NO LAUGHING MATTER
Members of the Baseball Writers Association will be voting for, and possibly electing, new members of the Hall of Fame during the next few weeks. High on the list of eligibles is Ralph Kiner. His credentials—National League leader in home runs for seven straight years while playing half his games in Pittsburgh's cavernous Forbes Field—are impressive, but not a bit more so than those of Ernie Lombardi, who despite 17 mostly brilliant seasons has failed to generate much enthusiasm among the writers. One wonders sometimes what the criteria are.
Lombardi often was described as lumbering, which may be why he has been slow getting support. Butts of jokes do not make the Hall of Fame. Opponents hardly considered Lombardi a clown, however. Knowing he was one of the slowest men ever to run up a first-base path but one of the hardest hitters the game has seen, infielders played him partway into the outfield. But there was no stopping him. He won the batting crown twice, with .342 in 1938 and .330 in 1942. He batted over .300 10 times—only Bill Dickey among the 10 Hall of Fame catchers did better, with 11—and had a lifetime average of .306, third best among modern Hall of Fame catchers. In all the statistics having to do with hitting and catching, only Gabby Hartnett, Dickey and Yogi Berra topped Lombardi, who was 6'3" and 230 pounds in an era when a 180-pounder was considered large. Another of his accomplishments was that he rarely struck out—six times in 1935, 11 in 1943 and 1945, 12 in 1942. Known as Schnozz for his outsized nose, Ernie spent most of his playing days with Cincinnati. Funny he was and sad it is that he has had few advocates.
Sandy Allen of Shelbyville, Ind. is 19, weighs 421 pounds, wears size 16EEE shoes, likes basketball and volleyball and, oh yes, stands 7'5�" tall. Sandy is a she, the world's tallest woman, to be precise. Her playing has been limited somewhat by a bum knee that has been operated on, but her humor is intact. Introduced to pro basketball players George McGinnis (6'8") and Mel Daniels (6'9") recently, she said, "They seemed sort of short to me."
This has been a hard year on pro basketball players. When the Knicks' Bill Bradley, who had played in 200 consecutive regular-season and 45 playoff games, was forced out of the lineup several weeks ago, he was the 44th player to have missed at least one game this season because of illness or injury.
Roughness in all basketball has been on the increase. ABA Commissioner Tedd Munchak became so angered that he fired off a memorandum to the ABA clubs warning that detrimental conduct would be punishable "by fine, suspension, or both to the limits, at my discretion, not to exceed $25,000." Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has resorted to goggles to forestall further scratching of his retina. Eye injuries have become so common, in fact, that soon everybody may be wearing some sort of protective device, perhaps soft, uncorrected contact lenses.
But it is not just rough play that is responsible for the mass trauma. Dr. Martin E. Blazina, director of Clinical Research of the National Athletic Health Institute of Inglewood, Calif., believes that the nature of the game itself is at fault. Endless seasons, protracted athletic careers and intensive conditioning and training techniques take their toll, he says. The repetitive movements demanded by the sport, including running, jumping and sudden starting and stopping on unyielding surfaces, are contributing to three major injuries—jumper's knee, Achilles tendinitis and fatigue fracture of the tibia.
Jumper's knee is a kind of tendinitis that if untreated can cause a catastrophic rupture of the knee mechanism, necessitating surgery. Operations are not always successful. Rupture of the Achilles tendon often occurs after a player has suffered prolonged pain and discomfort. Surgery is required here, too, and about a third of the operated cases Dr. Blazina studied were unable to return to basketball. Most problems with the tibia—the large bone in the leg—have been thought to be shin splints, Dr. Blazina says. Rest, arch supports and physical therapy are the best treatment.
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH...