The mid-January 1954 Los Angeles Championships, I believe, marked the first time the names, Mike Ralston, Leonard Cooperman, and Bobby Fields appeared in print together. Both Bobby and his well-known father, Stan Fields (formerly Feitelson), the long-time famous Tournament and Exhibition Player and former Club Manager of the Washington, D.C. Ice Palace Courts, were finalists at this tournament—Bobby finishing runner-up to Cooperman in the Under 15’s, and Stan runner-up in the Men’s to Erwin Klein.
In the Dec., 1954 Greater L.A. Open, Cooperman again won the Boys’ from Fields. But Bobby had the t.t. bug alright—the following year he reportedly accompanied his father and Bob Ashley on a National Schools Tour through Oklahoma and California.
In the fall of '56, l6-year-old Fields (now playing out of Pasadena, where it may be his father had already open a Club) showed such improvement that at the Golden State Open he was in the Men’s final. Only problem was: so was Lennie Cooperman, who again beat Bobby.
That the two were arch-rivals couldn’t be doubted, and to the spectators’ delight their games complemented one another—for Cooperman had a blasting forehand and Fields an excellent backhand deep defense. At the Dec.,'56 Pacific Coast Open, Bobby again lost to Lennie, but their 26-24-in-the-5th match couldn’t have been more thrilling. Rivals the two young Californians were, but they’d soon be scheduled to travel the country together, giving exhibitions for a Walt Disney troupe.
The l957 South Bend National's was the first tournament Bobby played in outside California. There he fulfilled future California TTA President Austin Finkenbinder’s prediction that he’d “upset top men’s competition” by downing both Tibor Back (from down double match point in the 5th) and also Keith Porter, before losing to Bobby Gusikoff in the 8th's. In the Junior’s he also did well, despite falling to runner-up Norby Van de Walle in the quarter’s in 5(after leading 2-0).
At the May Southern California Closed, held at the McCambridge Rec Center in Burbank, Lennie and Bobby played another fantastic match—with Lennie coming from two games down to edge Bobby 23-21 in the 5th. This loss spoiled Bobby’s hat trick, for with his father Stan he took the Men’s Doubles and with Val Smith (later Hall of Famer Bellini) the Mixed.
For the '56-57 season Fields would be #2 in California behind Cooperman, and would be ranked U.S. Men #l6, U.S. Junior #5.
At the June Southern California Closed in Pasadena, Bobby got over the hump—beat Cooperman, though when he lost that 4th game 29-27 his earlier 2-0 lead again looked like maybe it wasn’t gonna be enough. At the July Pacific Southwest Open in Hollywood, however, Lennie was back dominant. When Bobby was upset by Wayne Obertone, Coop’s final victim was Mike Ralston.
From Aug.-Oct.,'57 Bobby was on a U.S.Government-sponsored goodwill Asian Tour--Afghanistan, Iran, East and West Pakistan, India, and Ceylon--with Bernie Bukiet and Capt. Bill Gunn. In Teheran they played before the Shah and his Queen and both Bobby and Bernie were beaten (as pre-arranged or not) by the Iranians, one of whom was the very capable Houshang Bozorgzadeh who’d immigrate to the U.S. and become our National Team Captain and Coach.
At the ’57 Long Beach Closed, Fields was upset by young Bobby Parker (a loss he would later avenge at the Inglewood Open), but won the Doubles with Stan over John Hanna/Gene Roseman.
A big surprise at the Dec., 1957 Pacific Coast Open, for Hungarian immigrant Dr. Andreas Gal flew in from out East and annihilated California’s best—Eddie Kantar (9, 5, 16), Fields (12, 12, 8), and Cooperman (15, 13, 11). This prompted L.A. Table Tennis Center owner Si Wasserman to groan:
“Although I realize that if our players play him a few times they will get onto the spin that he imparts with his 1 inch foam rubber on his backhand, I can’t reconcile the fact that something is radically wrong when a paunchy, middle-aged man can completely tear apart skilled players who are in the very prime of life & who are athletes in the true sense of the word….I’m not sure what the answer is…but I do know Dr. Gal’s type of bat is bad for table tennis!…”
At the l958 Asbury Park, N.J. National's, in the Men’s 8th’s, Bobby fought hard against the former Yugoslav International and current multi-time Canadian Champion, Max Marinko, but Max wouldn’t crack, wouldn’t, on winning 21, 20, 24, let Fields back into the match. Bobby also lost two other close matches--in the Junior's to Ralston in a 5-game semi's; and in the Men's Doubles with Bozorgzadeh to winners Miles and Reisman, again in a 5-game semi's.
For the l957-58 season Bobby was again #2 in California behind Cooperman, and was ranked U.S. Men #22 and U.S. Junior #4.
Bobby couldn’t have started the 1957-58 season any better. He won both the June 28-29 San Gabriel Closed and the Aug. California State Championship over pippled rubber player, Zoltan Farkas, brother of 3-time World Women's Champ, Gizi Farkas. Bobby’s sister, Betty Fields, also won a title—the Women’s Novice over Penny Gomez, Reuben’s daughter. After Fields had been down 2-1 in the quarter’s to Gomez and then beat Bob Ashley and Farkas to become State Champion, the California Newsletter spoke of how
Bobby, “wielding a bat with inverted pebbles rubber on sponge on one side and regular millimeter sponge on the other, deftly mixed deep defensive returns with occasional sharp offensive thrusts to maintain control.”
At the fall ’58 Open in Hollywood (this I believe is before Bobby goes off on a Tour of the Northwest with father Stan), Bobby again beats Farkas (19 in the 5th), but then loses the final to Cooperman. I’d heard that, because of Lennie’s strong serves and devastating forehand follows, that when in non-tournament play he was challenged in matches, it was agreed that once players were in the point no lets would be called regardless of distractions, for only if an opponent could get back Lennie’s serve and follow did he have a fighting chance. Fields, in particular, if he could get into the points, figured to win more of them than he lost.
The Dec., ‘58 Pacific Coast Open saw Bobby lose in 5 to the Northwest’s best player, Carl Cole. Bobby was also beaten in the Jan., 1959 Greater Santa Monica Closed by Cooperman.
In the 1959 National's at Inglewood, CA Fields lost in the Men's to Klein in the 8th's in 4; lost in the Junior's to Cooperman in the semi's, 3-0; lost in Men's Doubles with Van de Walle to winners Schiff and Gusikoff in the semi's; and with Junior Miss Champ Sharon Acton lost in the Mixed in the semi’s to Reisman and Women’s winner Susie Hoshi. Doubtless the blind umpire Chuck Medick officiated at one or more of Fields’ matches, since decades late Bobby recalled that Chuck would say something a little startling and intrusive like, “Nice shot, Bob—that’s the best forehand I’ve ever seen.”
For the l958-59 season Fields was U.S. Men #l9; for Junior's Insufficient Data.
Bobby got his 1st win of the 1959-60 season in the July California Closed at the Hollywood Club—in the semi’s over retriever Ashley whom he’d lost to two weeks before at San Jose, then in the final over John Hanna.
At the Nov. Long Beach Open, Fields was beaten by Ralston. But at the more prestigious Dec. Pacific Coast Open Bobby downed Mike in the final (after Mike was lucky to survive 4 match points against up-and-coming Richard Card.
Bobby didn’t enter the National’s—he was touring in the States with Bobby Parker, but he received his highest to date National Ranking, Men’s #5. He had arrived.
This was clearly evident at the National Team Championships. Since California didn’t field a team, Bobby played for New Jersey and had an enviable 19-2 record. Among those he beat were Erwin Klein (Erwin’s only loss), Marty Doss, and Ohio’s Danny Vegh and Emery Lippai who’d be the National Doubles Champions this season. Bobby’s two losses were to Gusikoff and fast-improving Danny Pecora.
Afterwards, Bobby won the Dec. 10-11 Washington Open over Somael, then Doss, 22-20 in the 4th. In Jan. he won the Baltimore Chesapeake Open over Somael and then Hazi.
In the semi's of the Jan., 1961 Eastern's, Fields, after downing Somael, lost to the winner Reisman in 5. There’d be quite a rivalry between Marty and Bobby, and their challenges, their exchanges with one another were not always pleasant.
Doss finally retaliated, beat Bobby in the Feb. New York Open.
At the 196l U.S. Open in Detroit, Bobby was 1-1 and at deuce in the 3rd with Pecora but prevailed, then he knocked off Lippai and, showing patience, Bozorgzadeh. In the semi’s, in a match that Pauline Somael said was expedited after just two points, Fields killed Ralston 9 and 8 in two of their games, but lost in 5.
