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Solomon "Sol" Schiff, born June 28, 1917, says he "learned the game [in 1925] on a lunch table at P.S. 151 on East 91st St." By 1928 at P.S. 30 in Yorkville, he was playing with a wooden bat on another improvised lunch table. Later he joined the 92nd St. YMHA where for $1 a year he could go swimming and play ping-pong in the Game Room.
Encouraged by older Y players George and Leo Schein, Sol became part of that Y's Junior Ping-Pong Team--though as a Junior he wasn't allowed to play matches at night. Perhaps, too, his prodigy progress was momentarily curtailed by the fact that, as this was The Depression and his parents were not well off, he had to become a working schoolboy when he was 13.
In 1932 (perhaps then he was delivering packages for NYTTA National Champion Marcus Schussheim's Rapid Messenger Service?), he says he didn't have the fare to go over to Bamberger's Department Store in Newark, N.J. to play in the NYTTA National's.
But next season--he was now attending Textile High--he'd graduated to the 92nd St. Y's Varsity Team and, armed with the 75-cent Slazenger hard-rubber racket he was to win his many titles with, was competing in the NYTTA's annual round-robin League. In addition to the Scheins, some of his teammates and/or frequenters of the Y's Game Room were early Team Manager/Captain Bernard Markowitz, Dave Schulman (who was beaten by Court Gerstmann in the 8th's of the 1932 NYTTA National's ), Emil "Babe" Graetz, Rudy Rubin, Abe Berenbaum, Julius Toff, William Fernandez, and Phil Kenner's ol, with a 32-13 league record for the NYTTA's 1932-33 season, was 5th in the Metropolitan Rankings (behind Seynour Solomon, Rubin, Isadore Rosenblatt, and Sydney Heitner).
How good Schiff, at 15, had become may be seen in his showing at the Apr., 1933 Manhattan Championships. There, after dropping the first game at deuce and winning the next two, Sol lost in five to the eventual winner Heitner who in just a few weeks would succeed Schussheim as the NYTTA National Champion.
And in a straight-game final at the May Metro Open, Sol showed again how he was already one of the top players in the country by beating Phil Miller, who'd been runner-up to Schussheim in the '32 NYTTA National's. "Miller found it impossible to cope with the Y player's steady drives, placements, and exasperating service." In his semi's, Schiff had defeated Morris Berman. "Using a freak service, Berman had Schiff swinging futilely and ran up a 9-1 lead." But the "red-head [that's Sol] crossed his opponent in the second and third games by copying his service, and the latter's efforts at returning were hopeless."
So after doing so well in these spring tournaments Sol must have been feeling pretty pleased with himself, huh?
At the '33 NYTTA National's that followed, however, George Schein, Schiff's early YMHA mentor, writing in the Y Bulletin, said, "Carelessness caused by over confidence ruined his [Schiff's ] chance of being in the...finals, for [had he not been defeated] the next three men he had to beat...were to his liking." And, echoing this thought, one on-the-scene observer, Dick Geiger, recollecting this tournament years later, speaks of how "Schiff toyed with Bernie Joel [whom he'd beaten the last three times they'd played], relied too much on his [spin] serves and lost." Joel, I might add, was one of those players who used a combination racket to advantage--rubber on his forehand and sandpaper on his driving backhand (the sandpaper side he'd also, on receiving, use to take the spin off Sol's tricky serves?).
No doubt Schiff did learn to use those spin serves sparingly, for certainly in the next several years his opponents, first in the States and then abroad, would feel intimidated by his threat to use them.
With the advent of the '33-34 season, the idea of international play was in the air. On Sept. 23 in New York, a five-man NYTTA Team, representing the "U.S.," defeated a Quebec Team, representing "Canada." This first Team Match between the two countries--which drew a few lines of coverage by famed Broadway columnist Walter Winchell who'd dropped in on the action--was initiated by James Cooke of the Province of Quebec TTA, and the friendly rivalry between the two countries continued through six decades.
Three of the matches went (necessarily...or not?) the full five games--with Schiff just getting by Reginald Chapman, deuce in the 5th. As one of the founding fathers of the USTTA, Willard T. Rogers, reported in Topics, "Chapman was handicapped by Schiff's serves, which brought laughs from the gallery." "Very annoying," wrote Rogers, "to be laughed at."
Since the just-formed USTTA had enthusiastically been invited by Ivor Montagu to become a member country in the ITTF "family," the Association set about organizing its first American Zone tournament. It would be held Nov. 17-18 at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago, and would determine who would represent the U.S. at the upcoming World Championships, Dec. 2-10, in Paris. Naturally, young Schiff was very interested in participating since the Men's Singles prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to these Championships.
Whether he needed to go five games or not against the Canadian Chapman, Sol was in fine form. For within a few days of playfully winning that match, he quite independently turned up (as before, if he could manage it, he'd played in rival APPA and NYTTA tournaments) at a so-called "National Championship" of a would-be Association that had nothing to do with the newly formed USTTA. This tournament was held in the Half Moon Hotel at Coney Island, Brooklyn, where tennis pro Vinnie Richards would present a "beautiful twenty-six inch cup" to the Champion--a one-time Champion as it would turn out, for this attempt at an Association quickly fizzled out.
Sol won this tournament--beating Miller in the semi's and Schussheim in the final. And again had to be feeling pretty good, for he said that when former APPA National Champion Coleman Clark came by to watch and compliment him on being such a promising Junior, patting him on the head and telling him that one day he was going to be a very good player, he instinctively smacked a forehand at him too--asked with teenage brashness, "Why didn't you play in the tournament, Mr. Clark. Were you afraid?"
Winner's Cup aside--of course there was no prize money--Sol said, "The best thing was getting to take the subway. They paid for my fare, a nickel each way, and gave me 15 cents for coffee and cake outside."
Ah, it would be nice to have money. That was not only Sol's thought, but the thought of all eight New Yorkers who'd entered the American Zone Qualifier in Chicago's ince most, if not all, of these players couldn't afford to go by train, Fred D. Thompson, who'd run the popular Uptown YMCA Club (124th and Lennox), rented a van and, on equipping it with mattresses, off they all went, sprawled this way and that. After riding (sometimes 20 hours at a stretch) for four days and nights, sometimes through heavy snowstorms, the players, all cramped up and sometimes exasperated, were more than ready to contend with one another out at the table.
The most significant matches of this Zonal Qualification were Schiff's deuce-in-the-5th win over Solomon, who, after upsetting Schussheim, had been the 1933 NYTTA National runner-up to Heitner; Max Rushakoff's surprise straight-game semi's win over Heitner; and especially the Schiff-Schussheim semi's that, as predicted, would determine which of the two would represent the U.S. in Paris.
George Schein recalled that when Sol was "the fifth man on the [Y's ] junior team," all he had was "a good forehand drive," but that during his 1932-1933 season's play he'd acquired "a backhand drive, a severe forehand chop, deceptive serves, and an excellent defensive game," and so had developed into a player "of championship calibre." Indeed, before leaving for Chicago, in a tune-up tournament at the Broadway Courts, Sol had beaten National Champ Heitner 28-26 in the deciding 3rd, then former National Champ Schussheim in a 4-game final. But here in Chicago, Schein would write, echoing the very same criticism that he'd made of Schiff after his loss to Bernie Joel in the National's, that, on winning the first game from Schussheim, Sol lapsed into "overconfidence and continuous carelessness" in the second, and so allowed Mark to even the match, get some needed confidence, and go on to win it, deuce in the 4th.
Schiff himself, reminiscing about this match, said that, point after point, the better he'd hit in shots, the more the crowd would go crazy, and the more Mark, following the pat-on-the-back approach he'd taken toward Schiff the whole (my god, stop-for-a-minute, can't you?) trip, would himself applaud and say something complimentary. In fact, Sol said, Schussheim seemed at times even to be "feeding" him balls--with the result that, blasting away to one rapturous Ohhh! after another from the spectators, trying to hit the ball harder and harder, Sol began missing more shots than he was making and never could find the right winning rhythm.
