- Ruth Aarons
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- Dick Evans - Lifetime Achievement Award
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- General Sportcraft Company
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- Larry Hodges Profile
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By the late 1930's and early '40's, Ping-Pong parlor-game sets had been around for decades. It was ironic but not particularly surprising then that Dick Miles, perhaps our greatest U.S. Champion, should be introduced to the Sport in this way. "For my 9th or 10th birthday," says Dick, "a woman friend of my mother's gave me a miniature 'Tea-Table Tennis' set and my uncle and I used to play with it in the evenings over our dining room table.
At this time, Dick, a lifelong New Yorker, born there on June 12, 1925, was living in an apartment on 84th St. between Columbus and Amsterdam Aves. with his mother, her parents, and her brother (Dick's father had left the family when Dick was only 2). "When I came home from school for lunch," he says, "I'd eat in a hurry, then with my 'Tea-Table' racket, which was probably sandpaper, I'd hit hundreds of balls on the fly against my bedroom wall, trying of course not to miss a single one."
As a boy Dick always loved games and sports that stressed hand-eye coordination. He was good with marbles and yo-yos and enjoyed that paddle-walloping pastime of trying to control-hit out, again and again, that little rubber ball rubber-banded to a racket (more ping-pong in miniature?). He played stickball in the streets and had a good arm; he was a pretty fair second baseman in Saturday games at Van Cortland Park; and he played golf with cut-down clubs his mother had given him--learned, as he was later to do in table tennis, to hit the ball "square to the line of flight," occasionally sneaking onto such a famous course as Winged Foot in Mamaroneck. He was a semifinalist in a PAL Paddle Tennis Championship, and says he owes his singular table tennis chop defense to hours and hours of Chinese Handball where you had to learn to slice the ball into the right pavement-block.
At PS 166 on 89th St. between Columbus and Amsterdam, where one of his classmates was Ty Neuberger (later to become, if not "Mr. Ping," Leah Thall's husband), Dick began playing something more than "Tea-Table Tennis." From there he made the transition into the Manhattan clubs--at first playing with a MacCrossen, then a Hock bat. "In the late '30's, early '40's," says Dick, "it was possible to find as many as 1-2-3-4 table tennis clubs located up and down Broadway from 54th to 96th streets." He also says that when eventually the ITTF gets rid of sponge--as they'll have to, else destroy the Game --it still wouldn't be incredible to find proprietors of four different clubs in a 50-block New York City area making a living at table tennis.
The first club Dick played at was Mitch Karelitz's (basement, ground floor, and upstairs) at 76th and Broadway. (After Karelitz lost his lease here he would open another place at 80th and Broadway, and then would move again to 79th and Broadway.) "After school," says Dick, "I'd bring in my pennies--maybe 15-20 cents worth--and would play anybody until a light would flash indicating my time was up." The best junior at this club was Billy Levinson and it's to this 16-year-old that Dick owes an historic debt.
"Dick," said Billy, "you're somthering your forehand. You're hitting on top of the ball--that's why it's going into the net so much."
"Ordinarily," says Dick, "I wouldn't have listened to him--wouldn't have listened to anybody. But I could see he was saying this in a nice way, was trying to help me. So I changed my forehand, learned to hit underhand, and this helped my game a lot."
Harry Piser's 12-table club was at Broadway and 91st or 92nd. It was here that Dick first saw the world-class Hungarians Bellak, Glancz, and Hazi. "I remember seeing the Hungarians out there at the table hitting balls, warming up, enjoying themselves, talking and laughing in a very intimate, in-group way about their strokes and styles. It impressed me very much that they had a private table tennis language I didn't understand--that table tennis itself had such a language--and I wanted to know more."
Another club was Mac's at 96th and Broadway. But this, says Dick, was largely a "residential" club.
"I don't want good players here," Mac told Dick.
"I thought he was kidding," says Dick. "The idea was ridiculous to me. But he was serious."
"All my customers stop playing to watch them, " said Mac. "Then sometimes they get discouraged with their own games."
The most famous club of the time was located above an automobile showroom at 1721 Broadway between 54th and 55th. This was known as the Broadway Courts, or Lawrence's, and had at least 7 tables on the second floor and 5 more upstairs on the 3rd. Mobster Legs Diamond was said to have owned the building when it was a speakeasy. As a table tennis club it was formerly Bernie Joel's, then John Morgan's, now Herwald Lawrence's. Originally from Barbados, Lawrence (most people called him by his last name) was a "gentleman"--dignified and well-known for his cultured speech. He ran a Tuesday night Handicap Tournament and after watching strangers play had a very good eye for handicapping them. His Friday Night Tournaments, though, were where it was at.
In 1939-42, when Miles was serving his apprenticeship, all the really serious players--with the exception of McClure from Indianapolis; Burns from Detroit; Holzrichter and Anderson from Chicago; Nash, Price, and Hendry from St. Louis; and possibly the Pacific Coast Champion Pearson from Seattle--all the really good players in the U.S. were from New York or close enough (Lowry from Massachusetts; Hazi and Fields from Washington; Bellis from Philadelphia) to play against one another. In Lawrence's Friday Night Tournaments you could find, even if all the Hungarians were off touring: Pagliaro, Schiff, Berenbaum, Schmidt, Pinner, Sussman, Klepak, Cartland, Somael, and Grimes. No wonder so many players played (Lawrence would split the entry fees with the winner and runner-up)--they wanted to see the matches. Indeed, so many non-players, fans, tried to crowd in that Lawrence would have to rope off the entranceway. And what a show, what a class act, Lawrence right from the beginning would put on. Here's Robert Lewis Taylor giving you his impressions in the Jan. 31, 1942 issue of The New Yorker.
"To get the tournament underway, Mr. Lawrence sits down at a card table on the sidelines and picks up the microphone of an amplifying system. In grave tones he announces the pairings for the night's play. Then a cluster of bright lights go on over the tournament table. Suddenly Lou Pagliaro steps out onto the floor, looking solemn. As befits his station, he is to play the first match. Mr. Lawrence's voice booms out over the loudspeaker: 'The national champion, ladies and gentlemen. Shall we give him a hand?' It is when Pagliaro hears the applause which follows that he thinks life and ping-pong have been very good to him."
No wonder Dick on first coming to these courts remembers thinking that "all these guys are outta my class." Who did he play that first time at 25 cents a game (the price of five subway rides)? Freddie Borges--not a bad player himself, and more than half a century later still a tournament-goer and one of Dick's dearest friends.
Of course Dick began to improve his play at the Broadway Courts. When there wasn't anyone around for him to play, Lawrence was helpful. He'd set up half a table with the other half as a backboard, and Dick would spot coins on the table surface and spend hours developing his stroke, trying to put the ball exactly where he wanted it. Dick still thinks the play's the thing, thinks physical training--lifting weights, jumping rope, sprinting, cross-country running--is pretty much a waste of time. To Dick, getting the right "touch" has always been far more important than even superb physical conditioning.
Dick certainly did play a lot. At one point in his teens, he quit DeWitt Clinton High School, would sleep till about two in the afternoon, and would then get up to put in his 11-hour day, or, if it were a Friday, 15-hour day. Lawrence generally opened around 1 pm and closed around 3 am, or later if money matches were still being played. Dick says in those days it was generally safe to come home in the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes, however, there was a problem.
"My grandmother," he says, "was a very strict and strong-willed person. Because she so strenuously objected to my obsession with table tennis, she'd periodically lock me out of our Riverside Drive apartment, bolt the door so my key wouldn't do me any good, and muffle the sound of the doorbell. It's a terrible thing for a teenager to go back home and find his grandmother has packed his bag and put it out in the hallway in front of a locked door. Some nights I'd be sitting out there in the hall crying until finally someone would open the door and I'd hear my grandmother yell at me, "You're a bum! We don't want a bum in the family!"
Even Dick's family doctor had a few mocking words to say. "He came one day," says Dick, "to take out a blister on my big toe the size of a golf ball. He injected a hypodermic needle into the blister and I watched as the needle filled with fluid. 'Now, Dickie,' he said calmly, 'why do you do this? Why do you play this'--and here he went into an exaggerated pit-pat sing-song--'Pinnnggg-Ponnnggg?'"
Why indeed? To become very, very good, of course.
Dick's apprenticeship started to move toward its inevitable conclusion when Pagliaro, who'd won the first of his three straight National Championships in 1940, wanted to prepare to defend his title but didn't want to practice day-in, day-out at Lawrence's against his chief competitors--Schiff, Bellak, Hazi, Pinner, Grimes, Schmidt, Sussman, and Cartland. When Paggy saw his chance to run Mitch Karelitz's club and import Dick as a sparring partner he did so. And after months of play, the master was now giving his journeyman partner only three points a game.
To a number of players' surprise, Dick did not enter the April, '41 National's, even though it was held at the Manhattan Center in New York ("seats 1400 around the seven tables [in play]"). "I just didn't have the $5 entry fee to waste," Dick says. "I never did get much table tennis allowance money. I'd never won a tournament, not even a local junior tournament--I'd always lose to the perennial Champ, Roy Weissman [U.S. Boys' #2 (behind Indianapolis's Charles Tichenor) for the '39-40 season]. What possible reason did I, at 15, have for thinking I could win the U.S. Championship? My feeling was that if you went into some big tournament you'd certainly want to win it. You'd want to be the best. The idea of beating Pagliaro was ridiculous to me. He was a great player. Now, more than 50 years later, I still think Pagliaro was a great player. I also think that McClure, Schiff, and Reisman were great players. McClure had one of the best forehands in the world and could go on incredible streaks. Schiff was a very explosive player. There were nights when nobody could beat Schiff. It was very embarrassing to play him when he was hot. He could go through you like you were a beginner. And Reisman was always a bravura player. He would get very angry when he lost. But that was O.K. If you want to be a great player, you have to be angry if you lose. I myself used to get very sad if I lost.