Pauline’s “Over the Net” assessment of Bobby in Topics pegged him as, “Clever, temperamental, self-possessed and sensitive.” She said that no matter how one might feel personally toward him” (he’s a controversial figure?), one had to admit that “he fights grimly for each and every point….Often misunderstood because of his temperament…[he] nevertheless lends a great deal of charm.” Here he won his first National Championship—the Men’s Doubles with 1957 Singles Champion Bernie Bukiet over Defending Champions Vegh/Lippai.
For the 1960-6l season Bobby had his highest ranking to date: U.S. Men #4.
In July Bobby had an encouraging start to the new season—took the P.T. Barnum Festival Midway Open at Bridgeport from Somael and received what had to be a first for him, the prize of a U.S. Government Bond.
He continued to play well. On visiting in California, he beat Ralston in 5 at the Shonie Aki-run Hollywood Cinema Open. Then back East he won the Toronto Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) tournament, deuce in the 5th over Doss in the final (after being down in the semi’s 2-1 and 17-12 in the 5th to Marinko). This put him on the cover of Topics.
Still another win for Bobby was the Nov. Connecticut Open. His toughest opponent, however, was not Bukiet in the final but Jack Howard in the semi’s who extended him into the 5th.
At the '6l Detroit USOTC's Fields, again playing for New Jersey, was named MVP with a 24-l record. (He beat, among others, Doss, Gusikoff, Bukiet, Miles, Marinko, and Van de Walle; lost only to Klein.) Too bad the World’s were in Peking, where no U.S. Team could go, for Bobby had to have been selected. What a streak he’d had.
It came to an end at the Eastern’s—but not disgracefully, for Bobby lost to Bernie in 5 in the semi’s.
A week before the 1962 U.S. Open at New York City's St. Nicholas Arena, Gusikoff put on a “Tournament of Champions at his Club in the Riverside Plaza Hotel before a “rather chic crowd” of 500 paying spectators—among whom most notably were Huntington Hartford, Mrs. Sugar Ray Robinson, Tennis pro Dick Savitt, Sheldon Harnick who wrote the lyrics for the Broadway hit “Fiorello,” and comedienne Elaine May who presented Miles with the winner’s check for $250. Games were to 11, best 3 out of 5. Runner-up was Klein who beat Bukiet and Van de Walle. Fields downed Gusikoff in 4, but lost a prolonged “dull” match to Miles in 5.
Before the National’s began, Topics reported Fields as saying that the Men’s event “is much harder to win than players in other nations may think.” However, Bobby advanced to the semi’s without losing a game—once reportedly from a prone position sending back a point-winner. His semi’s opponent, Van de Walle, had been down 2-1 to Chuck Burns, but in a match many thought should have been expedited earlier he’d rallied to win.
The expedited hour and a half Fields/Van de Walle semi’s had to be crowd-throbbing. (Bobby was right—the National’s is much harder to win than one might think: one point between Bobby and Norby was said to last six minutes.) Play became the more pulsating after Van de Walle got leg cramps. Bill Marlins reportedly came out to administer to him, and Miles dead-panned the line, “I wonder who’ll be the sentimental favorite to win this match.”
After Bobby led 19-14 in the 5th, Norby was able to win this match, as Pauline Somael said, on sheer guts. Fields, the story goes, flings his bat to the table, exchanges a sporting hug with Norby, but distraught, moves to an exit where, as it happens, Bobby’s sister Betty and Marty Doss, her husband-to-be, Bobby’s brother-in-law to be, are coming in. Bobby, anguished, wails how he’s just lost 23-21 in the 5th—to which Doss replies as he keeps walking, “Tough shit.”
For this or something, Doss wins the Sportsmanship Award, and Bobby will again be U.S. #4 for the season.
Knowing how competitive Fields is, it must have been very satisfying for Bobby to rally from down 2-0 to beat Doss and win the Washington, D.C. Summer Open.
At the 1962 CNE, in the International Matches with Canada, Fields –15, 23, 12 barely got by Howie Grossman, then downed Modris Zulps with ease. In the Men’s, Defending Champ Bobby beat Pecora in the 8th’s, but was upset by Richard Hicks in 5 in the quarter’s.
