USA Table Tennis
1952: Reisman/Cartland’s Post-Bombay Matches; Bergmann/Leach Tour; The Two Teams Meeting in the Philippines.
From the outset, USTTA President Shrout had given up on sending a U.S. Team to the 1952 Bombay World’s, for neither he nor apparently anyone in his Administration even considered trying to raise a “Fighting Fund.” As always, money was hard to come by for the USTTA, and the New Yorkers likely to make the Men’s Team—the formerly suspended Miles, Reisman, and Cartland—weren’t liked by those in office. Hence Topics announced obliquely that “due to circumstances beyond the control of the association, the American team will not compete [at Bombay]” (Jan., 1952, 6).
As we’ve seen, however, Marty and Doug had been making their living playing halftime exhibitions with the Harlem Globetrotters, and, as aficionados, were willing to go to Bombay on their own. There they acquitted themselves well. Reisman lost (18, -12, -15, -12) early in the Men’s to the eventual winner, Japan’s Hiroji Satoh, who was creating a sensation with his strange, soundless crepe/sponge rubber bat. But then Marty came back, did the best he could—won the Men’s Consolation. Cartland made the quarter’s with a come-from-behind win over South Vietnam’s Mai Van Hoa, then lost to many-time French Champion Guy Amouretti. In the Doubles, Marty and Doug reached the semi’s where they were beaten by fellow hardbatters, Japan’s Norikazu Fujii and Tadaaki Hayashi, who’d go on to win the tournament over England’s former World Singles Champions Richard Bergmann and Johnny Leach.
So after these eventful World’s did our guys return to the Globe Trotters to regale Goose Tatum and others with Satoh stories? No, though they’ll surely do that on rejoining the Trotters later. Did they go back home to the U.S—to be welcomed for their fine showing, be interviewed, treated, feted, as celebrities? An absurd thought. Instead, this post-Bombay summer of ’52 will see Reisman and Cartland, and Bergmann and Leach, meet at another competition far from home. Indeed, we’re now going to follow the fortunes of both pairs until they reconnect. First, here’s Marty and Doug.
Before coming to Bombay the Americans had played in the Jan. 5-8 French Open in Paris and had then gone to Berlin (perhaps having arranged U.S. military transportation in exchange for exhibitions for servicemen). There, Marty said, they received a call from a German table tennis official who told them there was a charter flight to India leaving from Frankfurt that had already been paid for, and that there were two seats on it they could have for free. In Frankfurt, according to Marty, both he and Doug were led to believe by ITTF President Ivor Montagu that the two of them were welcome to come gratis on this flight, for the tournament would profit by having such world-class Americans play in it. So off to India they went.
This largess, however, from the point of view of the Indian travel agent who’d arranged the charter flight (no less a personage than the brother of the Indian Association’s Secretary, Ranga Ramanujan, the man responsible for putting on much of the Bombay World’s) was simply not true. At the Bombay Brabourne Stadium this Ramanujan had pursued Reisman with a vengeance trying unsuccessfully to get what he considered his ticketed due. Naturally, then, after this World’s, there was no place on the return charter flight for Reisman or Cartland. In fact, it appears that the Indian Association lodged a protest with the USTTA that could lead to their suspension.
In danger of being stranded in India, Doug and Marty contacted the U.S. Air Force base in Delhi. In return for exhibitions for servicemen they hoped to fly first to Tokyo (to maybe play the Japanese as well?), and then get a flight back to the U.S. But the deal didn’t work out. Fortunately, they met the President of the Burmese TTA and he offered them airfare and payment for matches in Rangoon. (Burma had entered the World’s, but didn’t come, so this President was perhaps offering the compensation of Marty and Doug to his players.) To save money they took a train to Calcutta (Marty suffering badly from dysentery on the trip), then flew to Rangoon. However, no meaningful competition there of course.
But their presence in Burma was news, and now…they were wanted in Saigon.
There, as Marty says in his Money Player (1974), they played competitive matches against the World #7 South Vietnam team before U.S. Ambassador Donald Heath who next day treated them to lunch at the American Embassy. He also gave them a silver cup for beating the Vietnamese (126), two of whom, Mai Van Hoa and Tran Van Lieu (pictured on the Mar.-Apr., 1951 issue of the English Table Tennis Review), had just made the 8th’s of the World’s….
