CATCH AS CATCH CAN
When last we looked, sports publicist extraordinaire Andy Furman had just been sacked as chief tub-thumper for Monticello ( N.Y.) Raceway for having tastelessly invited a Ku Klux Klan leader and his henchmen to take advantage of the track's group party plan package (SCORECARD, Aug. 18, 1980). That momentarily brought to a screeching halt a career during which the bumptious Furman had also skirted the bounds of propriety as sports information director at Oral Roberts University (where he hyped a basketball game against the Bulgarian national team by offering free admission to Oklahomans of Bulgarian descent) and as PR man for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (whose game against the wondrously named Vancouver Whitecaps he promoted by promising free admission to uniformed dentists). Lately the publicity man at Lakes Region Greyhound Park in Belmont, N.H., Furman has been as outlandish as ever, witness the invitation to spend a day at the dog track he recently issued to delegates to the state dog-catchers' convention. The dogcatchers failed to take Furman up on his offer, possibly because of his stipulation that they kindly leave their nets at home.
Last week we invited readers to phone in their opinion on which brand of football they find more exciting—the college game John Underwood prefers or the pro version Paul Zimmerman likes. The tally is in, with 4,651 votes in favor of the college game, 3,557 in favor of the pros. Zimmerman says this bias is seasonal, that college football generates more interest the first few weeks of the fall but that pro football takes over later on. Underwood just smiles pleasantly and says, "I told you so."
It certainly isn't news that one of the things baseball owners do best is fire managers. Gene Michael's dismissal by the Yankees, after guiding New York to first place in the American League East in the first half of this split season and then getting into a dispute with owner George Steinbrenner, serves to emphasize the point. Michael is hardly the first successful manager to be fired. Jim Frey was given the ax by Kansas City earlier last week, less than a year after he led the Royals to their first American League pennant. You'd think that by finishing first a manager had demonstrated some skill in his job, but don't tell that to the men in the front office. Whitey Herzog, Frey's predecessor at Kansas City, won three straight divisional titles, then was dumped after one losing year. Jim Fregosi won California's first divisional crown in 1979 and was canned earlier this season.
The Yankees are champions at this sort of thing. Yogi Berra won the pennant and went to the seventh game of the 1964 World Series before losing—and was summarily fired. Billy Martin won two straight pennants for the Yanks in 1976 and 1977 and was ousted in midseason-1978. His successor, Bob Lemon (who now succeeds Michael), won the 1978 pennant and was dropped in 1979. Dick Howser took the New Yorkers to the American League East title last year and was bounced after the season. Great place to work.
But it's not just the Yankees. Sam Mele managed the Minnesota Twins to their first and only pennant in 1965 and was out less than a year and a half later. Hank Bauer got the Orioles their first pennant in 1966 and was fired midway through 1968. Dick Williams led the Red Sox to the flag in 1967 and was gone before the end of 1969. Mayo Smith won a pennant and a memorable World Series for the Tigers in 1968 and was dropped after the 1970 season. It's the old story: What have you done for me lately?
Years before the Yankees tied a can to his tail, Billy Martin was fired by the Twins after winning the division in 1969 and by the Tigers before the end of the season the year after he won the division in 1972. Al Dark won a pennant and the World Series for the A's in 1974 but only the division in 1975 and was dismissed. Darrell Johnson won a pennant with the Red Sox in 1975 and didn't last through the next season.
Of the 15 men who have managed teams to a pennant or a divisional championship in the American League since 1963, only Earl Weaver has avoided the experience of being fired soon after winning a pennant, although Dick Williams, dismissed earlier by Boston, did have the consolation of quitting after three straight winning years with Oakland.
Such a business.
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST