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IF IT'S DECEMBER, THIS MUST BE FRANCE
Given the phenomenal rise in the number of participants in the marathon, it was perhaps inevitable, but nonetheless somehow shocking, that this famed race, which originated in classical Greece, should now be tainted by cheating.
In the fifth Maryland Marathon last month, 1,546 of the 1,707 starters finished. It was this surprisingly high number of finishers, each of whom received a souvenir jacket, that aroused the suspicion of race officials. "We know the normal, dropout rate, depending on the weather," says Joe Holland, a co-chairman of the race. "If the weather is real warm, you could lose 30%. On a day like we had [it was in the 40s] you're supposed to lose 18%. We lost 10%. Everyone was carried away with getting the jackets. The jackets were only for finishers. The jackets were a magnet."
Unlike the Boston Marathon, which is run point to point, the Maryland race is out and back, and the course can be crowded and confused. Some nine miles from the starting line there is a public rest room, and Holland figures that about 35 to 40 runners ducked in there, stayed a while and then headed back to the finish line, cutting seven miles off the race. "We had three people with guilty consciences return the jackets." he says.
Hank Peters, the general manager of the Orioles, is in a pickle. Last year Peters, wary of losing players to the free-agent draft after Pitcher Ross Grimsley defected to Montreal for $1.5 million, signed Outfielder Ken Singleton and Pitchers Jim Palmer and Mike Flanagan to long-term contracts that called for bonuses if they made "significant contributions" to the team. Singleton thereupon batted .328, the highest in club history, knocked in 99 runs, hit 24 homers and finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting. Palmer won 20 and lost 11 with a 2.91 earned run average and was runner-up for the Cy Young Award. Flanagan, a flashy young lefthander, had a 15 and 10 record, with 13 of his wins coming in the second half of the season.
Singleton, Palmer and Flanagan asked for their bonuses, but Peters refused to pay, saying, "The interpretation of 'significant' is the sole judgment of the GM, and I say a 'significant contribution' has to be weighed against two things: what you expect of a player and what you're already paying him."
All three players filed grievances last month. When it dawned on Peters that they might all become free agents a la Catfish Hunter after Charlie Finley failed to honor his contract, Peters paid them $15,000 each. Last week, in a bizarre switch, Peters abruptly announced that the Orioles wanted the bonus money back and would file grievances against the players. Marvin Miller, executive director of the Players' Association, says that Peters is "shooting craps with the heart of the team. They could all be free agents before Opening Day."