Stakes is High. Dig Greg Hanlon’s entertaining New York Observer story on the big money world of Bridge:
Compare bridge to poker, its coarse cousin. While bridge is infinitely analytical, poker is more psychological: In high-level matches, every player at the table can compute the odds instantaneously, and what separates the best players from the pack is the ability to pick up “tells,” such as the furrowing of the brow as an indication of bluffing.
Mr. Bayone said, “The best bridge players are, as a group, finance people, actuaries, lawyers. The best poker players are 19- to 22-year-old kids who have never done anything else.”
Another difference is that money is central to poker, while bridge is played for no stakes other than “masterpoints,” a running tally of points that ranks players similarly to chess ratings. Thus, bridge satisfies the universal truth that those who have vast sums of money are loath to talk about it.
Mostly, though, the nature of bridge presents an enduring intellectual challenge for people whose success in life leaves them seeking further challenges. It has a “comforting leveling aspect,” as psychiatrist Melvyn Schoenfeld, a regular at the Manhattan Bridge Club, put it.
Take fashion mogul Isaac Mizrahi, who learned the game at the behest of his bridge-playing mother, who told him that, if he didn’t learn to play by age 30, he wouldn’t have any friends by 40. Mr. Mizrahi described a bridge tournament to me as “the most fantastic use of three hours of your life.” In bridge, he finds intellectual and psychological nourishment.
“I think it’s really important to keep that state of vulnerability,” he said. “You have to give it up every once in a while. You have to walk into a room and be an idiot and not know what you’re doing. That’s the only way you can get anywhere in the world. And that’s the great lesson of bridge.”
Not so long ago a friend asked me if I thought I was a success. I didn’t know what to say and when I did manage an answer it was “No.” I was thinking in terms of not just professional success but financial success. Where I want to be not how far I’ve come. I didn’t think about success as a person, about emotional or creative success, about success in my marriage or in my relationships with people. My initial reaction was to think of success in narrow terms. And because of the way I replied I became aware of how limited my idea of success often is.P
I thought about this when I read “The Third Man,” Lauren Collin’s profile of Novak Djokovic in the New Yorker. Djokovic told Collins this story:P
It’s important to be humble, and important to be very open-minded toward all the people in the world. It doesn’t matter who it is, really, or how much amount of success that person has made, because you don’t measure the person through the success the person has made, but through his behavior. There is one actually great quote from Pavle, our Orthodox priest—we are not Catholic, so we don’t have apapa. He’s our spiritual leader, in a way. He passed away in 2009, and he’s actually one of the greatest people that, really, Serbia ever had. Because he was a very modest man—his sister was very ill, so he would go every day with the public transport to visit her. He never used cars; he always talked to the people. So, one great quote—he says to one kid that was saying to him that he has the best grades and so much success in the school. So Patriarch Pavle said, “That’s all great, I congratulate you, but it’s not the grades that make you a man, but your behavior.” So that’s what I try to implement in my life.P
Behavior, how you treat people, showing up when things are difficult, over achievement. That’s cool, man and rings true to me.
Here’s an example of success:
[Photo Via: Clutter and Chaos]
Jeremy Markovich delivers a powerful story on the death of Dick Trickle at SB Nation Longform. Beautifully written and the graphic people at SB Nation created an impressive layout too. Worth your time:
Sometime after 10:30 on a Thursday morning in May, after he’d had his cup of coffee, Dick Trickle snuck out of the house. His wife didn’t see him go. He eased his 20-year-old Ford pickup out on the road and headed toward Boger City, N.C., 10 minutes away. He drove down Highway 150, a two-lane road that cuts through farm fields and stands of trees and humble country homes that dot the Piedmont west of Charlotte, just outside the reach of its suburban sprawl. Trickle pulled into a graveyard across the street from a Citgo station. He drove around to the back. It was sunny. The wind blew gently from the west. Just after noon, he dialed 911. The dispatcher asked for his address.
“Uh, the Forest Lawn, uh, Cemetery on 150,” he said, his voice calm. The dispatcher asked for his name. He didn’t give it.
“On the backside of it, on the back by a ‘93 pickup, there’s gonna be a dead body,” he said.
“OK,” the woman said, deadpan.
“Suicide,” he said. “Suicide.”
“Are you there?”
“I’m the one.”
“OK, listen to me, sir, listen to me.”
“Yes, it’ll be 150, Forest Lawn Cemetery, in the back by a Ford pickup.”
“OK, sir, sir, let me get some help to you.”
Lefty’s career has been notable for a series of blown chances, especially at the US Open. But yesterday, he played a round of golf for which he’ll always be remembered.
Will this be the day that Andy Murray finally finds his destiny and brings home the Wimbledon title for the British masses? (It’s probably been at least a decade since I really cared about tennis, but I have to admit that I’m rooting hard for him.) Early on it certainly looked like it would be Murray’s day, as he jumped out to a two-set and lead and broke the Joker in the first game of the third — then looked to be on the verge of breaking him again two games later — but the tide just might be turning. Djokovic won four straight games to take a 4-2 lead in the third set.
Nothing better than a little drama in the Wimbledon championship.
Over at WNYC here’s Stephen Nessen on the black surfing scene that’s taking over in the Rockaways:
Locals say [Brian] James was one of the first black surfers on the scene when he began catching waves here in 1997. And even though the shores are thousands of miles away from the once-exclusively white beaches of California, where the sport was popularized in the U.S., James said he faced racism here too.
“It was tough in the beginning,” he said. “Lot of racial epithets hurled out in water. Lot of arguing. But me personally, I let them know I wasn’t going for it. They got a problem we can settle it on the beach.”
Sauntering down the crowded beach on a recent Saturday with the top half of his wet suit hanging down, is another staple of the local surf scene: Louis Harris. The 41-year-old personal trainer from Long Island said it was James who inspired him to try surfing.
“I was like, ‘Wow, people surf out here.’ I then I saw BJ and I was like, ‘Wow black guy surfing?’” Harris said. “And they were all crowding around him like he was freaking Mick Jagger or something.”
But Harris said when he walks with a surfboard, he still gets chastised.
“It’s the black people that say ‘Black people don’t surf. Yo man, what you doing with a surf board man? Black people don’t surf.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, are you kidding?’ Harris said.
Ten years ago my cousin, known round these parts as edoubletrouble, gave me a thoughtful birthday gift: Dispatches from the Sporting Life, a collection of Mordecai Richler’s sports writing. It’s a terrific book and a fine introduction to Richler, born and raised in Montreal, who was one of Canada’s premier novelists, essayists, and satirists. His most famous books are The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Barney’s Version, both made into feature films, though this generation may know him more for the Jacob Two-Two series of children’s stories. Richler died on July 3, 2001.
This here piece we bring to you cause the Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight. Originally published in Inside Sports in January 1981.
What Hockey Needs is More Violence”
By Mordecai Richler
Nudging 50, I find it increasingly difficult to cope with a changing world. Raised to be a saver, for instance, I now find myself enjoined by the most knowledgeable economists to fork out faster than I can earn, borrowing whenever possible. But the rate they are encouraging me to borrow at from my friendly bank manager is what I once understood to be usury. In the kitchen of my boyhood my mother cooked on a wood fire, because we couldn’t afford better, but now that I’ve grown up to heat my country home with oil, I am scorned by modish neighbors, many of whom are rich enough to re-equip with antique stoves, burning wood again. A couple of years ago, after taking in a World Series game at Yankee Stadium with author Wilfrid Sheed, the two of us found ourselves in midtown Manhattan, looking for a friendly bar where we could round off an enjoyable evening. As we passed a celebrated boîte on Second Avenue, I said, “Why don’t we go in there?”
“You don’t understand,” Sheed admonished me, a visitor from Montreal. “If we go in there, two men together, they’ll put us in the roped-off section for gays.”
