SI Vault
 
Fighting the Dollar Spot
Douglas S. Looney
July 26, 1976
THE HALL OF FAME HAD FADED, AND ITS CREATOR, JIMMY VAN ALEN, WAS NOT FEELING VERY FLUSH, SO HE SENT OVER TO FRANCE FOR SOME GOLDEN OLDIES TO ENSHRINE
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 26, 1976

Fighting The Dollar Spot

THE HALL OF FAME HAD FADED, AND ITS CREATOR, JIMMY VAN ALEN, WAS NOT FEELING VERY FLUSH, SO HE SENT OVER TO FRANCE FOR SOME GOLDEN OLDIES TO ENSHRINE

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

Also inducted into the Hall was American Dick Savitt, who won Wimbledon in 1951 by making up for his slowness afoot with a big serve and textbook ground strokes, and the late Mabel Cahill, the U.S. Women's Singles champ in 1891 and 1892. Savitt was at Newport, hanging around in the shadows of the hoopla surrounding the Frenchmen. But at that he fared better than Cahill, whose name wasn't even read off. Ninety-one people have been enshrined.

If the appearance of the Four Musketeers was a symbolic and nostalgic boost, there was some hard-nosed business, too. Bob Briner, a member of the Hall's board and executive director of the Association of Tennis Professionals, insisted that the pros are anxious to do things to help the Hall, including giving clinics and exhibitions. Briner parted with a few ATP dollars. Why have the professionals been uncooperative in the past? "Nobody has asked us," said Briner. Hall of Fame officials say they asked but that nobody answered.

Additionally, a move is under way for another group dedicated to promoting the sport. The National Tennis Foundation, to merge with the Hall this fall, possibly enlarging its board and getting a full-scale fund-raising operation launched. The Hall started a $1.7 million campaign two years ago but has managed to collect only about $250,000; this year, depending on contributions, the Hall could operate in the red by as little as $36,000.

The museum section of the Hall is undeveloped and last year had only 5,000 visitors. If it were in New York, which it should never be, that many people would drop in simply by mistake. Still, the museum is growing. William Clay Ford gave $50,000 to establish two intercollegiate rooms, partly because he remembers with fondness his days at Yale. There was also a substantial contribution by the Davis family for the Davis Cup room, to be dedicated later this month. The U.S. Tennis Association has stayed away from much involvement in the Hall, feeling that it is Jimmy Van Alen's fiefdom.

For Van Alen the Hall of Fame is important, but for 20 years his main squeeze, the cornerstone of his life, has been VASSS—the Van Alen Simplified Scoring System. Basically, instead of scoring tennis love-15-30-40-game ("Any game in which love is nothing is cockeyed," he says), VASSS has it 0-1-2-3-4, and a player can win a game by only one point instead of the conventional two. In the event a set is tied at 5-5 or 6-6, a nine-point tie breaker is played. Major tournaments have used the tie-breaker concept, including Forest Hills and World Team Tennis, and little credit is given to Jimmy—which frosts him good. The VASSS scoring (it often is called half-VASSS by critics) speeds up matches and makes their duration fairly constant, which makes scheduling much easier.

Van Alen's main defeat was his attempt to breed the English robin in this country because of its sweet voice. He spent $20,000 over three years but "the damn things kept turning their toes up." He thinks part of the problem was the climate; the other was that it was impossible to tell the male from the female (he gave them to friends as pairs to be mated) until a worm was passed between them, male to female. "I just didn't have enough time to sit around waiting for worms to be passed," he says.

Television commentator and writer Bud Collins once quoted a player as saying that Jimmy should "borrow the Liberty Bell, because it and Jimmy would make a great couple—they're both cracked." A Van Alen friend suggests, "It's better to be a character than not to have any." Jimmy is, and has.

1 2