USA Table Tennis

History of U.S. Table Tennis - Volume I: 1928-1939 by Tim Boggan Chapter XVIII. 1936: Ranking Chair Hammond’s Problems--Particularly in the Northwest. 1936-37: U.S. Team "Fighting Fund Drive" Needs Philanthropist Benefactor.

USTTA Ranking Chair Reginald Hammond ranked Anne Sigman--on the basis of her points scored against Aarons in the National’s and other tournaments, and her 5-game semi's win at Philadelphia over Jay Purves, whose Corbillon Cup and Singles records he had access to--#7 in the world. This must have raised some eyebrows, but, as Hammond well knew, such attempts to rank players, based on scant competition, was suspect.

He himself pointed out in a Nov. 12, 1936 letter to Zeisberg and others how when Ruth was playing Central States and Michigan Open winner Clara Harrison in the quarter's of the National's she'd allowed Harrison (14, 14, 17) "too many points" because she was very interested in "watching Abe Berenbaum play an exciting match on an adjoining table." Had you not seen this match, you might have thought that Harrison (and many another woman player) was a better, perhaps much better, player than Probert (or Mae Spannaus who in the quarter’s had Probert down 2-0 before being beaten in 5). Hence, later, you might be very surprised to learn that midway through next season, at the Women’s Intercities, a round robin tournament that will determine who’ll join Ruth on the ‘37 U. S. Corbillon Cup Team, Probert (having acquired more maturity on and off the table as Mrs. Dolores Probert Kuenz), will have, in Aarons' exempted absence, an undefeated record, while Clara Harrison will finish a poor 9th out of the 10 invited players.

But while Hammond is not going to have late-night problems assigning 1936 National rankings to women from the East and Midwest, his attempts to rank players from California and the Northwest will prove unsatisfying. Why? Primarily because, since there's almost no interchange between any of them and the distant Midwest and Eastern players, there's little or no basis for comparison. Moreover, the occasional big tournament out West that's been attended by both California and Washington/Oregon players and so offers a comparison between them will have fallen outside the USTTA "season" that ends right after the National's and thus (though here he’s too scrupulous?) can't be counted. To see his difficulty, pretend for a moment you’re the USTTA’s conscientious Ranking Chair. Consider, for example, Portland, Oregon's Paula Lindblad, who with her husband Toye drove to the ‘36 Philadelphia National's, and who beat two weak players there then lost to Sigman in the quarter's, 18, 19, 14. Can you tell from that where she should be ranked? Or, say, the Northwest's brightest hope, Mayo Rae Rolph, who didn't attend these National's but, who, before, in late Dec., had beaten Lindblad, 12, 11, -18, 16?

The highest ranked woman in the West or Northwest for the '35-36 season was #10 Susan Whittemore of Santa Barbara, CA. Her ranking may or may not have been based (unofficially) in part on her summer of '35 win in the Pacific Coast Open at Seattle. But for sure it was based on her wins thereafter in California, where she'd had more of a battle with the formidable but unranked Helen Germaine than with Louise Lowry, #24. Portland's #16 Rolph, meanwhile, had gone on to beat the best of the Northwest players, #17 Dorothy Jones, #20 Marion Hoffman, and #23 Georgianna Fossas, and in the June, ‘36 Pacific Coast had so "routed" Whittemore (the actual scores were 14, 18, 19) that there was talk she might be a match for Aarons herself. "Maybe you don’t know it," Hammond wrote in his Aug. 17, 1936 letter to Aarons, "but the Portland backers of Mayo Rae Rolph pick her as a 3-1 choice to beat you. Don’t know just what they base this on but I like their interest (and I hope they like to gamble)."

Whittemore, "routed" by Rolph or not, had said even before she played Mayo (or at least that’s what I believe her father said she’d said), that this was to be her last season of play (that is, apparently, her last tournament match), for in the fall she was going off to college in, of all places, Portland, Oregon (her choice of schools had originally been predicated on the table tennis competition she’d find there?). As for the now inactive Susan's formerly much interested father, W. N. Whittemore, the California table tennis Governor, in November he was still venting his displeasure at Hammond, though he’d resigned his Governorship back in the spring and had been replaced by W. R. Burnett, author of Little Caesar and other gangster novels and screen plays of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s.*

It was clear from the Nov., '36 lines he hand-wrote to Hammond, and Hammond in a Nov. 11 letter passed on to Zeisberg, that the elder Whittemore was quite irritated by "the very self contented selfish attitude of the Eastern officers, who seem to think anything west of Chicago must come to them for any consideration."

But back in May, Hammond, writing to his Ranking Committee, had clearly been as conscientious and fair as possible:

"At this point we find the first 30 [men] are from the big four cities, New York, St. Louis, Chicago and Indianapolis. This is a National ranking and we must do all we can to make it representative, but I don't see how in fairness to the first 30 players, we can penalize any of them just to spread out the list.

I think I have solved the Pacific Coast problem by putting in ELWOOD MARTIN ahead of [Toye] LINDBLAD. Martin has the outstanding record in Washington and Oregon, his only loss being to RAY PEARSON 3-2 in the Washington State, which he just made up for by beating PEARSON 3-0 (12, 15, 13) in the Western Oregon, just finished. MARTIN beat LINDBLAD 17, 11, 18 in the final of the Oregon state. I am sure no one from either of these states will complain at Martin being tops, though they may attack putting in LINDBLAD over some of their other players. [Dick Jordan, for instance: in the '34-35 season he'd beaten Lindblad at least twice and by the fall of '35 was the Oregon #1 and Portland City Champ; by Apr. of '36 he'd lost twice to "El" Martin and had reverted to playing penholder again.] However [considering only 40 men are ranked], we have no room for any more and Lindblad is due some credit for being the only West Coaster sufficiently interested to come East. [Sufficiently interested? Uh, Reg, how about the considerable time and expense involved in such a trip?]

As far as California is concerned, I think they will be satisfied at being left out, after Berne ABELEW, late of Chicago (ranked No. 30 in Illinois in 1935) and Cincinnati, went out there and beat Siegel and TERRY in a Santa Barbara tournament."

But although Hammond goes on to recommend State Rankings that "will do a lot of good to the game," it's very clear that ex-Governor Whittemore doesn't think Hammond's National Rankings are any help to California players:

"Your letter [of Nov. 2, 1936]...puffs up the Northwest whom we have consistently defeated and badly on every meeting by the way. I personally paid over $200 for the two trips to Portland and Seattle to try and stimulate the interest in interstate competition, which you are killing by paying no attention to the results of the competition because Abelew, whom you thought you knew about in 1934 developed into a good player in two years. [As if to prove Whittemore's point that Abelew is capable of improving, I note that he was ranked U.S. #9 for the '44-45 season.]

...

[California has] [Jerry] Swatzberg [lost in final of '35 Western States, 19, -16, 18, 19, to Siegel], Terry ['35 Pacific Coast Champ over Armando Correa], [Ed] Robbins [Jan., '36 Los Angeles Open Champ who defeated Terry, Swatzberg, and Siegel], Abelew [Mar., '36 Santa Barbara Open winner over Robbins, Swatzberg, and, -25, 21, 17, -17, 11, Siegel in the final], Correa ['34 Pacific Coast Champ]...and several others who could give him [Martin] five points today and beat him four out of six games."

Coleman Clark, who’d watched an early 1936 West Coast tournament, said that "the Western calibre of play compares favorably [sic] with that in the East and ranks the participants in this tournament in playing strength with Detroit [who finished fifth in both the ‘35 and ‘36 Intercities]" (TTT, Apr., 1936, 5).

Because Whittemore sees that Martin is ranked 34th for the '35-36 season, and no Californian is ranked at all, he hasn't much faith in not just the Men's Ranking list but the Women's, and so thinks his daughter maybe deserves to be higher than 10th. He warns that, unless Hammond is fair, the USTTA "won't have any association members in California." In this he is certainly correct. As of Jan. 1, 1937, the Association counted almost 2400 members. But just a few months into the '36-37 season, California was declared an "unorganized state," and, with no new members, had seen 15 of the 24 old ones not renew their membership. By Feb. 1, 1937 California had only 5 USTTA members left (Washington 11, Oregon 16).

Because the country was so vast, the USTTA, wanting as it did a viable Association with broad geographical representation, needed a great many active members. These players and officials, were they to continue being members, had to be paid in some way for their efforts. Usually, this was just the ego gratification of an out-there-on-court job well done, or the off-court satisfaction of bringing a little order here and there to the all-pervasive chaos--accompanied by some kind, congratulatory words from their often frustrated and discouraged peers. Given

such rewards, the difficulty of trying to organize--with all the inevitable mistakes and misunderstandings, all the unavoidable turnover in players and officials--a really united Table Tennis Association has always been minor-sport difficult. Not only in these beginning years, but, decade after decade thereafter, a lack of appreciation for one’s efforts has sent many in the Sport into irritation, anger, despair.

Whittemore, in his swan song to Hammond ("I am through anyway and some one else must do the fighting from now on cause I don't care anymore"), has a last remaining complaint or two:

"As for our helping to send the team to Europe last year [sic--he means the 1936 World Team], I personally raised money from California and got it in cash from the people here and to date there has been no notice of it in Topics and our people can easily think I put it in my pocket. They say they forgot it or there was some mix up somewhere but the fact remains that California got credit for no part in sending the team and now you come along and calmly say [to me] you raise $300 to $500 to send some players east to try-out for a team to go to Europe and then if they win all you have to do is pay their way back to California and then if fortunate another trip to New York at our expense before any expenses are paid. This I figured out last year would be in the neighborhood of $l,500 before there was a start for Europe.

Would you do it? I don't think so."

Hammond, having typed up this letter, from, as he says, Whittemore's "original scrawl," in order to show it to Zeisberg, includes the following lines of commentary--which suggest he’s at least a little snobbish and insensitive:

"Well, I suppose you [Carl] get a lot of these [letters] from the fellows who want everything and give nothing. I don't see any reason for my answering it, but I would love to see a copy of one of your master-pieces to him. The only trouble with ignoring it is that there is no doubt that I am wrong in the ranking from the common sense point of view. However from the constitution of the USTTA which confines the ranking reason [sic: for season] was so out of line with ours that it just wasn't possible to attempt much of a west coast ranking.

If he did contribute to the fighting fund, it is certainly regrettable that proper acknowledgment was not made.

As far as Abelew was concerned he [Whittemore] is far from the facts. Abelew competed in the Intercity January 1936 and did nothing at all [he was 1-6, with losses to #l McClure, #3 Blattner, #4 Tindall, #11 Leavitt, #14 Muchow--and a bad loss to Omaha's Pollard, 1-11, in the one and only match he might win and that therefore for Ranking purposes would be of significance; and in the Miami Valley he lost in the quarter's in 4 to #17 ('34-'35 season) Fuhrman, who was not in the top 40 for the '35-36 season] and then went to California and beat their best players. It is small wonder that I could not rank them. However, it was rather embarrassing [for me] for these same California players to invade the Northwest in June [1936], after the rankings were finished and beat the best of them up there.

I don't know where he gets all these figures about the cost of wandering about the country. I merely stated that if we [the USTTA] could raise the funds to send teams to Europe, that they ought to be able to get a few players to some of our tournaments.

This looks like another case of the fond father, who loses interest when his child gets trimmed and takes it out on the nearest official."

Surely, though, Hammond tends to minimize the difficulty many interested players would have in raising money to come an appreciable distance to try out for a U.S. Team. Especially a Team that with McClure, Blattner, Schiff, Berenbaum, and perhaps Marshall for the Men, and Aarons, Sigman, Purves, and perhaps Migneco or Fuller for the Women--seems already a given.

This year, however, in conjunction with the 7-team National Men’s Intercities tournament, Jan 2-3, 1937 in Chicago, the Women, for the first time, will have, well, not an Intercities of their own but a round robin of 10 selected players who will fight for the right to join the exempted World Champion Ruth Aarons on the U.S. Team. Unlike the men, who have first to be on (qualify to be on) home-town teams in order even to play in these very important but not necessarily all-determining trials, wherein of course they don’t have to compete against their own (perhaps very strong) teammates, the women represent only their individual selves. So, were a woman to post an unexpectedly great record by playing through a complete round robin field, she might not have absolute surety but at least she’d have more surety about making the Team than any man unable to play such a complete round robin would.

Hammond speaks specifically about the Women’s Team, but the thought pretty much carries over to the Men too, that "only participants [in these Chicago trials] will be considered for [the] U.S. team." Does that mean, then, that Corinne Migneco (or, for that matter, Gilbert Marshall?) couldn’t represent us this year without making the arduous journey from Europe to the U.S. and back? Or that U.S. #2, World #7 Anne Sigman couldn’t represent us if she were booked into a succession of night clubs and was unwilling or unable to give up an engagement or two to play in Chicago?

Perhaps the Men’s and Women’s Teams to the ‘37 World’s aren’t as fixed as they might seem to be?

Fighting Fund Drive Needs Philanthropist Benefactor

Hammond may have turned a more or less deaf ear to ex-Governor Whittemore’s funding complaints, but he was aware, and, thinking of the Women’s Team in particular, would convey to all interested parties weeks before the Tryouts, that, despite the U.S.’s great success at the Prague World’s, "making the team does not guarantee a trip to Europe." The USTTA, he says, "will send as many players as possible," but "the way to send more players is [for those players and their friends?] to get out and raise money."

In the Oct., 1936 Topics, Zeisberg and Co. had started the season off with their typical "Fighting Fund" approach:

"100% CO-OPERATION DEMANDED

OR NO U.S. TEAM GOES TO VIENNA

A U.S. Team--Or Not?