Message coming down from the Boss: winning The Big One's too heady stuff yet for the 16-year-old, even though he is, and knows he is, the best player in the country. Match to the crafty, experienced "old" champion who early in the tournament had found a ball he liked (in those days of course they were never uniform) and, though a few of his opponents objected, had insisted on playing with it throughout.
As for Schiff's vaunted knucklespin serves, Schussheim says Sol did use them (they were illegal in NYTTA tournaments but not in Chicago--the USTTA wouldn't ban them until Jan., 1934). However, since Sol didn't win with them, perhaps this bears out his contention that, once good players were used to them, they didn't really give you that much of an advantage. (The rub of course was getting used to them.) Moreover, to use them well, perhaps even ambidexterously, took plenty of practice's ometimes the server's shot-off ball would miss his racket! Since Sol was left-handed, he would hold the racket somewhat awkwardly in his right, non-playing hand, then make sure that the ball rested on his left thumb, against the middle finger, pressured into place by the index finger. After the ball was positioned precisely between thumbnail and bent thumb (careful, the ball can't touch the nail), it would then be spun off the middle finger, marble-like, slowly for best results.
It must have been a foregone conclusion that Sol, who at 15 had won the 1933 New York City Junior Championship, would win the Jan., 1934 N.Y. High School Championship (32 schools, 64 players). He beat Victor Gurrado of Murray Hill in the final in straight games after Gurrado had taken out Sol's winning doubles partner, "Babe" Graetz (from Clinton High) in the quarter's and Sam Hoffner (Stuyvesant High) in a deuce-in-the-4th semi's.
It wasn't a foregone conclusion that Schiff would win the Apr. 5-8 (Easter Weekend), NYTTA-sponsored, 1934 USTTA National's at the Hotel Astor (Broadway and 45th), but he was certainly the favorite. For, though through the four major tournaments preceding these National's --the Manhattan, New York State, Metropolitan, and Eastern Open Championships--he'd gone 19 in the 4th with Rudy Schaumann of the Bronx, deuce-in-the-4th with his YMHA teammate Abe Berenbaum, and the full five games with both Seymour Solomon, his sometime doubles partner, and Ed Silverglade, about to be succeeded as New Jersey Champ by Manny Moskowitz, he'd lost only one match...in the Metro to Schussheim.
The tenacious Berenbaum, a lefty chopper with "tireless energy," was also a threat to win this National's. However, after losing three finals and 9 out of 10 games to Schiff this season, he'd surely be hoping that he wouldn't have to meet up with Sol again. More than half a century later, Schiff would say that he'd preferred playing lefties because he could hit straight down the line through his opponent's backhand--but, as Sol was already beginning to realize (as far back as the Manhattan Championship, for example, he'd been careful not to just go out there and try to blast through Abe), Berenbaum was more and more perfecting one of the stiffest backhand chops of any U.S. player ever.
Schiff, keeping pace with APPA Champion Jimmy McClure, did win this National's --downing Silverglade, Berenbaum, and finally Max Rushakoff. One sportswriter found a story angle in the 16, 19, 12 final:
"...[The colorful Rushakoff, looking to psych out his opponents] had a cute trick....In the middle of a game he'd take a pocket comb from his trousers and [stalling] begin to arrange his dark and lengthy locks.
This trick had its irritating effect on Marcus Schussheim. But when Rushakoff tried it on Solly Schiff...the trick proved a boomerang. For Solly "kept his attitude, a la Schnozzle Durante, pulled a comb out of his own pocket and stroked it through his curly red mane. It was sensational!"
Schiff also won the Men's Doubles--with Manny Moskowitz who, reminiscing in 1990, told me with a grin how he used to duck as Sol, following up, would smash in shot after shot that threatened to decapitate poor Manny's uch teamwork, such fun! In the quarter's they defeated the best team in the Midwest, '33 APPA National Doubles Champs Pearson and Lewis. In the semi's, down 2-1 and match point in the 4th to '33 NYTTA National Doubles Champs Ralph Langsam and Lloyd Waterson they managed to survive. And in the final, with "their accurate placements, excellent defense and well-placed drives," they had an easy win over Heitner and Schussheim.
The Aug. 31 Cleveland Great Lakes Open was unique in that it was held outside, before a 1,000 spectators, on 40-50 tables set up at the Euclid Beach Amusement Park. Here by windy waters, Schiff recalled, play was with the heavier Parker ball. "But even so," he said, "there was so much wind that sometimes I'd hit the ball and it'd go 20 feet off the table." Sol, who just a year ago last June had won an open-air West New York City Playgrounds tournament, was beaten in the quarter's by Chicago's Morty Ladin who'd go on to win the 1935 Western Open.
New York Metro Doubles Champs Schiff and Solomon (Seymour would succeed Bernie Joel as Executive Secretary of the NYTTA) were upset by "two surprising kids" from St. Louis--Bill Price and Garrett Nash. Robert "Bud" Blattner, another kid who in less than two years would be World Doubles Champion with McClure, was a felt force too--bowing out in close (19, 29, 19) games to Sol in an early round.
Back East, Schiff was obviously not at his best. In the semi's at Rutherford, N.J., he'd just gotten by Abe Krakauer, deuce in the 5th, and in the semi's in Brooklyn he'd been fortunate to outlast Al "Stonewall" Goldman, deuce in the 5th. In both these tournaments he lost the final to Berenbaum. "Abe had the best backhand chop I. ve ever seen" Schiff would say after a lifetime of watching defensive greats. And this despite something of an unconventional grip, for Abe's fore and middle fingers formed a modified "V" on the back of the blade.
At the 2nd annual American Zone Qualifier, played in New York City's Downtown Athletic Club, McClure won the all-expenses-paid trip to the 1935 London World's by downing the two best players in the East, Berenbaum, 3-0, in the semi's, and Schiff, 3-1, in the final's ol, playing aggressively, had Jimmy down 1-0 and 8-3 in the second, but then, as some New Yorkers on the sidelines were saying that this McClure fellow was very overrated, Jimmy got "hot." Forcing Sol to play "magnificent defense," as one on-the-scene-observer Dick Geiger put it, "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's o vocal were the supporters of both men that the umpire had to "caution the spectators against shouting encouragement to the players." McClure was awarded a trophy by Racquet, a magazine owned by Bill O. Brien, "promoter of Bill Tilden's tennis tours," while Schiff was urged to continue contributing table tennis articles to the magazine.
Before the Paris World's, U.S. promoter Coleman Clark brought the fabled Hungarian World Champion Victor Barna and his former World Champion Doubles partner Sandor Glancz to the States for a Tour of 20 American cities. And on Jan. 24, 1935 at the Hotel New Yorker, Barna in an exhibition match annihilated Schiff, 7 and 5! Could this have been for real? Sol must have seemed so intimidated, so perversely off form one wonders if he could even have tried (might he, with an eye to the upcoming World's, have been playing possum? or was Victor just that good?).
Obviously, against Barna in this match, Sol didn't use any of the knucklespin serves the USTTA but not the ITTF had banned (and which in future international play he would use so effectively). Had he done so, Barna, not Schiff, would have been humiliated. For Victor, as he was to write later, had expressed amazement on first seeing these serves: "Serving sometimes under the table, sometimes with his back turned," Schiff made the ball come "either like a bullet or zig-zagging all over the place. I did not have the faintest idea how to make a return." On coming back to Europe, Victor said, "I urged the International Federation to follow the USTTA example and ban the fingerspin service universally before it could harm the game. I was not successful."
Thanks to Topics Editor Carl Zeisberg and the NYTTA's Charles Funk and Leo Schein, Sol had been the recipient of a special $150 fund-raising campaign. Hence, the USTTA's first Swaythling Cup Team consisted of: American Zone winner McClure, Schiff, USTTA President Bill Stewart, and Portland, Oregon's Gilbert Marshall, reportedly among the top 10 players in London, where, though a U.S. citizen, he was conveniently living.
And they did rather well--were "the first first-year team to finish better than last." Schiff was 11-8, McClure 9-10, Marshall 3-7, and Stewart, 0-9. They beat Yugoslavia 5-4, the Irish Free State, 5-3, and Belgium 5-2; and they lost to Hungary 0-5, Lithuania 0-5, France 1-5, Latvia 3-5, and Austria 4-5. Moreover, Schiff, McClure, and Marshall had led the very strong Austrian Team 4-2 but couldn't score the clincher.
In the Men's Singles, Schiff beat Baron, England's strong junior, in straight games, then lost in 5 to Mordecai Finberg of Latvia, World #8, whom he'd beaten earlier in a Cup match. Perhaps Sol ought not to feel too badly though because in the Team's the great Barna himself (who would go on to win his fifth World Singles Championship here)" had lost his first singles match in three years" to this same Finberg.
In the Men's Doubles, Schiff didn't play with McClure as might be expected, for, at Barna's suggestion, Jimmy partnered another famous Hungarian, Tibor Hazi's o Sol paired with Marshall and lost inauspiciously in the first round to an English team.
However, Sol was in the brief spotlight brightly--so much so that, on his return home, before the S.S. Majestic liner had reached New York from London (four days late because of heavy storms), the ship's Chief Steward had given him a special dinner--to which Sol got to invite, among others, Vernon "Lefty" Grove, the colorful New York Yankees pitcher. What prompted so generous a gesture on this Chief Steward's part? The fact that Schiff (like Hazi before him) had won the World Men's Singles Consolation. This was no mean feat, for, since there were no extensive Rankings in those days, and no Seedings, the Draws were not done with in-depth care and there were always very good players who were ousted early. Actually, had McClure not lost to Oldrich Blecha, Czech 3-time World Team member, in the quarter's of this Consolation, he and Schiff (who would beat this Czech) would have met in the semi's.
Although play in every event up to the final day had been held at the Imperial Institute/London University's Great Hall in Kensington, Sol's Consolation final against A.D. Brook of England was played on Finals Night at Wembley's (indoor) Empire Pool and Sport Arena adjacent to the famous (outdoor) stadium. Play in this 10,000-seat Arena, offering every spectator clear viewing, was on a special floor covering the Championship swimming pool/ice rink underneath.
According to Barna, before the thousands of packed-house spectators were all abuzz over his Men's final with former World Champion Miklos"Mike" Szabados to follow, they were roaring with laughter as Schiff's opponent, England's Alec Brook (who'd lost to Hazi in 5 in the 2nd round), "put Sol's [knuckleball/fingerspin] services everywhere except on the table." For his straight-game victory, Sol received a silver medal and the first trophy ever awarded to an American for winning a World Championship event--an exact though naturally smaller 12-inch Sheffield silver replica of the prestigious Singles Cup given to Barna. Moreover, if it was any consolation, any encouragement to Sol, ITTF founder/president Ivor Montagu, in speaking of Schiff and McClure's results at this . 35 World's, could say that "without prejudging any spin services we. ve not yet seen--those we have so far seen are not yet so severe as to endanger first class players or spoil results that might be expected from all-round skills."
Of course, as we shall see, even if History at this moment were inclined to agree, it certainly could not continue to do so.
Shortly after returning home from London, Schiff, whom 55 years later, Hazi, for one, felt had been a stronger, steadier player than the more fervidly brilliant McClure, was on the move again--this time with other New Yorkers out to St. Louis for the 7-team National Intercities, a get-to-know-the-competition-better warm-up for the upcoming Chicago National's.
Sol, recalling this time, told me that, on coming home from being with the best of the best and seeing such enthusiastic spectators, he felt like playing more, felt that the Sport would one day be appreciated in the U.S. No surprise then that his upbeat presence was key to New York's 5-3 victory over the powerful St. Louis Team's ol not only came from 19-18 down in the 3rd to eke out a win over Mark Schlude, who was about to be the losing finalist to Berenbaum in the upcoming National's, but against the 16-year-old hard-hitting Blattner he rallied from down 1-0 and 20-17 in the 2nd to ward off five match points, then in the 3rd staved off three more for a remarkably gritty win.
In Chicago, at the April National's though, Blattner, "unheard of in national competition a year ago," had a 12, 13, 10 stunningly easy time in the quarter's with Defending Champ Schiff. And in the Men's Doubles, Sol, defending with fellow New Yorker Sam Silberman (not last year's winning pick-up partner Moskowitz who didn't come to Chicago), lost in the quarter's in 5 to Hoosiers McClure and Joel Inman.
McClure, partnered by Chicago local Trudie Schnur, almost pulled off an upset in the Mixed, but lost 23-21 in the 5th to Heitner and U.S. Women's Champ Ruth Aarons's chiff, meanwhile, paired with Brooklyn's Anne Sigman, after early escaping Jimmy Jacobson/Enola Stevenson, 19 in the deciding 3rd, went down in the final in 5 after being up, ohhh, 2-0 and 20-17 match point in the 3rd's ol chivalrously took a large part of the blame for this loss. It had never happened to him before, he said--but he became so flustered. Why? Because, from the beginning, Anne, so pretty and shapely, had promised him that if they won she would give him a "reward"--at the very least "a big kiss." So in the end-game 3rd, Sol couldn't concentrate...just wilted.
Back home from Chicago, Schiff, who'd earlier been 28-26 in the 4th topspinned down by young Lou Pagliaro in the New York City Metro Open, resumed his winning ways. At the 4th annual New York State Championships (held Apr. 29, 30, and May 1 on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, and played, like the others, at the 92nd St. YMHA), Sol, with nothing to spare, triumphed over National Champion Berenbaum in a 19-in-the-5th final.
Both Schiff and Berenbaum were eliminated in the Dec., 1935 Middle Atlantic States Open, Sol by Stan Feitelson (soon to be Fields), Abe by Al Goldman. And since the USTTA, to combat "chiseling," had just passed a new By-law that allowed any tournament committee "to terminate any match at any time, the nature of which is construed by such officials to be detrimental to the game," Feitelson and Goldman were afterwards disqualified for continually pushing the ball ...reportedly for 25 minutes at 20-all in the 5th --the time being now 3:45 a.m.!"
Ah, yes, table tennis was a struggle in those early days.
The powerful Sidney Biddell-Captained New York team--Berenbaum, Schiff, Pagliaro, and Jacobson--drove the 900 miles to the Jan., '36 Chicago Intercities over "sleet-covered and blizzard-swept roads"--and as it turned out their victory demanded a similar perseverence, patience, and maybe a little luck. In winning the Championship they beat Indianapolis 5-4 (after being 4-3 down), beat Chicago 5-3 (after being 2-0 down), and beat St. Louis 5-3 (in a climactic tie that could easily have seen St. Louis the winner).
The first turning point in the N.Y.-St. Louis final came when Schiff prevailed over Blattner, 19 in the 3rd. George "Gus" Sempeles, '36 Maryland Champ, told me that this was one of those rare times when Sol was able to beat fellow attacker Blattner. Ordinarily Sol couldn't take the offense, for Bud's shorter strokes allowed him to keep the table. Of course Bud might still have been feeling some aftereffects from the food poisoning he'd suffered at a Friday night dinner at former USTTA President Stewart's house.
The second and deciding turning point came when Schiff, down match-point in the 3rd to St. Louis teenager Richard Tindall (the two of them had lost only to undefeated McClure), got an edge ball that eventually gave him a 24-22 win.
The results of the Intercities were of course very important to those picking the U.S. Men's Team to the Wembley World's. But so, too, was the outcome of the Washington, D.C. American Zone Qualifier. However, since McClure, Schiff, Tindall, and Blattner were the four semifinalists, this made the Ranking Committee's selection of these players for our Swaythling Cup Team an easy task.
In the one semi's, Schiff beat Tindall in 5; in the other, McClure beat Blattner in 5--a 19 in the 5th nail-biter.
The winner of this Zonal Qualifier (one didn't have to be a U.S. citizen to play, just a U.S. resident) would be designated by the USTTA as this season's "U.S. [Closed] Champion," while the winner of the National's --open supposedly for the first time in Melting Pot History to "foreigners" (though had any U.S. citizenship or residency requirement ever been established or enforced in any Championship before?)--would be called the "U.S. [Open] International Champion," a distinction that would be unique to the 1936 Championship and made in deference to 5-time World Champion Victor Barna's promised entry.
Schiff's 19, -20, 16, 16 win in the final over McClure 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."
