Jimmy McClure first appeared on the 1934 American Ping-Pong Association (pro Parker Brothers) National tournament scene at the 7-city round-robin Intercity Matches at the Hotel Morrison in Chicago. Here, with a 16-1 record, he suddenly established himself as a great rival to Sol Schiff as North America's best player.
He was a canny 17-year-old. For example: fingerspins were much then the vogue, and, as when decades later "junk" rubber was first being used, players hated playing others who had the advantage of having the unfamiliar. Jimmy tells the story of how N.Y.'s Al "Stonewall" Goldman had been exasperated in the N.Y.-St. Louis tie by Ernie Trobaugh's finger-snap serves. So when it came time for one of Jimmy's teammates to play Trobaugh in the Indianapolis-St. Louis tie, Jimmy whispered to him to snap his fingers when he served even though he knew he couldn't put any fingerspin on the ball. Sure enough, when Goldman heard the finger-snap, he threw up his hands and yelled, "Another of these sons of bitches!" Yep, Jimmy knew how to take psychological advantage, work the angles, even at an early age.
Jimmy came to table tennis in the same way that Ruth Aarons did. One day in 1932 he was playing tennis when it started to rain, and so he came inside, to a ping-pong table, where one stroke led to another....
An Indiana tournament player, Jerry Jacobs (he'd be #23 in the APPA Rankings for the 1933-34 season) ran an Indianapolis Outdoors/Sporting Goods store and on a table he'd set up in a back room he started playing matches with Jimmy, giving him a 10-point spot. But then, after abandoning the short experiment of playing penholder--as a shakehands player Jimmy always continued to keep his racket head down in the manner of a penholder
--this unknown youngster was soon giving Jacobs 10 points a game.
Jimmy was already a champion hustler at age 8 or 9. He sold as many as 1,000 copies a week of Liberty magazine--out-hustled dozens of other youngsters to win a first-prize watch in a national contest. Also while at Grade School No. 27 he began taking tap dancing lessons, and, after proving himself adept at "The Charleston," was soon doing a tap dancing specialty act with "Night Club Queen" Texas Guinan and her troupe. In fact, had she not died unexpectedly, he probably would have gone to Hollywood to make a movie with her. As it was, he got to perform on an Indianapolis stage with singer Dick Powell.
Jimmy says this early dance training helped him to move better out on the table tennis court, and doubtless all the attention bestowed on him in public bolstered his confidence and gave him the feeling that he was different from others, was a star.
His pattern of being better at what he did than others was quickly made clear: he was obviously a superior student. After skipping 5 half-grades, he applied to enter Shortridge High School when he was only 11. Because of his size, 4' 4," he needed to show school officials his grade school diploma and had to have his mother vouch for his age. Although during his four years in high school he reportedly never weighed more than 85 pounds, he knew even then how to throw his weight around. He won the Indianapolis Boys Under 15 and later the Junior Under 18 Lawn Tennis Championships. Along his light fantastic way, in leagues and tournaments, he continued to improve--dynamically improve--his table tennis. By 1933 he was already both the Indianapolis City and Indiana Open Champion. Jimmy was entirely self-taught--he never had, and never would have, a coach. He watched the strokes of others and chose what was natural for him. The secret of his success? Above all, he says, he wanted to win, really wanted to win.
When the 17-year-old McClure--described as being slightly freckle-faced, 5' 5" tall, and weighing 128 pounds--arrived at the '34 APPA National's, he was said to have already won that season almost 20 Midwest tournaments--including the Western's at St. Louis, the Southern at Louisville, and Championships in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. His unexpected rise to such prominence, so startling to those who hadn't seen him play before and witnessed his near perfect record at the Intercities in Chicago--he lost only his first match, to the '33 APPA National Champion Jimmy Jacobson and his strange style, then later beat him--clearly made him the favorite to win the '34 U.S. APPA National title.
And win it he did--over Winnetka, Illinois's 16-year-old penholder Billy Condy, 3-0, in a final played before 1200 spectators--and with that same sandpaper racket he'd used in the Chicago Intercities. A homemade racket made by his father. At both the '34 Feb. Intercities and these Apr. National's McClure found this sandpaper racket very helpful in taking off much of whatever fingerspin or knucklespin he was occasionally encountering. Also, he'd earlier tested his own fingerspin-serve capabilities by serving against a wall, then, as the ball spun off--much like an opponent's fingerspin serve might be coming at him--he'd practice his returns. Smart, huh?
The second American Zone Qualifier (Marcus Schussheim had won the first) that offered the Men's (but not the Women's) Singles winner an all-expenses paid trip to the 1935 London World's was held Dec. 12-15, 1934 at New York City's Downtown Athletic Club. The fiery McClure, having switched from sandpaper to a rubber racket ("Oh," he'd say later, "what a change it was to go to rubber!"), deserved to claim the unusual prize, for he downed the two best players in the East--Abe Berenbaum, 3-0, in the semi's, and Sol Schiff, 3-1, in the final.
Down 19-17 in the 1st against Berenbaum, Jimmy responded with "four consecutive angled kill shots" that changed the direction of the match and signaled for some the bravura performance gainst Schiff that was to follow. Still, this McClure fellow was not easy to figure. Earlier, he could hardly handle an unsung local player's chop, then he goes on "to smash through Berenbaum as though he had no defense at all." Of the 35 tournament matches Abe was to play all '34-35 season long, this one to McClure would be his only loss!
Sports Psychology is scarcely a new phenomenon. Here, in a 1932 Table Tennis newsletter, edited by Chicago's Eduardo Yap, are some lines from an article by Mark Lindquist on "mental attitude," the import of which, whether he was conscious of it or not, might explain in part 18-year-old Jimmy's shifts in play:
"When a player who is nervous tells himself vehemently that he will not allow himself to remain that way, this very attention and concentration only fixes his nervousness more firmly in his mind than ever. This nervousness one sees in the body is only an outward symptom of the emotion, fear, in the mind....To rid the mind of an undesirable emotion one must concentrate on substituting another emotion....
Every individual will have to work out for himself a more suitable emotion than fear; one can do this by becoming a little angry...."
Against an aggressive Schiff, who had him down 1-0 and 8-3 in the 2nd (at this point did McClure hear what some of the New Yorkers on the sidelines were saying: that he was overrated, couldn't play at all?), Jimmy suddenly grabbed his racket with both hands and as if to wring himself into action shook it at the table; then he did what he was beginning to acquire a reputation for doing, began an attack of his own, got "hot" ("McClure," said Manny Moskowitz, "was always hot"). Forcing Sol to play defense, and "magnificent defense" at that, McClure rallied to win in 4. Rallied again and again, for, according to one on-the-scene observer, Dick Geiger, "Jimmy cast discretion to the winds...and smashed his way to win" from 20-17 down in the 2nd, 20-16 down in the 3rd, and 19-16 down in the 4th!"
Beating Schiff, a hard hitter from both sides, was more of an accomplishment for McClure than beating the attacking Condy in the final of the 1934 APPA National's, for if Jimmy could push the ball to Billy's backhand, Billy, despite his vaunted forehand, would often penhold push back, thus allowing the fast-moving Jimmy to gain forehand control. Against Sol's backhand, taking the offense was more difficult.
Perhaps McClure was able to seize the moment because, back in the 8th's, down 2-1 in games, he'd risen to the occasion, had the competititive toughness to score a 5-game win over Brooklyn's Melvin Rose. Also it sure didn't hurt that in both these come-from-behind wins he'd had a special pro-Irish cheering section of Wall Street clerks who practically shouted themselves hoarse for him. Of course Schiff had his very vocal followers too--indeed, the umpire had to "caution the spectators against shouting encouragement to the players."
Before Jimmy and Sol would represent the U.S. at the Feb., 1935 Wembley World's, the famous Coleman Clark "Circus"--a Dec. 28, 1934 through Jan. 24, 1935 barnstorming Tour of 20 U.S. cities--got underway. The visiting Hungarians, World Champion Victor Barna and his 1933 World Champion Doubles partner Sandor Glancz, along with McClure and 1932 APPA Champion Coleman "Cokey" Clark, who, with Will Schnur of P. Becker and Co., promoted the event, were the principal players.