Marty, Doug, want now to go to Phnom Penh? Why not? Cambodia had finished 1-6 in Swaythling Cup play in Bombay. But there’d be a performance before Prince Sihanouk and maybe opportunities to make a buck in foreign exchange on the black market (alas, however, no such opportunities materialized)….
Then Hong Kong beckoned. Aside from Japan they had the best team in Asia. In Bombay, Sih Sui Cho, a hard-hitting penholder from both wings, had gone 5 in the 8th’s with Hungary’s world runner-up to Satoh, Josef Koczian, whom Marty was reportedly giving 5 points to for money in a Brabourne practice room. In November in Singapore, Cho, not Satoh, would win the first Asian Games. Marty doesn’t detail in his MoneyPlayer how the U.S.-Hong Kong tie, played Davis Cup style, went,* says only that in the 5th game of the deciding 5th match he beat an exhausted Fu Chi Fong. Fu was another Asian who’d gotten to the 8th’s in Bombay, and who later, in Mainland China, would be the famous coach of 3-time World Champion Chuang Tse-tung (130-31). So, so far so good for the American soldiers of fortune….
Now to the Philippines for two weeks. At the Manila airport they were greeted by Judge Augusto Luciano, President of the TTA of the Philippines (TATAP). For 30 years a Chinese affiliate had been going strong there (they had a club where devotees played into the wee hours of the morning), and, as the Association had just become a member of both the Table Tennis Federation of Asia (TTFA) and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), interest in international competition was strong. (The Philippines wouldn’t send a team to the World’s, though, until 1956 where they were pretty much overwhelmed by the competition.)
In Feb., 1952, the 1st Philippine National Championship (for men only) had been held at Manila’s downtown Y—and won by Tan Ka Tun over Co Peng Hi (Tun would repeat his win over Hi in the ’53 Metro Championships). These players were not going to meet the Americans though, for apparently the 1st Metro Championships, held in March, produced stronger, or at least more popular candidates. (Here there was a Woman’s Championship as well—won by Concepcion Pinto over Emilia Maravilla.) In the Men’s semi’s of this ‘52 Metro tournament, according to the 1971 TATAP 20th Anniversary Report (34), Teofilo Ybanez beat Ernie Pingol in 4, and Deogracias “Austin” Aguasin beat Delfin Calianga. In the final, Aguasin, who in 1955 would be runner-up in the Asian Championships to Mai Van Hoa, upset that “master of defense,” the “lean and dusky” Ybanez.
Doug and Marty made their debut at Rizal Coliseum on Apr. 19. Cartland beat both Leopoldo Cuarentas and Pingol in 4; Reisman beat both Zacarias Imperial –11, -19, 8, 8, 19 and Ybanez 15, -25, 16, -18, 19 in matches in which he was obviously entertaining the crowd. In a flyer announcing their 2nd match, Ernie Angeles, the Recording Secretary and Publicity Chair of TATAP, described Doug and Marty as “sincere and earnest”—said they were “modest, courteous, regular Americans unaffected by their international prominence.” Quick, cable this assessment home to the USTTA. Doug was not at his 1949 (“I hate Sweden”) worst, but obligingly said, “I saw action in Europe in the last war [giving the impression he’d been fighting not entertaining?] and have heard a great deal of Bataan and Corregidor [so] that we certainly welcome the opportunity to be here.” (Actually he and Marty did visit the site where General Wainwright surrendered.) Angeles praised the visitors for their “amazing speed, devastating drives, impregnable defenses, and well-timed placements.”
Quite unexpectedly, however, on the 3rd night of play—a tournament this time before 3,000 fans—after Ybanez had beaten Pingol, and Reisman had survived Cartland –19, 11, -16, 20, 15, Marty (perhaps being a little too playful?), rallying from 19-10 down, lost to Ybanez, 24-22 in the 4th. Ybanez, I might add, was not a pushover. He’d be the 1953 Philippine Champ, and in May, ’53 matches in Manila would beat the visiting Sih Sui Cho, taking (if the match were totally on the up and up) “the fire out of Sih’s over-ballyhoo[e]d drives” by his pick-hit defense. Says local aficionado P. V. Gonzalez, Ybanez “does these flowing strokes and soulful movement suggestive of the ballet, and it is undoubtedly this style and grace that warm the hearts of spectators towards him” (Sept. 6, 1953 Manila Sunday Times).
