Boris Spassky seems to have become something of a nonperson in the Soviet Union since his defeat by Bobby Fischer. He was supposed to appear at an international chess tournament on Majorca in December but did not show. No explanation was given, but an article in Pravda criticized Spassky for his performance against Fischer, saying, "He made vexatious miscalculations of both a practical and theoretical nature." One European chess expert suggests that even though the Russians realized ahead of time that a Spassky defeat was likely, even probable, when it "became reality they found it too bitter a pill to swallow."
So long, Boris. And hello, Oscar Alejandro Mass of Juarez, Mexico, who made a deep impression on chessophiles recently when he lost four straight games. When he lost? Yes. Oscar is only seven and his opponents were as much as 50 years older. Bent Larsen, the Danish grand master, calls him brilliant and predicts a great future. His teacher, Filberto Terrazas, explained the defeats by pointing out, "He is a little innocent of the traps."
New York City also has a prodigy, even younger than Oscar, in 5-year-old Robert LeDonne, whose talents, according to Shelby Lyman, the TV chess commentator, are extraordinary. Lyman compared him to Paul Morphy, Jose Capablanca and Samuel Reshevsky, all of whom were world-class players before they were in their teens.
Well, now. How soon shall we see the first Mass-LeDonne match? And where will it be held? Juarez? New York? Reykjavik?
Some NFL insiders say that the Houston Oilers fumbled their No. 1 pick in last week's draft. The Baltimore Colts (page 20) desperately wanted LSU Quarterback Bert Jones, and they mentioned Bubba Smith to the Oilers in exchange for the right to draft first. But when the Oilers held out for more, the Colts traded Defensive Lineman Billy Newsome, a durable player but no Bubba, to New Orleans for the second pick on the first round.
That left the Oilers in a quandary. If they took Jones, they would have three young and possibly unhappy quarterbacks—Jones, Dan Pastorini and Lynn Dickey—with 25 clubs waiting for one to be discarded sometime next August or September. Houston's indecision was obvious when the actual drafting began. Instead of announcing the No. 1 pick immediately, as is customary, Coach Bill Peterson fidgeted for more than half of the allotted 15 minutes before naming Defensive Tackle John Matuszak of Tampa. Scouts strongly doubt that Matuszak is any Bubba Smith. The Colts, drafting next, got the man they wanted, Bert Jones.
The controversial designated-pinch-hitter idea is no Johnny-come-lately. According to Fred Lieb, 82, the noted baseball historian who writes a column in the St. Petersburg Times, such a rule change was first proposed in the winter of 1929, and the man who conceived it was John Arnold Heydler, then president of the National League.
Lieb quotes Heydler as explaining: "My thought in offering this rule change is to make baseball a better and livelier game. As far back as my years as an NL umpire, I used to think that one of the dullest things in baseball was a team having a good batting rally stopped by the pitcher coming up with one or two out. So often he strikes out or hits into a double play."