Ah, (photo #1) here we are with our opening inductee—the handsome, young Pecora of 1959. And doesn’t he look like a modest fellow with a serene, mild-mannered, submissive disposition.
We find Danny coming of age at the 1960 Washington, D.C. National’s (Photo #2) where he and lefty Milwaukeeian Jimmy Blommer—after upsetting two of Si Wasserman’s pupils, 1959 U.S. Boys Champion Danny Cohen and 1960 U.S. Open Junior Champion Richard Card—are finalists in the Junior Doubles.
Pecora will come to have a reputation as a hitter, but, (Photo #3) as you can see, he can also play defense—sometimes (Photo #4) spectaculardefense. Wow!
At the 1960 Wisconsin Closed, 15-year-old Danny beat two of his lifelong friends, both here this evening. He won the Juniors in straight games over (Photo #5) Defending Champ Blommer (here looking as if he’s applauding his own shot). And (Photo #6) he also won the Novice over Pat Garrity (who seems pleased enough at having taken the Class B’s).
The Jan., 1961 St. Joe Valley Open at South Bend was Danny’s first breakthrough tournament. He won the Junior’s and Junior Doubles; and was runner-up in both the Men’s and Men’s Doubles. (Photo #7) No wonder Varenyi beat him though—that shadow shot makes it seem like Danny had to play two Laszlos. Later, at the Lake States Open in Chicago, Pecora will win the Men’s Doubles with Norby Van de Walle.
Meanwhile, 15-year-old Illinois Closed Junior Miss Champ Pat Havlick (Photo #8) goes dancing after the ball in Si Wasserman’s book Table Tennis. Pat will later become Danny’s wife.
Danny’s first National title came at the 1962 U.S. Open. (Photo #9) Here he receives his trophy for winning the Under 17’s over Ralph “Pete” Childs.
What’s this? The 18-year-old Pecora’s come East to live? Wants to improve his game playing with New Yorkers? At the Jan., 1963 Delaware Open, Danny’s footwork is described as “masterful”; his reflexes “almost unbelievable.” But 46-year-old Bukiet beats him.
At the ’63 U.S. Open Danny was advancing in a bid to successfully defend his Junior title. But then, because of some misunderstanding, he thought he could go to lunch—only to hear later an official say he should have been around to play his semi’s, and so had been defaulted. “Yeah?” he said. “Well then to hell with my Junior Doubles final”—an arrogant no-no that would later result in his summer suspension.
For the moment, however, paying his own way, he (Photo #10) accompanied the U.S. Team and its entourage to the ’63 Prague World’s (Pecora’s 3rd from right). Permitted to play in the Singles, he was by far the best of our Pre-lim battlers, able to attack with forehand (Photo # 11) or backhand (Photo #12). After winning his 3 early matches, he advanced to the main draw proper where he defeated Vincent Purkart, 19 in the 4th. This was a very good win, for, before Jacques Secretin began his near invincible 17-year reign, Purkart in 1964 and ’65 would be the French National Champion. Then Pecora won again, knocked out Poland’s Calinski who’d beaten Van de Walle in the Team’s. Finally, it took Danny’s 6th opponent, China’s Chou Lan-sun, to halt his great run.
That next season, however, Pecora will be out of action—perhaps due to illness or injury (he’d cracked a vertebrate?). Rumors seemed to swirl round him.
Pat Havlick is now Pat Pecora…and pregnant. She goes to the Apr, 1965 Ljubljana, Yugoslavia World’s, but, (Photo #13) as you can see from the photo (Pat’s just behind Team Leader Rufford Harrison), she’s the only U.S. woman player there, for no one else is willing to pay her own way. Danny as 1st Alternate on the Team played only one Swaythling Cup match… against Iran, losing to Houshang Bozorgzadeh but beating Amir Ehteshamzadeh, 22-20 in the 3rd—the only win against these two Iranians our U.S. Team could muster. In Singles, Danny did very well to take a game from China’s World #27 Wang Chia-sheng.
At the ’65 CNE International Match, the U.S. men edged the Canadians 6-5 with Pecora opening with a win over Canadian Closed Champ Larry Lee and closing with the decider over future Canadian Champ Modris Zulps. The Men’s final (Photo # 14) went to Danny, 19 in the 4th, over Bobby Gusikoff. Said covering reporter Fred Rohm: “Pecora [positioned to his extreme left side] forced every point with hard drives that had loads of topspin on them. Gusikoff counterdrove so hard that seldom did the volleys return to the server more than 3 times. All through the match Pecora unnerved Gusikoff by delaying each serve as much as 30 seconds while he walked around the table and looked at his racket.” It was Danny’s Doubles tournament too—he and Blommer beat Gusikoff/Larry Lee, deuce in the 5th.