Since Schiff also won the Doubles with Jacobson he couldn't be feeling better. That is, until President Zeisberg found out, roughly only a week before Sol, the #1 player on the Team, was due to sail for Europe, that back on Dec. 19 this naive 18-year-old had signed a contract with Parker Brothers. What followed I'll describe in detail. But first some important background information.
Though Carl Zeisberg with barrage after barrage of heavy artillery, both as Topics Editor and as President, had apparently won the USTTA-APPA war, he was still obsessed with putting down Parker Brothers and their proprietary "p.p." (as he liked scornfully to refer to their trademark). However, he was faced with a conundrum. On the one hand, how, issue after issue of the magazine could 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," could he not?
Oh, if only Parker Brothers would....Would do what? Be a jolly good friend? Said Zeisberg, John Jaques & Son, Ltd., the "London firm that owns the p.p. trademark throughout the world, except in the U.S., gives 100% cooperation to the English TTA and assists in promotion of the game under its historic name, Table Tennis." Why can't Parker Brothers do the same?
After McClure had won the APPA '34 National's, he signed a racket contract with Parker Brothers; then Barna did too. Zeisberg was appalled. He complained that "as long as our champions are going to go into partnership" with Parker Brothers "and help them boost their equipment sales without their doing a thing to help the USTTA, so long will Parker stay out and hamper us."
But how stop this activity?
On Jan. 3, 1935, Zeisberg's home Pennsylvania TTA proposed, and on Feb. 22, the USTTA accepted, an Amendment to the USTTA's Articles of Agreement in which Articles 10-C and 12-C of the newly adopted (July 17, 1935) Constitution would be the needed weapons Zeisberg could use against Parker's persistence in promoting Ping-Pong as the name of the Sport. Article 10-C said: "The USTTA, its affiliates and members thereof shall not use or promote any proprietory or brand name of equipment as the name of the sport of table tennis and shall discourage such use or promotion by others." Article 12-C said: "(1) No USTTA affiliate or member shall receive royalties from firms without approval in writing from the Executive Committee. (2) The sole power to arrange for and receive royalties shall rest in the USTTA Executive Committee."
However, in the winter and spring of 1935, McClure and Barna "Ping-Pong" ads had been accepted in USTTA Tournament Programs and Topics.And in the Oct., . 35 Topics, there was a new Spalding 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?
On Oct. 28, Sidney Biddell, who with the Oct. issue had taken over the editorship of Topics, shows his own uncertainty with regard to the USTTA's equipment policy. On the one hand, he writes to Ranking Chair Reginald Hammond that "despite my own preference for Parker tables [for the '36 National's ] unless they request an approval we should use some other make." (And if Parker did request an approval, could their tables be used?) And, on the other hand, he writes, "Believe the executive committee should stand pat on their decision to accept no further Parker advertising without recognition of table tennis as the sport it covers."
As for disciplining Barna and McClure, which Zeisberg wanted to do, that was a problem's ince the USTTA had no jurisdiction over Barna, it turned the matter over to the Hungarian TTA and when that body didn't discipline him, back he came, with the USTTA's blessing, to make another Tour of the U.S. and to win our '36 National's. With regard to McClure, the matter of his endorsement of a Parker Brothers racket was delayed but not dropped'delayed because 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 itself had continued doing "Ping-Pong" business with (Parker Brothers outlet) Spalding. Later, in Oct., 1936, Zeisberg would try to discipline McClure, but his E.C., divided on the issue, would not support a suspension of Jimmy.
Having given you this background, I now come back to what befell poor Sol, the #1 man on the '36 U.S. World Team, literally hours before he was supposed to leave for Prague. He was suspended--despite, as he says, the earlier assurance of Biddell, the Captain of that Team, that he could sign a racket contract with Parker Brothers ("You don't need approval. I. m giving you approval.")
Zeisberg's Special Delivery Registered Letter of Feb. 24, 1936 to young Schiff read as follows:
This will notify you the Executive Committee voted 6-0 to indefinitely suspend you from membership for signing a contract or agreement December 19, 1935, to receive royalties without obtaining the Committee's permission, as provided in Article 12-C of the Constitution. This is an unpleasant duty and I trust the suspension will be short through your efforts you said you would make and others that are contemplated [which are? by whom?].
Charges of violating Article 10-C, involving promotion of a trademark as the name of the sport of table tennis, are pending against you and another player [McClure], and it is my considered opinion that if and when these charges are pressed, expulsion will result [this of course didn't happen]. The USTTA will not interfere with any business arrangement existing between a player and a firm, but its members, to remain in good standing, must obey their Constitution. The USTTA will automatically give permission to receive royalties from firms that cooperate in enforcing Articles 10-C and 12-C.
I was in New York yesterday and heard a lot of wild talk, including a threat to prevent the U.S. Team's sailing unless you are included. Needless to say, any such selfish and unpatriotic attempt would make it difficult for those involved to retain membership. Charges of racial prejudice and discrimination are ridiculous to anyone who knows me. In and out of table tennis I have often expressed my friendship for and admiration of the Jewish race. It is true that there are certain individual Jews, as well as Irishmen, Germans, Frenchmen, Englishmen, etc., whom I don't admire. You will recall I started the national fund last season to send you to London. While I cannot hold you responsible for the violent talk of your friends, your attitude will largely determine their attitude.
If you and your friends wish it, I will guarantee to get a Governor [head of a State Association] to introduce [to the E.C.] for you a resolution for national mail vote to lift the suspension, remove me from office, pay you the cost of a trip to Europe or anything else you wish, and I will pay the cost of the resolution if it does not exceed two pages of mimeographed material.
Yours very truly
To try to counter this no-nonsense letter from a USTTA President very sure of himself, Schiff needs a good lawyer. He's been a USTTA member since the fall of its inception--during which time the Association, in issue after issue of its magazine, has made a point of insisting that no USTTA player could be an "outlaw" for using (and so promoting) "any" brand of equipment...only to then clumsily, confusingly reverse itself, largely through the obsessive efforts of one man. Now, if Sol's cooperative, his suspension will be "short"? Which, as it turns out, though Sol is very cooperative, is suspension for the rest of the season, including the National's. It's an "unpleasant duty" to chastise this teenager, is it? This player who's already distinguished himself and country? For making, as National Champion, what can't be more than a few pitiful dollars?
Sol, though there's no way he can go to the World's, takes immediate conciliatory action. Here's a penciled draft, pleading ignorance, showing he's cooperative, that in tidied-up form he must have sent to Zeisberg:
"Dear Carl; [sic]
As soon as I was told I ought to write for approval of my bat, I did so. When I was informed that I acted against the policy of the U.S.T.T.A. I tried to get Parker Bros to cancel the contract, but they refused. This left me with only one alternative, to void the contract because of my age, which brought the following letter from Parker Bros. [At this point Sol indicates that he wants his pencilled draft interrupted so he can insert the following letter:]
"Dear Mr. Schiff:
I have your notification of March 3 in which you disclaim the contract that you signed with this company. Although I doubt if this disclaimer is binding until we have used up the rackets bearing your name that we have manufactured or have in the process of manufacture, I do not want this company to have any connection with anyone who treats us in this manner. You can accordingly treat this letter as acceptance by us of your disclaimer of your contract as of this date.
Very truly yours,
Robert B. M. Barlow
[Sol's penciled draft to Zeisberg now continues:] I trust my action before the contract was signed, and my actions since I was shown my error, will bring me consideration from the executive committee. [Sol's draft, unsigned, ends here.]"
Entries for the Apr. 2-4 National's wouldn't close until Mar. 23, and, had Zeisberg wanted to, he (and his E.C. rubber-stampers) could have shortened Schiff's suspension.
Instead, in the Apr. Topics he publicly takes up the matter:
"...Sol, who is a modest and popular boy, is the most blameless figure in the succession of errors caused entirely by officials, members and firms ignoring the Constitution. It was he who, seeking advice, made known existence of the contract, signed Dec. 19, 1935.
Permission probably would have been granted, after a slight penalty, if the firm in question cooperated with the USTTA. But it has been antagonistic toward table tennis for 8 years and disregards Article 10-C in promoting the p. p. brand of table tennis equipment as the name of a rival game, using, nevertheless, table tennis rules taken from the ITTF in 1928. The USTTA has repeatedly offered to discuss cooperation, pointing out that by promoting the p. p. brand of table tennis equipment the firm could remove the obstacle existing between it and the USTTA and ITTF.