In March of '63 two Englishmen come to the U.S. for a short Tour—they’re proponents of the new “loop” stroke that’s been sweeping the table tennis world but is unknown to almost anyone here. After Birmingham’s Derek Baddeley downed Fields ll and 8, Bobby realized his as yet unadjusted chop defense was useless, so he went on to beat London’s Stan Jacobson, l7, l2 with an “inspired” all-out attack. Thus, as one reporter put it, he’d “not allowed his game to remain static,’ and had added to his “heavy backhand chop and push” a powerful forehand smash. Though in further matches with these two, Bobby had Jacobson’s number, it took him a while to beat Baddeley.
Bobby’s near contemporary, Brooke Williams, a good player in her own right, tells us how “Bobby, with his black tailored tights and floppy forelock, is of the sensational school,” has a style –“the Great Defense”—that is “uniquely his own.” Commenting on the change in Bobby’s game, she wrote:
“Great, therefore, was surprise on the circuit when ‘Glamor Boy’ Bob Fields, the world’s greatest exponent of the underspun push, decided to loop! Bob, whose push has a deep and devastating dig, would now have to re-orient constantly—and with incredible speed—his blade, his body, his mental approach, and that most delicate element, his touch. And all this for an attenuated version of what those two Englishmen do so superbly.
‘Why, Bobby, why?’ queried his concerned colleagues. ‘It’s the wave of the future,’ he rationalized. ‘Besides, loop them before they loop you!’”(TTT, May, 1965, p. 15).
Bobby was a member of the '63 U.S. World Team, and did well. In Swaythling Cup play, he beat two Dutch and two North Vietnam players, and lost to a Japanese. In Singles he won 3 early matches, then lost to 1962 European Champ Hans Alser, 3-0. In Men’s Doubles, he and Van de Walle beat two Germans deuce in the 5th, then lost to a Chinese pair in 5. In the Mixed he and Bernice Chotras had gutsy wins over Austrians and Czechs before falling to a strong Hungarian team. In pre-World's matches against the English, Bobby beat Chester Barnes and Bryan Merrett, lost to Ian Harrison and David Creamer.
At the 1963 Detroit U.S. Open, Bobby lost to Bukiet, 3-0, in the quarter’s. As Bernie won this Championship, it was scarcely a bad loss, and for the l962-63 season Bobby attained his highest ranking—U.S. #2.
In the International Matches at Toronto, Bobby played two matches—often lobbing so much he got a sore arm: he beat Canada’s #2 Larry Lee in Singles, and with Laszlo Varenyi took Lee/Marinko in Doubles. In the Men’s, Bobby, on ousting Varenyi and Marinko, was l9 in the 4th runner-up to Gusikoff, and won the Men's Doubles with Chuck Burns.
Reportedly, by the fall of l963 Fields would be in the National Guard, and by the first of the year he’d be married to Carolyn Clark.
At the 1964 Eastern’s, Bobby played a good –17, –22, 22, -16 quarter’s match with South American Champion Biriba Da Costa who, after beating Bukiet, came runner-up to Sweden’s visiting Alser. The two finalists paired together to take the Men’s Doubles from Bobby and Bernie.
At the l964 U.S. Open in Inglewood, CA, there was a strange occurrence: after the 23-year-old Fields had rallied to beat U.S. Junior Champion Ralph “Pete” Childs and was up 2-1 on Doss in the Men’s semi’s, the Inglewood Boys’ Band decided that was the best time for their “rousing concert.” So be it. Bobby went on to beat Marty 19 in the 4th, with, as Sports Illustrated’s Barbara La Fontaine wrote, “series after series of ascending long lobs that dropped fatly on the end of the table, forcing Doss to return further lobbable balls until Fields could put one away off a corner.” But then in the televised final Bobby could do nothing against Klein who, as one wit said, “looped to conquer.” Fields, with Doss, was also runner-up in the Men’s Doubles—to Klein/Bukiet. But capping a great tournament, “lean and high-strung” Bobby paired with Donna Chaimson (later Donna Sakai) to win the Mixed over Dell Sweeris and Connie Stace (later Dell’s wife).