Six months after Dick didn't see any sense in entering the National's, he was certainly in a different frame of mind. Perhaps one of the things that changed his view about playing in big tournaments was Johnny Somael's win over Ray Pearson in the second round of that '41 National's. Dick knew Johnny as a peer, and felt that, even if he couldn't beat Pagliaro, he, like Johnny, could surely beat a number of other good players, and perhaps that would be satisfying after all.
His name appeared in Topics, the USTTA magazine, for the first time after he'd played that summer not only in the traditional Provincetown, Massachusetts Quiniela tournament (where in the Doubles final Dick and Bill Cross upset Eddie Pinner and Cy Sussman, the National Champions) but also in tournaments held at the Brooklyn Courts.
At the Dec., 1941 Intercities in Chicago, the New York team--with Pagliaro, Hazi and 16-year-old Miles--was a winner (Dick doing his share with a 10-5 record, including, in the all-important last tie with Chicago, wins over Bob Anderson and Dan Kreer).
In both the Jan. 1942 Manhattan Championships and the Mar. Connecticut Open, Dick lost to Paggy in the final, but in each semi's was able to beat Pinner, who'd gotten to the final of the '41 National's.
The Mar. 14-15 Eastern's was a disappointment, though, for it suggested that, though Dick's rise had been mercurial, he'd not yet arrived. Miles and Pagliaro were beaten in the final of the Doubles by Pinner and the two-time world semifinalist Tibor Hazi (like Bellak and Glancz an Hungarian immigrant to the U.S.). And in the Singles Dick was upset early by Baltimore heavyweight (maybe 300 pounds with a terrific cross-court forehand) Gordon Barry.
At the April Detroit National's, Miles reached the quarter's before losing to the stylish New England star Les Lowry, and so that season for the first time received a USTTA ranking--#7. In the eighth's there at Detroit, Dick beat 3-time world finalist and 1937 and '38 U.S. Champion Laszlo "Laci" Bellak. By this time Dick knew how to play Bellak. But woe to those who met even an aging Laci for the first time. Invariably it was a unique not to say baffling experience. "You never knew where the ball was going," Dick says--"in part because he really enjoyed clowning with you. On or off the court Laci had a great sense of humor. 'Drrrink your meeelk, Dickie,' he used to tell me."
It was at this '42 National's that Dick might have won the U.S. Junior Championship. But Bellak and Hazi talked him out of entering, said it would be bad for the Sport if Dick were to win both the Men's and the Junior's.
With the advent of the War, many of the Sport's leading players--McClure, Bellak, Lowry, Holzrichter, Nash, Hendry, Anderson, Somael, Pinner, and Sussman--went into the Armed Services. Miles had a heart murmur that kept him out, but it wouldn't be long before he'd be doing exhibitions for servicemen both in the States and overseas.
At the Feb., '43 Eastern's, Pagliaro, who lost to Hazi in the final, was still too much for Dick in the semi's, and Dick and Lou couldn't win the Doubles from Schiff and Somael.
Naturally rubber rackets and cellulose balls were already in short supply. Manufacturers were still accepting orders, but only with a "delivery not guaranteed" stipulation. Also, tire and gas rationing were curtailing the number ot tournaments. Still, in late March, the U.S. National's were held in St. Louis, and, as Topics reported, it was a success:
"From coast to coast, north and south, to the middlewest came some 146 players and several hundred table tennis enthusiasts to crown or recrown the 1943 champions in all events. They came by train, bus, auto--shhh!! and maybe a little thumbing, to be met not by a brass band but by the 1943 National Tournament Committee headed by Elmer Cinnater and Tommy Gibbons, who made everyone feel as welcome as an old fashion juicy tenderloin steak."
Though a number of servicemen were given leaves to play in these Championships, including the eventual Singles winner, Chicago's Billy Holzrichter, three-time Champion (1940, '41, and '42) Pagliaro couldn't defend his title. The explanation? He worked in a defense plant and couldn't be spared. So that left the way open for Miles. Except, after beating Garrett Nash, he lost deuce in the 4th in the quarter's to Detroit's Chuck Burns (formerly Bernstein). However, Dick--who'd be ranked U.S. #5 that season--did get to his first National's final, the Men's Doubles, where he and Lowry were beaten in 5 by Bellak and Hazi.
Though Pagliaro couldn't play in St. Louis, he could in New York, and in the final of the Nov., 1943 Metro Open at the Broadway Courts he again beat Miles, and this time teamed with him to win the Doubles.
Even such a great player as Miles would become had to pay his dues. And for a while it didn't look like he'd break through. In the Jan., 1944 New York State Open and in the Feb. Eastern's Dick could continue to win the Doubles with Paggy, but would again lose in the Singles--first to Somael, then to Hazi.
Dick's National Ranking dropped to #9, partly because for whatever reason he didn't attend the '44 St. Louis National's (Hazi said it was because Dick knew he couldn't beat Hazi, who as it turned out had his leave cancelled and so couldn't play). This National's is the one where Lowry was leading Somael 20-14 (some say 20-13) match point in the final, and lost.
However, there's no doubt that Dick continued to be very active--even becoming 2nd Vice-President of the NYTTA under President Reba Monness for the 1944-45 season.
At this point, Miles's equally legendary rival, Marty Reisman, began to appear on the scene. In Dec., 1944, Dick (now 19) lost the New York City Open to Pagliaro, after being up 2-0 ("Pagliaro completely mastered the terrific blast of Miles' forehand"), while Reisman (now 14, almost 15) won the Junior's...over his brother David.
Finally Dick won a big tournament, a harbinger of things to come--the Mar., '45 Eastern's. He beat not Pagliaro in the final, for Lou didn't play, but Somael, 3-0 (while Reisman won the Junior's and lost to Somael in the Men's, 3-0).
Dick says that when Marty as a whiz-bang kid first began appearing regularly at Lawrence's, "I probably wouldn't even play with him. Later, I couldn't give him 5....Couldn't give him 4....Couldn't give him 3....So we went to 2 (-1). He got good very, very fast."
The '45 Detroit National's will long be remembered by both Miles and Reisman, though not primarily because it marked the first time they played one another for a National Championship--Dick beat Marty in 4 in the quarter's. There were other memories.
Reisman no doubt remembers his loss to Toledo's Bob Harlow in the Juniors, but even more he remembers, and still talks about, how the then Michigan Association President, Graham Steenhoven (later known for leading the 1971 U.S. "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" Team into China), almost succeeded in throwing 15-year-old Marty out of the playing venue for gambling.
Miles has to remember this Detroit National's as the one where he finally arrived. It was the first of his record-setting ten National Championships. "I was playing Somael," says Dick. "Johnny was a clean-cut, good-looking kid, Polish not Jewish, who the year before, in winning the Championship, had proven himself to have a great heart. I was playing in my first National final, was a skinny 111 pounds, and had a big nose."
"There must have been 3,500 spectators there, and the crowd was so much for Somael that the first point of the match, when Johnny scored a net ball, there was great applause. This irritated me, and though Johnny threw up his hands to me and said, in effect, 'I didn't applaud,' I made no attempt to conceal my irritation, for I thought the audience showed very poor sportsmanship. I was always very conscious of such things since I myself always wanted to be a good sportsman and believe that I was." (I'm reminded of what Steenhoven reportedly said, and where his head was when he said it, on handing Miles the Men's Singles trophy: "Here," he said--"I hope you behave like a Champion").
Though Somael was a very tenacious player, and, as Dick says, "would never make the match easy for me," and though on occasion he'd beaten Dick in the past, he was invariably at least a 3-point underdog. "Johnny was strictly a chiseler," says Dick. "He had a little backhand flick but no forehand at all. He had a backhand grip on his forehand that more or less forced him to smother the ball completely."
The very steady Doug Cartland, however, was another matter. Like Bobby Riggs ("I thought I could give Bobby 12 or 13," says Dick, "but no matter what I gave him, I always lost"), Doug was a great hustler. "He was always figuring out games to play. Once he played with a black eye patch on, deprived himself of depth perception, but still attacked and defended so well that soon his opponent and those betting on him came over to check that black eye patch to see if there wasn't some way that Cartland was seeing through it."
"Cartland was always a vastly underrated player," says Dick. "He was an amazing competitor--someone who never, never beat himself; you always had to beat him, and he was an even more tenacious player than Somael. I remember giving Cartland a 6-point spot at Lawrence's, remember taking his money. There'd be no chance we'd play otherwise. And then, unbelievably, next day I lost to him in a tournament."
In Nov., 1945, Cartland, after not playing in a USTTA tournament for two years, won the New York City Open, beating Miles in 5 in the semi's and Pinner in 4 in the final. "I literally cried on losing," says Dick. "I told a girl friend I'd lost to a man 30 years old. He seemed like the oldest man in the world to me then."
Once Miles won his first Eastern's, his first National's, more were quickly to follow. At the Mar. 15-16, 1946 Hempstead, Long Island Eastern's, Dick beat Paggy in the final, 3-0 ("Miles' all around game was too strong for Pagliaro's defensive play").
