Your can get condensed versions of almost anything these days, so it comes as no great surprise that there is now a condensed version of baseball. No bother with such peripheral, if conventional, fascinations as the hit-and-run play, the long sacrifice fly, the baseline bunt, the double steal, the double play, the first-base pickoff on the shoestring catch in center. Beginning next month, a company with the condensed name of Ziv-TV will introduce Home Run Derby, a series of 26 half-hour TV films. Each film pits two big-league sluggers against each other (and against minor league pitching) in a nine-inning game, and anything but a home run counts as an out.
Home Run Derby was filmed at Los Angeles' Wrigley Field in January. "There'll be 20 big-league sluggers in all," a Ziv spokesman says. "We'll have Mickey and Willie and Ernie and Hank. We'll also have Orlando. It's just too bad Orlando doesn't have a nice, short nickname."
"It's a focus on the big moment, starring the big men of the game," adds Ziv Sales Executive Maurice Rifkin. "We're certain the return to the sponsor will be proportionate."
First film in the series matches Mickey Mantle (31 homers last year) against Willie Mays (34). After a winter of relaxation, Willie came up with blistered hands during the practice sessions. "Gee whiz," said a producer, "look at those hands." "I don't care," said Willie, "this is fun." Mickey was equally intent. "I've never tried harder," he said, "not even in the World Series." Mickey and Willie had reason for their enthusiasm. Each Home Run Derby winner gets $2,000, the loser $1,000; with bonus arrangements (e.g., $500 for three consecutive home runs), a player can win $10,000 a game.
Who won the first contest? Ziv isn't saying, but the smart money's on Mantle, 9 homers to 8.
When Arnold Palmer won his third straight tournament the other day it was the first time since 1952 that anybody had performed so well on the pro golf tour.
But down in Fort Worth is a chunky 48-year-old chicken farmer who not so many years ago put together a winning streak of his own, and Palmer's feat set him to reminiscing. His name: Byron Nelson.
Lord Byron he'd been called back in that spring and summer of 1945 when his firm wrists were snapping iron shots at the hole with an accuracy that the Hogans, Sneads and Middlecoffs have never quite matched. As he looked back to that era last week he couldn't even remember where golf's greatest string of victories began. (It was Miami on March 11.)