A year earlier a militant feminist press in Canada had published a hockey book titled She Shoots! She Scores! It turned out to be very topical stuff, because an irate Ontario father later sued a bantam hockey league for not allowing his daughter to play, thereby depriving her of the possibility of growing up to be taken into the boards, as it were, by Dave Schultz or Paul Holmgren. A mind-boggling thought. Since then, we’ve had Scoring, The Art of Hockey, by Hugh Hood, with images by Seymour Segal. It is the book serious students of the game have been waiting for, the one that dares to ask, “Which came first, the penis or the puck?” Scoring offers the definitive answer to why so many American fans can’t follow the puck on TV. It isn’t because they lack puck sense. Rather, the psychologically informed Hood writes, “this seems a clear instance of sublimated sexual anxiety. Where is the little fellow?” Furthermore, the reasonable author observes, “one wants to know where the puck is at all times,” and then he throws in the kicker, “especially if one is a goalie, who occupies the most womanly position in contact sport.”
Obviously, there’s a whole new world out there. Me, I’m not only dizzy, I’m also resentful, if only because in confusing times sports used to be a consolation. An unchanging vista, its values constant. From the time I saw my first baseball game until now, the distance from home plate to first base has measured 90 feet. Though most of us can no longer afford it, a championship boxing match is still scheduled for 15 rounds. To win a hockey game you still have to score more goals than the opposition, but, alas, just about everything else in the game has changed.
Major league hockey, the game I grew up with during its vintage years, used to be played in six cities: Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Boston and New York. The 50-game season began in November, and the playoffs, involving the top four teams, were done with in March, when there was still snow on the streets of Montreal. Violence was an intrinsic part of the game, and any player over 16 who still had his front teeth in place was adjudged a sissy. One night Dick Irvin, who took over as coach of the Montreal Canadiens in 1940, rejuvenating a team that had failed to win the Stanley Cup for nine years, looked down his bench and said, ” I know what’s wrong here. Your faces are unmarked. I don’t see any stitches. I don’t see any shiners.”
It was Conn Smythe, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who made the immortal pronouncement, “If you can’t beat ‘em in the alley, you can’t beat ‘em in the rink.” Smythe, who died at the age of 85 in November, bought the Toronto St. Patricks in 1927, changing their name to the Maple Leafs, providing at once both a challenge to the Canadiens and philologists. Recalling the legendary owner, Dink Carroll of the Montreal Gazette observed, “You know that pro hockey was so rough back in the early ’20s that it kept Smythe away for years? Hockey was the very end back then. The players were considered just a cut above bank robbers. When they came down the street people would cross over to avoid them. But when Smythe finally got into it, he eliminated a lot of woodchopping and got them good sweaters and made them comb their hair.
“It makes me laugh when they talk about violence in hockey today. You may not believe me but guys like Newsy Lalonde and Mean Joe Hall and Sprague Cleghorn and Lionel Hitchman were out to kill each other. Ching Johnson of the Rangers had a smile on his face the whole game, smashing everybody he could get close to with his stick.
“When they weren’t on the ice, they were in court half the time, for breaking up bars and fighting. I guess you could say there was a pioneer spirit in hockey back then.”
In the ’40s, when I first warmed to the game, goalies had yet to be pronounced womanly. Even later, none of us dreamed of a date with Gump Worsley, however cuddly he appeared between the pipes. In those days goalies did not look like witch doctors and you could read their faces when they stood to counter a three-on-one. During the offseason the players nursed their cracked ribs and scarred faces while driving beer trucks, helping to bring in the wheat on the family farm or working in the mines. A players’ union? Doug Harvey, the greatest defenseman ever to wear a Canadien sweater, began to make dissident noises about a players’ union and was condemned to the NHL’s Gulag the following season. He wore a Ranger uniform in 1961. Harvey, who now sharpens skates in his brother’s Montreal sports shop on weekends, never had a salary of more than $21,500 a year as a Canadien.
Today so-called major league hockey is played in 21 cities, the 80-game season begins early in October, before the World Series starts, and the playoffs, involving 16 teams, end in May, long after the next baseball season has begun. Salaries are prodigious. Marcel Dionne has signed a new contract with Los Angeles for $600,000 a year. Wayne Gretzky’s escalating contract with oil-rich Edmonton calls for millions over the next 20 years. If you talk to the players they will, understandably, tell you the game is burgeoning. So will NHL officials. But among the fans complaints abound:
1) The season is too long.
2) Frenetic expansion has led to too many yawners. Obvious mismatches.
3) There’s too much violence in the game.
Happily, I can report that these complaints originate either with Canadian soreheads who feel that the vile Americans, to whom we have already yielded Paul Anka, snowmobiles and the RCAF exercise book, have now also pilfered our national game, vulgarizing it in the hope of appealing to yahoos everywhere. Or with sexually sublimated Americans who obviously suffer from puck-envy. A post-Freudian malaise rampant in expansion cities. The truth is that far from there being too much violence in hockey, there is not enough anymore. But to deal with these ill-informed complaints in order:
1) The familiar argument proffered by ignorant fans runs that it is somewhat silly to play a total of 840 games, which settle nothing, and then embark on a round of playoffs that call for 16 of 21 teams to fight it out for the Stanley Cup. At least one owner, Howard Baldwin of the Hartford Whalers, also suffers from a short attention span. “I think,” he said recently, “we should condense the season and start on November 1, ending on March 30 but still playing 80 games. The playoffs should end by May 1, no later, and only 12 teams, not 16, should qualify.”
What Baldwin and many fans fail to grasp is that the season, far from being too long, is now too short. The so-called regular season, properly looked at, is no more than an endless exhibition series, which brings something reminiscent of real hockey to such hitherto deprived outposts as Washington, St. Louis, Calgary and Denver. Over the long wintry haul, the bored and jet-weary players only go all out in short spurts, usually when they are hoping to renegotiate a contract they pronounced binding only the year before. Who cares, who even remembers, who won the Norris or Smythe Division titles in 1976? The real season, the one that counts, the battle for the Stanley Cup, begins in April. Starting this second season in the spring provides jaded players with the novel opportunity to fight it out in fog, as in Buffalo in 1975, or at least on such soft slushy ice as to reduce the flying Canadiens to slow slithering idiots. With further expansion, a game which owes something to lacrosse will inevitably acknowledge its debt to water polo.
2) It’s true that expansion to 21 teams has made for a number of uneven contests, but this has not gone undetected by those purists who unfailingly put the fan’s interest before the owner’s profit, namely the savants who comprise the NHL Board of Governors. These skilled observers have noted that when the Winnipeg Jets (one win in their first 28 games) play Montreal or the Islanders they seldom get to touch the puck, never mind slip it into the net, and so, if only to accommodate this disability, there will be a rule change next season. Remember, you read it here first. Next season in certain games between unevenly matched teams there will be no puck whatsoever put into play, allowing the sportsmen on both sides to have a go at each other without unnecessary distractions. This will enable Winnipeg right wing James Edward Mann, who scored all of three goals and five assists last season, but led the league in penalty minutes (287), to prove that behemoths belong.
3) Which brings us to the question of violence.
When we talk about violence in the NHL today, one team immediately springs to mind. The Philadelphia Flyers, a.k.a. the Broad Street Bullies, whose aggregation, even without the fabled talents of Dave Schultz, still hold the following records:
But the Broad Street Bullies had the most points in the regular season last year. And when they won Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, they led the league in penalty minutes each season.
Item: In the most thrilling hockey event most Canadians can remember, the series that pitched Team Canada against the Soviets in 1972, Bobby Clarke grasped that there was no legitimate way of stopping the superb Valery Kharlamov, and so he did the next best thing: He whacked him over the ankles with his stick, taking him out of the game. “I realized,” Clarke said, “I had to do anything to win.” Put plainly, violence pays, and in the case of Clarke, it also shows what a patriotic Canadian boy is made of. Or does it?
Because the question we must now ask ourselves is: Is it violence? Or sexual abandon? Or, God help us, even attempted rape? Which brings me back to the burning question posed by Hugh Hood: “Which comes first, the penis or the puck?”
Hood replies: “In a general way, mind you, without making a mystery of it, we guess that the penis came first, and continues to come first in the sense that it directs the occasions of fecundity. If it—or something like it—doesn’t go in, no goal, no baby. The race is continued by sperm and egg, not the conjunction of that black rubber disk and the space enclosed by the Art Ross Safety Net.”
The difficulty inherent in writing this piece for fans who haven’t read Scoring is akin to addressing a group of scientists who are as yet unaware that the atom has been split, its energy harnessed. After Scoring, nothing will ever be the same again. Hockey is no longer seen through a glass darkly. Instead, its very essence has been illuminated.
Consider, for instance, what the uninformed once took to be a rink, and no more. “Looking down at the ice surface from a height,” Hood writes, “what you see is a human body, admittedly without head or arms or legs. A torso. The space, 200 feet by 85, has about the same proportions as a human trunk, with nipples marked on it and a navel—the point where the action always begins. . . . The spectators form a body, and the players seem more like blood in a torso than anything else, eternally circulating as red or white corpuscles wearing contrasting jerseys. The body is the name of the game.”
Conversely, of course, our bodies are filled with jerseyed red and white draft choices, some of them dandy playmakers. Our chests, properly considered, boast two faceoff circles. Which is to say, within every one of us there is a hockey league, eternally circulating. Cut yourself, and the good corpuscles clear the bench and rush to defend the infected area. It then follows, logically, that violence is no more than a healthy body defending itself. Against infection here, Paul Holmgren there.
Hood is especially rewarding on the sexual nature of the game. “There may be people to whom sex is a metaphor for hockey, an outer appearance containing a real inner struggle. Making love, such people, usually male, imagine themselves faking to their left, circling the goal, persuading the goalie to go down, then slipping it in on their backhand.” Astutely, Hood points out what should have been obvious to us before. The Art Ross Safety Net, only adopted by the NHL in 1936, is an image of the female body.
Or, put another way, Gordie Howe, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, was a satyr. Constantly thrusting at the opposition nets, Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull and Maurice Richard were also sex-crazed, though we didn’t understand it at the time. Furthermore, once we have accepted the image of the goalie as womanly, we can understand that certain defensemen, traditionally pronounced unnecessarily violent, are actually gallant defenders of their goalperson’s virtue. Standing tall at the blue line, swinging their sticks with abandon, all to defend Chico Resch or Rogie Vachon from assault by Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy or Marcel Dionne. It also follows that some of the game’s low-scoring forwards, players we took to be inept, are actually well brought up kids, too nice to go the limit—that is to say, slip the puck into the net—with some 16,000 howling fans (or voyeurs) cheering them on.
Properly understood, what today’s game needs is less blatant sex or scoring, more manly fighting spirit. What’s called for is more forechecking, less foreplay.
Mind you, this is not to suggest that so-called hockey violence can only be defended on grounds of sexual propriety on ice. The new rule designed to cut down on bench-clearing brawls, the rule that calls for a game misconduct for the third man into a fight, is (a) bound to even further limit the possibility of an American network contract for hockey and (b) especially directed against one team, the Montreal Canadiens.
If Americans, new to the game, can’t follow the puck on TV, they can certainly follow and identify with flying fists. More bench-clearing brawls, on a medium already attuned to violence, could only lead to popularity for a grand game.
Of course, we will have to get rid of the spoilsport—the referees—who tend to wrestle players to the ice just as their punches are beginning to tell. An obvious refinement of the curved-stick blade would be one sharpened to come to a point. It also would be exhilarating if fights could be continued in the penalty box and players were allowed to pursue taunting fans into the stands, with rows one to 10 being declared a free fire zone.
Older fans will remember that a minor penalty once lasted two minutes, no matter how many goals the team with the manpower advantage scored. But in the 1950s, the Montreal power-play (Beliveau, Richard, Geoffrion. Olmstead, Moore) proved so overwhelming, sometimes scoring three times in two minutes. that the rule was revised in 1956 to allow the penalized player to return after only one goal had been scored. Similarly, it is now common knowledge that a Canadien rookie is fortunate indeed to get on ice for more than a shift a game. His only other opportunity to stretch his legs during a game is a bench-clearing fight. The new rule is obviously calculated to render him sedentary and therefore a diminishing threat in his sophomore year.
Finally, I’m surprised that sociologists have failed to notice the obvious correlation between violence on the ice and the safety of Canadian streets. While muggers proliferate on the streets of Detroit, New York and Boston, prowling the streets after dark, nobody feels threatened in Montreal, Toronto or Calgary, even if tempted to take a 1 a.m. stroll downtown. This is because we have cunningly put our potential muggers into team sweaters, shoving them out on the ice, paying then handsomely to spear, slash and high stick or whatever.
Even our judiciary is aware or the Canadian solution and reacts accordingly. When Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues was brought before an Ottawa judge in 1970, charged with assault causing bodily harm for using his stick to fracture the skull of Boston’s Ted Green during an exhibition game, he was acquitted. Judge M.J. Fitzpatrick later found Green not guilty as well. “When a player enters an arena,” he decreed, “he is consenting to a great number of what otherwise might be regarded as assaults. The game of hockey could not possibly be played unless those engaging in it were willing to accept these assaults.”
In the absence of King Solomon, M.J. Fitzpatrick.
Red Smith is the most respected sports columnist we’ve ever had. In his prime, Jimmy Cannon, Smith’s friendly rival, was certainly as well-known. Cannon, the Voice of New York, was an emotional, colloquial writer whose reputation, unfortunately, has faded. But Smith endures. What is it about his writing that ages so well?
“It’s the same reason Shakespeare ages well,” Dave Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist told me recently. “He wrote beautifully, it’s as simple as that.”
The Library of America presents Smith’s finest work in the new collection, American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith. It is available now and a must-read for all sports fans, young and old (and an ideal gift for Father’s Day). This week, with permission from Smith’s family, we’ll reprint a Red Smith column every day to offer you a sample of what he was all about. Today’s column is “A Little Greedy, and Exactly Right” which ran on June 11, 1973 the day after Secretariat won the Triple Crown.
So, enjoy, and for more on Smith, check outthis oral history from Jerome Holtzman’s classic, No Cheering in the Press Box; this excerpt from Stanley Woodward’s memoir, Paper Tiger; a nice tribute by his son, Terrance Smith; and this excerpt from Dan Okrent’s introduction to American Pastimes.Course it goes without saying that if you want to know from Red Smith you need to go find a copy of Ira Berkow’s excellent biography, Red.
“A Little Greedy, and Exactly Right”
By Red Smith
Belmont, N.Y., June 11, 1973
The thing to remember is that the horse that finished last had broken the Kentucky Derby record. If there were no colt named Secretariat, then Sham would have gone into the Belmont Stakes Saturday honored as the finest three-year-old in America, an eight-length winner of the Kentucky Derby where he went the mile and a quarter faster than any winner in ninety-eight years and an eight-length winner of the Preakness. There is, however, a colt named Secretariat. In the Derby he overtook Sham and beat him by two and a half lengths. In the Preakness he held Sham off by two and a half lengths. This time he and Sham dueled for the lead, and he beat Sham by more than a sixteenth of a mile. There is no better way to measure the class of the gorgeous red colt that owns the Triple Crown. Turning into the homestretch at Belmont Park, Ron Turcotte glanced back under an arm to find his pursuit. He saw nothing, and while he peeked, his mount took off.
Secretariat had already run a mile in one minute, 34 1/5 seconds. Up to three weeks ago, no horse in Belmont history had run a mile in less than 1:34 2/5. He had run a mile and a quarter in 1:59, two-fifths of a second faster than the Derby record he had set five weeks earlier. Now he went after the Belmont record of 2:26 3/5 for a mile and a half, which was also an American record when Gallant Man established it sixteen years ago. With no pursuit to urge him on, without a tap from Turcotte’s whip, he smashed the track record by two and three-fifth seconds, cracked the American record by two and a fifth, and if Turcotte had asked him he could have broken the world record. If he had been running against Gallant Man, the fastest Belmont winner in 104 years, he would have won by thirteen lengths. Unless the competition spurred him to greater speed.