And at the Mar. 27-29 '46 National's , held at New York City's St. Nicholas Arena (on a Wednesday through Friday), Miles beat Bellak, Somael, Pinner, and finally Schiff, losing only one game--to Somael. Junior Singles winner Reisman, touted as "the most likely contender for Miles' title," was 2-0 up on Schiff in the eighth's before losing, as was Pagliaro in the quarter's.
In a Topics of the time, Miles is described as "in a class by himself." But then the writer says in somewhat contradictory fashion that Dick is "classy," but...
"Miles lacks color and is not interesting to watch--his forehand drive is a clock-like motion, so well grooved it's monotonous. Miles plays a smart game, never changes expression and seems to follow the policy of taking command of the situation--forcing the defensive player to hit and the offensive player into defense."
As the 1946-47 season got underway, there was talk about the resumption of the World Championships (last played without U.S. participation, in Cairo, in 1939), and how a Miles-led U.S. Team would be able to make a very good showing, perhaps win titles, in Paris, and in the English Open that followed.
At the Nov. 23-24 New York City Open, Miles (-15, -13, 20, 17, 12) rallied to hold strong against Pinner in the semi's, then in the final bested Schiff who'd knocked out Pagliaro, 19 in the 4th. Where was U.S. #3 Cartland? On Tour with Harry Cook, but taking time out to win the St. Louis Open over Hendry and Price.
Just who was going to be on that U.S. Men's Team was decided at the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 Detroit Intercities--the first to be played since 1941. Of course here the powerful New York contingent (Captained by George Schein)--Miles (U.S. #1), Schiff (#2), Pinner (#4), Somael (#5) and Pagliaro (Insufficient Data)--couldn't compete against one another. Pagliaro and Miles had perfect records (though Dick barely beat the 1934 APPA penholder finalist Billy Condy deuce in the 3rd), Schiff lost only to Bill Holzrichter, and Holzrichter lost only to Les Lowry (while beating Somael).
Afterwards, Miles won the Eastern's--in 4 over Reisman (who, though ranked U.S. #18 last season, beat U.S. #4 Pinner in the semi's, 19 in the 5th).
Before this U.S. Men's Team left for the '47 Paris World's, Topics took a poll of USTTA members. Who was the "greatest U.S. [men's] player of all times?" Miles, a 38% plurality answered....
In Part II, during which I'll present Dick's accomplishments both in the U.S. and in many years of World Championship play, we'll see if, half a century later, such a weighty appraisal can be justified.
Before participating in the Mar., 1947 Paris World’s, the U.S. Team, under "Fighting Fund" Chair/Captain Carl Nidy (former President of the USTTA), played a series of exhibition matches in England and Scotland. Topics offered the following short summation showing that Miles and the other players were well-received and deserved to be: "Following a whirlwind tour in which snow and ice lent their hazards to the normal strain of traveling, the Americans came up smiling and pleased the crowds everywhere by their cheerful and sporting table demeanor and their dashing style of play." Surrey Champion Ron Crayden described Miles as "a slim, slight lad of 22 [actually 21], with dark, wavy hair, exceptionally bright eyes and great natural charm....Agile, but rather lazy, talented but inexperienced, here is a player and personality for all to see."
In Paris, however--what with "the extreme cold, weak lighting, and the poor tables"--you can bet that the Americans, particularly Miles, were not smiling, not cheerful. The Palais des Sports Hall was so cold (because of a strike the whole city was freezing?) that "many players donned heavy sweaters or scarves" to play. Scotland’s Helen Elliot (later Hamilton), World Women’s Doubles Champ in ‘49, told me years later that she remembers seeing a very thin Miles out there on court with two hot water bottles tied to his waist.
Czechoslovakia, who’d won the last Swaythling Cup in Cairo in ‘39, defeated the otherwise unbeaten U.S. Team 5-2 in the final to successfully defend their title. It was an inauspicious World debut for the much-touted U.S. Champ Miles who lost--gave up from the beginning, really, according to one teammate--to all three Czech players, Ivan Andreadis, Vaclav Tereba, and Bo Vana. Word had it that "most of the time" here in Paris Dick suffered from "a severe head-cold." But as this Team final was played after Dick was eliminated in Singles, and consequently had asked Captain Nidy not even to play him in the Czech tie (a request of course that Nidy had to refuse), maybe there was something more troubling Dick’s head than a cold?
Whereas all the other U.S. men did well in the Individual events (Singles and Doubles), Miles did not--he lost in the second round, 3-0, to England’s Johnny Leach. A combination of the cold and nerves forced Dick to repeatedly cramp up: his forearm would lock, and he couldn’t hold the racket. He thus became fearful of playing long points, and so suffered long-term psychic consequences--that is, in later matches in his career, he said he sometimes felt he had to attack when he didn’t want to, else he feared his arm would tighten. Lots of negative thoughts went into Dick’s head as a result of this initial match with Leach.
Johnny went on to reach the semi’s before losing to the eventual winner Vana, the ‘38 Champion. Dick didn’t play the Mixed Doubles--perhaps he’d begged off originally, or was now too shiveringly cold, or perhaps after his loss to Leach he was too down and disgusted to play. Although he didn’t want to, he did agree to go on court for Men’s Doubles with his friend Lou Pagliaro, but they lost a rather uncontested second round match to--a team they’d beaten in a warm-up exhibition match in London a week earlier--Leach and his mentor, Jack Carrington, who’d be the runner-ups here.
In the Singles, however, Paggy, after some tough matches--a 5-gamer with Barna in the 1st round, and a 19 in the 4th win over France’s Guy Amouretti in the 8th’s--got all the way to the semi’s, where, down 2-1 but leading 20-16 in the 4th, he lost six points in a row to Hungary’s future World Champion Ferenc Sido. An historic showing, for no U.S. male has ever done better. Sol Schiff, considered one of the favorites to win the Singles Championship 10 years earlier, also gave Sido a battle, falling in a second round match in 5. Billy Holzrichter, who reached the 8th’s of the Singles before losing to Hungarian Ferenc Soos, did very well in the Mixed Doubles; taking advantage of a favorable draw to advance to the semi’s with ‘45 U.S. Champ Davida Hawthorn.
At the ‘47 English Open, played immediately after the World’s, the American men, including Miles, fought well. On these dead tables, Schiff again lost early--19 in the 5th to Max Marinko, the veteran blocker with the outsized bat. Holzrichter, after 18-in-the-5th downing Ernie Bubley, the English eccentric who always wore a glove on his racket hand, lost in the quarter’s to Vana. And, while Pagliaro must have headed home as planned, for he wasn’t listed in the Program-draw, Miles beat the many-time French Champion with the "hammer" grip, Michel Haguenauer, then waited (uncertain as to who he’d like to see win?) until Tereba finally outlasted Leach, 19 in the 5th--after which Dick dropped -19, -18, -23 games to the formidable Czech who (along with Vana and Miles) had been one of Barna’s picks to win the World’s.
On returning to the States, Dick must have felt, even in Chicago, he was home, for in the semi’s he a bit testily overcame Doug Cartland, 15, -19, 17, 9. It seemed as if they were back at Lawrence’s? Well, almost. "Cartland’s unorthodox habit of talking to himself--plus Doug’s agile retrieving--irritated Miles in the second set. After missing the last point, Miles asked the referee to ask Cartland to keep quiet." And Doug did--though inwardly he must have fumed. Then in the final Dick again beat Schiff to win his 3rd straight U.S. Open. He also won the Mixed with England’s current World Women’s Singles runner-up, hard-driving Betty Blackbourn who as a corporal in the War had been a driver of a different kind, motoring vehicles about.
In ‘47 and ‘48, the Miles/Reisman-led N.Y. Team won the Intercities. Afterwards, Miles seldom played in these Championships--though his Team did win in 1951, ‘61 and as late as ‘66.
Before Miles left for the 1948 Wembley World’s, a Newsweek reporter interviewed him:
"Even though Dick Miles has been the top American for the last three years in a sport that claims 15,000,000 players in this country, table tennis hasn’t given him much of a payoff so far. He has about 100 trophies, but his jaded eye lately cherishes only the ones he can use as ash trays for his own daily two cigarettes and his girl’s one pack or so. For his expert knowledge of the game, he has received free piano lessons in a teaching deal with a musician. Out of the five weeks of practice matches he plays before a tournament, he may pick up $10-a-set bets here and there. [Dick always said it was "unthinkable to play a match without a wager."] A scrawny schedule of exhibitions is believed to have grossed less than $1,000 a year.
But things could be better, and Miles bluntly blames only himself and his behavior in the 1947 world championships in Paris. "I was pretty cocky beforehand," he confesses, "but I got the arm....[Schiff even tried massaging it, to no avail.] My own teammates told me they’d never seen such a case. I was up against John Leach of England, a chiseler...and I got a nervous cramp in my neck. Then it worked down my arm. Then my hand froze.
Afterward, Miles promised himself that he would forget it. Instead, he finally wrote an article based on it. The title: ‘This Time I Won’t Choke.’ Nobody bought it."
The Feb., ‘48 World’s (after some exhibition play in Sweden where U.S. Team Cpatain Bill Price reported that the food was "marvelous") proved to be another disappointment for Miles. The fact that he had such an excellent Swaythling Cup record could only have set him up for a let down. True, the U.S. Team lost to Defending Champion Czechoslovakia--for Andreadis ("the best stroke player of the day"), by moderately but relentlessly topsinning from both wings, beat Miles and Reisman; and none of our players could stop Defending World Singles Champion Vana, though both Reisman (in losing 15, -19, -19) and Miles (in losing 18 in the 3rd) made very good tries. Aside from those two 3-game losses to these future World Doubles Champions, Miles had nothing but wins--11 of them, all in straight games--over the other players he faced, including the Czech Frantisek Tokar, Victor Barna and Richard Bergmann (both now representing England), Leach, and the Hungarians Josef Koczian, Sido, and Ferenc Soos, all of whom were already or about to be World Singles or Doubles Champions, as well as Sweden’s Tage Flisberg, World runner-up in ‘54.
Clearly Dick was one of the favorites to win the Singles, and many Europeans thought the ITTF should raise the net, for, echoing what had been said about McClure, Blattner, and Schiff the decade before, they felt the hitting style favored by the Americans gave them a big advantage.
Table Tennis, the official magazine of the English TTA, had this to say about Vana’s key wins in the U.S.-Czech tie:
"...Vana was very lucky to overcome young Reisman, although he showed supreme champion’s spirit when he realised that a faint chance remained.
He pulled the 3rd game out from a losing spot of 9-14, and the last 5 points of one-hundred-percent attack against inspired youth made him a firm favorite with the crowd, and probably restored his own confidence for the whole tournament.
Vana seemed to remember this spasm when playing Miles, and almost exactly repeated himself in the 3rd game. Here Miles’ nerve became suspect in that he never varied from this heavy backhand chop stroke during the critical 5 points, not withstanding that Vana was obviously gaining on the ‘rate of exchange.’"
After watching play at Wembley, one London correspondent was of the opinion that when 22-year-old Miles and 18-year-old Reisman "are on form they are unbeatable; no one can stand up to their terrific hitting to both wings at sharp angles."
U.S. Team Captain Price spoke of how the forehands of Miles and Reisman were "admired by the Europeans." He then went on to contrast them:
"...Miles starts his stroke about head high and describes a rather large loop which gives him a terrific snap while Reisman starts his stroke at a point only slightly behind contact which means he doesn’t have nearly as much of a backswing as Miles. However, he generates considerable racket head speed...in that short space."
Carrington, England’s famous coach, spoke of Marty’s forehand that was "produced by a sharp upper-cut action." About Dick’s forehand he had this to say:
"The ‘Miles Forehand’ threatens to become as famous as the ‘Barna Backhand.’ It is produced by an unbelievably fast circular whip of the forearm and wrist....[If you] try to follow the bat with your eye, you will find it almost impossible.
The effect is a fast bounding ball imbued with twice as much topspin as most players use. Miles can take the ball so early he can keep most opponents scouting the deep....
As for defence, the speed with which he falls back and the controlled returns from either wing are beautiful to watch."
In the Singles, after downing Sido, 19 in the 4th, Miles met Defending Champion Vana in the quarter’s and, though leading 16-9 in the 5th, was suddenly outscored 12-2, the victim of a dramatic reversal. In "blindly" hitting himself out of the match (up 17-14, "he overhit four balls in succession"), Dick in effect just reversed the losing defensive strategy he’d employed against Vana in the Team’s. Musing on this match 50 years later, Miles felt that, had he gotten by Vana, he probably would have been World Champion--with wins over France’s Guy Amouretti, whom Pagliaro had beaten in ‘47, and Bergmann, who hadn’t averaged 15 points against Dick in their just-played Swaythling Cup match. Up 2-1, and having won the 2nd and 3rd games at 17 and 14, Miles had taken a 5-minute rest. Should he have done that? The Europeans never took 2-1 breaks, but Dick always did. Vana couldn’t believe it--was left on court mumbling to himself.
The Europeans thought it strange, too, that Dick would rather have, as he put it, the "correct" side of the table rather than the serve (though of course he usually did nothing more with the serve than put it into play). But, said Dick, often the tables in those days were slightly warped or on a slight slant. If the opponent’s end of the table was on a rise and you were hitting up the incline you’d have the advantage. "There’s a point on my thigh," he said, positioning his finger there by way of dramatizing it, "which is exactly 30 inches up. It’s as if I still feel pressure there, still have a bruise." Naturally, Dick’s mind, like anyone else’s, sometimes likes to play tricks on itself--it seemed to him, albeit without much reflection, that he was down in that fifth game with Vana, then leading 18-15....At any event, on returning to the locker room, he bet Andreadis $100 that he would never come to a World’s again.
As it happened, two other U.S. stalwarts lost what-might-have-been sweet victories--Reisman in 5 to Bergmann who, after tenacious wins over Andreadis and Vana, would win the third of his four World Championships; and Garrett Nash, ohh, 27-25 in the 5th (some say 25-23), to 5-time Singles Champion Barna, now near retirement.
Barna paired with Bergmann in the Doubles, and though they weren’t the winners they were in ‘39, they did eliminate Nash and Price in the quarter’s.
Miles, meanwhile, teamed with Reisman and, up 2-0, lost to two Austrians.
Depressed about his Singles play, Dick said, Forget the Mixed. But threatened with suspension he reluctantly walked out to the table with Thelma "Tybie" Thall (later Sommer). Walked out, it may have been, wearing gloves and an overcoat, his breath as frosty as his demeanor. "I don’t want to be out here," he told her. Amazingly, however, thanks to Tybie’s sun-bursting enthusiasm, Dick thawed a little and they won a (16, -11, -16, 22, 19) quarter’s match from Leach and Vera Dace Thomas, that year’s World Women’s Doubles Champ. Then in the semi’s they beat Sido and Angelica Rozeanu who, beginning in 1950, would win six straight World Women’s Singles Championships.
But off to a very bad -13, -14 start in the final against Vana and Vlasha Depetrisova Pokorna, a pre-War World Women’s Singles and Doubles Champion, Dick told Tybie ("A crazy hitter," he reminisced later), "Listen, this is embarrassing. Just push the ball back. You don’t hit a ball until I tell you to." Then--"with Miles driving fiercely" and Tybie taking "Vana’s sneaky service with coolness"--they won the last three games, 18, 19, 12. "Tybie threw her racket in the air and came over for a hug," Dick said, recalling the moment. "But I pushed her away. Didn’t say a word to her, didn’t even shake hands. I acted like a real shit." And he added, "Afterwards, good players congratulated me, fussed over me--it was sickening." So much for Mixed Doubles? Not exactly, for I did hear from another source that by presentation time Dick was feeling pretty good about being a World Champion, was even smiling.
Before coming back to the U.S., our Team went to Dublin, birthplace of the great Irish writer James Joyce, whose Ulysses Miles used to carry around with him almost as a talisman. In the final of the Leinster Championships Dick beat Marty in 5, after Marty’s "magnificent retrieving" had taken out Barna in 5 in the semi’s.
On returning to the States, Miles beat Reisman, 3-0, at the Feb. 28-29 Ohio State Open in Cincinnati. But two weeks later, at the Eastern’s in Hempstead, Long Island, Marty 3-1 rebounded, gave Dick his first loss of the season.
What an historic rivalry Dick and Marty enjoyed in the late ‘40’s. You couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic, climactic final than the one they put on at the Apr., 1948 U.S. Open--won by Miles, 12, -16, 20, -18, 20. Here’s the Topics’ account of that match that tries impartially to praise both players:
"2000 people screamed and cheered as Miles defeated Reisman in a deuce- thriller, fifth-game final at the National Table Tennis Championships in Columbus, Ohio. Every heart pounded and blood vessels were strained as Reisman deuced it up in the fifth from 20-18. The next two points were some of the greatest exhibition of driving and defending ever seen in the history of United States Table Tennis. Reisman drove his heart out against the mighty Miles backhand chop defense....Driving ball after ball for minutes on end against the country’s steadiest defense.[Reportedly, one point lasted 8 minutes.]...[The] playing was so superb that one player or the other had to be forced into an error, neither making any of his own volition. Keeping the ball away from Miles’ murdering forehand drive Reisman forced him to play defense throughout the match, giving him only an occasional shot on the forehand side. Garnering all his points by forcing Miles into error or hitting through his backhand defense, Reisman played a remarkable match and a smart one that was anybody’s guess as to the outcome...."
And here’s a local reporter’s subjective assessment of the final between, as he says, the "fidgety" and "none too popular" Miles ("Mr. Prima Donna") and "the ever popular" Reisman (it’s as if Marty wrote this reporter’s copy?):
""...[Miles] was so worried over winning this one that while Reisman joked around and was having a good time in the match, Miles stopped play 58 times to wipe his sweaty brow, five times to use his handkerchief on his moist paddle, four other times to tie his shoe laces, twice to let the crowd know they were making too much noise. All that after asking the referee to ask the photographers to please refrain from flashing bulbs while ‘The Great One’ was playing."
It’s left to USTTA Topics columnist Helene Cinnater (President Elmer Cinnater’s wife) to speak of Reisman "clowning one second and so serious the next," to praise Miles for his "intestinal fortitude," and to remark on "the loud whistle blowing during the last crucial point of that 5th and deuce game, when silence was conspicuous." Whistle blowing? Maybe. But I heard that the telephone rang at deuce in the 5th, and that Marty quipped mid-stroke, "Tell them I haven’t won yet." But never mind if that phone anecdote’s apocryphal, it has the ring of truth--an instance where fiction is truer to Marty than fact.
But Reisman wouldn’t be denied for long....In Sept., 1948, Miles made his one and only appearance in the animal ring at the annual Toronto Canadian National Exhibition Fairgrounds Tournament. There, in that cramped venue, he and Defending Champion Reisman played another thrilling final--with Dick momentarily staving off defeat by a gritty 26-24 win in the 4th, only to have to yield to Marty in the 5th.
The following month, in their Bronx Open final, back came Miles again, after being down 2-0--this time to win.
In the Nov. New York City Open that would determine N.Y.’s Intercity team, Miles, as he had last year, lost to Morris Chait, who could muster only a 3-4 record. Reisman, after being beaten by Miles, was also 6-1, and Schiff and Cartland finished 4-3.
The U.S. Team to the Feb., ‘49 Stockholm World’s and the English Open that followed were obligated to do exhibitions in Sweden and later in England. Because the USTTA’s "Fighting Fund" contributions weren’t nearly enough to cover our players’ expenses, these exhibitions were necessary since, by contracting for them, our Association would be guaranteed a $1,000 from each country.
On arriving in Sweden the Team split into two nearby units. Captain Jimmy McClure, Reisman, and Tybie Thall played matches in "the little fishing town of Gravarne," where they were presented with "beautiful leather-fitted cases." Miles, Cartland, Peggy McLean, and Mildred Shahian went to Ljungskile where for their friendly efforts they received "gifts of glass vases."
The Team came together for more exhibition matches--in Tibro and Halmstad, for example--and for a tournament in Norrkoping before 900 spectators. But the Jan. 19 International Match in Gothenburg between Sweden and the U.S., played Swaythling Cup style, drew the largest attendance by far. Since every match in the tie had on the average a 19 or deuce game, the show must have generated quite a home-crowd response. The U.S. was down 4-1 but rallied to win 5-4 when Miles beat Bengt Grieve, 27-25 in the deciding 3rd of the 9th and last match. The U.S. Team later came back to Gothenburg on Jan. 31 for a warm-up tournament--which Miles won over Sido, 19 in the 4th.
At the Feb. 4-11 Stockholm World’s, in Swaythling Cup play, the U.S. hoped to beat Hungary and so advance out of their round-robin group to play Defending Champion Czechoslovakia in the final. Before that tie with Hungary, Miles "jokingly offered to bet that his side would win." Joke or not, this seemed to so incense a Hungarian broadcaster that he aired his wrath publicly by calling the Americans a "bunch of dollar imperialist puppets, reactionaries and betting braggarts." Faced with the threat of being barred from using Swedish radio if he persisted in using such "slander and propaganda," the broadcaster remained unrepentent, said he would "do it again anytime if given an opportunity." Unfortunately for the U.S., they fell to Hungary 5-2--with Miles losing to Sido but beating Koczian, "the most improved of all the Continental players."
In the Singles, Miles, described as being "frail, monk-like," was again defeated in the quarter’s--this time by Barna’s "dark horse" for the title, Leach, deuce in the 5th (after having two match points). Of psychological interest is the fact that in the Feb., ‘49 English Open "Souvenir Programme," in an article (written before Dick’s match with Johnny at the World’s) entitled "The Lonely Men In The Middle," Leach described Miles as "a little drawn, as if something inside was getting tied up in knots."
"Miles must have broken a leg if he lost to Leach," Eddie Pinner, a future Hall of Famer himself, said when New Yorkers heard the news. But it wasn’t Dick’s leg that did him in, it was his arm--down match point, he missed a hanger. Of course, I ought to add that English International Stanley Proffitt did write that "Leach retrieved shots in a manner that amazed not only the crowd but Miles himself."
After Dick was beaten, Cartland gave him 5-1 odds that Leach wouldn’t win the tournament, and Dick accepted. Johnny then went on, by way of two more grueling 5-game matches, to take the title. He had a semi’s win over the chopper Soos--something more for Miles to muse over, since Dick said, "I could give Soos 3 or 4 in the practice room, Reisman could give him 5." Then Johnny beat Vana, who had been a finalist at four of the last five World’s.
So it was left to Reisman on these slippery tables to distinguish himself, and he did, up to a point--swept through the highly-regarded Andreadis (Barna’s pre-tournament pick as Champion) before being stopped in the semi’s by Vana.
In the Men’s Doubles, Dick paired with super-steady Cartland (whom he ranked among the Top 8 players in the world) to reach the semi’s, where they went down,-13, -22, 14, -8, to the winners Andreadis and Tokar. Miles tells the story of how at one point (in the second game?) Tokar serves a net ball, which Dick deliberately lofts up to indicate a let, only to see Andreadis come in over the table and kill it. Dick says to the umpire, "The serve hit the top of the net." When the umpire ignores him, Dick addresses Andreadis, "Ivan," he says, "the ball hit the top of the net." "This is true," says Andreadis, "but we need the point."
In case you’re wondering, Dick did pay Andreadis that $100 bet he’d made that the ‘48 World’s would be his last. Losses rankle winners, but they always return for more of them.
Defending Mixed Champions Dick and Tybie lost early to Leach and Peggy Franks, last year’s Women’s Doubles Champion--but Tybie almost made the Singles final, succumbing in the semi’s in 5 to the Czech Kveta Hruskova. Reisman teamed with Peggy McLean, star of our Corbillon Cup win over England, to advance to the semi’s before being unable to contest further.
On then immediately to the English Open where, as in the World’s just completed, the ITTF had finally decided to seed players on a merit basis (before, they’d merely separated competitors from the same country, and if the two best players in the world met in the first round, so be it).
Miles, Reisman, Cartland--all on Schiff’s World Top 10 list. Did they think of themselves as amateurs or professionals? Easy to judge that, huh?
Dick, continually unhappy with his accomodations, voiced his objections to the London Press:
"‘We’ll never win the men’s singles title the way we go at it,’ declared Miles.
Our association sold us to the sponsoring association for $1000 to help pay our expenses there [to Sweden] by ship and the Swedes collected $6,000 out of our exhibition tours. Even though we drew full houses nearly every night, we stayed in the cheapest hotels.
Players had meal tickets at a restaurant [here in London],’ Miles continued, ‘but I could only go [that is, stand] one meal. Last night Marty Reisman collapsed in his hotel and the doctor said he needed more sugar.’"
So Miles and Reisman took it upon themselves to leave the hotel the English had billeted them in and move to a better one, and of course, regardless of the repercussions that might follow, bill the English TTA.
This ‘49 English Open was sweet for Reisman. He upset 3-time World semifinalist "Alex" Ehrlich in the quarter’s in 5. Then he beat Miles in the semi’s, also in 5. England’s Table Tennis Review said, "The younger American stood practically flat-footed hitting from both wings with amazing accuracy, whilst Miles chopped viciously, only occasionally cracking a forehand...." In the final, as may be seen in Bobby Gusikoff’s "Legends" tape, Marty, pirouetting returns, outlasted the 38-year-old Barna, in 5 (after losing the 3rd from 20-15 up). Winning the Men’s Singles at this prestigious tournament, something no other American male has ever done, was perhaps Marty’s greatest accomplishment. Back home it earned him two sentences in an unsigned column on "Overseas News" on page 9 of the current Topics.
Small consolation, I’m sure to Miles, but he and Tybie Thall did win the Mixed over Reisman and Peggy McLean, the Women’s Champion here.
After some exhibition play--the last in Southhampton on Feb. 25--the Team left for home on the S.S. America. Though maybe for a moment or two they might have thought that, Exhibition or no Exhibition, they had a higher priority--not to miss the boat. Apparently they were asked to cut it very close, for according to the English magazine Table Tennis, they were scheduled to be on court in Southhampton "until an hour before" their steamer set sail for New York!
En route home, Miles, Reisman and Cartland received word that disciplinary action was going to be taken against them. Doug had remained in the London hotel originally assigned him, and so couldn’t be faulted with Dick and Marty on that, but both the Swedish and English Associations were protesting that all three players hadn’t honored all their exhibition commitments and ought to be punished. Reisman, for one, swore that he didn’t renege on a single exhibition. Cartland, I’m sure, swore too. He probably felt he’d already been punished enough in Sweden having to try to stomach all that reindeer meat he was constantly being served.
The Sept.-Oct. issue of the English Table Tennis Review said that the Swedish Association had made it clear to the USTTA that their representatives had acted deplorably. Also, in some people’s eyes, the fact that Miles and Reisman had been quite openly betting at the English Open "under the noses of officials" made them "a ruddy nuisance who spoiled the atmosphere of the tournament."
No sooner had the ship docked in New York than the players were whisked to the Springfield, Massachusetts Y for the Mar. 5-6 Eastern’s. Cartland, on advancing to the semi’s, defaulted to Reisman--another action USTTA officials would deem "detrimental" to "table tennis" and hold him accountable for. Miles of course also advanced through the semi’s, with a straight-game win over young Frank Dwelly.
For the first three games of the final, Dick and Marty put on a spectacular match--with Defending Champ Reisman (-17, 19, 20) taking a 2-1 lead. But then, strange, Marty just (-6, -9) collapsed.
The Men’s Doubles was perhaps a unique final in Dick and Marty’s lives.
Reisman played with his good friend and psychic supporter David Hartman who, parodying William Blake’s famous "Tiger" poem, penned:
"Miles, Miles, always tight
Choking every Friday night.
What boy fire red knocked
thee in Wembley dead?
When Reisman’s bat bangs
down the ball and plasters
you against the wall, do
your backers smile to see,
Did he who made the
hawk make thee?"