There is serious doubt at this writing that a U.S. Team will participate in the World Championships at Vienna in February, 1937.

With American players’ exploits abroad still fresh in memory, this statement naturally is shocking.

The reason is the indifference of several large and prospering equipment firms, which have refused to aid the USTTA and the game by advertising in Topics or contributing to the Fighting Fund [he seriously expects Parker Brothers to help him?], and the disloyalty of too many associations, clubs and star players in thoughtlessly continuing to use the equipment of non-cooperating firms instead of thoughtfully patronizing the firms that advertise in Topics and contribute to the Fighting Fund.

Last season the USTTA’s superhuman efforts and patriotic self-sacrifice raised a $2500 Fighting Fund and won 2 world titles, thus gaining nation-wide publicity for the game and greatly stimulating equipment sales. But it is a foregone conclusion that such efforts and sacrifice will not be repeated in the face of such indifference and disloyalty."

However, in the next, Nov., ‘36 Topics, Zeisberg adopted a new posture--made a huge effort, by devoting all three articles on the front page, to foster a Fighting Fund Drive. He also softened his abrasive rhetoric. Now, instead of trying to bully and insult the equipment firms, he attempted to cajole them with reason. The more international success our players have, the more publicity for the game, he said. The more publicity, the more people will become interested in the game, in our Association, and in good equipment. Have we not seen this happen already? And he made the point that, through the USTTA’s organized efforts, equipment sales had already "more than quadrupled." So, he concluded, doesn’t the Association deserve the cooperation and goodwill of the manufacturers, who surely, like the players, want to do their patriotic duty?

USTTA Finance Chairman Charles B. Dahmen had assigned, as he did last season, each member-state a quota based on its population, and soon a "thermometer" graph appeared in Topics that tested how "warm" each state’s patriotism was. However, when it came time for the Team to sail to the Baden World’s they were even more short of funds than they had been last year. But again an anonymous donor (the same as last year?), "a patriotic friend of Ruth Aarons," came through...with the huge sum of $900. The USTTA Treasurer at the time, Elmer Cinnater, would later say that this "big assist" to the Team was given by "H. N. Smith, England’s great philanthropist." Smith had made at least some of his fortune in pharmaceuticals--and, for sure, he was a Table Tennis philanthropist. After the ‘35 World’s, he’d treated the victorious Hungarians to a stay at a seaside resort in the north of England. Barna, Bellak, and Hazi (who when he’d first seen Smith at the ‘35 World’s had thought him a chain-smoking, baggy-suited bum) all benefitted repeatedly from his friendship.** Eventually the Fighting Fund took in almost $3200 and the Team (with Capt. Cinnater’s way paid too) sailed Tourist instead of Third Class, and there was still almost $100 left over.

How much of a cooperative effort had there been, though, among the USTTA member-states, among the USTTA’s individual players to send Men’s and Women’s Teams to Baden? Not much. Which of course prompted Zeisberg to show his increasing irritation. When the Oregon Governor was slow to respond to the Fighting Fund Drive, Zeisberg bluntly wrote in Topics, "Why don’t you immediately resign, Jack?" Five states--Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania--had shouldered 75% of the burden, and, aside from USTTA prominent players, officials and manufacturers, for whom some Topics-listed contribution was almost obligatory, there had been relatively few outright individual contributions (though certainly considerably more for the ‘37 than the ‘36 Team).

And, now,just who was on this ‘37 U.S. World Team? Or, in other words, what happened at the Lake Shore Athletic Club in Chicago that first January weekend?

SELECTED NOTES.

*The Vice Presidents (heads of State Associations) became Governors in Oct., 1935. V.P. W. Gerdes-Testa (see TTT, Nov., 1934, 2 and May, 1935, 2) was the USTTA’s first Vice President in California. Coleman Clark, in his 1933 Modern Ping-Pong, 70, speaks of Ellsworth Vines, 1932 National Tennis Champion, as being "recently elected President of the Pacific Coast Ping-Pong Association" (echoed in GSSI, 29). But Vines had nothing to do with the USTTA and, as Gerdes-Testa had resigned, for several months there was no California Governor until W. N. Whittemore took on the responsibility (see TTT, May, 1935, 2, Oct., 1935, 2, and Dec., 1935, 2). Whittemore resigned and was replaced by W.R. Burnett (TTT, Mar., 1936, 2).

**Bellak, in his Table Tennis (68) wrote of this instance of Smith’s generosity. So did Istvan Kelen (TTT, Feb., 1939, 4). Hazi, too, mentioned it in a May 30, 1989 interview with me in which he said Smith’s pharmaceutical company might be compared to the U.S.’s Johnson & Johnson.