There was a time when "Made in Japan" was the mark of a bush-league product, but Sony and Nikon changed all that and now it looks like a new baseball, manufactured by Japan's largest sporting-goods firm, may be big-league equipment. The ball has a wool, rubber and cork interior similar to regulation balls but is covered with artificial horse-hide instead of the real thing.
In official tests conducted by the Japanese Baseball Commissioner's office the ball, called the Hitelac, has satisfied weight, size and bounce regulations. At present it is being used only by minor league clubs, but there is an excellent chance it will be approved for use in Japan's major league games next season, because it is cheaper than the horsehide ball ($1.16 compared to $1.40) and lasts twice as long. Teams use an average of five dozen balls in each game, so the new ball would constitute a considerable saving. The manufacturer says that when the ball is put into mass production it will be even more economical, costing $1 or less.
Apparently there is only one flaw in the Hitelac. Pitchers find its cover a bit too slippery for good control. The manufacturer is now experimenting with rougher surfaces and expects to lick the problem in a month or two. If he doesn't, perhaps the pitchers can.
Television networks have become terribly defensive—with good reason—about their increasing tendency to take over sports and schedule things to suit their cameras, so ABC decided it could only be cute and hope for the best when it formally announced last week that it had yanked the Syracuse-Penn State game out of its comfortable October date and thrust it into snowbound December. "Television can't be blamed for everything," began an ABC release. "The main reason the Syracuse-Penn State game is now scheduled for December 7 instead of October 19 is that Sue Paterno, wife of Joe Paterno, Penn State coach, is going to have a baby some time in October." The release went on to explain that Mrs. Paterno had called Roone Arledge, the president of ABC Sports, and told him to change the game to December 7 because doctors predicted her baby would be born on October 19 and she didn't want to miss the Penn State-Syracuse game. It's her favorite contest each season. Arledge reportedly agreed, and the release quotes Mrs. Paterno as saying: "You see, the sports-writers cannot blame television for this."
The depth of ABC's tongue in cheek was, of course, confirmed by Syracuse sports information man Larry Kimball. "As far as the baby's concerned, that's a lot of nonsense," he said. " ABC had something scheduled for October 19 [four regional games—Northwestern- Ohio State, North Texas State- Tulsa, Alabama-Tennessee and Utah-Wyoming], and they had nothing on December 7. So they switched it."
Sue Paterno laughingly points out that the date of the Penn State-Syracuse game was actually changed by the network before anyone knew she was pregnant. "It's all a joke," she says.
It's a real knee-slapper, all right, and we have one of our own. Here it is, the afternoon of December 7 in University Park, Pa., where Joe Paterno's undefeated Penn State team, ranked No. 1 in the country, need only defeat Syracuse to win its first national championship. The temperature is 20�, thick snow swirls across the field and the vaunted Penn State running attack grinds to a halt as Syracuse wins 6-0 in the upset of the year.
Don't look so worried, Joe. It's all a joke.