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IN OUT OF THE COLD
Now that it is all over and Henry Aaron is soaring off into uncharted space, the question arises, why did the ruckus over where Aaron should try for the equalizer and the tie breaker occur in the first place? Apparently the Braves gambled that Henry would not be making history in the opening week of the season and passed up the chance to start off with a long home stand in Atlanta. But the 1974 NL schedule was drawn up in midsummer last year when Aaron was still considerably behind the Babe's historic mark. The Braves were thinking it would be the second or third series this year before Henry neared Ruth's record. Then Aaron got into the wondrous hot streak that almost took him past the Babe before the 1973 season ended.
"It would have been a simple adjustment to reschedule the Braves into Atlanta," says Fred Fleig, the league's secretary in charge of scheduling. "And we could have let the Reds open the season at home, as they always do, against anybody—Montreal, for instance. But nobody brought it up. Not the Braves, not the commissioner."
Pity. Think of the people who would have been spared the embarrassment of wiping egg off their faces even as the Expos were wiping snow off their shoulders in Montreal. Because of the raw weather, the Expos never did get in a lick against the Cubs in their postponed two-game series and Charles Bronfman, chairman of the board, vowed never again to accept a schedule that called for playing at home before April 15.
Last week Cincinnati Manager Sparky Anderson said he would extend Bronfman's ban to all cold-weather cities in the National League. "Except for our traditional opener at home, there is no reason at all why we shouldn't play the first couple of weeks in Atlanta, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco," he said, adding that the season opens too early, anyway, and that there are too many off days through the first month. The Reds, for instance, have seven open dates in April and only 20 more through the rest of the season. "We don't need that many days off in April," he said. "The players are in shape and the hot weather hasn't hit yet."
There would be at least one problem. The league—the American, too—probably would have to abandon compartmentalizing the schedule neatly into intradivision and interdivision sections in the early part of the season, but that has always been somewhat of an artificial device that has gone unnoticed by the fans it was supposed to interest most. And losing the perfect symmetry of the schedule is a sacrifice almost anybody who has ever sat huddled under Hudson's Bay blankets at a season's opener in Minneapolis or Milwaukee or Chicago will gladly make, Henry Aaron included.
As the saying goes, it comes as no surprise in this corner that football is dangerous. It does, however, come as a distinct surprise to learn how dangerous football really is. Two researchers at the University of North Carolina, Carl S. Blyth and Frederick O. Mueller, followed the careers of 8,776 players at 43 North Carolina high schools through four seasons and discovered that 4,287, or almost half, sustained injuries either in practice or games.
The researchers, both with doctorates in physical education, concluded, not surprisingly, that the most frequent injuries are to knee, ankle, head or neck. More surprising was when most injuries occur: in September during practice and in the second quarter of a game. The player running a maximum risk is an experienced senior in a small school coached by a young man who never played college football. Three out of 10 injuries were the result of a blow from a piece of equipment, and the helmet, causing 38.8% of those injuries, was the main culprit. Next most dangerous were shoes and shoulder pads.
Drs. Blyth and Mueller saw a need for safer equipment—primarily softer internal padding for helmets and shoulder pads—and a more stringent enforcement of the rules already on the books. Deaths will never be eliminated in a hard body-contact sport like football, they said, but they can be sharply reduced by "well-trained coaches, better supervision and safety-minded game officials."