At the 1965 USOTC’s, Illinois defeats a team composed of Bozorgzadeh, Jerry Kruskie, and Sol Schiff when Pecora takes all three, including the 9th match from Sol. Story was, though, that the high-spirited Pecora almost hadn’t been around to win that final match—he’d given an irritated kick to what he thought was a wooden barrier, and when it turned out to be cheap cardboard with now a hole in it, he was asked to pay $10. Outraged at the absurd cost, he said, “I’m outta here.” Teammate Steve Isaacson, secretly paying the $10, ran after him saying…“You don’t have to pay.” Which, in a sense, was true. So Danny came back. Years later, when he found out Isaacson had paid, he said, if he’d known that, he wouldn’t have played.
The 1966 U.S. Open saw Pecora, though in fast company (Photo # 15: l. to r.: Gusikoff, Sweeris, Miles, Danny, Kruskie, and Bozorgzadeh), get to the finals before losing to Bukiet. Bernie “thought that Danny was nervous—that he made “a lot of mistakes and [was] taking chances…hitting too much.” Still, Danny’s a hitter. What would you have him do? Try to out-steady Bernie’s tireless table game? Topics Editor Fred Rohm points out that “Some say Pecora had a plane to catch [—that’s why he was rushing.] But with “a Championship on the line,” says Fred, “does that make sense?”
In writing a player “snapshot” of Danny, who had a 21-1 record at the 1966 USOTC’s, I characterized him as…
“…An extremely nervous, fast, and intensely forceful player. His deceptive change-of-pace serves set up viciously aggressive game. Plays from a crouch and bazookas the ball hard as he can at you….Momentum of his spring and follow-through-forehand-hit often jackknifes him down to the floor….Can play a 3-game match in less than 7 minutes….”
At the 1966 CNE (Photo #16): here are the U.S. Team players, including Pecora. How young these 50-year-olds look—Patty Martinez, 2nd from left; John Tannehill down on one knee, front right). Danny retained his Men’s title in an 18-in-the-4th topspin match over Dell Sweeris (back center in glasses). Danny was able to win, someone said, because of his “shorter strokes and fast reactions.” Also, I would say, because of his very positive attitude, not to say cockiness, so characteristic of him. Pecora/Blommer also kept their Doubles title by downing Sweeris/Harry Hirschkowitz.
The Feb, 3-5, 1967 Eastern Open saw D-J Lee begin his reign, and Pecora lose to Marty Reisman in the quarter’s. Reportedly Danny had still not fully recovered from his encephalitis—Editor Rohm said he “looked peeked and [was] hitting less than usual.” Marty lost the 1st at 19 but was never in trouble thereafter, once clowning, on exchanging sides, by playing Sir Walter Raleigh. That is, he pretended to wipe away with his jacket the unhappy Pecora’s sweat from the floor. (“How can you lose to this man?” Danny shouted. “You stink!”). It also appears from this photo (Photo # 17) that D-J was strong enough to win the Doubles final without Sweeris.
At the Apr. 11-21, 1967 Stockholm World’s, (Photo # 18) you’d have to agree Pecora played quite an acrobatic match opposite Sur—hey, that’s Yugoslav advertising, that’s the ’73 Sarajevo World’s, Pecora wouldn’t be competing against Surbek or anyone else then. Photographer Mal Anderson—you’re playing tricks on us. At Stockholm, in the Doubles, before losing to the highly favored North Koreans, Danny and Dell had a fun moment, turning their match around against a Finnish pair—this, after losing the first two games 17 and (sic) 32.
Ready as usual for a challenge, and confident about his game, Pecora entered the $1,100 Lamb Chevrolet Masters Classic in National City, California, and came 3rd behind D-J and Dell. Covering reporter Don Lindo, adept at turning a phrase, had this to say about Danny:
“Playing relentlessly throughout the competition, his serious and quiet demeanor was occasionally broken by a one syllable mock laugh (given when his opponent made a great shot)…a laugh which had the unusual quality of conveying Pecora’s bewilderment at his opponent making such a good shot, as well as Pecora’s surprise that he himself didn’t return it.”
A bigger surprise awaited Danny at the 1968 CNE. (Photo # 19) This year he’s come with wife Pat and daughter Laurie, but it’s hard for him to smile—the two-time winner lost in the 8th’s to me! Enough to make him quit the Game?
Almost. He has one last hurrah. At the 1968 USOTC’s he is almost the first U.S. circuit player to beat D-J Lee—loses to him, 19 in the 3rd.
After that—he’d been ranked no worse than U.S. #4 for four straight years, I didn’t see Danny play again. Of course there was someone to say he had a disabling knee injury.
However, (Photo #20) four years later, he and Pat, along with Jimmy Blommer, did turn up as interested spectators at the Dec. 16-17, 1972 U.S. World Team Tryouts in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling.
And then we could forget him?
It would seem so, but, then, wait,…(Photo #21) here he is, 32 years later, in Vegas with friends and opponents—l. to r.: Blommer, Van de Walle, Danny, and Bozorgzadeh.
So, no, he couldn’t forget us, and of course we can’t forget him. Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to the first of our 2006 Inductees to the Hall, Danny Pecora.