Miles played--and won--with Eugene Fately, someone who’d make such an impression on him that, beginning four decades later, he would spend 10 years building a novel in part around him.
It was April Fools Day at the 1949 New York National’s, but there in the St. Nicholas Arena Miles, trying for an unprecedented 5th straight Men’s Singles title, couldn’t be more serious. He advanced with ease--giving up only 40 points to Somael in the quarter’s, and only 32 to Pinner in the semi’s (after Eddie "ran to the point of exhaustion" against Laszlo Bellak in a 5-game quarter’s). Dick then defeated Reisman, 3-0 --being threatened only in the 2nd when Marty spurted from 12-18 down to 20-19 up. More than one observer thought Marty "erred in allowing...[Dick] to take the offense too often, instead of always forcing as he did in the 1948 final."
After Miles, Reisman, and Cartland were suspended, Dick proudly took his time seeking to reinstate himself. Of course he couldn’t play in either the ‘50 Eastern’s or National’s, and as the ‘50 World’s was in Budapest, there was no getting through the Iron Curtain. Perhaps the USTTA had something of an iron curtain itself, for, regarding the players’ suspensions, President Elmer Cinnater had told the press in May of ‘49 that "Miles and Reisman often failed to appear when called for matches during the recent world championships in Sweden" and that "Cartland was suspended for alleged arguing with officials during the tournament at Stockholm and for failure to participate in the 1949 national table tennis championships in New York." Such an explanation was highly suspect, for, to take one example, it wasn’t in Stockholm that Doug had been provoked into saying, "I hate Sweden. And I hate Swedes." And just how many scheduled exhibitions did Doug play in after the World’s, wasn’t his mother sick? Wasn’t that what the telegram he sent and received said?
Miles was not inactive during his suspension, and went out on Tour with Pagliaro and Schiff. Of course he was already an old hand at giving exhibitions. In the future it would be a way of life for him. A heart murmur had kept him out of the Army, but he’d performed for servicemen earlier with Pagliaro--and even as late as 1946, just prior to the N.Y. National’s, he and ‘45 U.S. Women’s Champ Davida Hawthorn had been touring Army installations in Italy and the South Pacific.
Though Bobby Gusikoff, later National Champion and N.Y. Broadway Club owner and table tennis raconteur, was fond of saying, "When Miles lost his nose, he lost his forehand," Dick, though he did have cosmetic surgery, said that it was giving these exhibitions with Paggy and Sol that took something away from his vaunted windmill attack. And attacker more than defender he was in his career--at least he thinks so. "Though Reisman had a spectacular hard hit, I had the better forehand," he said. How hard did he hit the ball? "As hard as I had to."
Which brings to mind one of Dick’s favorite stories about Marty. They were playing doubles together at some tournament when, determined to end the point, Marty swatted the ball as hard as he could, then almost simultaneously shifted his racket into his left hand and, putting his right hand over his chest, cried out, "Oh, I’ve got such a pain in my heart!" To which Miles sensibly replied, "Well, don’t hit the ball so hard."
"Don’t hit the ball so hard?" said Marty. "I’d rather die!"
Since Miles was still suspended, he couldn’t be picked for the U.S. Team, couldn’t enter the early-Mar., ‘51 World’s in Vienna. But as that tournament got underway, the USTTA reinstated him and he promptly took up where he’d left off by beating Pagliaro in the final of the Mar. 3-4 New York Open. The next weekend, after correspondence with Milwaukee’s Seymour Lefko, Dick went out to the $1,000 Wisconsin Open where he was a triple winner, downing Bill Holzrichter in the Singles. He considered that the prize money he’d won evened out that English hotel bill he’d been forced to pay the USTTA for reinstatement.
At the ‘51 U.S. Open, he also took up where he’d left off, downing Reisman in the final after rallying from two games down. On running out the 5th from 17-18 down, he received a tremendous ovation from the spectators. Perhaps Marty had some satisfaction in teaming with Holzrichter to come back from 2-1 down to snatch the Doubles from Dick and Doug Cartland? Dick, paired with Sally Green Prouty, also lost the Mixed in 5 to Doug and Leah Neuberger.
Though Miles won the Philadelphia Summer Open, it was said at the New York Team Tryouts, where Pagliaro and Schiff had the best records, that, since Dick could no longer "hit unerringly," he’d fallen back on defense as his "mainstay." But he and Paggy were 12-0 at the Nov., ‘51 Philadelphia National Team Championships (formerly called the Intercities), and then he won three tournaments in a row--the Pennsylvania, N.Y. Metro, and Westchester Opens, this last over Paggy, 3-zip.
No new World’s for Dick to conquer, though. The U.S. didn’t fund a Team to Bombay in ‘52--and only Reisman and Cartland were there on their own for the sponge surprises.
Meanwhile, Miles, as he’d say later, was starting to slip--he felt he’d passed his prime. In just a few months he’d be 27, and, really, what with the War and his suspension, he’d not had the career he might have had under more favorable circumstances. He lost to Schiff in 5 in the semi’s of the mid-Feb., ‘52 Philadelphia Eastern’s. And was upset in 5 in the expedited final of the ‘52 Cleveland U.S. Open by Pagliaro. Small consolation that he won the Doubles with Schiff? Or that he beat Sol to win the Apr. Quebec Open in Montreal, and Pinner to take the N.Y. Summer Open?
Was there really a falling off in Miles’s tournament play? To hear Dick talk, you’d think so. A reporter interviewed him, apparently on a particularly bad day, and wrote an article entitled "Tired Of It All." Dick was quoted as saying, "I don’t even practice any more....Why should I? There’s nothing to be gained by practice but more championships. I got enough now." Oh? How, one wondered, was his love life?
U.S. players could not get visas for the ‘53 World’s in Bucharest. But Miles could and did go to Canada--ventured up to Montreal where he successfully defended his Quebec Open title. Obviously he was practicing. Earlier, he’d beaten both Schiff and Pagliaro in the Eastern’s. And now he notched for himself still another U.S. Open--at Kansas City, over a slimmed-down Somael, with whom he won the Men’s Doubles. Dick’s (-22, 21, -17, 15, 15) toughest match was an early one against St. Louis’s Jim Tancill--"with Tancill’s sponge bat annoying Miles considerably."
Later in ‘53, with his friend Freddie Borges ("Pinner was my idol until Miles came along"), Dick went out on a Department of Defense Tour to the Far East--Hawaii, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan. Being with the eccentric Borges--in ‘47 Dick had played Doubles with him in the U.S. Open--was such an experience that Dick would later "immortalize" him as Hugo Batzlinger in a 1966 Sports Illustrated article.
That ‘53-54 winter, Dick would often play practice matches (and more than hold his own) with Ichiro Ogimura and Yoshio Tomita--two of Japan’s best--at the USO’s Ernie Pyle Theater in Tokyo, where four tables were set up and the playing conditions were good.
On returning home, Miles would win the ‘54 Bridgeport, Ct. Eastern’s by default over Pagliaro who suffered from leg cramps after barely outlasting N.Y.’s Moniek Buki, deuce in the 5th. And, ho-hum, Dick would again beat Somael in the final of the ‘54 Cleveland U.S. Open.
In Apr., ‘54 at Wembley, Miles, after a 13-1 record in Swaythling Cup play, met Yugoslavia’s Zarko Dolinar in the 3rd round of the Singles. Dolinar, who would be World runner-up in ‘55, carried round a racket-box with a skull and crossbones on it. Since it was his habit to collect the signatures of his world-class victims, he said to Miles, "You might as well sign now, Dickie." After Miles beat him three straight, Dickie kidded back, asked Zarko, "You want to sign my racket?" Miles then had Japan’s lefty attacker Tomita in trouble, for, having beaten him in practice play in Tokyo, he knew his game. But, up 2-0, Dick lost in 5.
U.S. Team member Pauline Robinson, holding her nose, described the Men’s final at that ‘54 World’s:
"...[You] should have seen the reaction of the spectators...when the horrible sponge against sponge, Flisberg and Ogimura, match was played. The entire match lasted 18 minutes for four games, including the five-minute rest, and was strictly a serve-and-hit-one-ball-for-the-point game. Sponge against regular rubber is bad enough, but sponge against sponge!!! UGH! That’s what will happen if it isn’t banned..." [England did ban it...for the ‘57-58 season.]
In ‘54-‘55, Dick was on a Harlem Globetrotters Tour in the U.S. with Bergmann--they’d played, for example, "to a turnaway throng of four hundred and fifty spectators at the California Table Tennis Center." Their exhibitions then took them eastward, for at the late-Feb. Eastern’s at White Plains, N.Y. Bobby Gusikoff pummeled Miles at will. Come the Mar. 18-20 Rochester U.S. Open though, Miles and Bergmann were in the final, where, taking advantage, as he said, of the American tables (would that a World’s had ever been played on them), Dick beat Richard in 4. And added the Mixed with Mildred Shahian for good measure.
Miles enjoyed Touring with Bergmann--they’d done exhibitions together back in the ‘40’s before Bergmann’s wife became ill--and Dick had the greatest respect for Richard’s professionalism and sportsmanship. Dick remembers that once during a rehearsal Richard suddenly stopped play and came round the table, and said, "Look, you’ll simply have to hit the ball harder than that."
"But if I hit it any harder," Dick said, "you’ll never get it back."
"Don’t be silly," said Richard. "If you hit it accurately, so I can get my racket on the ball, I can get back any shot you can hit, no matter how hard."
Understandably, Miles was impressed by Bergmann’s pride, his confidence in himself.