From Manila, where they’d played before President Magsaysay and were again treated as royally as they had been with Prince Sihanouk, Doug and Marty went to Taiwan, played, as Marty says, before 3,500 spectators in Chiang Kai-shek Stadium, at which time a minor earthquake hit the city (139).
Now, pressing hard for a match with the World Champion Japanese, Marty and Doug went to Tokyo. There, as elsewhere of course, they were celebrities and so endorsed a dual signature Reisman/Cartland Palma ball, for which they received 200 gross of these balls. Later, said Marty, they loaded crates full of them onto transport planes, one of which represented Chenault (Flying Tigers) Airline. In return for an exhibition or two they’d return to Taiwan where they’d sell these balls for 20 cents each.
Marty says that he and Doug were hired by the Japanese TTA to coach for a few days at several Japanese universities. At Nihon University in Tokyo, two tables were set up and dozens of eager young students—their table-time rigorously monitored by an official blowing a (“Time’s up!”) whistle—took turns showing these two globetrotting U.S. players their own world-class potential. You think I’m exaggerating? One student was Ichiro Ogimura, another his arch-rival-to-be Toshiaki Tanaka. From 1954 through 1957, these two—and only these two—would be the World’s Men’s Singles Champions….And they owe it all to one inspiring moment with Reisman and Cartland? Well, maybe not Cartland, for as Marty tells the story, Doug could hardly wait for the guy to blow the whistle (“Next!”), since Tanaka, one of the hardest hitters who ever played the game, was making World quarterfinalist Cartland look real bad.
On an Osaka movie theater stage, before a packed audience, The Money Player reaches its international climax. The tie against Satoh and Tadaaki Hayashi, World Doubles Champion (with Norikazu Fujii), again played Davis Cup style (but best 2/3), saw Cartland lose the opening match to Satoh. Reisman then squared by downing Hayashi in 3. But when the Americans lost the doubles they were at great peril, for Hayashi, World #8 after Bombay, was a favorite over Cartland.
As The Money Player would have it, Doug and his Japanese opponent were at 19-all in the deciding 3rd. All was riding on these last points. Cartland, “near collapse,” got back a shot “from twenty-five feet” that Hayashi netted. Then at match point what did Doug do? Spectacularly he hit in Hayashi’s serve. Whereupon “a leaping Reisman” in joy “landed on the back of Doug’s neck, [and began] beating on top of Doug’s head and riding him until he pitched face forward onto the stage” (144-45).
That left it up to Marty to wreak revenge for his loss to Satoh in Bombay. And, after winning the 1st but losing the 2nd 21-6, he heeded Doug’s advice, exercised “patience and restraint” and, well, won. Alright, I can’t resist: here’s the finish from The Money Player:
“…Satoh put his whole body into that third slam. The power started in his toes and coursed through his legs and flooded into his shoulders. I went back, back, back. One more time. Get it back one more time and you’ve beaten him. One more time.
I did not realize how far from the table I was. My follow-through carried straight into the American flag. The flag crumbled to the floor. Satoh missed the shot. I turned and saluted our country’s emblem and the audience went wild.
It was 18-15, but it really was 21-15. The Great Satoh could barely stand erect any more. When I made the last point I leaped into the audience with my arms held high, fists clenched, and there was a sea of friendly Japanese shoulders that carried me the length and breadth of the theater” (154-55).
The stuff of movies, eh? And when you read one of the myriad articles on Reisman in the 50 years since Bombay, you inevitably get more rhetoric. In a long piece on Marty, in part borrowing from The Money Player, Sports Illustrated writer Ray Kennedy adds, “Satoh, suffering from a bad case of lost face, was driven to sake and never appeared again in international play” (Nov. 21, 1977, 92). This of course is nonsense—but who knows, who cares?
We come now to the Bergmann/Leach Tour that summer of ‘52. The former World Champions, from their arrival in Tokyo on June 19 to their final tie there on July 18, will play 15 Team Matches against opposition all over islanded Japan and be treated as super-heroes wherever they appear. (In the clogged streets of Sapporo, for example, where onlookers crowded their car, they enjoyed a ticker-tape parade.)
Leach, writing for the Sept., 1952 issue of Table Tennis, speaks of their grueling schedule: “The average journey takes 8 to 10 hours and the arrangement is for us to travel one day and play on the next.” He soon discovers that with regard to the rules some are different from what he’s used to:
“For instance, the score of the person on the RIGHT hand side of the umpire is ALWAYS called first, whether he is serving or not. Then they allow 60 minutes for the best of 3 games and 100 minutes for the best of 5 games. This means that if the score is 1-all [in games] (in a best of 3) after playing for 55 minutes, you are only allowed 5 minutes to play the decider.
The Japanese toss twice for choices. The first is for the choice of balls. [The second for choice of serve.] Samples of all the approved balls are on the umpire’s table [for the toss-winner’s selection].
[Also, says Leach, the Japanese] always score in English” (3)
Bergmann, writing for the Autumn, 1952 issue of Table Tennis Review (the rival English publication to Table Tennis), is given more than a third of the magazine to summarize (with photos) this Japan Tour (6-16). Turns out that England won all 15 ties played. Satoh did heavy duty, participated in 15 matches—lost all 6 against Bergmann, but played Leach about even, won 4, lost 5. Bergmann says that, though Satoh was #5 in Japan before Bombay, he was now definitely #2—with Fujii 1st and Hayashi 3rd. So Satoh wasn’t drinking too much sake, and he didn’t need to save face, for in his hometown, Aomori, he beat Leach. Bergmann’s Tour record against Fujii was 2-0, against Hayashi 4-0. Leach’s record was 1 for 1 against Fujii, and 4 for 4 against Hayashi.
Bergmann’s lone loss (dropping a brick he called it) was to 21-year-old Keisuke Tsunoda, Japan #12, whom he said went hitting mad against him. “I doubt if he will ever play like that in his life again,” said Richard. But in this Richard was undoubtedly wrong, for Tsunoda would represent Japan on two of their ‘50’s World-winning Swaythling Cup teams.
At Yokosuka they played “at the theater of an American Naval base,” and the reception committee included an American Rear Admiral and the usual mayor and officials.” Naturally I’m reminded of an article, written for Topics a year earlier, by Bob Temple, former President of the Pennsylvania TTA before he was called up and shipped out to the Pacific by the U.S. Navy. As it happened, he and a couple of buddies had shore leave at Yokosuka and decided to play in an advertised t.t. tournament there. Here in brief is a description of what local playing conditions—no doubt unimagined by Bergmann and Leach—were like:
“…This event had six tables, half green, the other half just bare wood. All of them were nicked and corners were missing. They did have new strung nets. The lighting was just about non-existent except that daylight streamed in from the window frames. I say window frames as there was no glass in the windows and of course this created drafts of very cold air that played a few tricks with the light balls. Might add that the tables were just set on wooden horses and the floor was somewhat uneven. The schoolmaster [of the Junior High School venue] used a large hand megaphone to call the matches and kept the draw on a sheet that had all Japanese characters except our three names.
There are two events, ‘hard ball’ and ‘soft ball.’ Simple enough, the experts (that’s us) play with harder balls and the novices use softer balls and play but one game. Entry fee was 10 yen—about three cents. And in the far corner are silver loving cups engraved in Japanese for the winners. The schoolmaster announces that play is to begin and then sits on the floor with his arms up the sleeves of his kimono….[Players,] ages 10 to 30, take off their shoes and play is underway in bare feet tempo.
…Now it is snowing outside and not an ounce of heat in the building with the wind whipping in the open window frames…” (May, 1951, 4).
Better to play elsewhere if possible, and keep warm—like Bergmann, who at one of their stops was given the hotel room that the Emperor on his last visit had slept in.
In the Kyoto tie, after Fujii, independent, temperamental, lost 15, 19, -21, -12, -15 to Bergmann, he begged off playing Leach because, he said, he was much too tired. Then at the next stop, Osaka, for the 1st“official international match,” Fujii said he couldn’t play because of business reasons. For this he was suspended by the Japanese Association. Bergmann, who didn’t like playing, as he had to here and occasionally elsewhere, on a theater stage (afraid in his roaming he might take a tumble?), beat not Fujii but Fugii, whom Richard said at the end of their Tour was the Japanese #4. Here, too, we get a first mention of Yoshio Tomita who, beginning in 1954, would be on three of Japan’s winning Swaythling Cup teams. He and another attacking penholder, Furusawa, were up 2-0 in the doubles before losing.
At Tokushima, Richard and Johnny saw the American film “Tarzen and the Mermaids.” It served as an inspiration for Johnny to beat Satoh 8, 5, 7? Or maybe the Champ did have too much sake? Only, at the next stop, Hiroshima, in a best of 3 match, Johnny lost to Satoh after leading 1-0 and 19-11!
Bergmann remarks how at every hall the tie ritual is always the same:
“1. English and Japanese anthems. 2. Opening address. 3. Welcoming address. 4. Introduction of players. 5. Reply from English visitor. 6. Presentation of Bouquets. 7. Souvenirs. 8. Matches [with a warm-up of five rallies, the umpire counting them out loud, followed by the players bowing to each other before commencing]. 9. Announcement of results. 10. Presentation of trophies. 11. Closing address.”
He also speaks of conveniences in traveling:
"Each place we are about to visit sends its interpreter to the place which we are about to leave, even though this may involve hundreds of miles of travel. To give an example, when we were at the station saying good-bye to the people of Nagoya, the Kyoto interpreter was on the train waiting to say ‘Hello.’
Trains are extremely modern and have adjustable seats, like the seats of air-liners. There are loud-speakers in every carriage, and dining cars where you can get a meal at any time. Attendants serve snacks to your seats, and there are electric fans in plenty. Each train has a traveling guide, who tells of the various spots of interest. This is by far the most modernized country of Asia."
In the 15th and final Match against the Japanese, played July 18 at the Tokyo Ice Palace before the 17-year-old son of the Emperor and 6,000 others, Leach beat the reinstated Fujii 24-22 in the 5th, and Bergmann downed Satoh in 4. But then World Champions Fujii/Hayashi knocked off the Englishmen three straight and “the crowd went delirious.” Satoh, however, could put up no resistance against Leach. And in the finale, though down 2-0, Bergmann won the 3rd and 4th at deuce, then finished off Fujii in the 5th.
So now, said Richard, that should put an end to the “sponge-covered bat myth.” Such rackets are “no longer a menace to us.” Meanwhile, back in England there’s a huge sale on crepe/sponge rackets. Maybe as this Bergmann/Leach Tour progressed, thousands of Japanese were switching to shakehands, and back home thousands of Englishmen were switching to penholder? Bergmann and Leach wouldn’t know, for they weren’t going home.
Next, they’d be traveling to the Philippines, then to Hong Kong, where Richard, for one, would begin to tire. He’d lose to both Sih Sui Cho and Keung Wing-ning (8th-finalist at Bombay after eliminating Ehrlich), and he and Johnny would also be beaten in the doubles by Cho and Fu Chi Fong. It was “uncanny,” Richard said, how these penholders “defend so far from the table with this particular grip.” Their exhausting Tour would then take them to “Hanoi, Haiphan, Saigon, Cambodia, Bangkok, and Singapore” and then very probably to Calcutta and other parts of India…where we’ll not follow them. Later, in November, at Baroda Cup play in Singapore (so-called because Maharaja Pratap Singh, former ruler of Baroda, was named the first President of the Table Tennis Federation of Asia), Hayashi would win, Satoh would lose, all 3 matches against the Hong Kongers—Cho, Fong, and Chung Chin Sing (who, on being teamed with Keung Wing-ning in the doubles in Bombay, had been beaten in the quarter’s by Reisman and Cartland). Satoh’s three losses allowed Hong Kong to defeat Japan and win the Baroda Cup.
