HISTORY OF U.S. TABLE TENNIS: Vol. III, 1953-1962
Typeset by Larry Hodges, USATT Hall of Famer
Printed by The Outer Office
Review by Tom Wintrich
In a previous life when I was married, it was not unusual for me to share cocktails with some of the top photo historians and photographers in the U.S., such as Van Deren Coke, Beaumont Newhall, Brett Weston, and the man himself, Ansel Adams. In turn, these stalwarts of the young art had had direct connections to pioneer photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946). With my fly-on-the-wall status and vodka tonic in hand, I was afforded a rare glimpse into a very personal perspective of photographic history. Indeed, I was surrounded by people who were the history.
Good thing history repeats itself. Some 30 years later, I am delighted to find myself again in the midst of people who are the history of a subject, this time table tennis. No fly-on-the-wall status here and, alas, no vodka tonic, but I do have a big fat book by Tim Boggan that affords me a very personal perspective of our sport’s past. The book is Tim’s third volume in his diligent recording, covering the years 1953-1962. I can’t imagine anyone over the age of 40 not wanting to read this book but let’s address the younger ones first and specifically all those who have said in one way or the other: “Hey, Tim, when are you going to start covering the recent past?” The answer is now – and the recent past documented in these pages is no less than the birth of modern table tennis. Boggan refers to that era in the subtitle as “the early sponge years,” and within the first seven pages we learn what some people were saying about sponge in those early years.
“. . . the sponge rubber racket generates more speed when the ball is hit with it than human reflexes can ever cope with . . .” (Herwald Lawrence, 1955)
“. . . Sponge bats will die a natural death. It only needs time for rubber bat players to adjust their timing and the ‘sponger’ will fade out.” (Johnny Leach, 1955)
“. . . Sponge, say officials, has robbed the game of spectacle, interest, excitement. Players no longer use or care about footwork, but stand almost stationary at the table waiting for a kill.” (Sam Kirkwood, 1956)
How’s that for an assessment of the equipment we take for granted today? And even though we know the outcome of the sponge controversy, it’s no less enjoyable and informative to read about its beginning.
And how was our beloved association fairing back in the day? Would you believe 657 members as of April, 1954 with more than half paying an annual $.25 membership fee? That’s not a typo, that’s 25 cents.
The first thing you’re going to do with this book is skim through all the pages looking at the photographs, seeing how many people and names you can recognize. Even for the junior readers, there are plenty of individuals you’ll spot in the book who may be standing next to you at the next Open or Closed. For the older set, it’s a virtual who’s who of the American game for the last 50 years and, who knows, you may be one of the whos. Once you dig in reading, you’ll quickly discover Boggan hardly limits his tales to the domestic stage. His inclusion of the international scene is what really made the book for me. From the continent hopping exploits of Reisman and Cartland or Bergman and Leach, to the World Championships, to equipment (and behavioral) controversies, there is a non-stop, globe trotting interaction of competition and politics. Oh, yes, politics, it’s everywhere, home and abroad. Nicely, Boggan weaves these different aspects of the sport throughout his narrative so you never stay in one place too long. We go from the current woes of the USTTA, to the world championships, to east or west coast tournaments, to the latest rising star in America and back again to international events. It’s a wonderful round robin of history.
While many of us can call him friend or opponent or both, all of us can call him historian, and it is this latter designation that we will ultimately hold in highest regard for our prolific writer. I can remember a time when Tim would hide behind pillars or other spectators, stealing furtive glances of son Eric vying for yet another championship, yelling out a favorite phrase of encouragement. Read this book and join me in saying: “Bravo, Tim, Bravo!”