Also Dick liked it that Richard "would not tolerate any hamming up of our exhibition--such as playing with pots and pans, or the like. Such antics, he claimed, demeaned the sport."
In mid-Apr., ‘55 at Utrecht, in Swaythling Cup play, the U.S. Lost to Hungary, 5-2. Miles was 1-2--beat Kalman Szeposi, but lost to Koczian and Sido. In Singles, Miles, caught by the clock, had two games stopped after precisely 20 minutes, and since he was behind in both, he lost both--and the match in 5 to the Yugoslav chopper Vilim Harangozo, whom Dick couldn’t hit through. Defending his ‘54 World Doubles title with Dolinar, Vilim was the villain for Miles again, for in the quarter’s this Yugo pair, playing with thick-foamed sponge--no, it didn’t soften the blow--knocked out Dick and Johnny Somael, 23-21 in the 5th (after the Americans had had 4 match points).
At the English Open that followed, Dick made the semi’s before losing to France’s Rene Roothoft who was beaten in the final by Dolinar, and at the German Open he got to the quarter’s before losing to Ehrlich, the eventual winner.
From the mid-’50’s almost through the mid-’60’s, Miles gave up considerable tournament play in favor of Touring, for which he was well paid. On USO treks he remembers following such celebrities as Bob Hope and Johnny Cash, and at exhibitions dispensing his well-known sponsors’ products--Kent Cigarettes, Arid Deodorant, Rise Shaving Cream. Europe and the Far East (including Okinawa, Iwo Jima, Wake Island) he traveled to. "It was fun," he said--particularly when his small troupe included attractive women players--always a surprise hit with servicemen. Once Dick himself got quite a surprise. He’d lined up a show with two pretty girls, but at the last minute one of them had to cancel out. Not to worry, said the girl player who remained, she had a friend. O.K., said Dick, and arranged to meet the two of them at Travis Air Force Base in sunny California. Of course they needed to rehearse the show, get a format for the girls. So out to the table they went, and the newcomer dutifully threw the ball in the air to serve...and whiffed it. She was pretty, yes--but Dick was shocked, she’d, umm, need a little practice.
Miles wasn’t on the early-Apr., ‘56 U.S. World Team (there was now a requirement that you had to accumulate enough tournament-attendance points, and Dick was on Tour)--but he played Singles in Tokyo where there were always long lines of spectators trying to get tickets and every session was sold out. Here, by the way, the U.S. had its last World triumph when Erwin Klein and Leah Neuberger won the Mixed Doubles. In the 8th’s, Miles beat Andreadis, one of the very top seeds. "I am the most surprised player in the house," he told a reporter, especially since he’d won with a "frayed" paddle. "Actually," he added, "I attribute my win to the fact that it is so cold here [overseas, does Dick ever play where it’s warm enough for him?]....That [the cold] makes the balls light and difficult to hit hard, which helps defensive players like myself."
The fact that even for a World Championship the rubber on Dick’s hardbat wasn’t new was hardly unusual. "In those days, he said, " you used your rubber for maybe 5-6 years before you felt you were taking a chance and changed it. By this time the center spot on your racket was all black, pure black, and the pips had started to go. So you had to change. The worst thing, though, was to see marks around the perimeter of your racket. Then you’d say to yourself, "My god, look how I’m playing!’"
Privately, Dick felt that his win over Andreadis at this ‘56 World’s was his "cleverest" win, because, he said, "I played like Leach--didn’t give Andreadis the heavy chop he expected but floated the ball back." Dick then lost his quarter’s match to Ogimura, who was about to win his second Men’s Championship.
In Mar., ‘57, Miles and Cartland were not on the U.S. World Team, but, arriving in Stockholm, they participated in Singles and Doubles...quietly (Miles getting backhand-flicked to death--a "most pathetic sight"--by the massive Hungarian Sido, who then also beat him in the English Open).
After the ‘57 U.S. Open (Dick didn’t play in it, or the ‘56 one either), Miles, Leah Neuberger, and Californians Erwin Klein , Sharon Acton, and Mary McIlwain toured Central Japan and Korea. In Tokyo, the women were the honored guests of, among others, Hikosuke Tamasu of the Butterfly Company--and the attention given them proved both stimulating and relaxing. But in Korea, Mary wrote, "we did 24 shows in 16 days, traveling by bus, plane and jeep right up to the front lines." She praised Miles--said "his presentation of the game verbally and in action is of the highest caliber."
Miles returned to play in two 1958 majors--he lost to Bukiet, 19 in the 5th, in the final of the Eastern’s, and he was badly beaten in the 8th’s of the National’s by Hungarian immigrant Bob Varadi. However, he did win another U.S. Open Doubles--with first-time Singles Champ Reisman.
In ‘59, as if in preparation for the Dortmund, Germany World’s, Miles was momentarily back on the tournament scene. In the semi’s of the Jan., ‘59 Eastern’s, while Defending Champ Gusikoff was outlasting Bukiet, 24-22 in the 5th, Dick got by Schiff, a player whom everyone thought "ageless." He then avenged his last year’s loss to Bobby. The Feb. Massachusetts Open was Dick’s too--over Bukiet in the semi’s in 5, over Reisman in the final, 19 in the 5th. Was it even a minor setback that he and Bernie lost the Doubles, deuce in the 5th, to Schiff and Gusikoff? Did such Doubles matter? I would say yes, for these competitors had to take their play seriously--it defined who they were, what they did with their lives.
In ‘59 Miles, by the standards of his day, was "old"--that summer he would be 34. We wouldn’t see him for a while at any U.S. Open. But here he was in Dortmund, Germany at the now biennial World Championships. Perhaps he could still play a little? Even with an old-fashioned hardbat?
Uh-huh. Well enough on these slow tables, once he got by the Iranian star Houshang Bozorgzadeh in 5, to knock off two formidable Chinese--Hsu, Yin-sheng, decades later the President of the ITTF, and Yang, Jui-hua, who earlier had quickly deflated our Leonard Cooperman’s hopes, after Lenny had upset two-time World Doubles Champion Ladislav Stipek. Dick always felt the Chinese enjoyed seeing him play--and seeing Sido, too, another of the rapidly disappearing hardbat threats to Asian supremacy. So in a moment I’m going to take a big leap forward and describe for you, not the straight-game quarter’s match Dick played Yang here in Dortmund, but the 3-game one he’ll play him 12 years hence in Peking.
But, first, the climactic ‘59 semi’s against the third Chinese--the towering Jung Kuo-tuan, a pimpled-sponge attacker. Can Dick win? It appears, after he loses the first 22-20, but rallies to win the next two, 25-23, and 21-17, he can. However, accounts now say that Jung changed his game and started pushing. And Dick started hitting. But, as Dick recalls it, he was leading 2-1 and 12-8 in the 4th when he stopped attacking, for he felt his forehand was shaky. "I tried to ‘frighten’ Jung by going back to defense," Dick said, hoping Jung would go back to playing aggressively, "but he ground me down."
Perhaps after losing the 4th at 18, Miles started attacking again, for Bernie Bukiet told me that Dick, hitting, should have pushed. Maybe Bernie meant right from the beginning of that 4th game. And yet Dick had built up a lead in the 4th by taking the offense? But had then lost confidence? Anyway, for sure he was beaten decisively in the 5th. And Jung went on to do--what Miles didn’t feel he likely could have done--defeat Sido for the Championship. If Sido or I would have won, Dick decades later would self-indulgently wonder, might the Game have been different today?
So Miles joins Pagliaro and Reisman in an ultra-exclusive U.S. grouping--our only World Men’s Singles semifinalists. Later, Dick will have another shared exclusive, for in 1971, not as an active table tennis player (though he was a venerated one), but as a reporter for Sports Illustrated, he’ll be a member of the U.S. "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" Team that visits China. To our Chinese hosts (I say "our" hosts because I, too, was with that Team and later wrote a book about our little "Odyssey"), the theme of this symbolic trip was "Friendship first, Competition second." That meant of course that the overwhelmingly superior Chinese players would have to "dump" a number of matches to our players, even, it might be, a friendly "old-timer’s" match.
In Shanghai, Dick was asked to put down his reportorial pen and for old time’s sake play a match against this Yang whom he’d beaten back in ‘59. Held in conjunction with the more serious U.S. vs. China competition, this match would be, uh, an exhibition before an audience of 5,000, mostly conscripted soldiers.
Perhaps Dick agreed to play just to see what would happen?...
He lost the first and laughed it away. Then he turned to the stands and said he’d bet $20 he’d make a comeback. Nobody out there went for his wallet.
Sure enough, Dick won the second game.
In the deciding third, it was very close. At 17-all, Dick crouched down dramatically, gave Yang a treacherously simple sidespin serve. But it was as if, in all his competitive years, Yang had never seen the like. He practically turned and ran. Point to Miles.
Then Yang composed himself, served, and the ball stayed in play until, unexpectedly, the Chinese got an edge. Whereupon Dick put down his racket, went over to his right where the ball hit, and moved the table a little to his left. The crowd laughed. They understood it. They liked it. He should have done that before.
At 18-all, Yang tried a tricky serve of his own--and served into the net. And Dick, trying to do the same thing--he served into the net too. Like mirror images, these old opponents.
At 19-all, after a short pushing exchange, Yang missed, hit out--but Dick accidentally caught the ball on his racket. In a gesture of sportsmanship, he awarded the "paddle point" to Yang. Yang, blank, blinked. He understood all about gifts. He knew he had an obligation. He served into the net again. Score all even--deuce.