In the Winter, 1952 issue of Table Tennis Review, Bergmann ranked the current top 6 players in each of the Four World Zones. Here they are: East and Australasia: 1. Satoh. 2. Fujii. 3. Sih Sui Cho. 4. Fu Chi Fong. 5. Hayashi. 6. Keung Wing-nin. These players, understandably unfamiliar to many, are nevertheless “as good,” he says, “as any other six from the other three ranking lists.” One might be surprised, not that he’s going to list himself #1 in Europe, but that he lists Satoh as being #1 in Asia. Of course he’d just beaten him six straight times. Europe: 1. Bergmann. 2. Roothoft. 3. Leach. 4. T. Harangozo. 5. Haguenauer. 6. Flisberg. Iron Curtain Countries: 1. Koczian. 2. Vana. 3. Sido. 4. Andreadis. 5. Tokar. 6. Tereba. Americas/Africa: 1. Pagliaro. 2. Miles. 3. Reisman. 4. Holzrichter. 5. Cartland. 6. Schiff (27).
When Bergmann and Leach arrived in Manila on July 25th, they found Reisman and Cartland waiting to play them. Were the Americans suspended? This the two Englishmen had to know, for if they were, Bergmann and Leach couldn’t play against them without themselves being suspended. Reportedly Doug and Marty cabled the USTTA, and though years later Marty recalls they were definitely suspended, Bergmann says they obtained permission to play. (In the Oct., ’52 Topics, Editor Bob Green says they’d been suspended “temporarily, pending an investigation…and a hearing before the USTTA” (4). Of course, since they haven’t been in the U.S., they haven’t been available for a hearing.) At any event, play they did—in preliminary matches, then later, on Aug. 6, in an Invitation Championship.
A team from Taiwan was also in Manila, and though the opening exhibition matches went as expected—Leach over Ybanez, Bergmann over Aguasin—the Americans were perhaps a mite embarrassed by the visiting Taiwanese. Doug fell to Wong Syu Chong, 3-0, and Marty (was he playing for real?) went down 16, 21, -14, -19, -19 to Wang Yu Sen. This Wang was called “One-Eyed Wang,” for he really did have only one eye, yet, as Bergmann said, he hit “amazingly well.” Both the English and the Americans won the Doubles.
Marty and Doug redeemed themselves the following Match—with Doug getting the better of Leach, and Marty coming from down 2-0 to beat Bergmann. “One-Eyed Wang” got Aguasin in his sights and shot him dead, but Ybanez saved the honor of the Philippines by chopping down Wong.
In the Invitation Championship that will end our overseas introduction to these Asian Federation players, the quarter’s went as expected: Reisman over Wong, 3-0 (but 30-28 in the 3rd); Leach over Aguasin, 18 in the 4th; Cartland over Wang, who played as if he were almost blind in his good eye, for he got only 31 points total; and Bergmann over Ybanez, 17 in the 4th. The semis, however, were not so predictable—Reisman over Leach, 13, 13 in the 4th and 5th (a “staleness” in Johnny’s game now, said Richard); and Reisman over Cartland, 23-21 in the 4th. In the final for the Cup, it was Bergmann over Reisman in 5.
Now, we’ll say a momentary goodbye, not only to Doug and Marty who after a while will be back with the Trotters in the States, but to these Asian players, noting that, as Denis George** tells us, Mai Van Hoa “will be remembered for his peculiar style of raising his left knee waist high when executing his ‘western grip’ chop defense”; and Sih Sui-Cho will become “a film producer” and make “a very commercially successful wide screen film of the 1971 Worlds in Nagoya” filling Far East cinema theaters (Swaythling Club Bulletin, Oct., 1985, 3). In addition, Fujii will sooner or later turn up in the U.S., though not now as we go back to see what progress, if any, our Association is making there.
*Almost 50 years later, Kwing Yiu “Albert” Lau from the U.S. would win the Over 60’s at the World Veteran’s tournament in Vancouver. Albert told me how he first became interested in the Game—in his native Hong Kong in 1952, when he saw Reisman play at the Southern Playground Stadium and proclaimed him “his idol.”**I note that in that same Autumn, 1952 issue of the Table Tennis Review that featured Bergmann’s summary of his and Leach’s Tour to Japan, Denis George, in his South African Newsletter column, mentions that “Derek Wall, a young Englishman from the Transvaal, caused a sensation by defeating most of the leading players in league play and followed that up by winning the Rosecourt Open” (3). Wall will later immigrate to Toronto and be the Canadian National Champion.