The swift unanimity of the Committee's [6-0] suspension vote by airmail, special delivery and telegram surprised even its members, who have strenuously debated many of the 87 resolutions thus far introduced for vote. [Surprised Zeisberg, too? Despite the heavy rhetoric here, he doubtless urged not a moment's delay, since Schiff was scheduled to leave for Prague.] It had made up its mind that discipline must be enforced or the amount of labor involved in operating a disorderly organization would become so enormous that no one could be found to undertake it. Too many persons, after joining the USTTA, think they can do as they please; and too many firms think the same. But the Constitution & By-Laws were not adopted and distributed in Topics and elsewhere just for fun. They will be enforced...."
The USTTA has really got it together now, huh? And dramatically punishing "the most blameless figure," Schiff, will prove it. But those more to blame "officials, members and firms" making "the succession of errors" that ignored the July 17, 1935-adopted USTTA Constitution--who, specifically, were they? It might be argued that one of them was President Zeisberg himself? And how are those most to blame being punished? Or can't they be? And so better to punish the "most blameless figure" than nobody? For Zeisberg & Co. the teenage Schiff really is a scapegoat, someone to be "used." And Parker Brothers, if not the world, will surely know now that it's futile to claim any historic authority for "Ping-Pong" or try to be a power rival to the well-disciplined might of Zeisberg's USTTA.
Of course there were "irresponsibles," dissenters in the Association. But Columbia University student Richard Geiger's letter of protest was too long to be published in Topics.
The U.S. Team, then, with Schiff's supposed intercessor Biddell as Captain/ITTF Delegate, went off to Prague...and the U.S. Champion stayed home. "A sad lesson," Zeisberg would say--though permission "probably would have been granted, after a slight penalty," if it weren't Parker Brothers Sol was making the contract with. Parker Brothers, in pursuing their own aims, was always so uncooperative.
At this '36 World's, Ruth Aarons won the Women's Singles (the only time the Men's or Women's has been won by an American) and McClure and Blattner took the Men's Doubles. Biddell was also welcomed home as a winner, and would for a very brief time, the wink of an eye, replace Zeisberg as USTTA President.
Well, there'd be another World's --the 1937 one would be in Baden, near Vienna. And, since there was no more American Zone Qualifier, the Jan. 2-3 Chicago Intercities would decide the U.S. Men's (and also, for the first time, the U.S. Women's ) Team that would represent us there.
One thing that the officials, if not all the players, agreed on at this '37 Intercities was the improvement in play provided by the lower 6-inch net. No longer could Schiff, for instance, perennially complain that on these slow Becker tables the hitter was at a disadvantage. This year powerful attacks were commonplace. Ironically, though, in view of the success they were going to have at the '37 World's, 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 ITTF net in Baden.
Not that Schiff and McClure did badly in Chicago's ol (10-1) lost only to Blattner, and Jimmy (9-2) lost only to Schiff and Blattner (9-2). The fourth Men's Team member to the World's was not New York's Bernie Grimes (12-0 here, only not much of a record otherwise) but Berenbaum, who'd beaten Sol in the New York Metro Championship, after being down 2-1 and 17-13 in the 4th.
On Jan. 13, only 10 days after their New York Team's Intercity triumph in Chicago, Schiff and Berenbaum, preceding the other members of the U.S. World Team, sailed for Europe on the liner "Washington." As President/Editor Zeisberg's Topics put it, they had a special mission: "to buy Austrian railway tickets for the team in Paris." This translates to: they would meet the other Team members in Paris and, the train tickets having been purchased, they would all go to Budapest as guests of Dr. Geza Bodor's Duna (Danube) Sport Club for friendly U.S.-Hungary matches before continuing on to Baden.
Actually, though, Sol and Abe had refused to join the rest of the Team leaving New York on the 16th because, being Jewish, they didn't want to travel on the German liner, the "Bremen."
The "dead tired" U.S. Men's Team's Jan. 23-24 warm-up matches against Capt. Andor Wilczek's Hungarian Team was inauspicious to say the least. None of our men could take any of the 9 singles and 2 doubles matches against Barna, Bellak, and Szabados. Perhaps the Americans were still partly intimidated by the Hungarians. past supremacy?
In Baden, Swaythling Cup play consisted of a complete round robin among 13 teams, and should the results produce a tie, there would be a Play-off among the tied teams. On opening day, Feb. 1, we beat France, Lithuania, and Yugoslavia, 5-1. In the Yugoslav tie, the blocker Max Marinko (later, on immigrating to Canada, the many-time Canadian Champion), though losing 17, 21 to Schiff, was able to get Sol's knuckleball/fingerspin serves back because of his cork bat--and thereafter every time someone had to play Sol he came running up to Marinko on the sidelines wanting to borrow his bat.
In our morning tie on Feb. 2, though, with Schiff sitting out (Team Captain Elmer Cinnater said Sol hadn't looked good in practice; Sol said he didn't care about practice), we suffered what appeared to be a disastrous 5-4 loss to Hungary.
Ah, if only our "red fish" had played--that's what Bellak said the Hungarians called Sol because of the color of his hair. Fish? Schiff of course was no "fish," no easy mark, and with his wily spin serves (he used them sparingly, when he most needed to?) and powerful follow-up forehands, he was, as Bellak and the other Hungarians well knew, a feared opponent. Lucky for us, Bellak was to write later, that Schiff didn't play this tie, for he "had developed an almost unreturnable finger spin service."
Of course we fought on...blitzed Egypt, Germany, and Belgium...and, through the next day, held Rumania and England scoreless (though Schiff, down 1-0 and at deuce in the 2nd, barely got by Farcas Paneth, the Rumanian who in the '36 World's had played that infamously two-hour long first point against the inimitable Pole Alex Ehrlich)....And finally we were rewarded.
The turning point came on the evening of Feb. 3 when we avoided what would have been a calamitous second loss--outplayed Czechoslovakia (5-1 loser to Hungary, but 5-1 conqueror of Defending Champion Austria)'s ol was the hero: downed Bohumil "Bo" Vana, who'd just turned 17 but who next year would be World Champion, 2-1; socked way Miroslav Hamr, 2-0; and (in the 9th match) came through with the winner we needed, 2-1.
On the afternoon and evening of Feb. 4, the U.S. completed their round robin play with 5-2 wins over Austria and Poland--both non-contenders now and fortunately non-"spoilers" as well.
Though Austria couldn't have been too motivated, both Sol and Jimmy beat Richard Bergmann who before tournament's end would be the new World Men's Singles Champion.
The last tie of the evening was a very distracting one for the U.S., for, nearby, undefeated Hungary was 1-2-3-4-5 in the process of being unexpectedly annihilated by Austria. This meant that, if the U.S. beat Poland, two teams would have an 11-1 record, and there'd be a U.S.-Hungary Play-off.
In our tie with Poland, McClure knocked off Simcha Finkelstein in 3. Blattner then had no trouble with Schiff--that is Sam Schiff (variant spellings are Schieff, Szieff, and Sziff)--and later won two big swing matches: against Finkelstein, 19 in the 3rd, and "Alex" Ehrlich, deuce in the 3rd. "Ehrlich had a fair high defense," said Sol. "He hit a lot, but for a wind-up swinger he had the slowest-moving ball I've ever seen--I only had to go back two feet to return it." However, Sol then lost his first and last Cup match to...well, the Schiff of your choice, for in losing -20, 15, 23 after 18 consecutive wins Sol certainly allowed himself to be distracted by the Hungary-Austria tie he was often closely following.
In the Play-off against Hungary, Blattner couldn't get started, but the U.S. took a 4-3 lead when McClure beat Barna and Bellak, and Schiff beat Bellak and Soos (the latter, because of the young Hungarian's "marvelous chop defense and occasional [telling] flicks," in a real 8, -20, 24 squeaker).
