SI Vault
August 10, 1959
The Death of Jean Behra
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August 10, 1959

Events & Discoveries

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Meeks refused the "easy money," he said, but did agree to keep an eye on the Chattanooga shortstop's risings and bendings in case they might help him signal Mobile batters what to expect. He did not report the conversation, he said, because he did not want to spoil a tip that might help his team win. After all, wasn't winning the most important thing? A Mobile batter who admitted testing the supposed system in one game said that it didn't work.

In mid-June Meeks was released by Mobile and signed by Chattanooga. Now he had some deep thinking to do. He decided to tell of his conversations with Levan. Meeks informed the Chattanooga catcher. The catcher told the manager. The manager told the club president. The club president told the league president. The league president told Trautman.

Two other Chattanooga players testified that Levan had tried to bribe them. Both were pitchers, and Levan had asked them to throw easy-to-hit pitches. Levan was called in and confronted with all this. He insisted, "I've never accepted a bribe or a fix." He said he would appeal the lifetime ban: "I feel my punishment is too severe." Gonzalez denied intentional sign-tipping but was suspended for his lack of cooperation during Trautman's investigation.

One of the pitchers who had been asked to throw easy-to-hit pitches, Tom McAvoy, said he thought Levan was joking. The other, Jim Heise, took it more seriously but didn't turn Levan in because he was "a friend." Jim Heise, and baseball itself, needs no friends on those terms.

After Hannibal

It was a happy elephant that stood swigging a fiasco of Chianti in the warm Italian sunshine one day last week, the center of the uproar swirling around her. Fire hoses gushed high in the air, brass bands tootled and children cheered. After 10 days and 150 miles on the road, the British Alpine Hannibal Expedition had led an elephant named Jumbo out of France, over the towering Alps and into the town of Susa. And what made it truly remarkable, Jumbo was the first elephant to come that way in 2,177 years.

Not that Jumbo was exactly a 100% heroine. When she set out from Montm�lian, France the week before, her objective (and that of her caretakers) was to cross the Alps over an 8,200-foot pass called Col du Clapier. The pass, in the controversial opinion of John Hoyte, an English amateur historian, is probably the one used by Hannibal, who invaded Italy in 218 B.C. with 45,000 men and 37 elephants. And Hoyte borrowed Jumbo from the Turin Zoo for a practical test of this thesis. Unfortunately, after the first week's march up the beautiful winding roads of the French Alps (at Jumbo's steady 15-mph pace) things stopped going according to Hoyte. Leaving Jumbo five miles from and 2,000 feet below Col du Clapier, Ernesto Gobold, the elephant's trainer from Turin, scouted the pass and reported it partially closed by rock slides. "There are two or three places too narrow for Jumbo," he told Hoyte. Too narrow, he said, even though his elephant had lost some 300 pounds since the caravan left Montm�lian. Too narrow, indeed, even though a few days before three stone masons had mounted the summit of Clapier and carved into the rock a likeness of Jumbo and a premature inscription commemorating her historic passage.

It seemed un-British to turn back altogether. Instead Hoyte, Gobold and others in the party decided to use another pass which, while it would supply no proof for Hoyte's theory, would at least afford an access to Turin, Jumbo's destination. The pass chosen was the 6,800-foot Col du Mont Cenis (used by Napoleon, sans elephants, whenever he felt like invading Italy), and two days later Jumbo marched triumphantly up and over.

By now the scientific expedition had taken on the proportions of a small circus. Jumbo did tricks for photographers as she descended into Italy, and at the Italian frontier she presented a foot-square passport which listed, in the space for Special Peculiarities, "Long nose and partiality for pears."

Later that day Jumbo was in Susa, drinking her fill of Italian wine and having, it appeared, the time of her 11-year life. And there, perhaps, she came to understand the full import of the words addressed to her ancestors by Hannibal 22 centuries before from the top of the Alps: "We now surmount not only the ramparts of Italy but also of the city of Rome; all the rest is smooth and downhill."

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