THE MAN WHO WON THE WEST
Walter O'Malley, who died last week at 75, may have been the shrewdest owner baseball ever had, but he was not the most popular, largely a result of his decision to move the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1958. O'Malley transplanted a colorful club that had been successful on the field and at the gate, and Brooklyn fans never forgave him. But Ebbets Field's loss was the West's gain. Until O'Malley moved—and persuaded Horace Stoneham and the New York Giants to go to California with him—there was no major league team west of Kansas City; today there are eight.
O'Malley was a step ahead of the parade. He knew how to sell his product, and he made the Los Angeles Dodgers a model franchise. He built Dodger Stadium, an immaculate showplace with fine vistas, good parking and courteous ushers. And despite the reputation for avarice that the westward move gave him, his club held the line on ticket prices for 18 years; though prices finally were raised two years ago, the Dodgers' scale—$1 to $4.50—is still the lowest in baseball. And O'Malley gave Los Angeles fans their money's worth. The Dodgers have won seven National League pennants and three world championships on the West Coast. No wonder they've drawn fans in droves; last season they became the first team to surpass three million in attendance.
O'Malley dominated the inner councils of baseball, and it was probably a good thing that he did. Most owners treat their teams as toys, or as investments that fit in nicely with their tax setups. But baseball was O'Malley's only business and he worked like hell at it. The Dodger boss was also an avid poker player and orchid grower. In addition, he had the rare ability to enjoy golf without taking it all that seriously. He built two golf courses at the Dodgers' spring training compound in Vero Beach, Fla. and one day, on a whim, he played a round polo-style, swinging at the ball while riding in a golf cart. One of the courses included an almost unheard-of par-6 hole. "I wanted a par 6, and since it's my course and my money, I had the thing built," O'Malley said. "Oh, it drives people crazy. They say, 'What idiot built this thing?' I just laugh."
Muhammad Ali saw Rocky II at a private screening in Los Angeles the other day, and Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times' movie critic, was there to record his reactions. When Sylvester Stallone, playing Rocky Balboa, was shown chasing chickens as a way of improving his footwork, Ali said, "You don't see chickens at training camps anymore, except on the table." At the sight of Rocky lifting weights, Ali recoiled in horror. "The worst thing a boxer can do," he said. "It tightens the muscles." Nor was the ex-champion particularly impressed by Stallone's overall impersonation of a prizefighter. "A real boxer can see Stallone's not a boxer," he scoffed. "He's not pronfessional, doesn't have the moves."
Ali also found fault with Rocky's trainer, Mickey, played by Burgess Meredith. When Mickey suddenly decided to have Rocky lead with his right instead of his left, Ali protested that such a fundamental change in style can't be brought about so quickly. He also complained about the fact that Mickey frequently had to urge Rocky to jab ("If you don't want to jab, what are you doing being a fighter?") and that the trainer spent so much time during the movie screaming at his man ("Shouting at the fighter like that makes him look like an animal, like a horse to be trained"). And during the fight, when Rocky's eyes become badly swollen, Ali said, "In a real fight they would never allow the eyes to be closed that much and let the fight keep going. They would stop it."
So Muhammad Ali hated Rocky II—right? Wrong. When the lights went on, he gushed, "A great movie, a big hit. It had all the ingredients: love, violence, emotion." The movie also had a moment during which Apollo Creed, a character unabashedly based on Ali, taunted Rocky by saying, "I'll destroy you! I am the master of disaster." Watching that particular scene, Ali said wistfully, " 'Master of disaster.' I like that. I wish I'd thought of that."
THE WOOING OF JOHNNY HECTOR
Considered one of the best high school running backs ever to play in Louisiana, Johnny Hector was coveted by Notre Dame, Ohio State and a host of other college football powers. He was coveted too intensely, it seems, in at least one instance. In trying to "help" Hector make up his mind, a would-be recruiter apparently sought to exploit troubles that Hector's older brother, William, has had with the law.