Now--bad show--Dick served into the net. Which put great pressure on Yang, for he just couldn’t serve into the net again. He had to risk putting the ball into play. If he won this point all would be lost.
But Dick, proud, really didn’t like the idea of a guy he’d beaten a dozen years before beating him now. So he kept the ball in play long enough for Yang to hit out the loser. 21-all.
How would it all end? The crowd didn’t know who to root for.
Dick stopped play. Went over to Mr. Yu, the interpreter, smiled, and said, "Look, this is silly. Let’s call it a draw."
Mr. Yu smiled in return. He could see everybody was enjoying this. Serious drama, lots of pressure, yet comic relief too--like in a Chinese opera. He was puzzled, though, why Mr. Miles had stopped the game. A "draw"? What did this word mean?
Finally he understood what Dick was proposing. And slowly his pleasant expression changed to a frown--of bewilderment. What did Mr. Miles mean?
He couldn’t understand it, anguished over it. There was no such thing as a draw.
So, o.k., I don’t want to be any more melodramatic about this than Miles. He saw the wound and the nail. And, having made his point, he didn’t intend to drive it any deeper into Mr. Yu’s thoughts. He played on, kept his contempt for the charade in check, and accepted his win graciously.
Although Miles surprised everyone by entering the Oct., ‘60 New York Open, not even the display of "his usual good sportsmanship and gracious manners" in beating Marty Doss in the final would start him on the right track to compete in the Apr., ‘61 World’s--for these Championships were to be played in the forbidden city, Peking, which back then no U.S. player could enter.
But, again, there’d be no end-of-season USTTA ranking for Dick--he just wasn’t playing in tournaments. In fact, that summer of ‘61 he was quite successfully trying his hand at a new racket game--something called "Paradise Tennis." This game, invented by Huntington Hartford and Wendell Niles, was "played on a table four times the size of the normal table tennis table." The equipment consisted of "sawed-off tennis rackets and [a] red rubber ball." Played at the British Colonial Hotel in Nassau, it had among its competitors "Ellsworth Vines, Don Budge, Pancho Gonzalez and Jack Kramer." Who won the Pro-Am tournament? Why Dickie of course.
No future in that game, though. So back to table tennis. At the N.Y. Team Tryouts, Miles came second to Gusikoff, emerging from a strong field that included Bukiet, Somael, Schiff, Jack Howard, Jerry Kruskie, and Irv Wasserman. Then at the National Team Championships in Detroit, Dick, playing not with a hardbat but a new sandwich racket, was 15-3 in N.Y.’s win.
At the ‘62 Eastern’s, Bukiet beat Miles in the quarter’s, 19 in the 4th. Bernie’s technique was to roll, and roll, and roll--just wear Dick out. However, at the National’s in New York that followed, Miles, still committed to the sandwich bat, won his 10th and last U.S. Open--over Reisman in 4 in the semi’s, and then in an Expedite match in 4 over Norby Van de Walle, with whom he won the Doubles from Gusikoff/Klein. This success prompted Newsweekto do a May interview with him:
"‘...Americans [the writer quotes Dick as saying] don’t understand this is a grueling, nerve-racking game. Table tennis may be fun for the amateurs, but for me [Dick’s just lost to Wasserman in the Pennsylvania Open, to Gusikoff in the Long Island Open] it’s a fight with horrible instruments.’ [Later he clarifies: ‘Don’t get me wrong. I still like it....I enjoy the competition--before it starts and after it’s over.’]
The only man in America who makes his living solely from playing table tennis, Miles, a slim, slick New Yorker, adjusts to the horrors. ‘The money isn’t great [Newsday’s assessment: ‘his best year: $15,000, mostly from exhibitions and endorsements’], but the life is,’ said the dark-haired bachelor. ‘I’m a non-worker.’ Miles travels 40,000 miles a year on USO tours of military bases, vacations in the Bahamas, drives a white Caravelle, and buys his suits and sneakers in Hong Kong."
Having joined him on these USO tours is his Sinatra-loving friend Van de Walle. Dick remembers sitting with Norby in C-54’s, with parachutes on, somewhere up in the cold, cold air of Alaska. They really are up in the air, for on this particular flight they don’t even know where they’re gonna play their exhibition because it’s not clear where the circling plane can land. Outside it’s maybe 55 degrees below....But inside--well, thankfully, when they finally do get where they’ll play--it’s 80 degrees! Miles is more comfortable here than he was at the World’s.
After winning the ‘62 U.S. Open, Dick was picked for the U.S. Team to the ‘63 Prague World’s. It’d been eight years and far fewer tournaments since he’d last been selected. But of course that hadn’t stopped him from playing in these vintage Championships (for in those days "outside" entries were accepted). He was beaten early by Ogimura, but in the Doubles he had as much success as anyone on the Team, for, after winning three matches, he and Klein lost to the Chinese winners Chang Shih-lin and Wang, Chih-liang.
On returning from Prague, Dick joined with Erwin in a specially arranged match in Huntington, Long Island against the visiting Englishmen Derek Baddeley and Stan Jacobson, proponents of the new super-topspin "loop" stroke that was being much talked about. And though Dick supposedly had had experience defending against such a stroke when he and Norby had played exhibitions in Cambodia, he seemed powerless against it on Long Island. Dick’s era, it was clear, had definitely come and gone--though for a while he’d struggle on.
At the ‘63 U.S. Open, in Singles, Miles lost in the quarter’s to Kruskie, -21, 21, -20, -16, and in the Doubles failed to retain his title with Norby, losing in the final to Klein and Bukiet. In the ‘65 U.S. Open, Danny Pecora beat Miles, 3-0, in the quarter’s. And in the ‘66 U.S. Open, his last challenge, Miles made it to the semi’s before being outsteadied by Bukiet who claimed that Dick "tries to upset me with talking and all kinds of tricks."
Miles was at the ‘65 World’s in Lublijana, Yugoslavia--but, according to U.S. Team member Dell Sweeris, he couldn’t play in the Individual events because Iran voted against it. Van de Walle was there too--playing for Belgium (for, although Norby learned his game in the States, he was never a citizen).
Dick’s strong showing not only at the ‘66 National’s, but at the ‘67 Eastern’s where he beat Mike Ralston and forced Sweeris into the 5th, allowed him, just two months shy of his 40th birthday, to be picked for limited action at the Apr., ‘67 Stockholm World’s, his last as a player. It had been 22 years since he’d won his first U.S. Open, but he was still world-class--"old school" world-class at any rate--forcing the #1 Soviet player, Stanislav Gomozkov, to the 5-game limit.
Dick’s playing days had ended--or rather almost ended, for in the late ‘60’s, even in the ‘70’s, he’d occasionally play in tournaments, and do surprisingly well. More to his credit, he’d continue making contributions to the Sport. Acknowledged among aficionados as one of the world’s greatest theorists, he regretted in part that he never made for himself the time and opportunity to coach youngsters--though at one point in the mid-’60’s it appeared he might, since reportedly he thought seriously about trying to open a series of table tennis schools in the New York area. Dick stressed technique above everything else. "The Chinese use all styles and all rackets," he said. "But you can’t win with unsound strokes."
In 1968 his The Game of Table Tennis would be published, and, as he’d continue to write a number of articles for Sports Illustrated, in ‘74 he added his Table Tennis to their Sports Series. He’d also contribute articles to Topics ("The Chinese Stroking Machines," for example). In addition, he’d be a colorman at World Championships for ABC’s Wide World of Sports; would, as USTTA Selection Committee Chair, depart from past Committee practice of choosing favorites or appearing to, and insist on Tryouts for the U.S. World Team (even assist in setting up a local qualifying venue--string lights, do whatever had to be done). Also, he would serve on the USTTA Executive Committee; would involve himself in the running of U.S. Opens; and all the while carry on his Dick Miles line of equipment with Sears and Montgomery Ward until his retirement. A non-worker? Don’t you believe it.
Today, it hurts Dick to see what’s happened to the Sport he loves--how it’s lost its audience in the Arena and on TV; how it’s lost its grandeur.
How can I show you such a Champion’s--this Champion’s--hurt? How, finally, can I speak of Miles when so much will forever be left unsaid? I take my cue from Dick’s favorite--Beethoven.
Though Dick didn’t say anything to me, I once overwhelmingly heard and felt the love he had for the Sport--the Pride, the Dignity, the Class he wanted for it and himself, its most-fervid practitioner.
It happened many years ago when I went with Dick into a big sporting goods store called Paragon in New York where you at least had a chance of getting a fairly decent selection of table tennis rackets.
Eventually, after looking about (as I, in writing this, do now in my dictionary: "paragon: Middle French, touchstone, to test on a touchstone...a model of excellence...a perfectly spherical pearl..."), Dick got around to asking about balls.
The salesman went over, opened a large box behind the counter, then a smaller one (Balls? It was almost like, "Who’d have them?"), and finally came back with one of an unrecognizable make.
Which Dick, upon testing, calmly, deliberately pushed his thumb through.
"It’s obviously unplayable," he said in a very pleasant voice.
I was shocked, the salesman more so. "Hey," he said, "I just opened a gross of those balls. You didn’t have to do that."
...Ah, but he did.
Later, I fancy, in the privacy of Miles’s apartment, that scowling, glaring Beethoven on Dick’s mantelpiece, deaf to what others might think, allowed himself a little smile--for, deep down, he always heard and knew the score.