SI Vault
Edited by Robert W. Creamer
February 14, 1972
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February 14, 1972


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It was all part of a serious examination into the effects of alcohol on highway safety (the tests were filmed for distribution to schools and other interested groups). Baker, Langley, Castles and Allen maneuvered their vehicles through a trail lined with traffic cones, first sober and then after drinking carefully measured amounts of alcohol. Sober, the racing drivers took the course easily, although Allen, the nonpro, knocked over 74 of the cones. After two or three drinks—or enough to make them half drunk (about .05% blood alcohol)—they did about the same but, significantly, drove more slowly. After another belt or two to raise their blood alcohol to .10%, at which level they were considered under the influence by North Carolina legal definition, their performances deteriorated markedly. Langley, who had had six drinks, drove through the cones as though they were not there, almost as though he were saying cheerfully, "Obstacle course? What obstacle course?" Castles, too, scattered cones right and left, and Baker did as poorly. It was, to be paradoxical, a sobering experience for the drivers. "I can't imagine me driving a car when I feel like I do now," said Baker. "I never drive when I feel like this. Never."


Ted Williams lost a batting title because he was walked so often he did not get enough at bats to qualify. Because of this injustice the rule was changed, and plate appearances, not at bats, became the qualifying criterion.

The National Basketball Association has a chance to outdo that statistical incongruity—not once, but twice. Wilt Chamberlain has much the best shooting percentage in the league but has taken comparatively few shots at the basket. League rules say a player must attempt a minimum number of shots to be eligible for consideration as the shooting-percentage leader. In the statistics that are released each week, Chamberlain's attempts continually flirt with the minimum, and a few weeks ago, when his .639 percentage was far ahead of the runner-up, he had taken too few shots and was thus officially considered a nonperson. Yet he would still have had the best percentage in the league if he had gone out and missed all the shots he needed to qualify.

And there is Jerry West, who last week had not played often enough to be eligible for the assists leadership. The recognized leader, Nate Archibald of Cincinnati, had a 9.1 average, based on 437 assists in 48 games. West had a 9.6 average, but in 46 games—one less than the required minimum. However, West had 442 assists, which means he would have had a better average even if he had played as many games as his rival. According to NBA logic, if West had squeezed in two more games in which he made no assists at all, those nonproductive performances would have lifted him into the league lead.

Lewis Carroll would have loved this Alice in Wonderland arithmetic. He might even have suggested that a couple of mythical games be played in which West would feed only Chamberlain, who would shoot wild, thus allowing excellence to be recognized.

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