“It seems a little greedy to win by thirty-one lengths,” said Mrs. John Tweedy, the owner, and then repeated the rider’s story of how he saw the fractional times blinking on the tote board, realized there was a record in the making, and went after it in the final sixteenth.
It is hard to imagine what a thirty-one-length margin looks like, because you never see one, but Secretariat lacked eight panels of fence—eighty feet—of beating Twice a Prince by a sixteenth of a mile. This was the classic case of “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere.”
The colt was entitled to his margin and his record. At the Derby he drew a record crowd that broke all Churchill Downs’ betting records and he set a track record. He set attendance and betting records at the Preakness and may have broken the stakes record, but if he did discrepancies in the clocking denied him that credit. Last Saturday belonged to him.
Indeed, Belmont was kinder to the Meadow Stable than Pimlico had been, in more ways than one. On Preakness day, while the Tweedy party lunched in the Pimlico Hotel near the track, a parking lot attendant smashed up their car. They walked to the clubhouse gate, found they hadn’t brought credentials, and paid their way in. While the horses were being saddled in the infield, somebody in the crowd accidentally pressed a lighted cigarette against Mrs. Tweedy’s arm. On his way back to his seat, John Tweedy had his pocket picked.
“Boy,” he said after that race, “we needed to win this one today, just to get even.”
At Belmont there were the few scattered boos that most odds-on favorites receive here, but the prevailing attitude was close to idolatry. Well, perhaps that isn’t the best word because it suggests a cathedral restraint. Idols are remotely chilly. This congregation was warm. Horseplayers passing the Tweedy box raised friendly voices:
“Mrs. Tweedy, good luck.”
The voices followed her to the paddock where her colt was cheered all around the walking ring. They followed as she returned to the clubhouse.
“Mrs. Tweedy, good luck.”
Secretariat was cheered in the post parade, cheered as he entered the gate, and when he caught and passed Sham on the backstretch the exultant thunders raised gooseflesh. At the finish the crowd surged toward the winner’s circle, fists brandished high. After twenty-five years, America’s racing fans had a sovereign to wear the Triple Crown.
Parallels are striking between this one and his predecessor, Citation. Both colts raced nine times as two-year-olds and finished first eight times. At three, each lost once en route to the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. Both made each event in the Triple Crown easier than the last. After the Belmont, Citation won his next ten starts for a streak of sixteen straight. Secretariat’s stud duties won’t permit that. Love will rear its pretty, tousled head.
Red Smith is the most respected sports columnist we’ve ever had. In his prime, Jimmy Cannon, Smith’s friendly rival, was certainly as well-known. Cannon, the Voice of New York, was an emotional, colloquial writer whose reputation, unfortunately, has faded. But Smith endures. What is it about his writing that ages so well?
“It’s the same reason Shakespeare ages well,” Dave Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist told me recently. “He wrote beautifully, it’s as simple as that.”
The Library of America presents Smith’s finest work in the new collection, American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith. It is available now and a must-read for all sports fans, young and old (and an ideal gift for Father’s Day). This week, with permission from Smith’s family, we’ll reprint a Red Smith column every day to offer you a sample of what he was all about. Today’s column is “Night for Joe Louis” which ran on October 19,1968 the day after Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and gave a Black Power salute at the summer Olympics.
So, enjoy, and for more on Smith, check out this oral history from Jerome Holtzman’s classic, No Cheering in the Press Box; this excerpt from Stanley Woodward’s memoir, Paper Tiger; a nice tribute by his son, Terrance Smith; and this excerpt from Dan Okrent’s introduction to American Pastimes. Course it goes without saying that if you want to know from Red Smith you need to go find a copy of Ira Berkow’s excellent biography, Red.
“The Black Berets”
By Red Smith
Mexico City, Mexico, October 19, 1968
The four-hundred-meter race was over and in the catacombs of Estadio Olimpico Doug Roby, president of the United States Olympic Committee, was telling newspapermen that he had warned America’s runners against making any demonstration if they should get to the victory stand. A fanfare of trumpets interrupted him.
In stiff single file, the three black Americans marched across the track. All of them—Lee Evans, the winner; Larry James, second, and Ron Freeman, third—had broken the recognized world record. Rain had fallen after the finish and, although it was abating now, the runners wore the official sweatsuits of the United States team, plus unofficial black berets which may or may not have been symbolic.
Each stopped to enable John J. Garland, an American member of the International Olympic Committee, to hang the medal about his neck. Then each straightened and waved a clenched fist aloft. It wasn’t quite the same gesture meaning, “We shall overcome,” which Tommie Smith and John Carlos had employed on the same stand after the two-hundred-meter final.
Lord David Burghley, the Marquis of Exeter who is president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, shook hands with each, and they removed the berets, standing at attention facing the flagpole as the colors ascended and the band played the Star-Spangled Banner. Smith and Carlos had refused to look at the flag, standing with heads bowed and black-gloved fists upraised.
Evans, James, and Freeman stepped down, and out from under every stuffed shirt in the Olympic organization whistled a mighty sigh of relief. The waxworks had been spared from compounding the boobery which had created the biggest, most avoidable flap in these quadrennial muscle dances since Eleanor Holm was flung off the 1936 swimming team for guzzling champagne aboard ship.
The four-hundred-meter race was run Friday, about forty-eight hours after Smith and Carlos put on their act and 1.2 hours after the United States officials lent significance to their performance by firing them from the team. The simple little demonstration by Smith and Carlos had been a protest of the sort every black man in the United States had a right to make. It was intended to call attention to the inequities the Negro suffers, and without the aid of the Olympic brass might have done this in a small way.
By throwing a fit over the incident, suspending the young men and ordering them out of Mexico, the badgers multiplied the impact of the protest a hundredfold. They added dignity to the protestants and made boobies of themselves.
“One of the basic principles of the Olympic games,” read the first flatulent communiqué from on high, “is that politics play no part whatsoever in them. . . . Yesterday United States athletes in a victory ceremony deliberately violated this universally accepted principle by using the occasion to advertise their domestic political views.”
Not content with this confession that they can’t distinguish between human rights and politics, the playground directors put their pointed heads together and came up with this gem:
“The discourtesy displayed violated the standards of sportsmanship and good manners. . . . We feel it was an isolated incident, but any further repetition of such incidents would be a willful disregard of Olympic principles and would be met with severest penalties.”
The action, Roby said, was demanded by the International Olympic Committee, including Avery Brundage, president, and by the Mexican Organizing Committee. They are, as Mark Antony observed on another occasion, all honorable men who consider children’s games more sacred than human decency.
Soon after the committee acted, a bedsheet was hung from a sixth-floor window of the apartment house in Olympic Village where Carlos has been living. On it were the letters: “Down with Brundage.”
There were, of course, mixed feelings on the United States team. Lee Evans was especially upset, but when asked whether he intended to run as scheduled, he would only reply, “Wait and see.”
“I had no intention of running this race,” he said over the air after taking the four-hundred, “but this morning Carlos asked me to run and win.”
Said Carlos: “The next man that puts a camera in my face, I’ll stomp him.”
Here’s a tough, griping story by Gary Cartwright. It appears in his fine collection Confessions of a Washed-Up Sportswriter:Including Various Digressions about Sex, Crime and Other Hobbies and was originally published in Texas Monthly. It appears here with the author’s permission.
By Gary Cartwright
Otis Crater was late for the fanciers’ organizational meeting at the Cherokee Lounge for good reason. He had just stabbed a U-TOTE-M attendant following a discussion of the economic impact of a five-cent price increase on a six-pack of beer.
Crater kicked open the lounge door and bounced off the wall, scattering a table of Arabs who had made the mistake of thinking the Cherokee was a hangout for University of Texas exchange students. Crater carried the remnants of a six-pack under one arm and cradled his baby pit bulldog, Princess, under the other. He looked like a crazed, bloody scarecrow.
“That sorry bastard started it,” Crater told those already gathered for the meeting. “I had turned my back to leave when he came at me with a butcher knife. He tore open my right side. Daddy was out in the truck with Princess and a load of cedar. I said, ‘Don’t ask me why right now, just give me your knife.’”