Clark speaks of McClure's first appearance on the Tour--at the second stop, the one organized by Cokey's twin brother Harold at Oil City, Pennsylvania on Dec. 29:
"...The little lad from Indianapolis was a bundle of tenseness and nerves. Barna stood at the opposite end of the table, like a king, with a glint of pity in his eye as he beheld the little lad from the Hoosier state. Barna won the toss and served. Like a terrier, Jimmy fairly exploded and hit the ball so hard that it went clear over the barricade 25 feet behind the table; it was a clean ace and Barna stood there with his mouth wide open. I saw him take a side glance look at his partner Glancz, and they both grinned at each other. Jimmy kept playing like one possessed, socking everything within reach; with the score 20-19 in Jimmy's favor, it looked as if the world champion had met his master, but Jimmy was to be denied and the great master from Paris [where Barna was then living], still maintaining his confident, cool manner, pulled out the game at 22-20."
After the Tour, though the rest of the U.S. Team sailed on the S.S. Manhattan, Jimmy, whom Barna thought the most promising of the U.S. players, accompanied the 4-time World Champion on the liner Lafayette to the 18-nation London World's. Years later, USATT President Bill Stewart remembered that "McClure refused to come on the same boat with the rest of us." Perhaps traveling with Barna as his sole companion--and, well, it couldn't be helped, incurring as a result "somewhat excessive" expenses reluctantly paid for by the NYTTA--made Jimmy feel more like a potential world champion? He had a long way to go...didn't he?
"Don't expect me to win," he'd told his father before leaving.
"Why not?" said his father, a former semi-pro baseball player in the 3I League (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa).
"Because," said Jimmy, "these are the best players in the world."
"So," said his father, "do they use more than one paddle?"
Although it's highly unlikely that our 1935 U.S. Swaythling Cup players worked out, as did some of their European competitors "with rowing machine, Indian clubs, and...[punching] bag," they were "the first first-year team to finish better than last." In fact, led by teenagers Schiff and McClure, who played every tie, they did rather well: Schiff was 11-8, McClure 9-10; Gilbert Marshall, a U.S. citizen reportedly among the top 10 players living in London, who thus could conveniently play for us, 3-7; and USATT President Bill Stewart, 0-9. Moreover, the U.S. led the strong Austrian Team, 4-2, but couldn't score the clincher. "In the 3rd game of the final match McClure, trailing [Karl] Schediwy 16-20, pulled up to 19-20 only to bang a set-up against the net cord and just off the table's edge."
In the Singles, Jimmy fell (12, 20, 22) to Miklos "Mike" Szabados, who'd beaten Barna for the Championship in '31 and would be runner-up to him here at Wembley.
In the Men's Doubles, Schiff played with Marshall and lost in the first round. While McClure, at Barna's suggestion, partnered Hungarian Tibor Hazi, a Dec., 1933 World Singles semifinalist who, four years later, on coming to the U.S., would be facing Jimmy in the final of the U.S. Open. They did as well as expected, losing in 4 to the Defending Champions Barna and Szabados who would go on to retain their title.
Partnered with Helen Ovendon in the Mixed, McClure had what some, though not Jimmy, might call another "good" loss--to the eventual winners Barna and Anna Sipos, Women's Singles Champion at the two previous World's. "I could never figure out a good excuse for losing," Jimmy was to say later, "so I tried harder to win." No solace for him then in losing to the likes of Barna, Szabados, Sipos.
Two months later, at the Apr., '35 Chicago National's, no solace for Jimmy in losing again--this time, ohh, after leading 2-0, to the eventual winner Abe Berenbaum in the semi's, 9, 20, -18, -20, -17.
Four months earlier, in the American Zone Qualifier, one reporter had noted that in the Schiff-McClure final Sol had "made the fatal mistake of not continuing his forcing game," and so had allowed McClure to become the aggressor. Jimmy's victory, this reporter said, "ably demonstrated that a consistent and accurate driver can always defeat the consistent chop-stroke artist." Yeah? Two months later another reporter in a long profile of McClure pointed out what a "clever tactician" he was. But, he added, Jimmy's "aggressiveness and daring," his "outstanding characteristics...are at once his strength and weakness. His willingness to take chances scores points for him that would not be won by cautious tactics but his eagerness to kill the ball when there is no opening betrays him into many errors that the conservative player would not commit." Yeah? Maybe McClure didn't read the articles about him in the press--thought they might confuse him?
Anyhow, here in the National's against Berenbaum, Jimmy, up 2-0, made what he would always consider an historic misjudgment--changed his winning attack for an uninspired, plodding defense. Still, perhaps some Monday-morning hindsight is involved in such a lasting and regretful assessment. After all, Jimmy just barely won that 2nd game attacking and then just barely lost that 4th game by not attacking. Had he won the 4th and the Championship, his conservative strategy might not have seemed so bad--if not to the audience, at least to him.
Undeniably, though, the long last 3 games of this match ("People walked out to smoke a cigarette with the score 11-12 and came back many minutes later to find it 13-12"), coupled with the seemingly endless, 2 and 1/2 hour push-push-push 5-game final between Berenbaum and Schlude, were, to some onlookers, even aficionados, just unendurable ("two agonizing and disgraceful matches"). Granted one had a right to his own playing style, granted the object was to win, still....
And of course, worse for McClure, he didn't win and had to live with it. Schiff would later say that the slow Becker tables favored defenders Berenbaum and Schlude ("No hitter could play," said Sol). But Jimmy didn't offer any such excuse. Rather, he admitted, he'd "played into Berenbaum's hands," had forsaken his own game to play his opponent's. "In your mind," he said, "you think you can always go back to hitting, but you can't. Your rhythm, your confidence--they're gone."
In the Men's Doubles, McClure and fellow Hoosier Joel Inman beat the formidable Schiff/Sam Silberman team, then lost in the semi's to the eventual winners Berenbaum and penhold-attacker Ed Silverglade. In the 20-team Mixed, McClure and Trudie Schnur, after just getting by Jack Nix/Ruth Anderson, 19 in the deciding 3rd, lost in the semi's, 23-21 in the 5th, to Sid Heitner/Ruth Aarons.
The 1935-36 season would be a triumphant one for McClure. At the Jan. 4-5, 1936 Chicago Intercities, Jimmy's sweep of the winning New York players--Schiff, Pagliaro, and Jacobson (Berenbaum didn't play the Indianapolis tie)--helped him to an 11-0 record and the Best Performance medal. Only once was he decidedly in jeopardy: in the Chicago tie when Billy Condy had him 11-1 in the 3rd.
McClure didn't win the Feb. American Zone Qualifier that, since Barna was coming to the Open, would uniquely determine this year's U.S. Champion. But he did come second. Schiff's 19, -20, 16, 16 win over Jimmy was a "cleverly mixed attack," said one observer. "Building to his kills by a masked forcing backhand, he [Schiff] seemed to gain confidence as the match progressed, and with drives that nicked the corners never gave McClure much chance to force the pace."
Ironically, though, it wasn't Schiff who would lead the U.S. Team to the Prague World's, for, just before Sol was set to sail, the strong-willed, very authoritarian-minded USTTA President Carl Zeisberg, in a letter dated Feb. 24, 1936, suspended him for signing a contract with Parker Brothers. Moreover, later in the year, he would try to suspend McClure as well. Here's why.
From the beginning of his involvement with table tennis, Zeisberg was obsessed, and always would be, with putting down Parker Brothers and their proprietary "p.p." (as he liked scornfully to refer to their trademark). However, in the '34-35 season and on into the '35-36 season until the USTTA just stops them, Parker Brothers' Ping-Pong ads are being accepted in USTTA tournament programs and even in Topics. Which forces Zeisberg to face a conundrum. On the one hand, how, issue after issue, can he rail against "p.p." and yet give "Ping-Pong" credibility by accepting Parker ads--and, on the other, how, if the USTTA "permits use of any brand of equipment," can he not?
Oh, he thinks, if only Parker Brothers would be a jolly good friend. John Jaques & Son, Ltd., the "London firm that owns the p.p. trademark throughout the world, except in the U.S. [where back in 1901 Parker Brothers had bought the rights from Jaques], gives 100% cooperation to the English TTA and assists in promotion of the game under its historic name, table tennis."
