Graham had just spent an afternoon watching Rice outdrive him by an average of 60 yards during the pro-celebrity prelude to last week's $225,000 Pleasant Valley tournament in Sutton, Mass. Rice shot a 79 (he has a 10 handicap), pretty respectable for a man who has played golf only a year and a half. But his driving!
"He hits the ball as far as you have heard, read or can even imagine," says Red Sox announcer Ken Harrelson, who tried for three years to join the PGA Tour and is still a low-handicap golfer. "I've seen him hit it over 400 yards any number of times. Take Jimmy Rice's average drive and take Jack Nicklaus', and Jim's out 60, 80 yards ahead of Nicklaus. I have played with all the long hitters in the world. Rice is the longest hitter I've ever seen."
Tales of Rice's strength are becoming legendary. Joe Garagiola claims to have seen him drive a golf ball 200 yards with a baseball bat. Harrelson saw him break a specially constructed driver, with a shaft as thick as his thumb, simply by generating tremendous club-head speed. All that's needed to complete the Paul Bunyan image is for someone to give Rice a blue ox named Babe—though come to think of it, no one would know if it had been named after Mr. Ruth or Miss Didrikson.
THE KING CORPORATION
Standard Oil and IBM, move over. Gordon King, a rookie offensive lineman for the New York Giants, wants to join the ranks of corporate giants. King and his attorney, Leigh Steinberg, have received the green light from the Giants to approach the NFL for approval of their plan to incorporate King.
Steinberg believes that incorporation—a common practice for doctors, lawyers and other well-paid non-athletes—is the best solution to the harsh taxation and financial uncertainties that face athletes signing multiyear contracts. At least 15 NBA players and many more pro hockey players have already incorporated themselves. Yet despite the absence of major problems with incorporation in the NBA and NHL, the NFL denied a request from the Colts' Don McCauley in 1977 to incorporate. "Pro football has taken the stance that you may not be able to discipline a corporation or assign the contract of a corporation," Steinberg says. "But a player can sign a form guaranteeing that he will accept these matters in the same manner as other players." Such a form is used in the NBA and NHL.
Jay Moyer, counsel to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, says the league worries that if the IRS finds player incorporation "to be a sham to evade taxes, the club would be liable not only for the income taxes it should have withheld, but for a 100% penalty besides."
Steinberg says an underlying reason for NFL opposition may be that it will cost teams more money if players stop deferring salaries and incorporate as a means to ensure long-term financial security. Although many athletes now opt for deferred contracts, Steinberg sees two problems with deferment: the owner holds the money and benefits from the interest that accrues, and inflation makes it worth less when the player finally gets his hands on it.
One apparent disadvantage to incorporation is that King, or any other incorporated player, might have to drop out of the NFL pension program for which a player becomes eligible after four seasons. If a player begins taking his pension at age 55, every month he gets $110 for each year he was active. But that will be ho great loss to King. As a corporation, he could put up to 25% of his yearly earnings in a tax-free pension plan of his own. Steinberg calculates that if for 10 years King annually puts $25,000 into a pension plan that yields 8% interest, at 55 he will have $2.4 million in the bank.
Steinberg plans to huddle with Rozelle soon, but right now King's incorporation is facing a third-and-long situation.