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In his just-published memoir, White House Years, Henry Kissinger tells of the day in 1970 that he saw photos taken from U-2 reconnaissance planes of a submarine base under construction on Cayo Alcatraz, an island off Cuba's southern coast. A soccer field was visible in the photos, and Kissinger writes, "In my eyes this stamped it indelibly as a Russian base, since as an old soccer fan I knew Cubans played no soccer."
Kissinger slights Cuban soccer. The Asociaci�n de F�tbol de Cuba was founded in 1924 and in the 1930s soccer was so popular among Cubans on Sunday afternoons that winter-league baseball games had to be played in the mornings to avoid conflicts. In 1934 Cuba defeated Haiti in a World Cup qualifying tournament before being eliminated by Mexico, and four years later made it to the final eight of the World Cup in France. Although the sport declined slightly in popularity in the '50s, it revived after Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959. Cuba has entered all World Cup qualifying tournaments since the early '60s and now has 70 organized teams, whose best players are selected for the country's blue-and-white-clad national team. At the time Kissinger was studying the U-2 photos, there were dozens of soccer fields in Cuba.
Apprised of his error last week by SI, Kissinger replied that he was glad nobody pointed it out to him in 1970. Though he reached the conclusion for the wrong reasons, the submarine base indeed turned out to be Russian and, under U.S. pressure, construction was halted. Of Cuba's rich soccer tradition, Kissinger says, "If I knew in 1970 what I know in 1979, there might be a nuclear submarine base in Cuba today."
A NEW BALLY GAME
Bowie Kuhn has benched Willie Mays. The commissioner ruled last week that Mays would have to quit as goodwill ambassador and part-time coach of the New York Mets because he planned to sign a 10-year promotional contract—"to visit hospitals and to take part in golf programs," said Mays—with Bally Manufacturing Corporation, which is opening a casino in Atlantic City this month. In acting in baseball's "best interests," Kuhn ignored the fact that gambling is just as legal in Atlantic City casinos as it is in horse racing, in which a number of prominent baseball figures, including Pirate owner John Galbreath and the late Joan Payson, who brought Mays to the Mets, have been deeply involved. Kuhn also ignored the fact that ballplayers appear in celebrity golf tournaments sponsored by casinos.
Kuhn has the unquestioned authority—and the duty—to protect baseball's integrity. While affiliations with gambling interests are a legitimate area of concern, it is hard to see how the mere signing of a promotional tie-in with Bally besmirches the game any more than the aforementioned activities about which Kuhn does nothing. In banishing Mays, the commissioner is being both inconsistent and overzealous.
Cecil Fernandez was a legend in the Florida prison system, a hard-hitting, superbly conditioned 125-pounder who logged close to 200 fights against other inmates and won virtually all of them, including several knockouts of heavyweights. After serving 12 years for armed robbery and rape, "The Rock," as he was known, was paroled 18 months ago. Persuading local politicians to provide the necessary materials, he constructed a ring beneath an expressway in northwest Miami, where he helped train younger boxers. And where, at 33, he himself began preparing for a belated pro career.
Fernandez won his first professional fight and went looking for victory No. 2 on Oct. 19 in Georgetown, Guyana against Patrick Ford, a Guyana native and the WBC's eighth-ranked featherweight. It was a fierce battle in sweltering heat and Fernandez was knocked down in the opening round. But he got in some licks against the 24-year-old Ford, too—a cut above Ford's eye required four stitches—and he appeared to get stronger as the fight wore on. The ninth was Fernandez' best round. He came out with a flurry in the 10th and final round. Then, stepping back from a clinch, he collapsed, apparently without having been struck. Ford was awarded a TKO as Fernandez sank into a coma.
Forty-eight hours later Fernandez was transferred from a Georgetown hospital to one in Miami, where his family stood vigil. His mother revealed that she had urged him to quit boxing only a week before the fight but that he had refused, with the explanation that he intended to be world champion. That goal eluded him. Last Wednesday morning the Rock died of a brain injury he had suffered in the fight in Guyana.