“Did you kill the sorry bastard?” Stout asked.
“I don’t know,” Crater said, as though he hadn’t considered the question until now. “I ‘spect I made him a Christian. Daddy told me, ‘You’re a goddamn fool springing a knife on a man when you can’t even see straight. You’re liable to cut yourself as him.’ I think I got myself in the thigh.”
Crater and his family are cedar choppers, a profession they have followed for a hundred years or longer. Cedar chopper has become a generic term, like redneck, almost without precise meaning. But there are still real people out among the evergreen hills, spring-fed creeks, and wild backroads west of Austin who earn their keep by clearing stands of scrub cedar for land developers. Their wages are the wood they cut in a day. They drive broken-down pickup trucks, deal in cash, preach self-reliance, and maintain a fundamental faith in the use of physical force.
Thus, an increase in the price of a six-pack is of genuine concern. One could well imagine Crater’s old daddy embellishing the story for the domino players, who would nod approval and observe that Otis was a good boy, if inclined to be a little hotheaded on occasion. “Heh, heh,” his daddy would say, “I taught him better. First slash, he missed by eight inches and cut his ownself in the leg.”
Stout, a telephone company lineman, had summoned the fanciers to call to their attention an ad in Pit Dog Report, an earthy, nearly illiterate “Mag. of reading and not to many picturs” published in Mesquite and circulated nationally.
The ad read:
OPEN TO MATCH
any time … any where
BULLY, male, 54 lb.
A DEAD GAME DOG!
Parties interested could contact Mr. Maynard at a post office box in Phoenix, Arizona. It wasn’t necessary to mention that challengers lacking the proper securities need not respond. They had all heard of Mr. Maynard and his legendary beast, Bully. Mr. Maynard was the Max Hirsch of pit bulldog breeding, and Bully was Man o’ War. Bully had every quality a fighting dog can have—gameness, biting power, talent, stamina, bloodline. As the saying goes, a dead game dog.
‘We’re gonna get it on!” Stout declared, cackling and slamming the magazine on the table.
“He’s crazy as a mudsucking hen,” Crater said, addressing the table. J.K., a professional breeder who works with his daddy, ran the tip of a frog sticker under his walnut-colored fingernails and said nothing. Annabelle, a girl with an Oklahoma Dust Bowl face who lives with J.K., was practically sitting in J.K.’s lap, which was as far away as she could get from Stout.
“I got fifteen hundred bucks,” Stout said. “That leaves fifteen hundred for the rest of you.”
Crater looked down at Princess, who was chewing on his foot. “What are we gonna use for a dog?” he inquired. “I’m afraid Princess here is a shade might young. Boudreaux’s dead … Tombstone’s dead … and that dark brindle of J.K.’s wouldn’t make a good lunch for a beast like Bully.”
“Tell him,” Stout said. Then J.K. related what fate had brought their way.
It seemed that J.K.’s daddy knew a driver who knew a dispatcher who had a brother in El Paso who had a dog named Leroy. Leroy was so god-awful bad nobody in El Paso would speak his name, but for a price his owner was willing to loan him out. J.K. and his daddy had taken a pretty game dog named Romeo out to El Paso where Leroy had had him for high tea.
But that wasn’t all. J.K.’s daddy noticed that one of Leroy’s toes had been cut off-cut clean, not like in a fight, but like a man had taken a chisel and cleaved the toe with a blow from a mallet.
Crater looked around the Cherokee and whistled. Stout yelled for some beer. They had all heard the story, how you never saw a genuine Maynard dog with a full set of toes. This was the result of a legendary training technique peculiar to the Maynard kennel. On a pup’s first birthday, Mr. Maynard drops him in the pit with an older, experienced dog. As soon as the animals hit in the center of the pit and get a good hold, Mr. Maynard cleaves off one of the pup’s toes. If the pup lets go his hold, if he loses heart and whines and slobbers, Maynard cleaves open his head and goes about his business. But if the pup holds on, if he keeps on fighting, Maynard has found a new beast to ward off the wolves of his trade. Anytime you see a three-toed dog, move over.
“You trying to tell us Leroy is one of old man Maynard’s stock?” Crater asked.
“I’m trying to tell you Leroy is the son of Bully!” Stout cackled, banging his giant fist on the table. “Only the sainted Doctor Maynard don’t know it. He thinks Leroy is dead somewhere out in California.”
“He won’t for long,” Crater said. “Don’t you think old man Maynard won’t recognize his own work?”
“Me and daddy cut off a toe on his other foot,” J.K. admitted. “Then I dyed him brindle.”
“Hell,” Stout said. “You seen a thousand pit bulls. After a few fights, who knows the difference?”
Crater had to laugh. Leroy, son of Bully. Even his own daddy wouldn’t know him.
“That’s still a lot of money,” he said, tumbling Princess with his other boot. “How do we know he can take him?”
“That’s just a chance we have to take,” Annabelle said. flinching as Stout grabbed her knee. Stout was leaning forward, grinning like a berserk grizzly bear. His shirttail was out, and you could see the bulge of a .38 Super pushed down into his jeans.
Pit bulldogs. Killers, yes. For two thousand years or longer, pit bulldogs have been bred for a single purpose—to fight. To fight to the death, if necessary. To attack anything with four legs. They do not defend, understand. They are worthless as watchdogs unless the intruder happens to be another dog, or a lion, or an elephant. No, they attack. That’s their only number. They were bred that way—short neck, tremendously powerful body and legs, an undershot jaw capable of applying 740 pounds of pressure per square inch (compared to a German shepherd’s 45 or 50), a nose set back so they can hang on and breathe at the same time. The symbol of Winston Churchill and the English-speaking race.
The American Kennel Club refuses to register the breed. In its well-stocked library in New York, which includes such titles as The Dog in Action, Spine of the Dog, and Canine Madness, there are few references to the pit bulldog, or American pit bull terrier as they call it, careful to distinguish this nondog from such registered breeds as the ordinary bull terrier or the Staffordshire bull terrier.
Pure pit bulldogs are descendants of the old English mastiff, which Caesar greatly admired and brought back to Rome after his invasion of England in 55 B.C. Years before the Roman invasion, peasants kept mastiffs, or tiedogs as they were called—after the Anglo-Saxon practice of keeping mastiffs tied by day and letting them run loose at night. It was a practical method of regulating populations of wolves and other predators. Nobility, clergy, and other public-spirited citizens enjoyed dog fights and bequeathed legacies so that the common folk might be entertained on holidays.
Common folk are still entertained by the sport, especially throughout the South, the Southwest, and Southern and Central California, but also in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and most likely everywhere else. Fanciers, as they call themselves after the old English tradition, gather on Sunday mornings, in the thickets or bayous, along river bottoms or arroyos, in grape arbors, in junk yards, under railroad trestles. They bring their dogs and their wages and plenty of wine and beer and knives and guns, and they have one hell of a time.
Until recently, the fanciers bothered no one except each other, which was by free choice. Then, in the post-Watergate doldrums, newspapers in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Diego, and Chicago joined forces with the New York Times in exposing and deploring the sport, which they customarily refer to as a “practice.” Boxing and auto racing are sport.
“This metropolitan area has more active dog fighting than any other region nationally,” an investigative reporter wrote in the Dallas Morning News. Not only that, the story continued, but prostitutes and gamblers are rumored to congregate around the pits.
Almost every state has a law against dog fighting, but the sport is so clandestine that enforcement is nearly impossible. A vice squad detective for the Los Angeles sheriff’s department told the New York Times that his department knew when and where the fights were held, but they couldn’t get on the property to obtain evidence. Dog fighting is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas and can cost you two thousand dollars and a year in jail; the catch is you can’t prosecute without a witness. There’s not a pit bulldog breeder alive willing to testify against a fellow fancier.
But now that pit bulldog fighting has become an issue, all that may change. The Dallas Morning News (which supports the death penalty and Manifest Destiny and longs to invade Indochina) published an editorial titled “Despicable ‘Game,’” the final paragraph of which I quote: “Every effort should be made to stop these fights. Quite simply, they are inhumane and appalling to any thinking citizen. Such senseless mayhem should not be tolerated in our midst.”
