"Oh, if it's held in the East," said Mrs. Vare, "I'll certainly enter. I don't like to get too far away from our place at Point Judith in Rhode Island. I wish they'd hold the tournament there. On that course, I'm really tough."
Boaters on Lake Gibson, in Oklahoma, are sometimes startled by the sight of a lone water skier plowing smoothly down the lake, towed by a boat with nobody in it. Where, they ask themselves, did the operator of the outboard motor fall overboard, and at what point will the unpiloted craft splinter itself on the shore? Then the boat and the skier cut a precise arc in the water and go back the way they came, giving the weird illusion that the boat has a mind of its own.
It hasn't, though. The brain that steers the boat belongs to the man who rides the skis, a 37-year-old radio equipment salesman named Robert A. Miller. Tired of having his wife misinterpret his shouts and signals, he rigged about $100 worth of electric motors and relays to the outboard engine, stretched a control cable down the towline, and mounted four pushbuttons on his tow bar—one for more speed, one for less, and two for turning. Now Mrs. Miller stays contentedly ashore and watches.
For spills, there is a safety switch on the tow bar. When the skier releases his grip on it, the outboard motor stops. Spills, however, have been strictly experimental. Miller has developed such a skillful hand on the pushbuttons that he can ski in figure eights around the piers of a bridge that crosses the lake. He sends the boat away from the dock by itself and then follows it on his skis when the towline is all paid out. For landings, he comes in slowly, parallel to the dock, and cuts the engine. When he loses momentum and his skis begin to sink he just leans to one side and sits down on the dock. Why this arrangement? "It's just a matter of personal taste," says Miller. "I don't like to get wet."
The statistics above are dearer to the hearts of big league club owners than any batting average or won-lost record. They show how many people are paying to see ball games this season. Total attendance is about half a million ahead of last year's, but without baseball's newest franchises, Los Angeles and San Francisco, it is running half a million behind 1957.
There are a number of explanations for some of the 1958 losses. The cold, wet spring canceled many potential big-crowd games. By the time they were replayed, all semblance of a pennant race, in the American League at least, had disappeared. The Yankees were hurt by their own runaway lead, but attendance at home still averaged out at 21,995 per game. No team has suffered worse than the Chicago White Sox. Their fans had preseason hopes that this might be the year their team would beat the Yankees. When the Sox lost 18 of their first 29 games, the fans stopped coming.
Near the bottom of the attendance list is Cleveland, which may touch a new 13-year low. It is not surprising, therefore, that William R. Daley, board chairman, wants to move to Minneapolis. So does Calvin Griffith of the Washington Senators, whose attendance will be under half a million for the fourth straight year. In connection with a move by the Senators, it must be said parenthetically that a good number of the team's diehard fans believe that the problem would be solved if Griffith himself packed up and shuffled off and left the team behind.
Obviously, Cleveland and Washington both can't move to Minneapolis. One team will have to look elsewhere. Sitting patiently just outside the limelight is Houston, the largest city in the country (pop. 910,000) without a big league ball team.
But mere moving won't solve everything for baseball. The events of the past five years, during which the Boston Braves, the St. Louis Browns, the Philadelphia Athletics, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants have seemingly saved their shirts by pulling up stakes and performing before a new audience, suggest that nothing is better for ailing baseball business than a change of scenery. But the happy smiles now lighting up the faces of these interested geniuses who directed the moves may be only temporary, and their shirts may yet be in peril. Does it follow that their new-found fans will be any more faithful in the long run than those of waning faith they left behind in Boston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Manhattan? Certainly not. Baseball fans are human wherever you find them.