In the 8th match, McClure had lost a 19 game to go into the 3rd with Soos, but nobody on the U.S's ide seemed too concerned that the hour time limit for a 2/3 match might be exceeded, as in fact it was, for, though the match was stopped, each side was given half a point, which insured at the worst a U.S. tie--and now Schiff would play Barna. As McClure remarked later, just Sol's threat to use spin serves offered such a psychological advantage that many an opponent, even a World Champion, might be unnerved to where he's anticipating the worst from, and so fearfully following the motion of, anyserve.
In his book Twenty-One Up, Bergmann, after speaking of the nervous strain on Barna, writes that when it became apparent that Victor "could not return four out of five of these devilish [Schiff] services, Wilcsek, the Hungarian Captain collapsed and was taken to hospital suffering from a nervous breakdown." But this account is suspect, for the following reasons: (1) Schiff in beating Barna 22 and 18 scarcely routed him (as I think he would have if so many points were just automatic), (2) the final score was not, as Bergmann wrote, 5-4 but 5 and 1/2-3 and 1/2, and (3) Barna biographer Phil Reid says that Wilcsek suffered a "heart attack."
Barna himself would say later that Sol and the other Americans who used these serves so effectively "made the game the laughing stock of the world." But Reid emphasized that these spins, though a "menace," were "perfectly legitimate," for, unlike the USTTA, the ITTF had not banned them. The Federation had ruled only that the server couldn't deform the ball or rub the ball against the racket while serving. Thus the server could vigorously throw the ball into the racket, giving it whatever fingerspin or, with the help of the thumb, knucklespin he wanted.
Years later, in a "Reflections of the Thirties" article, Sol would write that with the "type of hard rubber used in those days, fingerspin was not really effective and if a player made more than 2 or 3 points a game on it, that was considered a lot." Perhaps Sol wanted to minimize the fact that he'd taken advantage of other players by falling back on these spin serves when he needed to, for though he acted within the rules it could be that a part of him felt that he should have been able to prove that he could beat anyone without using them.
I might also add that Dick Miles told me he once played Schiff a 2/3 game match in which Sol could use fingerspins but had to serve all the time Dick lost the first game, but, by the second, he'd gotten used to even Schiff's spin repertoire, and by the third Sol was using some other serves.
I'd like to add, too, that at the 1970 Detroit U.S. Open, Schiff and Bellak gave an exhibition in which Sol, then in his mid-50's, demonstrated his still marvelous spin serves. Watching these, my 8-year-old son Scott asked in wonder, "Is that a trick ball?"
To sum up our 1937 Swaythling Cup triumph, here, first two years after, then 20 years after this never-duplicated Men's Team win, are Captain Elmer Cinnater's reflections:
"...It's true Jimmy McClure's and Sol's knucklespin services, which were then still legal, gave us a big advantage. But Blattner and Berenbaum seldom used spins and Sol won many of his points with his ordinary but puzzling service. We didn't win the Swaythling Cup with spin serves. No sir, it took the never-say-die spirit, and all of our boys had all of it that was required."
And again in 1957:
"Two major factors helped win the World titles for us; one, the lowering of the net to six inches, by the U.S.T.T.A. in 1936. The Europeans were still using the 6 [and] 3/4" net and it is my belief that our players had learned how to smash the ball faster and harder with the low net. They were able to adapt this smash type game to the higher net. The other factor, and probably the most important, was finger-spin serves, which we had already abolished here, but which was permissible in international play....Sol Schiff had the best spin serve, which he called his 'naked serve,' denying he used finger spin. All I know is that Sol won 21 of his 22 Swaythling Cup matches! I. m sure Barna never believed Sol's claim."
In other words, precisely because the Americans were isolated from the European teams--and had brought both the unfamiliar hard-driving low ball and the strange super-efficient fingerspin to this unprepared Baden arena--they were able, just this once, to win the Men's Team Championship.
Anything else we can win? Men's Singles? Women's Singles? Only a few years ago such a thought would have been ridiculous, but now Schiff and Defending Champion Ruth Aarons were considered by many to be Singles favorites.
Sol opened with two straight wins, then, up 2-1, met determined Destiny in the person of Richard Bergmann--Richard the Lion-Hearted as he would be and could already have been known. Our Solly might have defiantly given this imminent World Champion the finger, but at the 5-game end it was History who looked with that little twist of a sneer and turned thumbs down on what through the decades has been one of our few chances to wear the Singles crown. Of course, as Barna in his Table Tennis Today made clear, it was not Chance but Bergmann himself, playing "the best game of his life, saving point after point with miraculous recoveries" who deserved the win.
Bergmann, on stage in his own Twenty-One Up, goes a rhetorical step further:
"His services [that is, Sol's ], which I had the extremely doubtful pleasure of tackling, were of a nature I would not wish on my pet enemy. How I managed to return three out of five of these hitherto untakeable inventions of the devil, will forever remain a mystery. I have a vague recollection, that by propelling myself forward like a rocket, somersaulting backwards or alternatively producing high jumps side-ways, my bat made contact with the ball and with a final painful contortion I pushed it in the direction of the opponent's half of the table somehow or other it landed there without any spin at all and Schiff smashed it home for all he was worth. By catapulting back to the required side of the table, about eight yards away from it, I imparted some back-spin on the ball myself--that is, when I could get to it--and only then did we really start playing for the point."
In the Women's Singles, Ruth Aarons, in an unprecedented action, had her final match stopped and the title declared vacant. But McClure and Blattner won the Men's Doubles again Schiff and Berenbaum beat the strong Polish players, Liebster and Ehrlich, then fell in the quarter's to the Czech stars, Slar and Tereba. In the second round of the Mixed, Sol and Jay Purves faced this year's eventual winners, Vana and Vera Votrubcova, tied the match at 1-1, but then lost the 3rd at deuce and with it their momentum.
At the English Open that followed, Schiff was beaten by, of all people, Barna--perhaps because Victor had finally gotten used to Sol's dreaded spin serves, or perhaps because Sol, for reasons best known to himself, didn't use them. However, Schiff, partnered by Berenbaum, did go on to win the Men's Doubles.
Barna didn't defend his title at the Apr., . 37 Newark, N.J. National's, but 1936 World Champion Standa Kolar of Czechoslovakia and 3-time World semifinalist Laszlo Bellak would meet in the final--with Bellak winning. The #1 domestic seed, Schiff, who'd had such a wonderful World's but who'd won only one U.S. tournament during the season, the Southern New England over Charlie Schmidt, got to the semi's without the loss of a game--hitting through Izzy Bellis and his "acrobatic defense" in the quarter's (26-24 in the 3rd). But against Bellak's forcing sidespin attack, Schiff played too cautiously--perhaps now because Sol was beginning to favor a steady backhand topspin build-up until he had a ball he could crush with his forehand?--and lost three straight (23-21 in the 3rd).
In the Men's Doubles, Sol and Jimmy Jacobson lost in the semi's to the eventual winners, Bellak and Kolar. And in the Mixed, Sol, again paired with Anne Sigman (with hope anew of a "reward"?), and again went down in the final--to Blattner/Aarons.
Three weeks later, at the Trenton Eastern's, Schiff, who about this time is emerging from his teens to manage a table tennis club in the New York Radio City area, solidified his #1 Men's ranking for the season with an upset win over Kolar in the semi's. But then, as in the National's, he was beaten by Bellak.
With the coming of the 1937-38 season, Sol won the Southern New England again--this time over $18,000 N.Y. Post puzzle-contest winner Doug Cartland in the semi's and Jacobson in the final. By mid-Dec., he was out in the Midwest, as far as Nebraska, apparently on Tour with Harry Cook, whom he beat in the Omaha Open. But then he returned to New York and later, presumably with his teammates--Pagliaro and Johnny Abrahams--took "a two day sleepless bus ride" back out to St. Louis for the Intercities that would decide the Team to the . 38 London World's.
New York would successfully defend its title, and Schiff's 9-2 record would be good enough to make the World Team's ol lost to McClure, and was upset by Chicago's Herb Aronson who sometimes executed shots holding the bat with both hands. By neutralizing Sol's serve and follow play, Aronson was able to take over the attack--thus prompting how many, young and old, watching him play to try some of those two-handed shots themselves's eventeen-year-old George Hendry, in earning the Outstanding Player Medal here with a 12-1 record, made the World Team--and Schiff, in noting how "in appearance and style of play" Hendry was so much like World Champion Bergmann, may have put undo pressure on himself and just did beat George, 19 in the 3rd.
Following the U.S. example, the net for the . 38 World Championships had been lowered to 6 inches, and all forms of fingerspin serves had been banned. After the debacle he'd seen in Baden, Barna had remarked sardonically that if fingerspin wasn't banned at these World's the Hungarian Association would send to London "not a team of table tennis players , but five jugglers."
Because 16 teams were entered in Swaythling Cup play, the field was divided into two 8-team round robins. As it happened, the U.S. Team's 6-1 record would not put them out of contention.
We opened with a 5-2 win over Germany, a 5-1 win over England. Then against Poland Sol scored sweet revenge over Milek Schieff (or, if you prefer, Schiff), who'd spoiled his perfect 21-1 Swaythling Cup record last year. Then he beat the . 36 and . 37 World Singles runner-up Ehrlich to help the U.S. to a 5-2 victory.
Austria 5-3 stopped us though--with both Alfred Liebster and Bergmann getting the better of Sol. Then--surprise--England upset Austria 5-4. According to today's tie-breaker rules, based on the percentage of matches won and lost among the contending teams, the U.S. (8-6) would have finished ahead of Austria (9-8) and England (6-9) and advanced to the final (where they might have successfully defended their Championship). However, since there were no tiebreaker rules in effect in 1938, there had to be a three-way Play-off.
In this Play-off, England with 5-1 losses to the U.S. and Austria, was not a factor. The U.S. again strongly contested the tie with Austria--but again lost 5-3 (without Bernie Grimes getting to play the 9th match he had a good chance of winning). McClure dropped a -19, 22, -19 killer to Bergmann whom he'd beaten in the earlier tie, and Liebster 18, 19 then finished him--and us's chiff, after downing Schediwy and Liebster, contested but couldn't (-20, 18, -7) conquer Bergmann. Richard said that he often won points against Schiff--"the hardest hitter in the world"--"by the sheer surprise of returns which neither he nor anybody else present considered returnable." Perhaps Richard remembered that one particular point against Sol when, recovering from being sprawled face down on the floor after a spectacular retrieve, he was acrobatically up in time to smash in a backhand winner. Regarding this Play-off match, the UP said that, after Bergmann had scored "innumerable net-cord shots," Schiff gave up in disgust when 10 points behind.
In the Men's Singles, in which of course there were no seedings, two of the favorites, our Schiff and Poland's Ehrlich, met in the second round Schiff felt that Ehrlich was a great player but that because he used too much topspin on his drives he slowed the ball down, and against top players that proved fatal. Alex, mindful of previous losses to Sol, used to lay down his racket in mock defeat at the start of their matches--and, indeed, if Sol hadn't -15, 11, 26, -21, 14 beaten him here, he might have been a finalist four years in a row.
Coming out to meet our lone survivor Schiff in the quarter's was Tibor Hazi, whom Schiff knew to be a formidable opponent. Hazi had a close-to-the-table chop; a good block; a European elbow-up forehand hit with his unorthodox grip from the backhand side of his racket; and an excellent backhand flick. But apparently before he was to play Sol he'd sprained his ankle and, as it was sure to give him more and more trouble, he asked Sol if, instead of playing the match as scheduled tomorrow, would he mind playing it today?
Sol talked this over with Captain Morris Bassford, whom he liked, and when Bassford suggested that maybe Sol was better off playing Tibor today, before the ankle could be given more attention and rest, Schiff agreed. A big mistake. Hazi beat him 3-0. "I never saw a guy hop around so in my life," Sol would say later. Maybe so, but next day in the semi's, Bergmann romped over the bandaged-up Hazi.
In the Mixed Doubles, Sol and Chicago's Mildred Wilkinson did well--beat a French team in 4; a second French team, deuce in the 5th; the Hungarians Foldi and Dora Beregi in 5; then, finally, up 2-1, lost to Austria's Liebster and Pritzi in 5 in the quarter's.
In the Men's Doubles, the '36 and '37 winner McClure with his new partner Schiff started shakily against an English team, then struggled through a 5-gamer with Hungarians Soos and Foldi. This made things easier? Afraid not. They never felt safe until the 4th with Liebster/Schediwy, and then, after losing the 3rd at deuce to go 2-1 down to Kolar and Tereba, they fought back to win a place in the final.
Their opponents? Barna and Bellak, who after all these years were playing in their first World's together. And, supported by the English spectators, not doing badly either. Up 15-10 in the 5th, they 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 said from the floor 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) has doubtless doubled-up the already rolled-up cuff of his trousers, and play resumes....
With an historic reversal. Though the Hungarians were leading in the end-game, Bellak "repeatedly attempted outright winners," or, as Bergmann put it, Bellak "went hitting mad and attempted to kill the most impossible shots," which did not go in. Final score: 21-19. World Doubles Championship for the 3rd straight time to the U.S.--and, as a London Sunday Express headline had it, more than a few "Boos" too, for the Americans were too "American," too "Hot Diggety!" expressive, for the staid English.
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.
In the English Open at Blackpool that followed, the ebullient American players again made their presence felt Schiff knocked out Bergmann. But, said Sol, "Richard made a point every time he hit, and would have beaten me easily if he had just driven more." Then, however, Sol, like Pagliaro and McClure, lost to Bellak, who was in high spirits after winning the World Mixed with England's Wendy Woodhead.
Back in the U.S. only one day after his success at the World's, Schiff immediately played in the N.Y. Metro Open. But, despite a -18, -4, 20, 9, -17 rally, he wasn't on firm enough ground yet to withstand Johnny Abraham's semi's attack.
Sol was the only U.S. Men's Team member to go to Washington for the Eastern's --but that wasn't the reason he got a lot of attention. After beating Sam Silberman in the quarter's, he was faced with Bellis who'd taken out the Massachusetts and New England Closed Champ Les Lowry.
Earlier in the season Schiff had acknowledged Bellis as "the greatest defensive player in America," and said that if he would only "learn to attack in the pinches he would be on top."
Now in their semi's match, despite the fact that in their first two games (which they'd split) Sol was hitting and Izzy chopping, they'd gotten into such a cautiously played 3rd game that, after a particularly long rally, the Expedite Rule--which, since its inception, badly needed modifying--was put in. As might be expected, Schiff, the better all-around player, won this game. The 4th Bellis won--but, since the ball never crossed the net 25 uninterrupted times, the Rule was not in effect. (Today, once put in, the Expedite Rule has to stay in the rest of the match.)
In the 5th, the ball again crossed the net 25 times, so the Rule was back in. In 1938 this meant that if the server's opponent succeeded in returning the ball for the 13th time, the server had to forfeit not just the point but the entire match! With Schiff down 18-14 and serving, play exceeded the 25-stroke limit--which meant that Sol had lost the match, did it?
No. For the Tournament Committee, apparently unbeknown to Schiff and Bellis, neither of whom seemed to fully understand the Rule, had found a USTTA By-Law which gave them the authority to agree among themselves beforehand that such a transgression should only be penalized a point.
At this 19-14 in the 5th point, Sol nevertheless walked off court--for the second time--saying, as he'd said before, that he wanted to default the match. Earlier, Sol had been irritated by Izzy's repeated catching of his serves, the more so because of the umpire's continued assurance that he had no trouble seeing the ball in Schiff's hand. Also, Sol had been convinced that when it was Bellis's turn at offense (according to the Rule, all the server's strokes had to be offensive) some of his strokes were more defensive than offensive. No surprise of course that Bellis leveled the same charge at Schiff's uch an accusation not just in this match but in so many others sometimes had to be an exasperatingly hard call for the umpire. Ought, say, a shot that may or may not set up a following forehand be considered a "sharply-angled placement" (offensive) or a change-of-pace, more-to-the-center "block shot" (defensive)?
Perhaps what really bothered Schiff here--might have been at the rub of his I-want-to-default frustration--was the humiliating thought that he was accused of playing like a chiseler. It may well be that, being primarily an attacker, he'd always disdained the Expedite Rule, really didn't know or care to know its variation and any local ramification that might be applied to it. At any event, each time part of him wanted to quit, the other part of him was persuaded, by Morris Bassford and others, to return to the table. And, ironically, from 19-14 down, he eventually won this match.