Noble sentiments, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that one man’s mayhem, senseless or otherwise, is certain to be another’s calling. Fanciers—like other individualists or subcultures—consider themselves to be a special breed, a class apart from what, to their point of view, are the drones of mainstream society. Fanciers care for their animals fanatically, certainly as conscientiously as most football coaches or generals treat their charges. Preservation of the bloodline is every fancier’s solemn duty and privilege. When an insurance man advertised “White Cavalier (Pit) Bull Terriers” in the Austin American-Statesman, Crater and Stout called on the gentleman, pointing out that he was attempting to pass off lemons as oranges and promising to break his spinal column if the ad ever reappeared, which it did not. The American Kennel Club should take note, if not of the method, at least of the diligence.
Otis Crater’s jaded old daddy had reached an age where he’d lost interest in most dog fights, but he couldn’t resist this one; there he was in Stout’s house trailer, spitting Garrett’s snuff juice into a paper cup and recalling the morning in Dripping Springs when the legendary Black Jack Jr. went nearly two hours before turning Marvin Tilford’s Big Red.
The match ended when Marvin Tilford’s dog turned, or gave up. Big Red knew when he’d had enough, but Marvin was so humiliated (and broke) that he didn’t show up for a year. Big Red was later drowned by a boar coon who got him by the back of the neck in the South San Gabriel River.
“He should of never gone in water,” Crater’s old daddy pontificated as he rocked slowly and watched Princess chew on his boot. “Men and dogs belong on ground. Birds belong in air. Fish belong in water. When a creation starts believing they invented how things are, they forgot how things are.”
“Hey, daddy,” Crater interrupted, “tell ‘em about the deputy sheriff.”
“That’s another story,” the old man snorted, dabbing his gums with a frayed matchstick. ‘We was going pretty good when the deputy called and asked me how things was going. ‘Pretty good,’ I said. ‘The dogs been fighting twenty minutes and the people seventeen.’”
Watching Princess tumble around the floor of Stout’s trailer, you wouldn’t take her for a killer. She’s no larger than a football, this furry little alligator with sad eyes and a wrinkled face, chewing mindlessly, somehow reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover. According to procedure, Crater had already clipped her ears, which now looked like two raw navels. They were adequate for hearing but impossible to bite down on.
Princess was fun to play with—the trouble was she didn’t like to stop. She was playing with a big black poodle one afternoon when someone noticed that the poodle was no longer playing, or moving: the illusion of movement was caused by the steady jerking motion of Princess’s head. Shortly following life’s final measure of response, Princess dropped the black curly mess on the lawn and trotted over to examine a rosebush.
Before he got Princess, Crater traveled with a big brindle pit bulldog named Boudreaux. Crater was managing an Austin tavern when Boudreaux tore into a German shepherd three times his size. In the ten seconds or so it took Crater to separate them with his hickory wedge, Boudreaux ripped out the shepherd’s chest.
You could already hear the yelps and groans of men and animals down at the creek bottom when Stout arrived, carrying a package wrapped in brown paper.
“I guess you heard Claxon got stabbed,” Stout said.
“I heard he got some new marks,” Crater said. “What happened?”
“In the bathroom at the Cherokee. Claxon called this dude a Meskin. The dude was a Indian. Hell, I could tell right away he wasn’t no Meskin.”
“How’s he doing?”
“He’s about half dead and half proud,” Stout said, and his laugh sounded over-oiled, hollow, and obligatory. He tore away the brown paper and held up a framed, hand-lettered scroll. There were tears in his eyes. The scroll was a poem, written by his mama, Toots; her first poem since Stout’s daddy was shot to death by three blacks who hijacked his tiny grocery and market. Toots watched her husband die as she fired off several rounds at the fleeing killers. Austin police captured two of the hijackers, and the third, so it’s said, was captured by Stout’s vigilantes and is now fertilizing a worthy crop in a cedar chopper’s garden. Who knows?
Stout turned his head so that the others wouldn’t see the tears, and he looked for a place to hang the scroll. He selected a spot on the wall next to a poster of Pancho Villa enjoying a smoke under a mesquite tree.
Toots’s poem went like this:
The clock of life is
wound but once
And no man has the power
to tell just when the hands will stop.
At late or early hour.
Now is the only time we own,
live, love, toil with a mill;
Place no faith
in tomorrow for
The clock may then
There was silence throughout the trailer as Otis Crater read the words of Toots’s poem aloud, but Stout excused himself and slipped outside. He kept his back to the trailer and his head down, following the fossilized debris of an ancient riverbed. He stopped in front of an oak almost as wide as himself and took something from a homemade cabinet nailed to the tree trunk. It was a package of sunflower seeds. His short, knotted arms stretched for a low-hanging branch, and he filled a bird feeder with sunflower seeds.
Judging from the license plates of the campers and trucks scattered throughout the woods, the fanciers had come from as far away as California, Mexico, Florida, and even Canada. It was a young crowd, mostly in their twenties and thirties, a mixed bag of longhairs, cedar choppers, and high-risk investors, with a few blacks and Chicanos and some transients from a Houston motorcycle gang thrown in.
There were some women and enough children to make it look like a club picnic. A skinny kid named Tarlton, who stole ten-speed bikes for a living, passed out beer in paper cups. Tarlton wore a homemade T-shirt with a picture of Snoopy dragging a dead cat by the tail. There was no mistaking Mr. Maynard. He was the tall, lean, silver-haired man in a blue jump-suit and wraparound shades standing by his Winnebago talking to J.K.’s daddy. You’d figure him for a bomber pilot in World War II, but he was just another dog soldier a long way from home. The cold scars in Maynard’s eyes reached back to quarrels too horrible to translate: it had been a long time since he found it necessary to look tough or talk big.
There were a dozen bulldogs chained to heavy iron stakes around the perimeter of the clearing, but there was also no mistaking which one was Bully. While the other beasts were whimpering and sniffing blood and straining at their chains for some action, Bully relaxed on his haunches, observing the scene with sad, patient eyes.
Mr. Maynard and J.K.’s daddy talked and shared a drink, not at all interested in the fight in progress or the other fanciers clumped around the hay bales that formed the pit walls. A spotted cur owned by two black kids was trying to survive the jaws of one of Marvin Tilford’s pups. The match was hopelessly one-sided, which meant there was hardly any betting, and the crowd was restless.
“Why don’t you do the fair thing and give that leopard of yours a rest,” Marvin told the black kids. They conferred in whispers, then picked up their pet and paid off. The bet was fifty dollars.
That’s how most dog fights end, with a humiliated owner “doing the fair thing,” picking up and paying off. Dogs are frequently wounded and occasionally killed, but only in serious challenges where the stakes are high and the owners’ reputations well traveled. Even then an owner will usually do the fair thing when his beast is clearly outclassed, greatly preferring a healthy animal to an over-exercised ego.
“Dogs that are the best performers aren’t necessarily the best dogs,” Mr. Maynard told me as we drank scotch in his Winnebago. He knew that I was a writer. He even helped me with my notes, spelling out names, and carefully considering dates. He was only anxious that the sport not get a bad name.
“People talk about pure Maynards as they do about Picassos,” I observed.
“It’s an art,” he said.
“How do you do it7 What’s your secret?”
“No secret,” he smiled. “I just breed best to best. Now, knowing what is best, that’s a gift. I can’t tell you about that any more than Sugar Ray could tell you how he boxed. The best performers aren’t necessarily the best dogs, that’s just one quality. You look for everything from performance to pedigree to conformation to the way a dog holds his head when he pees. ‘Course, gameness is everything in a fighting dog, and you’re not gonna know that until you see him scratch for the first time. I’ve heard it said that if fanciers had millions of dollars like horse people we could come up with the perfect fighting dog, but I haven’t heard anyone claim they’ve come up with the perfect racehorse yet.”
I asked him about the familiar story, how he tested a pup by cleaving off one of its toes, then cleaved its head if the dog wasn’t game enough to suit Maynard standards.
