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THE OLD LAUGHINGSTOCK GAMBIT
Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts fears that the rest of the country is "looking down on" his state. Norman Schute, a retired Foreign Service officer in San Diego, worries that his city has become "the laughingstock of the nation." The source of Tsongas's concern is Boston Garden, home of the Celtics and Bruins. Schute's chauvinistic anxieties are aroused by San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, home of the Padres and Chargers. Or, rather, they're aroused by the name of that facility.
What got Tsongas to thinking that folks are sneering at the Bay State was the NBA championship series in June between the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. "I felt a sense of shame that all around the country people were looking down on us, watching the games in the Garden being played in 97 degrees and people feeling that Boston was still back in the '50s," Tsongas said. The Democratic senator seized the opportunity to revive a proposal for construction of a publicly funded, air-conditioned arena to replace the privately owned Garden, where the only air that circulates comes through a few open doors. The idea of a new arena offends many fans, who like the Garden's sight lines and coziness, consider the 56-year-old building one of the shrines of sport, and oppose the expenditure of tax money on a new sports palace. They respectfully suggest that if Tsongas thinks conditions were too stifling in the Garden during the playoffs, he ought to ask the NBA why it's still playing basketball in June.
The specific cause of Schute's distress is the reference to Jack Murphy in the local stadium's name. Murphy, the longtime sports editor of the San Diego Union (and for many years an SI correspondent), was instrumental in bringing the Chargers and Padres to town. After he died in 1980, San Diego Stadium was renamed San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium in his honor. But the facility is often called Jack Murphy Stadium for short, and Schute, believing that this has resulted in a loss of identity for San Diego, started a citizens group that has persuaded the city council to schedule a referendum for Nov. 6 on whether to change the name back, simply, to San Diego Stadium. "People outside San Diego want to know who the hell is Jack Murphy," Schute says. In fact, Murphy is no more obscure than William Shea, the New York lawyer-power broker for whom Shea Stadium is named. Besides, naming a stadium after a deceased community-minded newspaperman is a refreshing change after all the ones that people like Briggs, Comiskey, Ebbets, Crosley, Wrigley, Busch et al. have, in their lifetime, unflinchingly named after themselves.
People elsewhere aren't laughing at San Diego any more than they're looking down their noses at Boston. In simple truth, most of them don't give two hoots whether San Diego residents go to the bother of changing the name of their stadium or whether Bostonians dig deep to build a new arena. The fact that Tsongas and Schute pretend otherwise suggests that they're having trouble making a persuasive case for the changes they advocate.
WIN, TIE, NO-SHOW
To attract stronger fields and build fan interest, several racetracks have been offering million-dollar bonuses to horses that sweep three designated races. Such a promotion naturally generates the most excitement when a horse wins the first two events and is going for No. 3, as happened last fall in something called the International Turf Triple, in which given races had to be won in Toronto, New York and Maryland. All Along won in Toronto and New York, heightening interest in the third race, the Washington, D.C. International at Laurel. She won that one, too, to earn the million bucks—not to mention Horse of the Year honors.
However, there's nothing exciting to report about what happened at Arlington Park near Chicago, where At the Threshold, the third-place finisher in this year's Kentucky Derby, won the Arlington Classic, the first leg of the track's $1 million Mid- America Triple, and two weeks ago wound up in a dead heat with High Alexander in the second leg, the American Derby. For statistical and betting purposes, both horses in a dead heat are considered winners, but the insurance policy that Arlington bought to cover the Mid- America Triple specified that insofar as the million-dollar bonus was concerned, a dead heat wouldn't count as a win. Too bad for the track. Dead heats are extremely rare, and it surely would have cost Arlington only a negligibly higher premium to be rid of that exception; in fact, in at least some of the bonus series elsewhere, a horse finishing in a dead heat would still be in the running for the bonus.
The upshot is that instead of great anticipation as to whether At the Threshold would sweep the Mid- America Triple by winning the Secretariat Stakes, the third leg of the series, on Sept. 3, the horse isn't even entering the race. A track spokesman said gloomily, "We would have loved to see him here."
GETTING BACK AT THE 'ROO