But Parker Brothers has not been "cooperative." Imagine them offering teenager Jimmy McClure a contract after he'd won their '34 National's! And not a flat figure for his name on their rubber racket, but a royalty!...Naturally Jimmy accepted and naturally on later hearing about it after Jimmy and all the APPA players had come into the USTTA fold, Zeisberg is disturbed. He writes to Coleman Clark:
"...Did [Jimmy] ever stop to think that in permitting Parker Brothers to use his name in this way, he is definitely working against the USTTA, which made possible his [Jan., '35] tour with the Hungarians [that's the Coleman Clark "Circus"] and his [Feb., '35 World's] trip to London, France and Hungary, neither of which Parker Brothers could have done? That if he isn't with us in our efforts to get Parker Brothers to co-operate with us, then he is against us? That every McClure bat sold is money out of the USTTA treasury...[and] is a blow aimed against the firms that do co-operate with the USTTA? Will he cause Parker Brothers to stop selling bats bearing his name? Or does he have a contract with them that would make this impossible?"
Zeisberg asks Clark to talk to Jimmy's father about his racket situation. He says, "I am willing, even eager, to go the limit in working for Jimmy's interests, but I submit that some cooperation with the USTTA ought to be shown on his part." Then he closes with a typical threat: "I am pretty sure my future attitude [toward Jimmy] would be guided largely by the answers to the questions [above]."
Zeisberg also shows his alarm on hearing that Parker Brothers is going to market a Barna bat...and that Barna's Hungarian Association isn't going to do anything to stop it.
A Zeisberg-pushed-for Amendment to the newly adopted (July 17, 1935) Constitution of the USTTA emphasizes in articles 10-C and 12-C that the "USTTA, its affiliates and members thereof shall not use or promote any proprietary or brand name of equipment as the name of the sport of table tennis...[and that no] USTTA affiliate or member shall receive royalties from firms without approval in writing from the [USTTA] Executive Committee."
However, in the Oct., '35 Topics, the very issue in which the July 17-adopted USTTA Constitution was printed, indeed on the very page following it, there was a new Spalding [Parker Brothers outlet] ad that showed a Barna racket selling for $2 and Barna's picture on the accompanying "Ping-Pong" box!
Was the USTTA accepting or refusing such ads? Was a player at liberty to sign with Parker Brothers, or wasn't he? Were McClure and Barna supposed to tell the manufacturers with whom they'd contracted that they wanted nothing more to do with that proprietary promotion? Was the teenage McClure expected to try to void the contract because of his age? It seemed like the USTTA itself didn't have ready answers to these questions.
With regard to Barna, the USTTA let the matter drop--and, as we'll see shortly, after the '36 World's, Barna, with the Association's blessing, made another Tour of the U.S. and played for the first and last time in the U.S. Open.
With regard to the 18-year-old Schiff and his naive Dec. 19, 1935 racket contract agreement with Parker Brothers, Zeisberg pounced.
With regard to McClure, whom Zeisberg and his USTTA also of course had direct jurisdiction over, the matter of his endorsement of a Parker Brothers racket was delayed but not dropped. Delayed, I presume, because it was not clear he should be disciplined. After all, Jimmy had contracted with Parker Brothers before there was any USTTA law against it and because, even after the law had supposedly been put into effect, the USTTA had continued doing "Ping-Pong" business with Spalding. In late Oct., 1936, Zeisberg would propose to his E.C. a resolution to suspend McClure for "violation" of articles 10-C and 12-C of the USTTA Constitution. However, as the E.C. members present voted 3-3, McClure was not suspended, and in a follow-up 4-2 vote was authorized to have an autographed racket promoted by P. Becker and Co., a great supporter of the USTTA.
So off McClure went to the Mar., 1936 Prague World's, while Schiff, having won the all-expenses-paid trip, was forced to stay behind.
In warm-up matches with the English at London's Paddington Baths, Jimmy lost to the English #1, Adrian Haydon, who, after the World's, would be on Tour in the U.S. and playing in our U. S. Open. English aficionado M.A. Symons said that Jimmy "appears to have speeded up his attack" since the last World's, that the players' exchanges were "almost of machine-gun rapidity," but that Haydon was "inspired...capable, when in such form, of beating almost any player in the world." Another onlooker spoke of Haydon's "terrific drives to [McClure's] backhand" that resulted in the Englishman's lopsided 11, 11 win. Fast as Jimmy was to cover his forehand, Haydon, who had "no backhand drive and no defense," was even faster and so controlled the table.
There followed more warm-up matches--this time in France. In the U.S. men's 5-4 win over the French Team in Paris, both McClure and his Doubles partner Robert "Bud" Blattner beat the French Champion Michel Haguenauer who, in the English Championships the month before, "had given Barna his first defeat in more than two years."
In Swaythling Cup play at Prague, the U.S. men placed 3rd in their group. McClure lost a tough 19 in the 3rd match to Liebster, the Austrian #1, but he had some good wins--beat Yugoslavs Hexner and Weisbacher, the English Bergl, and the Czech Hamr (deuce in the 3rd). Topics pointed out how against Germany "McClure won three matches, terrorizing Mauritz, the German #1, with his fingerspins." Although it was the 1934 German Champion Deisler Jimmy beat 9 and 5, and Mauritz he was going into the 3rd with, it could well be that Jimmy had saved his fingerspins for this 21-6 third-game occasion.
Unfortunately, in the very first round of the Singles, McClure drew young Richard Bergmann, already showing signs of the greatness that next year would make him World Champion, and lost 3-0.
But in the Mixed Doubles, Jimmy and Ruth Aarons, World Women's Champion here, got to the quarter's before being beaten in 4 by the Hungarians Istvan "Stefan" Kelen and many-time World Champion Maria Mednyanszky.
And, ah, in the Men's Doubles....Five minutes before play started, the U.S. Captain, Sidney Biddell, got the ITTF Jury to permit him to switch U.S. doubles partners and team McClure with Blattner. In the quarter's, down 2-1 to Kelen and Bellak, they rallied to win in 5. Their semi's, against the Hungarian Champion Tibor Hazi and the "cocky" young man with the "quick half-volley defense and a lot of confidence" he was mentor to, Ferenc Soos, was played on center court the last night of the tournament. Down 2-1 and 19-11 in the 4th, Bud and Jimmy seemed to have little chance, but then--with Hazi urging Soos to hit, and Soos refusing to--the steady, topspinning Americans won 8 in a row!
"With the score 19-19, the crowd, rooting for the U.S., went mad. Hazy [sic]-Soos scored the next point. Bud and Jimmy deuced the game and a flick from Jimmy nicked the corner to get game point. Soos deuced with a scorcher. Hazy angled a drop shot off the table and Bud put away game point.
The deciding game was a battle royal. With the score 17-18 [sic: 18-17] McClure's service came up. Hungary had won the first game with finger spin, and now America retaliated. Bud missed a drive to make it 18-18 but put away the sitter that Jimmy's next serve brought. Jimmy's next two serves brought clean misses and the U.S. was in the final...."
That final--against Czechs Standa Kolar/J.Otker Petricek--bringing teenagers McClure/Blattner the World's Men's Doubles Championship was 11, 7, 9 absurdly anticlimactic.
Welcomed home with honors, Jimmy now entered the Apr. 2-4 Philadelphia National's to see who would be not the U.S. National but the U.S. "International" Champion.
As it turned out, one of the best matches of the tournament was McClure's deuce in the 4th win over Bellis in the 8th's. Not so dizzy Izzy hadn't been beaten all season. The 30 straight matches he'd won on those Philly league tables with the "home-made slate tops from discarded billiard tables" had prepared him for as fast a game as McClure could play against his stiff, shoulder-high forehand chop. After beating New York's Charlie Schmidt in 4, Jimmy dropped his semi's match to Barna in 4 who, as expected, would win the Championship.
Jimmy didn't play the Mixed (maybe because with Barna and World Champion Aarons playing together, what was the point?). But in the Men's Doubles final, current World Champions McClure and Blattner defeated former World Champions Barna and Glancz in a match the partisan audience really enjoyed. "McClure's antics made a hit particularly as he shouted approval or clapped his teammate on the back."
The 1937 Chicago Intercities was played with the new USTTA-instituted 6-inch net. Ironically, in view of the success they were going to have at the World's that year, both Schiff and McClure were afraid that playing with this new lower net would not be good preparation for the matches on the continued-to-be-used 6 and 3/4-inch-net in Baden.
Not that Schiff and McClure did so badly in Chicago. Sol (10-1) lost only to Blattner, and Jimmy (9-2) lost only to Schiff and Blattner.
For the U.S., the 1937 Baden World's was unique--for we won both the Men's and Women's Team events. In Swaythling Cup play we lost an early 5-4 tie to Hungary. Jimmy, though stopping a sweep by Barna, came up 19-in-the-3rd short in a critical match with Soos, then couldn't take the tie-deciding match against Bellak. But when we 5-4 avoided a calamitous loss to the Czechs, and Hungary was 5-0 wiped out by Austria, we were in a play-off with Hungary for the title.
In Team play against Austria, McClure had beaten Bergmann (that year's Singles Champion) 16, 10! Now, in the play-off, with the U.S. leading Hungary 4-3, Jimmy (with wins over Barna and Bellak) was playing the 8th match. He had lost a 19 second game to go into the 3rd with Soos, but nobody on the U.S. side seemed concerned that the hour time limit for a 2/3 match might be exceeded. Though were Jimmy to win this game the Championship would be ours, his corner gave him sound advice: "Look, if you can win it, win it, but if the game's close, chisel." When he was up 11-10 the match was stopped, and since this was Team play not Singles, both the American and Hungarian players were awarded 1/2 a point. This meant at the very least we were assured of a 4 and 1/2 tie.
But Schiff was a favorite over Barna who couldn't handle Sol's fingerspins--legal here in Baden because, unlike the USTTA, the ITTF had not banned them. McClure would later make the point that just the continuous threat of using these spin serves offered such a psychological advantage that many an opponent might be unnerved to the point where he's anticipating the worst from, and so fearful of the motion of, any serve. And, sure enough, Sol beat Victor two straight (though in giving up 40 points he hadn't been that much of a favorite) and we won our to this day one and only Swaythling Cup.
In the Singles, McClure, after a warm-up walkover over (the later 9-time Canadian Champion) Max Marinko, drew Bo Vana, now more man than boy and so perhaps outfitted in playing shorts rather than the short pants he wore at Wembley in '35. With the nimble Czech ever on the jump with his point-winning forehand, Jimmy could not (nor next year in the Singles could anyone) wrest table control from him.
In the Mixed Doubles, McClure and Dolores Kuenz lost to Bellak and Sipos, 18 in the 5th, in the first round. Not much to write home about there. But the Men's Doubles--that was a different story and one that the Defending Champions McClure and Blattner would tell and retell again and again.
Before they were to play their first-round match, Bud went shopping and got lost--really lost. Since he wasn't in the playing hall at match time, he and Jimmy might have been defaulted were it not for the fact that they were Defending Champions and that both U. S. Team Capt. Elmer Cinnater and Victor Barna pleaded on their behalf for more time. Finally Bud arrives, and their first match against the Hungarians Kelen and Nyitray is underway. The U.S. will win it, -17, 15, 19, 3. But the fellow taking McClure's 3rd-game, throw-the-ball-into-the-racket fingerspin serves incurs such wrath from his partner for not being able to handle them that, at the start of the 4th, the poor victim says, "Look, McClure, please keep serving fingerspins to my partner." Which Jimmy, from the go, obligingly does. Our boys won that game 21-3 as the new victim, helpless, could at last only laugh and turn and shake the old victim's hand.
In their remaining four matches Jimmy and Bud couldn't have proven themselves more. Haydon/Millar...Kolar/Vana...Hamr/Pivetz--all forced our boys to 5. They'd been down 2-1 to the English, and 1-1 and at deuce in the 3rd with the Czechs. But their final, -19, -20, 20, 13, 11 come-from-behind win against Bergmann/Goebel was the most satisfying. Here's Jimmy writing about it:
"At deuce [in the 3rd game] we sort of looked at each other and said: 'We either do or don't now.'
Bud hit a beautiful cross-court forehand in, to give us the advantage.
The next point went back and forth several times before a fairly high one came to my backhand. A lot of things went through my mind before I hit the ball-- and a lot more after I hit it. If you ask Bud he will probably confess that just as many things went through his mind.
The ball went on, though, to win the game, and it proved to be the turning point in the match."
McClure of course was noted for his point-winning forehand, but the fact that he could hit that backhand in at just the right moment contributed mightily to their Championship--the nicest "birthday present," Bud, who'd turned 17, ever had.
Immediately following the World Championships our U.S. Team was off to London for the Feb. 10-13 328-entry English Open. Only the World's was considered a more prestigious tournament, and soon 8,000 spectators, about a sixth of England's registered players, would be watching the finals at Wembley Stadium.
In the Singles, McClure advanced to the semi's with an outstanding -14, 14, 24, 18 win over Defending Champ Alex Ehrlich of Poland. Then, while Barna, down 2-1 and at 19-all in the 4th, managed to slip by his lifelong friend Steve Boros, a "grim" Jimmy was turning back Laszlo "Laci" Bellak.
The Barna-McClure final, televised it was said with surprising clarity by the General Electric Company to select viewers, was written up in Table Tennis Activity. This was the high-quality English table tennis magazine of the day--and one so "independent" of the English Table Tennis Association and its official Table Tennis organ that neither of its editors could get even one of the 100 Press tickets for Wembley the Association was giving out. An excerpt from TTA's write-up of that final follows:
"McClure's policy seemed to be not to wait for Barna's attack, but to take the initiative himself. At first not too accurate, he lost the opening game, but the second, with amazing footwork and that characteristic low, raking, sweeping drive, he took at 21-17. [Elsewhere in the magazine, another or perhaps this same unidentified writer spoke of how Jimmy's just-skim-the-net drive too often hit the net and so cost him lots of points.] Easing up, he [McClure] lost the third, but in the fourth his fire returned, and Barna looked troubled. Found out of position by some of the American boy's unexpected returns of the "unreturnable," he had to fight every step of the way. Then McClure made some mistakes. Some "sitters" were netted--Barna got his flick home twice, and at 21-18 the ex-champion came into his own again."
The Mixed Doubles at Wembley was an all U.S. final with Jimmy and Dolores Kuenz losing to Blattner/Aarons. But in Men's Doubles play, both here at the English Open and in the closing Anglo-American International event at Birmingham, McClure and Blattner were upset--as if they just didn't care that much or didn't have any reserves left to draw on.
Back home for the '37 Newark, N.J. U.S. National's, McClure advanced to the semi's against the visiting Czech Kolar, the 1936 World Champion, and playing aggressively was up 1-0 and 20-17 in the 2nd when a match-turning incident occurred that he couldn't shake off. He "was convinced his 'game-point' drive had tipped the table edge but the 2 umpires ruled it out and he dropped 3 games in a row." Worse, McClure later said that everybody thought the ball had hit--including Kolar. "Oh," said the Czech, who understood little or no English, to Glancz, "is that what they were talking about? Yeah, it hit." Yeah.
Nor were McClure/Blattner, though they got by Berenbaum/Pagliaro deuce in the 4th in the semi's, able to defend their Men's Doubles Championship, losing to the world-class visitors, Singles Champ Bellak and runner-up Kolar.
That marked the end of Jimmy and Bud's partnership, for Bud would shift his interest to playing professional baseball and years later would have a second successful career in broadcasting.
At the '38 Wembley World's, the last one our U.S. Teams would participate in until after the War, Swaythling Cup play was divided into two 8-team round robins, and as it happened our 6-1 record did not put us out of contention. Against Germany McClure, who on the sleeve of his Team dress-jacket sported four stars signifying his fourth appearance in Swaythling Cup play, lost to Dieter Mauritz, the German National Champion for 1936 and '37 (and also, after the War's long interruption, for 1947 and '49). Against England, Jimmy lost -19, -20, to Ernie Bubley--an eccentric lefty from London's East End. Back when Bubley began to play in earnest, he was a stage violinist, and ever since had taken to wearing a glove on his playing hand to protect his fingers and/or to give him a better "feel." Against Poland Jimmy lost to Ehrlich, who next year at the Cairo World's would reach the Men's final for the 3rd time. And against Austria Jimmy lost to Liebster, a veteran of World Championships since the 1920's. But Jimmy did beat Bergmann, among others, and no doubt the Defending Singles Champion, all staid and serious, didn't approve of Jimmy's flamboyant appearance--as if fearful that Jimmy in his bright silk trousers would hit in one last forehand and, without so much as a handshake, follow through with a buck and wing, dance to scattered applause, right off the court.
In the U.S.-Austria-England Play-off to see which team would get to the final, England with 5-1 losses to both the U.S. and Austria, was not a factor. But we, too, gave up our chance for greatness in going down 5-3 to Austria. This time Jimmy lost a -19, 22, -19 killer to Bergmann, who won all 3 from us. The U.P. said "Bergmann beat McClure with magnificent deep defense and a final net-cord shot after Jimmy led 16-11 in [the] 3rd." Jimmy downed Schediwy, and it was thought our Bernie Grimes could too if he'd get to play him in the 9th match. But Jimmy was beaten by Liebster 18 and 19. Many another day we might have won this tie, and perhaps another Swaythling Cup, but today we lost six out of seven 19 or deuce games. That was the disappointing difference.
Perhaps, too, the fact that the English spectators were not on our side played a part in our loss. They cheered Bergmann and his unchanging, inscrutable expression. As Topics reported, they frowned on our verbal involvement. "Attaboy!"..."Hot diggety!"...and "Jumping Jehosephat!" most of the 5,000 watching found unsporting, even abhorrent. Bergmann himself wrote of McClure "expressing emotions such as joy, disappointment, despair and concentration that would have done well on the stage" and chastises him "as one of the worst offenders of this kind."
However, Stanley N. Doust, writing in the London Daily Mail felt that the "temperamental Americans' gesticulations and cries of woe when they lost some points were amusing." Moreover, the English players--Bubley, Lurie, and Filby--attributed their success to the cues they took from the Americans. Filby, in an article for Topics, wrote that bridge-table etiquette and respectful silence was all right in its place but nervous and tense point-getting calls for an occasional out-let of feelings and a few timely exhortations from the sidelines. In other words we talked it up--with gestures and feeling."
In the Singles, it looked at the outset that McClure might possibly meet his teammate Bernie Grimes (as we had 5 men entered, only 4 of them could be put in separate quarter's). Bernie did his part--his long-stroke all-around game was just 26-24 in the 5th good enough to have him limp away wounded but victorious from the quick, angled-off thrusts of the Hungarian half-volleyer Boros. Jimmy also survived--after being down 2-0 to the crafty Bellak, whom Schiff never thought "a hard hitter" but who, taking advantage of the lowered net (the ITTF had followed last year's USTTA lead in lowering the net to 6"), could all the more "angle you to death."
So after McClure's comeback against Bellak (who would beat him in the English Open that followed), how could he lose 3-0 to Grimes? He couldn't revitalize himself, had a natural let down? Perhaps. Certainly he told Team Capt. Morris Bassford that when he had to play Grimes he was very tired.
In the Mixed Doubles, Jimmy and 15-year-old Betty Henry, surprise Women's semifinalist here via an incredibly favorable draw, lost their first match, -20, -20, 19, -15, understandably to England's Maurice Bergl and Jean Nicoll who'd win the Women's at the '39 English Open.
However, McClure did win his 3rd straight World Men's Doubles title--and with a new partner, Sol Schiff. They started -18, 12, 20, 17 shakily against an English team, then struggled through a 5-gamer with the Hungarians Soos and Foldi. This made things easier? Afraid not. They never felt safe until the 4th against Liebster/Schediwy, and then, after losing the 3rd at deuce to go 2-1 down to Kolar and Tereba, fought back to win a place in the final.
Their opponents? Barna and Bellak. Up 15-10 in the 5th, the Hungarians looked to be winners.....Then Sol, going for a shot, took a tumble--ohhh, twisted a leg, an ankle, did he? "It's alright," Sol, still on the floor, said to Jimmy bending over him. "I'm O.K." "Yeah?" said Jimmy, mindful he didn't like the way the momentum of the match was going. "Well, stay there!"...
Out comes someone able to assist the injured, and after some delay ("Stalling" we call it today), Schiff is pronounced fit, Jimmy (as is his feisty habit when in trouble) doubtless doubles up the already rolled-up cuff of his trousers, and play resumes....
But with an historic reversal. Though the Hungarians were leading in the end-game, Bellak "repeatedly attempted outright winners." He "went hitting mad and attempted to kill the most impossible shots," which did not go in. Final score 21-19 for the U.S.
The Awards Presentation, Sol and Jimmy agreed, was perfect. The Empire Pool and its 10,000 spectators were bathed in black. As the orchestra played The Star Spangled Banner, the American flag was spotlighted...as was the official carrying the Men's Doubles medals...as were the honored recipients Sol and Jimmy. An unforgettable moment in American table tennis history.
The '38 Philadelphia National's that followed wasn't exceptionally memorable for Jimmy though. He -19, -21, 7, -12 lost in the quarter's to fellow U.S. teammate Lou Pagliaro (though outscoring him in points, 73-72). Topics proclaimed this match the tournament's "Biggest thriller":
"Dynamite McClure and Dynamite Mite Pagliaro [were] exploding drives at each other. With 1,500 pairs of eyes glued upon them, Paggy drove Jimmy out of position 3 times, then rifled 3 consecutive ungettable cross-court smashes off Jimmy's forehand corner for the last 3 points and victory."
However, Jimmy and Sol, the World Doubles Champions, were also the U.S. Doubles Champions here--with a rather easy 4-game win over Chicagoans Ralph Muchow/Al Nordhem.
Since the U.S. would not be going to the '39 Cairo World's, the annual Intercities, which in the past played such an important part in the selection of the U.S. Men's Team, lost much of its stature. So when the Philadelphia TTA, this year's host, declined to give the traditional hospitality to visiting teams, Indianapolis, with its #1, McClure, decided not to come.
Besides, Jimmy wasn't playing that much. He didn't, for example, play in the Dec., 1938 Indiana Open that was held at "Jimmy McClure's TTC" in Indianapolis. Actually this Paddle Club had been Schuyler "Sky" Blue's, managed by Bob Green, but Jimmy, while still keeping his own Club on Virginia Ave., bought into a partnership with Blue in order, as he said later, to "cut out the competition." Then, though this Club would soon relocate, Green would continue to manage it until season's end, after which Bob would move to Columbus, Ohio to run a Club there, leaving McClure's Club on Virginia Ave. solely prominent--the "Official headquarters for [the] 1940 National Open."
Before the Mar. 17-19, 1939 National's in Toledo, USTTA officials were all too mindful that this season's fiasco of an Intercities had prevented the best players from the Midwest from competing against the best players from the East, thus causing Ranking problems. So they decided to take to heart Sandor Glancz's suggestion of a three-man round-robin East vs. West Match to be played Mar. 9 at New York City's Hippodrome (site of what would later become Madison Square Garden), with all players--Schiff, Bellis, Grimes for the East, and McClure, George Hendry, Garrett Nash for the West--reimbursed for their travel expenses and given free hospitality.
Metro TTA President John Kauderer was rightly irritated that this table tennis extravaganza was suddenly taking precedence over his previously scheduled N.Y. State Open that weekend, which now had to be canceled. But his objections were mild compared to the verbal venom that columnist Bob Considine would squirt forth:
"TABLE TENNIS...reaches a titanic peak of trivia tonight at the fly-blown Hippodrome, when the leading figures in this swishy business bare fangs at one another in what they call its annual East-West matches.
They used to call it ping-pong when I was a simple child, but in the past five years the table tennists have banded together--perhaps for protection--created an association that now has even a house organ; drafted a constitution; and had a nasty scandal or two.
Out of it has come a covey of players who, in their screwy business, are known around the world...."
You think maybe I've misquoted, that no cosmopolitan New York sportswriter could assume he speaks for his readers when he does so in such a hateful way? Well, compare these anti-gay Considine lines with what this '38-39 season's Colorado Closed Champion, L. Delford Fedderman, has to say: "Whe I went to Denver, table tennis was considered a game that sissies played in New York. Now there are a 1,000 tables in Denver....Sports writers had better sharpen up on the game."
The hero of this East-West Match was Bellis, who beat all three of his opponents in the deciding third--the last against McClure with the teams tied at 4-4 and the score 19-all in the 3rd! "The strain's on the other guy when you attack at the end," Jimmy once told me. "Because the guy's in a defensive mood, you don't have to hit all out." But maybe at this moment in time Jimmy should have been as "tense" as the rest of the players were--or at least as Glancz, speaking critically, thought they were. Sandor, writing up the event for Topics, singled out not Bellis but the 22-year-old ("oldtimer") McClure for praise--said, after he'd beaten Grimes then Schiff (19 in the 3rd), that he's "been our most colorful player for years, but this year he seems to have a steadier and better attacking game.
But what does Glancz know, huh?
Maybe a lot.
Certainly at the Toledo National's, the most exciting of the quarter's matches was the McClure-Bellak one.
Against many an opponent McClure's aim was to build up topspin until he could get the ball he wanted to kill, or, if he were back on defense, to wait, with his wonderful sense of timing, to quickly pick-hit one through. But against Bellak, undefeated in the last two U.S. Opens, whom Doug Cartland acknowledged was really "tricky" and "one of the few players to keep me on defense," Jimmy knew he had to be very aggressive. And ("Jumpin' Jehosephat!") he was. Bill Price would later say that in these National's Jimmy played "the fiercest, most fighting offensive game I've ever seen."
With that same "shrewdness" or "caginess" that he shared with tennis great Bobby Riggs, Jimmy said he decided to "drive all of his [Bellak's] serves and try to serve myself so he couldn't do the same thing to me." Moreover, he had to keep the ball away from Laci's forehand, unless it was hit hard--but, and though many people didn't think Bellak had much of a defense, Jimmy said he also had to watch out for Laci's "peculiar terrific backhand chop." The forehand side was definitely to be guarded against. "Just lifting the ball over to that side with top-spin was not enough, because if it was just the least bit high he would either jump over and crack it with his forehand or hit it with that indescribable forehand-backhand, which he never hit the same way twice."
When McClure called Bellak an "ungodly" opponent, he meant of course that Laci was so unpredictable, made so many outrageous shots, that he confused player after player and made that player doubt himself and lose heart. But this did not happen to McClure. "Jimmy was able to take the offense a little more often than Bellak"--and this made the difference. Jimmy's "great speed and fighting spirit enabled him to move all about the table in order to hit his favorite forehand drive," and "with devastating cross-court smashes in four deucedly exciting games [-21, 21, 22, 20] Jimmy blasted the crown off the baldish head of [the] two-time champion." Of course the crowd gave them both a tremendous ovation.
In the semi's, though Cartland won a game from McClure, down 14-2 in the 4th, he'd never really threatened him. Said Jimmy, who'd "zoned in" after beating Bellak, "I had all the confidence in the world and nothing looked impossible for me to hit."
In the final, Jimmy faced 27-year-old Tibor Hazi, conqueror of Hendry, Grimes, and Nash. Tibor had arrived in this country with his wife Magda only a few days before the tournament, was here on an entertainment visa, for after the National's he was going on a U.S. Tour with Bellak. Jimmy said he was determined "to rush him [Hazi] off his feet" and, except for the 3rd game, with the help of a handkerchief bandana and rolled-up pants cuffs, he succeeded. This final was broadcast by WTOL (radio)--the Toledo station where these National's took place. And Pathe News was reportedly going to show a "51 foot sequence" of the last point in both the Men's and Women's final to an estimated 20,000,000 viewers.
As in their absence Jimmy and Sol's World Doubles title had been taken away from them the week before in Cairo, so now, in their presence the U.S. Doubles title they were defending was denied them--not by the eventual winners Bellak and Hazi, but by Hendry and Price in the quarter's. Much credit, it was said, had to go to Price who "repeatedly nullified the champions' fierce driving by miraculous returns."
Jimmy and Sol are not finished winning Championships yet, however, and in Part II of Jimmy's long and varied career, we'll soon see them in action again....
Having won the 1939 U.S. Open in Toledo, McClure wanted to capitalize on his title as best he could. Which explains why, though he was the advertised featured player at the Dec. 16-17, ’39 Intercities he didn’t show—didn’t get to see, midway up Philadelphia’s City Hall building, the large electric sign blazoning “WELCOME NATIONAL TABLE TENNIS STARS,” didn’t get to be greeted by the mayor himself. Since it was said that no U.S. #1 had ever absented himself from the Intercities before, people asked the question, “Where the hell is Jimmy?
Answer: Out on a Tour with Sandor Glancz. And, adding insult to injury, playing exhibitions elsewhere in Pennsylvania—at Oil City on Friday and Uniontown on Saturday. This offense prompted the PTTA to ask the USTTA to discipline McClure and Glancz “for violation of By-Law 8 in playing exhibitions in the state sans PTTA permission”--a request that was pursued on paper by the newly appointed USTTA Executive Secretary, Vic Rupp.
As one can see from his Jan. 7, 1940 letter to the USTTA Executive Committee and Board of Regents, Rupp himself feels that Jimmy is quite out of line and wants to stop other top exhibition players from following suit. Here’s a pertinent excerpt from his three-page, single-spaced letter, which not surprisingly illustrates his Official vs. Player point of view:
“While it is true, as Jerry Woodruff [USTTA Recording Secretary and Exhibition Chair] points out, that the No. 1 ranking player has his best chances to make money the year he holds the title, nevertheless the selfishness of the players to gain financially at the expense of the association should certainly not be condoned. After all, as Carl [Zeisberg] explains, the officials work hard to arrange events for the benefit of the players, and the players should certainly be sufficiently appreciative of the work done for them to take an active part in tournaments where the association will be apt to benefit. McClure says he is all for the game. I do not doubt this in the least. It is one thing to be for the game and another for the association. We all know that exhibitions help popularize the game but have little effect on increasing the number of USTTA members. In fact the players in exhibitions are the ones who benefit most; the local affiliate or sponsor next, and the USTTA gains only by the small Exhibition fee charged. The players must be taught that the association which helps make possible their opportunities to make money should receive consideration, and their selfish desire for profit should not be permitted to outweigh the loyalty they owe.
At the [Intercity] matches George Schein (USTTA Ranking Committeeman] informed me that he had received absolutely nothing up to that time for McClure’s ranking record for the current season. Jimmy himself wrote that he would not participate in the East-West match if selected. This can indicate only one thing: that Jimmy feels absolutely no responsibility to the association or its progress. In the past it has been necessary to clamp down on various top-notch players because of their failure to cooperate. If McClure is permitted to run rife, increasing difficulty will be encountered in controlling players in the future. While the player certainly deserves every consideration, he in turn must have some consideration for the association and its officials.”
Rupp suggests four changes in Exhibition By-Law 8. One, restrain tournament-enhancing players from arranging exhibitions that would prevent them from playing in major tournaments. This would also prevent an “unscrupulous exhibition team” from performing nearby while a major tournament was going on. Two, insure that the Exhibition team notify the USTTA Exhibition Chair of their itinerary (which McClure and Glancz did not do), so that he could refuse sanction of a conflicting tournament. Three, provide a “severe penalty for failure to apply for permission of the local affiliate to hold exhibitions in the territory.” (Rupp says Pennsylvania TTA President Robert Metcalf had good cause to resent McClure/Glancz’s lack of consideration.) And fourth, insist that, unless excused for good reason, top-ranked players must participate in major tournaments or forfeit their title. (What, though does that mean? If someone doesn’t defend his/her title, he of course would no longer currently hold it. Is the win then to be purged from the record books, never after to be affixed to his/her name?)
Rupp also recommended that the USTTA take definite action against McClure for failure to cooperate.
So was any punitive action taken against Jimmy? No. And why not? Perhaps because E.C. members were in awe when they’d heard that a Battle Creek, Michigan reporter had written that Jimmy and Sandor had “amused the crowd by hitting and returning the ball with the butt end of their pencils” [sic].
The 10th U.S. Open (with $1600 worth of trophies) was held Apr. 5-7, 1940 in Indianapolis at historic Tomlinson Hall, called by one local reporter “a rambling old structure” that’s seen “bicycle races” and heard “the rantings of political orators and the screeches of old fiddlers’ contests.”
In the 8th’s, Defending Champion McClure smashed his way to a straight-game win over Don MacCrossen, giving himself “pep talks” along the way to keep forcing the attack. Then in the quarter’s, no problem, he eased by the Massachusetts #1, Les Lowry. In the semi’s, though—as former USTTA Ranking Chair Reginald Hammond, brought out of retirement to be the Tournament Referee, tells us—Jimmy fell to Sol Schiff. “McClure, leading 2-1 and 17-16, blasted a shot down the sidelines for a sure winner. When Sol returned it—even though it was a sitter that any dub could finish off—Jimmy was so amazed that he drove it off to lose his lead,” and then the match. Perhaps Jimmy lost in part not only because he was running this Open, but because he wasn’t tournament tough. Preoccupied with two other responsibilities—his table tennis club and Pla-Good sports shop—he hadn’t played enough this season to get a ranking.
In Men’s Doubles there was only one upset—but that high on the Richter scale. Defending Champions Laci Bellak and Tibor Hazi were beaten in the 8th’s by the last-minute pick-up pair of Doubles specialist Al Nordhem and Roger Downs. Which made it easy for former World Champions McClure and Schiff to win another National Doubles title.
First and second-round matches in the Mixed started at the ungodly hour of 10:30 Saturday night, just an hour before the buffet supper and get-together party at the Hotel Washington. For whatever reason, McClure and Sally Green (who would win the Women’s Singles) defaulted their scheduled opener. Perhaps the fact that not only had they already played on Saturday evening but that, being in contention for other titles on Sunday, they didn’t want too many singles and doubles matches to pile up on them. One thing sure—it wasn’t because McClure was in a hurry to get to the buffet, for Topics “Sidelines” columnist George Koehnke said that Jimmy was so involved in running the tournament and playing in it that he “didn’t eat a meal” the whole time.
That fall, Jimmy who’d put on a couple of tournaments at his Club but hadn’t played in them, did show for the Intercities. Against St. Louis, out-of-practice as he was, he could still beat both George Hendry and Garrett Nash, but his Indianapolis team wasn’t strong enough to be in contention.
At the 1941 U.S. Open, held in New York’s Manhattan Center, McClure lost to Lowry, whom he’d convincingly beaten at last year’s Open. Ah well, since matches never started before 1:00 in the afternoon, look into the New Yorker’s cocktail bar at any wee hour of the morning and you could see why it was the official hotel—Jimmy and a host of others would be there, swapping stories. Defending in the Men’s Doubles, McClure and Schiff got by the strong Chicago team of Bill Holzrichter and Bob Anderson in 5 to meet in the final the teenage team of Eddie Pinner and Cy Sussman who’d just eked by Nash and Lou Pagliaro deuce in the 5th. In a thrilling 5-game match, “Sussman’s backhand shots were the big siege guns of the attack,” a convincing counter-force to McClure’s “smashing forehands.” The 17-year-old Pinner and the 18-year-old Sussman thus became the youngest doubles team to win in the 11-year history of the Open.
At the Intercities, Topics said “McClure looked bad in losing earlier to Chicago’s Billy Holzrichter [Oustanding Player Award winner] and Bob Anderson,” but then he had “straight game wins over Pagliaro and Hazi [who was 12-4].”
At the Cincinnati Middle States Open, held the week before the Apr. 10-12, 1942 Detroit U.S. Open, Jimmy reached the final before losing to Dick Miles. Dick, then 16, hadn’t much opportunity to see 3-time World Doubles Champion McClure play, but years later he told me that even in the early 1940’s Jimmy was hitting the ball “murderously hard.” At the Cobo Hall National’s, Jimmy beat Sussman, then in the quarter’s he 19, 20, 19 ever threatened, but only threatened, Chuck Burns who that year would be runner-up to Pagliaro. Pinner and Sussman successfully defended their Doubles title, but were 5-game pressed in the semi’s by McClure and Bellak.
Ever since, at 22, he’d won the U.S. Open, Jimmy was more and more concerned about establishing his Jimmy McClure Table Tennis Company and Pla-Good Sports Shop. But of course the War intervened and in May, 1942 he joined the Navy and served in the South Pacific. His mustering-out photo appeared on the cover of the Jan., 1946 Topics.
Naturally in those post-War years Jimmy, trying to pick up where he’d left off, had to keep a firm hand on his table tennis/tennis business. But he still played competitively—at least, as had been his habit before, in big tournaments, and was registered with the USTTA as an exhibition player. At the 1946 U.S. Open, held at the St. Nicholas Arena in New York City, McClure beat Holzrichter, then in the quarter’s was beaten by Pinner in 4. In the semi’s of the Mixed, he and 1945 U.S. Open Champ Davida Hawthorn lost to that year’s holders, Schiff and Peggy McLean, the ‘46 Women’s winner. In the Men’s Doubles, he and Paggy dropped a deuce-in-the-5th killer to Schiff and Johnny Somael.
The December Topics showed the results of a poll taken as to who was the greatest U.S. player of all times. Miles, who’d won his first National’s only the year before, and hadn’t yet represented the U.S. at a World’s, received 38% of the vote, McClure 29% (he’d been thanked for presenting action photos of himself for publicity purposes at the recent Intercities), and Coleman Clark, who had only a weak 1932 APPA National’s to his credit, an astonishing 12%, explainable only because he was such a famous exhibition player and because many USTTA members obviously had no idea what excellence was. Schiff, who in the 1930’s was indisputably one of the world’s greatest players, was not mentioned in the article.
The Jan., 1947 Topics that followed had a full-page article by Jimmy accompanied by a pre-War photo of him in a defensive pose. Among his “Tips” was the advice, gleaned as we saw in Part I from his own experience, “Never let a net ball, edge shot, or so-called lucky shot bother you.” In a later article, Jimmy will describe the different forehand strokes of the top U.S. players and have tips on attacking play.
At the ’47 National’s, McClure knocked out the U.S. Junior Champion, Marty Reisman in 5 in the 8th’s. Marty outscored Jimmy, 100-87—but Jimmy won the close games. Holzrichter, however, avenged his ’46 loss—downed Jimmy in the quarter’s. In the Men’s Doubles, paired with Sol, Jimmy lost another close semi’s, 19 in the 5th, to Burns and Max Hersh. But that season he played enough to get his first ranking in years—U.S. #11.
With his teammates, Capt. Bill Price, Schiff, and Pinner, McClure helped the U.S. blank the Canadians in the U.S. vs. Canada Match at the 1947 Toronto CNE. In the Singles, Jimmy was beaten in the semi’s by Doug Cartland, runner-up to Reisman. In Men’s Doubles, Jimmy partnered by Pinner, lost in the final to Schiff/Cartland.
For whatever reason, McClure didn’t play in the ’48 National’s, but he was named Player/Captain of the U.S. Team to the 1949 Stockholm World’s.
Since the USTTA’s “Fighting Fund” contributions weren’t nearly enough to cover the players’ expenses, our Team was obligated to do exhibitions in Sweden and later in England. These exhibitions were necessary, for in contracting for them we were guaranteed a $1,000 from each country.
In Sweden the Team split into two exhibition groups. McClure, Reisman, and Thelma “Tybie” Thall played matches in “the little fishing town of Gravarne” where they were presented with “beautiful leather-filled cases.” Miles, Cartland, Peggy McLean, and Mildred Shahian went to Ljungskile where for their friendly play they received “gifts of glass vases.”
The Team then came together for more exhibitions—in Tibro and Halmstad, for example—and for a tournament in Norakoping before 900 spectators, where the winner, the great Swedish Champion Tage Flisberg, beat Jimmy 19 and 22 in the semi’s. An even larger audience attended the Jan. 19 U.S.-Sweden match in Gothenburg—won by the U.S. when Miles beat Bengt Grieve 27-25 in the 3rd game of the 9th match.
In Stockholm, our Team made a good appearance, outfitted as they were by McClure’s Pla-Goods Sport Shop, but the men had to have been disappointed. Their one loss to Hungary kept them out of the Swaythling Cup final. And in the Singles, Reisman, who after this World’s would win the English Open from many-time World Champion Victor Barna, lost in the semi’s to runner-up Bo Vana, dropping the 1st game that might have given him momentum 23-21; Miles lost in the quarter’s to the eventual winner, Johnny Leach, lamenting for a lifetime how at deuce in the 5th he missed an easy putaway. Cartland, who couldn’t win one of the two opening deuce games, outscored 3-time World runner-up Alex Ehrlich but couldn’t beat him; and McClure lost to Sweden’s Arne Anderson, like Miles, deuce in the 5th. In the Doubles, McClure and Reisman dropped an early-round match to Yugoslavia’s Harangozo brothers. So all this was… Uggg-ly.
The U.S. Women, however, had every reason to smile on winning the Corbillon Cup from England. With matches tied at 1-1, McLean and Thall beat Peggy Franks and Pinkie Barnes deuce in the 3rd , and McLean then finished off Franks deuce in the 2nd.
On returning home, McClure participated in the 1949 U.S. Open, and in the 3rd round, against George Ferris, had the distinction of playing the only Expedite match of the tournament. The Rule went in when Jimmy was down 16-14 in the 5th—and, said Topics, “amazingly enough, each player did his best when it was his time to hit.” This match, finally won 24-22 by McClure, “was probably the most exciting match of the whole tourney.” Jimmy went on in the 8th’s to upset Morris Chait, who at 17 with Miles, 22, and Reisman, 18, had been the youngest member of the youngest team to date to win the (’48) Intercities. But in the quarter’s, Jimmy fell to Reisman. Marty, though losing the Singles to Miles, teamed with Schiff to win the Doubles, beating McClure and Somael in the semi’s.
The ’49 Intercities, now for the first time known as the National Team Championships (NTC’s)—and, with teams defaulting, an abbreviated one at that--was held in Indianapolis, so Jimmy, while playing for Indiana, took on the responsibility of running the tournament. But though Topics said he was “not nearly up to his old form,” given his three wins in the Detroit tie, had his teammate, the precocious junior Gordon Barclay, up 1-0 and 20-17 match point, won his match against Glen Whitcroft, Indiana, not Detroit, would have been in the final.
The U.S. can’t send a team to the 1950 World’s, held in off-limits Budapest. But McClure, as U.S. Team Captain, arranged a series of Army exhibitions in Austria, Germany, and England in return for transportation to and from Europe. In fact, said Jimmy, “The whole team traveled VIP (Very Important Persons), the same as senators, congressmen, etc. We stayed in the finest hotels, and ate like kings all through the trip.” Accompanied by Army escort officers, the Team was able to play in the prestigious English Open at Wembley Mar. 9-11, as well as in the earlier Austrian Open warm-up tournament. At Vienna, U.S. Open Junior Champion Wally Gundlach won the Junior’s and Jimmy with Holzrichter the Men’s Doubles.
England’s Johnny Leach, the 1949 World Champion, had come to St. Louis for our 1950 U.S. Open as the favorite to win. He’d reached the semi’s without losing a game—and there met the 33-year-old McClure who’d just beaten him in the English Open. McClure had gone deuce in the 4th with the hot and cold Detroit player V. Lee Webb (in this instance, hot, for, after leading Jimmy 20-14 in the 4th and losing, Lee broke his bat), and then another 4 with Chicago’s Ralph Bast, who’d eliminated Garrett Nash, 29-27 in the 5th. Here’s what Topics had to say about “the aging but agile” McClure’s match with the World Champion:
“…McClure had the Englishman down 2 games to one and 20-19 match point in the fourth! This was a terrific match and it’s a shame that everyone could not have seen it. For the first two games Jimmy McClure was simply untouchable. He whanged the ball to the far corners of the gym, and even Leach’s great retrieving ability was not up to the task of running down the flying celluloid.
But at this point Jimmy made a fatal error. He left the floor for three or four minutes to quench his thirst and mop his sweating brow. That was all the time that Leach needed. He walked to the edge of the playing area, which is all perfectly legal and honorable, and conversed with his coach, Jack Carrington. And Carrington’s advice was good. He told Johnny to keep his defense a little shorter (according to our informant) and this the new champion did, winning the third game 21-17. However it was the Englishman’s fight that pulled out that fiercely fought fourth game. That plus the fact that he had simply tired out McClure’s good right arm, which had done a tremendous amount of flailing trying to get that ball past plucky Leach. McClure said afterward that his arm felt like a damp rag after the third game, and well it should be what with the number of kills he hit. Leach led all the way in the fifth game, keeping the ball away from McClure’s forehand as much as possible; when McClure moved to the backhand side of the table to hit his forearm, he found Johnny’s return way over on his forehand side causing him to hit on the run. Scores of this great match were –18, -20, 17, 21, 15.
I assume the writer of this unsigned article was Editor Bill Price who himself reached the semi’s before losing to Holzrichter, runner-up to Leach. In the Men’s Doubles, McClure and Hazi went down in 4 in the semi’s to the eventual winners, Leach and Carrington. Jimmy’s great play earned him the #2 U.S. ranking for the year in both Singles and Doubles.
McClure remained as our U.S. Team Captain for the ’51 Vienna World Championships (though Bill Gunn would assist him with the Women’s Team), and again the U.S. Army in return for exhibitions before and after the World’s would provide free transportation. At Vienna, in the Singles, Jimmy put up 22, 19, 17 stiff resistance to France’s Michel Lanskoy, but couldn’t contend in the Doubles.
McClure didn’t play in the ’51 National’s or NTC’s. But he was obviously present at the ’52 U.S. Open, for Topics said, “As usual the gallery followed Jimmy McClure around and gave him a big hand when he came from behind [-18, 22, 28, 26] to whip Jerry Ghahramanian,” a University student here in the States said to be the “Champion of Iran.” Jimmy followed that win with another—over 1950 U.S. Team member Gundlach—before losing 16, 19, 20 in the 8th’s to Schiff. In the Doubles McClure and Hazi lost in 4 in the semi’s to the runner-up team of Pagliaro and Somael.
Jimmy was also at the 1952 South Bend NTC’s—not playing, but “for two long days” working the control desk.
From 1949 to 1952, Jimmy, despite his major-tournamant involvement, seems to be concentrating as much on Tennis as Table Tennis, for during these years he’s repeatedly Indianapolis Men’s Singles and Doubles Tennis Champion.
Indeed, it’s quite remarkable how, with so little tournament play, Jimmy had been able since returning from the Navy to continue to do so well in his table tennis matches. But his Hall of Fame playing career has now really pretty much come to an end. There is only one more National Championship to win—the 1953 Over 35 Senior Doubles with Sol (sort of for old times sake?).
By 1957, and his marriage to Nellie Lee Orr, who would never play a game of table tennis in her life, Jimmy had left the Sport that had made him a World Champion and for 20 years would be Referee for the National Clay Court Tennis Championships.
But in 1979 he returned dramatically to Table Tennis—was honored at the first USTTA Hall of Fame Annual Awards Banquet in Las Vegas with other 1966 Charter Members, and was elected President of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors, a position he holds to this day.
He now starts a whole new, though non-playing, table tennis life--becomes very involved not only in USTTA but ITTF activities. He begins his multi-term tenure as USTTA Vice-President and Olympic Chair, and from 1984-1998 he’s President of the USTTA Foundation which, as I write, in 2001 he still represents as a member of the current USATT Board of Directors.
In the 1990’s, as International Umpire and Referee, he worked many major tournaments and looked mighty sharp doing it.
During this time, too, he was the ITTF Olympic Commissioner for North America, and specifically the Commissioner for the Atlanta Games. He was also a Jury Member at both the Seoul and Atlanta Olympics. After that he was the ITTF Vice-President for North America, and for the last 15 years the Chair of the ITTF’s Hall of Fame Committee.
Naturally, he’s attended many world-class tournaments abroad. In Japan he’s particularly welcome. Indeed, in June of 1998 he attended the Japan Open as a special guest of the Japanese TTA to be honored for his post-World War II help, 50 years earlier, in getting the ITTF to accept the JTTA as a member-country.
Recently Jimmy was made a member of ITTF President Sharara’s select Advisory Committee and in that capacity attended an Oct., 1999 meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland with former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch. When Jimmy found out that Samaranch wasn’t really a member of any Sports body, he said, “Well you are now,” and presented him with an Honorary Life Membership in the USATT and the gift of an Association tie.
It’s now another millennium, and with our 2001 Association’s tie…to the USATT Mark Matthews Lifetime Achievement Award, it was only fitting, that, among the mirrored stars atop the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas, we honored one of our greatest USATT Champions—the now 85-year-old Jimmy McClure, a man eternally young who for decades has deserved the praise we’ve all bestowed upon him.