Besides raising prices, some clubs required purchasers to buy blocks of tickets for all possible playoff home games—and to pay in advance. For example, Atlanta Hawk fans had to lay out anywhere from $102 to $150 for the dozen games their team theoretically could have played at the Omni. But the Hawks could be eliminated after as few as two home games, at which point fans would specifically have to request a refund for unused tickets. Otherwise, the money would be applied toward the purchase of season tickets for 1980-81.
Few clubs received a bigger playoff windfall than the Washington Capitals, who fell just short of gaining their first Stanley Cup berth in their six-season history. The Caps sold playoff tickets and required fans to buy blocks of them covering 14 home games even though, as things developed, the most home games they could possibly have played had they made the playoffs was 11. Cap fans grumbled about this and also about the fact that the deadline for mailing payment for those 14 games—totaling $168 for a top-priced seat—was March 21, 16 days before the conclusion of the regular season and nearly 10 weeks before May 29, the latest possible date on which the Stanley Cup finals could end. Now, Cap fans wanting their money back will have to apply for refunds.
Insistence on payment in advance gives pro teams a nice chunk of up-front money to invest at record interest rates or to apply to outstanding notes. Which raises a question: Why shouldn't interest on playoff ticket money accrue to the fans rather than the clubs? Offering an answer, Jerry Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Kings and Lakers, proves that the playoffs bring out the best in the numbers men as well as the players. "Let's say I charge $15 for a playoff ticket," Buss says. "Say I make a dollar in interest. If I charge you $15 and send you $1 back, that's a lot of effort for both of us and very costly. So I just charge $14."
JESSE & JOE
The death of Jesse Owens last week at 66 evoked a flood of memories. Of "that incredible day of days in track and field history," as Norris McWhirter, editor of the Guinness Book of World Records, refers to May 25, 1935, when Owens broke five world records in Ann Arbor, Mich. Of the races a barnstorming Owens won against horses in Cuba, victories that documentary filmmaker Bud Greenspan attributes partly to the noise of the starting gun, which usually frightened the horse into near paralysis. And, of course, of Owens' heroics at the 1936 Olympics.
Inevitably, Owens' death also made people think about his friend Joe Louis, who became world heavyweight champion less than a year after Owens won his four gold medals in Berlin. As the Chicago Tribune's David Condon reflected last week, Owens and Louis both starred in individual sports that commanded worldwide attention—and did so at a time when many other sports were closed to blacks. While Owens' triumphs at the Olympics enraged Adolf Hitler, Louis' victories came at the expense of a succession of so-called "white hopes." Both athletes were men of considerable dignity, and while they later were scorned as Uncle Toms by younger militants, they remained sources of pride to blacks of their generation. Finally, Condon wrote, a case can be made that each was the alltime best in his field.
Louis was born eight months after Owens. Confined to a wheelchair because of a stroke suffered in 1977, Louis was at ringside in Las Vegas last week for the Larry Holmes-Leroy Jones WBC title fight, wearing a narrow-brimmed brown hat. At one point a young girl in his party playfully grabbed the hat, prompting Louis to snatch it back. There was one moment, though, when Louis readily removed the hat and held it with great solemnity in his lap. It was when the P.A. announcer called for a moment of silence in memory of Jesse Owens.
THE BIG FIX
Last week, following a 32-day trial at which convicted master fixer Anthony Ciulla (SI, Nov. 6, 1978) was the chief government witness, a U.S. district court jury in Harrisburg convicted six men and acquitted six others on charges of conspiring to fix horse races at Pennsylvania's Pocono Downs in 1974. Along with guilty pleas entered earlier by four defendants (three others charged in the suit are fugitives, while two defendants were severed from the case because of illness), the verdict brought to 36 the number of people who have either pleaded guilty or been convicted on charges relating to race fixing in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Michigan largely as a result of Ciulla's testimony.
What was significant about the Pennsylvania proceedings was that seven of those who pleaded or were found guilty were jockeys. Six jockeys had been convicted or pleaded guilty in a state court in New Jersey, but until now the Federal Government had been more successful in prosecuting gamblers and alleged organized-crime figures than jockeys. The government confined its case in Harrisburg to 47 of some 100 races at Pocono Downs that Ciulla claimed to have fixed. Besides those jockeys indicted in the case, the government implicated 13 other riders, several of whom testified for the prosecution.