“Naw,” he said, pouring two more drinks. “That’s an old story. I did it once or twice when I was getting started. I’m a businessman. A man growing corn doesn’t burn his fields because a few ears aren’t sweet. I raise dogs, I don’t kill them. Best to best, that’s the secret of a Maynard dog.”
“Some people think this is a cruel sport,” I said, understating the position as much as I dared.
“I guess it’s cruel as anything else in life,” he said, after considering the question from all sides. “These dogs only have one purpose in life, that’s to fight.” Fanciers are not long on philosophy. They accept what they do with the same lack of introspection that they accept war and General Motors. Their sport is part of their life.
The October sun came through the Winnebago window, overexposing the pastiche of fanciers around the hay bales. From the swell of the crowd it sounded like a hell of a fight. Then I realized it was Crater and Stout doing the cat number.
The cat number is traditional at dog fights, much like clowns at a circus or halftime bands at football games. What they do is throw live cats—which they buy for fifty cents a head from the city pound—to assorted dogs who aren’t fighting that day but who need exercise, self-confidence, and a show of affection. J.K. and his daddy use cats for training. Some handlers claim you shouldn’t run a dog, but J.K.’s daddy runs all of his beasts, using a homemade device consisting of an axle and a crosspole on which he can leash one dog and one cat. The leashes are measured so the dog can chase the cat till doomsday and never catch up, which he usually will attempt to do. If a dog has worked well, J.K.’s daddy will toss him a reward—the cat of his recent ordeal. A cat who has had a run-in with a pit bulldog is something out of a wax museum—a statue frozen in terror, eyes wide with disbelief, front claws arched, fangs bared in a silly, final grin.
Several wax museum cats lay in the grass around the hay bales. Marvin Tilford’s little boy walked by, swinging a dead cat by the tail.
It was a few minutes after 2 p.m. when Stout and Annabelle brought Leroy down from the trailer. They had changed his name to Tag. If he made it through the day, he would be Leroy again. He would return triumphantly to El Paso, but for now he was Tag, a dog with no past and an unenviable future. Tag looked more like a walking anthill of petrified Jell-O than any animal that might come to mind. He had so much scar tissue that you couldn’t tell what part was the original dog. J.K.’s dye job was blatantly atrocious; it looked as if Leroy had been tie-dyed.
“He wants Cajun rules,” J.K.’s daddy told Marvin Tilford, who by previous agreement would referee the match.
“Yessir,” Marvin said.
“He says, if you see a turn, call it. But let them maneuver. Don’t let the handlers push their dogs out of corner. Check the handlers … make ‘em roll up both sleeves, and make sure they taste their dogs’ drinks. No sponges … no towels … all the handler can take in the pit is his dog’s drink and a fan to fan him.”
“Yessir,” Marvin said.
When the handlers had carried the dogs to the pit, Mr. Maynard walked over and examined Leroy’s teeth.
“Nice animal,” he said. “Good head.” If he thought the markings curious, or observed the stubs of two toes, one so recently cleaved that the skin hadn’t grown back, he didn’t let on.
“Let’s roll,” he told Marvin.
Both dogs scratched hard out of their corners, and Bully took the lead, going low, forcing Leroy to bite around the nubs of gristle that had once been ears. Christ, he was strong. But there was no doubt Leroy was his daddy’s boy; he just kept coming. “It’s gonna be a long afternoon,” Crater said. Unless you have more money than you can possibly afford riding on the outcome, a dog fight is about as interesting as a college wrestling match: the beasts hit, lock on, and hold fast, in endless repetition. The fight quickly settles into a test of strength, endurance, and gameness. Even the blood takes on a surrealistic quality after a while, like ghost shadows in a hall of mirrors.
After forty-five minutes—when Marvin Tilford called the first pick-up and broke the dogs apart by forcing his hickory wedge between their jaws and twisting counterclockwise—it was still impossible to say who was top dog.
While the handlers were cooling off their animals, Crater and I walked down by the old Indian mound. You could feel the excitement bouncing off the limestone walls of the creekbed: it wasn’t watching the dogs that did it, it was being there, experiencing an almost-vanished culture of blood rites and a close familiarity with death.
Then we caught sight of Annabelle, coming out from behind some bushes, buttoning her pants.
“Damn,” she said, ‘Tm so nervous I almost wet my britches.”
“You think Mr. Maynard knows something?”
She shook her head. “I’d hate to find out. Old men like him can be real bad customers.”
“He didn’t say nothing when he looked at Leroy’s teeth.”
“That’s not what worries me,” Annabelle said. ‘Wait till his beast gets off on the acid.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?” Crater asked, squinting into the sun.
“I’m asking you.”
“We rubbed Leroy’s chest with acid,” Annabelle said. “Very shortly now Leroy’s daddy’s gonna take his first trip on LSD.”
Crater watched the light hit and fracture off the creek walls.
“Oh, me,” he sighed. “I get this awful feeling the center’s not holding.” Crater walked to his truck and got his gun. One of the fascinating things about Crater and his friends is the way they use the language. They are not educated, but they are amazingly literate.
At the second pick-up an hour later, both dogs were bloody but strong. Bully’s handler whispered something to Mr. Maynard, but Mr. Maynard shook his head and the handler told Marvin: “Let ‘em roll.” Leroy was bleeding from the chest and from the stifle of his left rear leg.
The battle was into its third hour when J.K. told his daddy: “His leg is starting to pump blood.”
“I can’t help that,” his daddy said.
“He’s making you like it, Leroy. You better eat!” Annabelle hollered out suddenly. At the name Leroy, both Stout and Crater felt for their guns, but Mr. Maynard didn’t blink.
“Work him, Tag!” J.K. yelled.
Bully was clearly the top dog now. Leroy was losing blood and weakening noticeably, but Bully was zonked far past the fatigue and mere dogdom. The ploy of the LSD was backfiring. The hair and blood in Bully’s mouth told him that he was a sixty-ton gorilla at the Captain’s Table reciting compound fractions in a tongue not previously heard on this planet. “Stand back,” he said in his strange tongue. “This one will be for keeps.” He took Leroy down by the front leg and chewed on the stifle, shaking hard, lifting Leroy off the ground and working him against the pit wall.
“Goddamn it, Marvin,” Stout hollered, “keep ‘em off the wall!” Marvin moved in with his hickory wedge, but before he could break the beasts Bully shook Leroy so hard he snapped off his hold and flew halfway across the pit. Then, by God, Leroy was on him, tearing at the soft part of his throat. This time Marvin called a pick-up, which was the proper thing to do. Marvin had to help the handler restrain Bully and drag him back to his corner.
“Jesus, he’s pumping,” said Tarlton, the bicycle thief. “Don’t let ‘em roll again.”
Marvin looked at Mr. Maynard, then at J.K. “You want to roll again?” he asked. J.K. answered by releasing his beast, who lunged straight at Bully and got him by the eye.
“No more pick-ups,” Mr. Maynard said quietly. “Let ‘em roll.”
“Let ‘em roll,” J.K. agreed.
So that would be it—one of the dogs would have to die or quit, and it wasn’t difficult to project which alternative would prevail.
Three hours and fifty-eight minutes into the match, it happened. Bully was going for the chest, boring in like a jackhammer, when suddenly Leroy got a leg and flipped him easy as you turn a pancake. There was a wailing sound like echoes colliding, then Bully’s eyes froze over. He lay still as Leroy tore out his throat. Leroy relaxed his hold, sniffed his dead opponent, then limped over and licked J.K.’s hand.
“If that don’t beat all!” Otis Crater’s old daddy said as they stood over the corpse of the late, great Bully. “It’s like his old heart just give out on him.”
J.K.’s daddy nodded. “Looks like he busted apart inside.”
“If that don’t beat all!” Otis Crater’s old daddy said again.
Mr. Maynard walked over to his Winnebago and returned with a .44 Magnum and a sheaf of hundred-dollar bills. “Here’s what I owe you,” he told J.K.’s daddy.
Mr. Maynard turned the cold scars of his eyes on Stout, then on the others, taking his time.