Which drew the derisive response in Topics that, "because they thought the wrong man won, many of the 1,000 spectators needed cough drops next morning to ease their hoarse throats." Schiff then went on to beat Jacobson, 20, 17, 20 in the final.
At the '38 Philadelphia National's, Defending Champion Bellak was the #1 foreign seed, and Schiff the #1 domestic seed's ol was given a 5-game scare in his very first match by another red-headed lefty, Morris "Mo" Glatt, the Pennsylvania #4. But then he proceeded without incident to the semi's, where he was forced to go 5 with Hendry.
One gets a clue as to what this match might have been like from what Sol would say in his book Table Tennis Comes of Age (1939)--a book in which Sol acknowledges "grateful appreciation" to fellow writer Doug Cartland for his "invaluable assistance":
"Hendry gives you a ball that looks easy to hit. But try and kill it! It keeps coming back, back from one side, back from the other, from twenty, thirty feet away, until finally in disgust you either miss an easy drive or take a desperate and rarely successful chance.
...[Hendry] fools the attacker time and again by clever wristwork. Particularly on his forehand, Hendry varies the spin so well that on one shot you have a skidding, breaking ball that scarcely rises from the table and on another shot you have a normally bouncing ball with very little spin."
But in this 20, -19, -15, 12, 13 semi's, George didn't fool Sol enough--though he might have won the match three straight. Up 20-18 in the 1st, he missed a game-point kill--and as he said, "It shook me up." Of all the matches he's lost in his lifetime (and in his 70's he was still playing tournaments regularly), this is the one he most regrets. For had he beaten Sol, he might have been able to win out over Bellak, the other finalist, and become the U.S. Champion.
But, as it was, the two #1 seeds were in the final. Mayer Brandschain, writing in the Mar. 27, 1938 Pennsylvania Record, spoke of Bellak's rally from down 20-15 in the 4th and Schiff's edge ball at 20-19 that sent the match into the 5th. Then he said: "The decisive thing for Bellak in the tense 5th game, in which he first trailed by 5-9, was his ability to win points against Schiff's service." Perhaps more than anything else, though, it was Laci's "very exasperating backhand, played with so much sidespin and deception" that gave Sol the most trouble? Anyway, more than 50 years later, Sol would remember it was Laci's ability to hit shots, stroke the ball, in a way you'd never expect that was so disconcertingly effective.
Whatever the reason, Sol uncharacteristically didn't play Mixed, but he and Jimmy became the U.S. as well as the World Doubles Champions.
Though the season-ending National's was over, there remained two more very active tournament months, the results from which rather idiotically wouldn't count in the Rankings. In the Tri-State Open at the Broadway Courts, Schiff, the U.S. #1 for the second straight year, and pleased at receiving USTTA permission to put his name on whatever M(unro) A(thletic) P(roduct) might help him to fame and fortune, took out the dangerous Harry Cook in the semi's, then Pagliaro in the final.
At the traditional summer Provincetown tournament, Schiff won the Silver Cod Men's Trophy--"a fish for the Red Fish" Bellak might have said.
Since no U.S. Team would be going to the . 39 World's in Cairo, the 1938-39 season's Intercities had lost much of its stature, and when neither the Pennsylvania nor Philadelphia TTA was willing to provide the traditional hospitality for the competing teams, only representatives from several nearby cities showed Schiff, who'd lost to Charlie Schmidt in the Metro Open the week before, was undefeated in the ties here, and so was given the Outstanding Player Award.
In Philadelphia, Sol was able to break through Bellis's "miraculous defense, but at the Feb., '39 Eastern's in Baltimore Izzy was ready for him. As if heeding Sol's advice given months earlier, Bellis took to mixing effective drives with his superb defense, and it made the difference between winning and losing. When Bellis went on to beat Grimes in the final, he began to merit consideration as the #1 seed for the '39 National's.
Indeed, after the East-West Matches--Schiff, Bellis, Grimes vs. McClure Hendry, Nash--played in New York City's Hippodrome (later the site for Madison Square Garden), Bellis's #1 seeding was assured. He beat all three West players in the deciding 3rd--the last against McClure with the tie 4-4 and the score 19-all.
At the Hippodrome, Schiff had lost to Nash, 19 and 20. Now at the early-Apr. Toledo National's, only a week and a half later, he had to play Garrett--the #2 seed--again. And, lacking confidence, he'd started off badly, had lost the first two games. He then rallied, but it was too much of a spot, and out he went in the 5th--his ranking down to #5 this season.
In the Mixed Doubles at Toledo, Sol and his friend, fast-improving Ruthe Brewer, lost to just-arrived Tibor and Magda Hazi, 19-in-the-3rd. And in the Men's Doubles, Sol and Jimmy were unable to successfully defend their Doubles title--Nash's fellow St. Louis players, Price and Hendry, did them in with superb defense.
Nor could Sol find his way to a win in the mid-Apr. New England Open, another of those many post-National's tournaments--he again lost to Schmidt who couldn't force the offense but could pick a ball and hit it hard.
So many years of play, so many matches against, as you can imagine, the world's worst, and the world's best--and yet this June Sol has just turned 22. As usual, he'll be out on the road from time to time--it'll be a way of life--though not always in partnership with Cartland. Care to climax your 1939 summer vacation with three days at Taminent, Pennsylvania's Special Sports Week, or their gala Labor Day Weekend (Aug. 29th Supper through Sept. 2nd Dinner--$25)? Why not catch Sol's Aug. 28 Exhibition?--he'll be assisted by Dan Klepak, Sam Silberman, and Matilda Plaskow.
Years later, in the early 1980's, Sol described, in an interview for Hikosuke Tamasu's Table Tennis Report, how, partnered with Cartland, he was making a living at table tennis:
"...I played at theaters and night clubs, three or four performances a day, and each performance lasted about ten minutes Doug Cartland and I went to various schools and YMCA's, table tennis clubs, and private clubs also....Suppose we wanted to stay one week in, say, the State of Illinois... We would go down to [the] telephone company, and look at all addresses of sports clubs, and we would write them....[Then] we rearranged the tour so that we didn't have to travel a lot. We would be in their area one or two weeks at a time, and played all around the area. Then we went out for another State....For exhibitions, we used to drive around 1,000,000 miles every year. When we played exhibitions at night clubs and hotels, the arrangement was done for us by booking agents and we stayed in hotels maybe one month as part of the show. Most of the times I played with Doug. Occasionally we played with a girl because [the] audience would much [more] like to see a man and girl play rather than two men play....
[Asked about his income, Sol replied:] At that time, the average salary of a married man was about 20 dollars a week, and I was making about 100 dollars a week....[Exhibitions averaged] 30 dollars each. We traveled, and gasoline cost about 8 cents a gallon. We used to stay at motels for 50 cents a night, and food would not run more than a dollar or a dollar and 50 cents a day."
Both Sol and Doug really knew the pre-War table tennis scene in the U.S. In fact, as their 1939 Table Tennis Comes of Age shows, they had a prophetic sense of what one day, long after one War, and another, and another, world-class table tennis would become:
"With the increase in offensive success the tempo of the game will be stepped up strictly defensive play as a means of outlasting your opponent will be unknown. Half-volley play will increase service will be hit or half-volleyed whenever possible.
...Today, with few exceptions, there is no struggle for the offense. Tomorrow there will be a continual struggle for the offense, with the driving of drives and the topspinning of topspins brought to a degree of accuracy and perfection now hardly conceivable.
...As the game gets faster, develops into more of a driving affair and a battle for the drive, it will become even more interesting to the American spectator....He likes speed. And speed he'll get, in increasing doses, in the table-tennis game of the future."
The Table Tennis philosopher/prophet figure is usually someone who knows what's right and what's wrong with the Sport, but who is so far past his prime that he's not got the strength anymore to act. But as we'll see in the coverage to come, Sol Schiff will continue to have great energy for the Sport--will have literally decades of trophies and titles yet to win, USTTA executive positions to responsibly assume.