World Team Tennis was a revolutionary enough idea when it was thrust upon the venerable game three years ago. Now a newer and stranger wrinkle is in the works. The group that owns the new Pennsylvania franchise (called, for the moment, the Keystones) has negotiated a deal with the Soviet Union that would turn the Keystones into an all-Soviet team. Professor Semyon Belits-Geiman, vice-president of the U.S.S.R. Lawn Tennis Federation, says that Moscow was willing, apparently as long as the price was right. The team will consist of the top six Soviet players and will compete in a regular 44-match WTT schedule.
The Soviets will not use the name Keystones and, in the interest of detente, will not call any one American city home, although Moscow, Idaho has already been suggested. John Korff, the American who will be general manager of the team, is now trying to come up with a name. Belits-Geiman, obviously unfamiliar with the limitations of American headline writers, suggests The Soviet Union World Team Tennis Team. We don't know. An instant name-that-team contest at last week's U.S. Pro Indoor Tournament in Philadelphia turned up the Russian Roulettes, the Molotov Cocktails and The Really Big Red Machine. But so far, the front-runner is the Nyets.
A plaintive letter from Barney Lahey of Findlay, Ohio says, "I continue watching those commercials where Marv Thornbury [sic] says if he does for Lite Beer what he did for baseball their sales might fall. But what did he do for baseball and when?"
Oh, dear. One forgets what a provincial town New York is. Most big advertising agencies are in New York and, not being able to see beyond the Hudson River (sometimes not even knowing exactly where the Hudson River is), the people who create the commercials tend to assume that folks all across the country are fascinated by the same things that fascinate New Yorkers—like the New York Mets. And especially the original Mets, the 1962 team that under the inspired public relations genius of Casey Stengel won the interest and affection of the most sophisticated city in the world (ask any adman) while losing more games than any other modern major league team.
Marv Throneberry (it may sound like Thornbury, the way Marv says it, and that's what Casey always called him, but it's Throneberry) played first base on that team. He played it imaginatively—he tied for most errors in the league with Dick Stuart (whose fielding was so inconclusive that he was called Dr. Strangeglove), even though he had fewer fielding chances than Stuart. Rather than deriding Throneberry, the Met crowd, a masochistic lot, grew to love him. They couldn't help it; he seemed so nice. One day some fans raised a banner that read "Marvelous Marv," and Throneberry was famous. It was as easy as that.
Marv wasn't much of a hitter, either, although he had power. He hit 16 homers in 1962, second best on the Mets. When he broke into the majors in 1958 with the Yankees, who were then in the middle of winning 14 pennants in 16 years, Throneberry was considered a potential star. But like his older brother Faye, a promising rookie with the Red Sox a few years earlier, he couldn't quite cut it. Marv was traded to Kansas City and then to Baltimore before landing with the Mets for his one season of dubious glory. He had only 14 at bats the next year and then slid down to oblivion, where Lite Beer found him.
The odd thing, the paradox, about the television commercial is that while Marv did not do much for baseball as an art, he sure helped it as a business. Met sales went up.
EASTERN SCHOOL FOR BOYS
Gladys Heldman, founder of World Tennis magazine and willing dispenser of advice on all tennis matters, deplores, as so many tennis people do, the on-court behavior of Ilie Nastase but thinks she has the answer for it.