Returning to California, Bobby won the Dec., 1964 South L.A. Closed over Darryl Flann, Alex Salcido, and Dennis Hickerson. In March, 1965 (?), Fields married former U.S. Girls’ Champion Charleen Hanson in Vegas, then (because of an infected toe?) missed the Mar. 19-21 U.S. Open. His ranking for the season? U.S. #5.
After losing to 22-year-old lefty Dennis Hickerson in the final of the Pacific Coast, l8 in the 4th, and to Alex Salcido in the final of the Golden State, l9 in the 5th, Bobby, his best playing days behind him, vanished from the tournament scene.
Only to appear early in '66 at the Seattle Open where he beat the touring many-time World Champ Richard Bergmann before losing to his Exhibition partner whom I believe was D-J Lee. Reportedly Bobby owned a haberdashery shop in Seattle with the former New York City player Barry Michelman.
Although Bobby came back to win the Long Beach Open over Jack Howard in 4, for two years he saw little play. In 1967 he entered the San Diego National’s and, alas, in the 8th’s met the tournament winner, the visiting Manji Fukushima, Japan #6. In Men’s Doubles, Bobby and Jack Howard lost to Sweden’s Billy Bergstrand and Swedish immigrant Ragnar Fahlstrom in 5 in the quarter’s.
So did Fields go back into retirement? Nope. He played in the May L.A. County CA State Closed and though he didn’t get to the Singles final, he did, with Dave Froehlich, come runner-up in the Doubles to Howard and Dave Sakai. Bobby also played in the Aug. Santa Monica Open and lost a 19-in-the-5th semi’s match to Bukiet, but won the Doubles with Froehlich from Shonie Aki/Mark Adelman.
In the Long Beach Open, a warm-up for the NTC’s,“Fields’ steady chop was too much for Jack Howard’s murderous loop.” Also, though he seldom hit, when he did, he got the ball through Jack.
At the Nov. 11-12 Detroit Team Championships, Fields, Howard, Wayne Obertone, and Darryl Flann came lst. Bobby had a l5-5 record--beat Marinko, Richard Hicks, Dave Sakai, and Errol Resek among others.
On returning from Detroit, Bobby, after getting by Adelman 18 in the 5th, lost a deuce-in-the-4th semi’s match in the Hollywood Open to Froehlich who was then beaten by Howard. Bobby, with Dave, also dropped a semi’s Doubles match to the eventual winners, Flann and Howie Grossman.
The Jan. Hollywood Cinema Open saw Fields –18, 19, -24, 11, 19 escape Froelich and reach the final—only to lose to Howard in 5. Doubles winners in a reversal of fortune were Fields/Froelich over Grossman/Flann.
In Feb., 1968, at the Golden State Open, Bobby, playing regularly now and still fiercely competitive –16, -19, 16, 22, 18 ousted Flann, but lost to Froehlich in the semi’s, 18 in the 5th, after which Dave was again beaten by Howard. Bobby and Dave did win the Doubles again though—from Grossman/Obertone.
Fields didn’t go to the Detroit National’s, and was ranked U.S. #9 for the l967-68 season. This Top Ten finish would finally end his career.
Of course he had a living to make--in the winter of '7l, for example, he was off to Europe on a long buying trip for the Bullock Department Store (ladies’ shoes in particular his object). But the lure of competitive play was still strong. In 1982 he surfaced in Vegas for the U.S. Closed and with Ron Von Schimmelman reached the final of the 40 Doubles before losing to Bohdan Dawidowicz/Tim Boggan.
Vegas was fun—and in 1983 he got Doss out of retirement to play with him in the U.S. Open Over 40 Doubles—and they beat Dawidowicz/Grossman for the title. In 1984 Bobby was back in Vegas for the Open—but lost to D-J Lee in the Over 40 Singles and to Lee and Boggan in the Over 40 Doubles. However, at the Closed that year they easily defeated Boggan/Dawidowicz to win another title. At the ’87 Closed, Bobby was back with Von Schimmelman and again they were finalists in the 40 Doubles, losing to Sakai and George Brathwaite.
So, after those later triumphs, was Bobby ever seen again? Of course. How could he stay away from the action, if only to watch? Within the last year—that’s 2003—he was a spectator at both the Meiklejohn National Seniors and the U.S. Closed. Indeed, he might yet again be induced to competitive play; he’s only in his 60’s-plenty of time yet to win Championships.