proposed Negro leagues shrine in Ashland, Ky., and subsequently sent to the Hall of Fame have never been exhibited there or elsewhere. Officials at Cooperstown say that the items are in storage.
So far, more than 80 old-timers have joined the NLBPA, and last April some 50 of them swapped tales at the organization's inaugural meeting in Baltimore. Players were introduced at an Oriole game and some received $1,000 each in appearance money from the Equitable insurance company—or roughly their average yearly salary in their playing days. "A little fuss was made over them," says Monte Irvin, a Hall of Famer and NLBPA member. "It made them feel real good."
For Bell, life after the Negro leagues has sometimes been more cold than cool.
COURTESY PEREZ-STEELE GALLERIES
[See caption above.]
THEY SAID IT
•Doug Melvin, the Baltimore Orioles' minor league director, on pitcher Daniel Boone, a lefthander with the Triple A Rochester Red Wings: "We give all the players gas money, and we give him covered wagon money."