Stuck into a lampshade in the hotel suite was a Chicago Cubs pennant, still stiff and new. Lined up along the mantel were four baseball caps—two Pirates, one Mets, one Cubs—and a new baseball freshly covered with Pirate autographs. Three of the signatures on the ball were those of Panamanians. None of them was that of Roberto Duran, who is a 135-pound shortstop.
The souvenirs had been collected at a Pirate-Met game in New York by Carlos Eleta, the multimillionaire Panamanian sportsman who manages Duran, who is a baseball nut in addition to being the lightweight champion of the world. When he isn't fighting, Duran is playing ball on the sandlots of Panama—that is, until Eleta catches him at it.
The fighter and the manager had stopped over in New York to pick up $100,000, which is what Duran was paid after defeating Adolfo Viruet last week in a non-title bout at Madison Square Garden. Shortstop salaries do not run to $3,333.33 a minute, and that is the crux of Eleta's argument.
"Not that I do not understand Duran's love of baseball," he says. "I, too, am a very faithful fan. But no more than two weeks ago I caught Roberto playing ball. I think he would rather be a shortstop than a fighter. It's his hands. They are hands of stone for boxing, but baseball is different. He could break his fingers, a wrist. When I speak to him, he listens to me. For a while."
Even though he listens, Duran occasionally fails to get the message. Several months ago Eleta was in Boston on business and Duran telephoned from Panama. The fighter had just had a call from General Omar Torrijos, the President of Panama, who was visiting Cuba. Fidel Castro wanted very much to meet Duran. "I told him to go ahead," Eleta said, "but I warned him, as I always do, not to get involved in politics. I told him to be careful of what he said."
Pledging to be discreet, Duran flew to Havana, where all went smoothly—at first. And then Castro mentioned Teofilo Stevenson, the Cuban two-time Olympic heavyweight champion. "What would you think of a fight between Stevenson and Muhammad Ali for the world title?" Castro asked.
The question didn't sound political to Duran. "Don't be crazy," he said. " Ali would kill him."
"Adios" Fidel said.
A former ambassador to Spain, Eleta knows the art of diplomacy. Still, he delights in Duran's frankness and honesty. The pair have never had a contract. Duran has had several offers to switch managers, one of them for $200,000. He has rejected them all.
"That Duran," Eleta says, "he's something, isn't he?"