“I don’t know what you little bastards did to my dog,” he said, “but you’re the ones that have to live with it.”
He walked over to Leroy, patted Leroy’s head, then raised his .44 Magnum to Leroy’s head and blew it off. No one moved or spoke a word.
“If you boys ever get to Phoenix,” he said, looking each of them over one more time, “look me up.”
This is my all-time favorite story, maybe because it was turned down by nearly every magazine in the country. Rolling Stone, Esquire, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, they all had a shot at the story and rejected it. It wasn’t just a judgment call; they truly hated the story. “Good Lord, dogs killing dogs,” Sports Illustrated editor Ray Cave (now editor of Time) told me. “My wife would never speak to me again if I printed that.” The story touched some primordial sense of revulsion in all these editors; people were killing people daily, by the hundreds of thousands, but there was something about dogs that was too much for their sensibilities. I had to beg Texas Monthly editor Bill Broyles to accept the story, though he loved it once he saw it in print. Everyone did. Not long after publication I received a call from Esquire editor Geoffrey Norman, who had rejected the piece when he was still articles editor at Playboy, but apparently didn’t remember. Norman wanted to know why I never sent any really good pieces like this to him.
People still ask me if this really happened. It did, though I changed the names and combined several dog fights into a single big event. It’s interesting to note the blow-by-blow account of the fight, a holdover from my sportswriting days, no doubt: a fascination with the ritual itself. But more than that, it shares a fascination with the almost-vanished “sub-culture of blood rites and a close familiarity with death.” I remember Broyles asking if Crater really said “the center’s not holding”; that seemed a little esoteric for a mere cedar chopper, but then that’s what I was trying to show. These guys read books, too.
Incidentally, Patrick Henry Polk (see ‘The Endless Odyssey of Patrick Henry Polk“) and his clan were fringe members of this subculture.
As Margaret Mead so eloquently phrased it: “I don’t judge ‘em, I just write down what happened.”
Gary Cartwright has had a distinguished career as a newspaper reporter and as a freelance writer, contributing stories to such national publications as Harper’s, Life, and Esquire. He was a senior editor at Texas Monthly for 25 years until his retirement in 2010 at age 76. He has written several books, including Confessions of a Washed-up Sportswriter, which grew out of an essay he wrote for Harper’s. He has co-written three movie scripts, J. W. Coop (Columbia, 1972); A Pair of Aces (CBS-TV, 1990), which he also co-produced; and Pancho, Billy and Esmerelda, which he co-produced for his own production company in 1994. In addition, he co-produced Another Pair of Aces for CBS. Blood Will Tell was filmed by CBS-TV as a four-hour miniseries in 1994. In 1998 his book, HeartWiseGuy, was published.
[Illustration by Francis Bacon]
Head on over to SB Nation’s Longform and check out this story on Costa Rica’s killer bull by Ashley Harrell and Lindsay Fendt.
Early one morning in March, Caitlin Morrissey showed me around the blindingly lit white range. She is 21, built strong with long blonde hair and blue eyes. She is pretty and perfectly made-up. “My ritual,” she said. “Shower, hair, make-up every morning. I’m very organized.” There is no artifice about her. She looked directly at me when she spoke. It was disconcerting. She stood at her locker, painstakingly putting on her uniform: shoes, a sling for her left arm, her gloves. “Everything’s so our muscles will not be used,” she said. She walked penguin-style to the firing line. She put on her granny glasses with blinders, and a third blinder over her left eye. “I don’t like to shut my left eye,” Caitlin said. “The exertion causes face fatigue. I took out my contacts too, so they won’t move around.” A lot of shooters wear glasses. Exceptional vision is overrated in shooting, they claim.She stood at the firing line, her body sideways to the distant target. She assumed a model’s slouchy pose, legs spread, loose-hipped, her left hip cocked higher than her right. She turned her head and shoulders toward the target, aimed her rifle, her left hand under the barrel, cradling the rifle very gently, her left elbow propped against her left hip for support.
“Girls are better shooters than boys ‘cause we have hips,” Caitlin said. No smile, a fact. She pressed her cheek against her rifle, whispered something to it, and aimed. She exhaled, her body relaxed, got still. She held this pose for a few minutes, and then put her finger on the delicate trigger. It takes 1½ ounces of pressure to depress that trigger. Most firearms require 5 – 12 pounds of pressure. Caitlin stopped breathing, “ping”, took a breath and said, “9.8. Anything less than 10.0 is a failure. I haven’t settled into my position yet.” She aimed again. Two, three minutes went by, and then she fired. “A 10.6,” she said. “10.9 is perfect. See? My body’s settling in.” She aimed again, “ping” and a 9.8. “I could feel it was a 9 when I broke the shot. I wasn’t smooth pulling the trigger; I jerked it,” she said. She shot again (10.4), again, (10.6) again (10.8). I asked Caitlin if shooting a 10.9 was thrilling. She lowered her rifle and looked at me. “I wouldn’t call it thrilling,” she said. ”Rewarding maybe.”
…As a young girl in Topeka she played all the sports against boys. When she was 7 years old, her father took her to a shooting club. By 9, she was beating all the boys. That was her main motivation, she said, but that didn’t last. Beating boys was no big deal. Beating girls, however, was something else. At first, boys were fascinated by the girl with the gun. By the eighth grade that was just her persona. That was when she learned that Margaret Murdock lived nearby. She went to visit her and wrote a story about the woman who’d won an Olympic gold medal in rifle shooting, and then had it taken away in favor of a man. Caitlin called her essay, a mini-book, really, “The Life of a Champion”, author: Caitlin Morrissey, Copyright: 2003, Publisher: Morrissey Publishing.
Maybe that’s still in the back of her mind, she said, because, “It’s still fun to beat boys. It’s an accepted fact that girls are better. Girls know how to calm themselves down, relax, focus on one thing. Boys get distracted. They don’t have our attention span. When we find something we like, we latch on to it. Ninety percent of shooting is mental toughness. We calm ourselves down after a bad shot, and not relax too much after a good shot.” She said that what gratifies her most about shooting is that it taught her how to calm herself in life. “It’s a monotonous sport,” she said. “You have to be self-motivating. You’re in the practice range for three hours every day. Your body is locked in a cramped position. Boys build muscle for movement. Girls build muscle for stability. We do neck and trapezius work” because that’s where all a shooter’s tension is. “What do I do to relax?” she said, smiling for the first time. “I go shopping. Or organize things, like our graduation party.”
Caitlin’s boyfriend is a hunter. “I could never be with a guy who didn’t like guns,” she said. “I’ve never hunted, but I might one day. I don’t have a Bambi Complex. But I don’t like to point my gun at anything I don’t intend to shoot. It’s a tool, like a baseball bat, never a weapon. I could never be a sniper. You should talk to Jaime. She’s a hunter. She’s in ROTC. She could be a sniper.”
[Image Via: Roopstigo]
Head on over the SB Nation’s Longform page and check out this profile on Gary Stevens by Joe DePaolo:
“I got balls and guts,” Gary Stevens tweeted on the evening of Feb. 23. The barb was directed at an armchair critic who blasted the legendary jockey’s ride in that day’s Risen Star Stakes — at the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, in New Orleans. Stevens’ mount, Proud Strike, finished eighth in the race, and some fans in the blogosphere blamed the rider. Stevens felt compelled to respond directly to one of the more vocal detractors.
Few would argue with Gary Stevens’ declaration. He has competed in more than 27,000 Thoroughbred races worldwide over a 34- year span, winning more than 5,000 and frequently putting himself in danger in the process. Over the years, he’s often tried to squeeze his horse through a tight opening, or pin a rival down on the inside — whatever it takes to win.
Oh, yes. Gary Stevens has guts and balls. He has ‘em to spare.
He’s also got an intense desire to show the world that he’s got them. And should you challenge him, as the Twitter pundit did, he’s going to want to fight you.
Then go over to Time’s Lightbox site and dig this photo gallery by Jehad Nga.
And while you are at it, don’t forget this classic by Hunter S. Thompson.