HISTORY OF U.S. TABLE TENNIS: Vol. IV, 1963-1970
Typeset by Larry Hodges, USATT Hall of Famer
Printed by The Outer Office
Review by Dr. Scott Gordon
To appreciate the depth of Tim’s work, simply look at the three-page acknowledgement section at the beginning of Volume IV. Indeed, this 450-page giant, and each of the preceding volumes, is the result of distilling hundreds of reference sources to a single chronological compendium. Tim is staggeringly prolific, more so than any other author I know. It has taken me longer to write this review than it took him to write Volume V. Tim, when you finish the series, they beg for an INDEX!
Not everyone will enjoy Tim’s writing style. Make no mistake, his English is syntactically flawless. However, Tim is the Charlie Parker of authors, his prose sending the reader through twists and turns, leaving one gasping for air. Many of my foreign-born friends complain that they can’t navigate a Boggan sentence from start to finish. He also has a few stylistic inventions of his own. I’ve heard of verbalizing a noun – but when Tim adverb-izes game scores, he “China-5-1-beat-Sweden” tests the limits of Strunk & White. [Dang – now he’s got me doing it].
But enough about style, this book is about U.S. table tennis between 1963 and 1970. What makes these volumes so fun is that they lovingly treat every subject with equal importance. The 1963 U.S. Open is covered, for sure, but so is the 1963 Greenville Open, and the 1963 Worlds. Every event, every personality, is given the seal of significance. And it doesn’t stop there. We learn about rules changes, exhibitions, political infighting, promising juniors, technical advancements, funny anecdotes, Canadian events, the rise and fall of champions (and even officials), weddings, babies, and on and on.
There are of course the stories of great American players of that era. We meet John Tannehill, Angelita Rosal, Danny Pecora, Mike Ralston, Wendy Hicks, Brooke Williams, Glenn Cowan, and of course there are the continuing adventures of Erwin Klein, Bobby Gusikoff, Marty Reisman, and Leah Neuberger.
We get to see some of the “lesser” players – who we all know as perennial fixtures in USATT events – in their prime, like Shonie Aki, Harry Deschamps, Ralph Stadelman, Robert Norman Burke and countless others. It’s fun to see pictures of people I know and read about who they almost beat. And what about Benny Hull, Atul Shah, Darryl Flann, Kevin Bell ... they must have been darn good, how come I’d never heard of them?
Then there are the pictures. Some really grabbed me – the beautiful Orlando challenge board, the elephant in Cobo Hall, the haunting photo on the back cover of the U.S. team in Prague, my first coach Jeff Mason as a junior, a spectacular action shot of Pat Havlich catching a deeply angled retrieve, gorgeous young women players now old enough to be my mother, and a rather -er- frightening picture of Philip Woo Cheng. What became of the young faces in the photo of our 1963 junior team? Are any of them still playing?
There’s Alser’s extended stay in America; Baddeley and Jacobsen’s “looper” tour; D.J. Lee doing exhibition tours with Bergmann (I didn’t know D-J did those too); Patty Martinez’s phenomenal comeback victory in the 1965 women’s U.S. Open final when the 13-year-old was down 15-20 in the 5th and won; the evolution of the USTTA emblem; the 1969 U.S. victory over Austria; Glenn Cowan with short hair....
Did you know that CBS, NBC, and ABC all televised local table tennis tournaments, with folks like Bud Palmer providing commentary? Or, that at the 1967 Worlds the ageless Dick Miles stretched the European champion Gomozkov to five games? Did you know that an American (Stef Florescu) won the gold medal in the Tokyo Wheelchair Olympics before the USTTA even had such events? Do you know who was the “Cornbelt Champion”?
This book especially impressed me with respect to two heavy topics. One was just how poor the U.S. team was when compared with the world’s best, and Tim took no prisoners:
“...this dismal decade they will be out of the ‘loop,’ will not compete against a variety of even 2nd-rate International players... Not only had our U.S. players been deficient in learning the new techniques, but who among them, or among our embryonic coaches, was stressing rigorous physical preparation, training?”
Another serious topic which I found utterly fascinating concerns the relationship between the ITTF, the USA, and China. We hear a lot about the Ping Pong Diplomacy of the early 1970s. But Tim shows us what preceded that, and it was chilling. China did not participate in the 1967 and 1969 worlds, but they were engaged in heated discourse with the ITTF concerning the inclusion of Taiwan in international competition. As early as 1963 a letter from China to the ITTF is steeped in cold war hatred:
“... [to recognize Taiwan] is in fact asking the ITTF to follow U.S. imperialism’s policy of hostility towards the Chinese people.”
And, in 1968:
“Those who disregard the 700 million Chinese people’s firm stand and insist on serving the U.S. imperialist’s plot ... shall be responsible for all the serious consequences arising therefrom.”
Yow ... what happened in the intervening three years (to 1971) that would produce “friendship first, competition second?” I suspect we learn in Volume V that, despite the ensuing good will, the Taiwan problem didn’t just disappear.
I must finish my review on a lighter note – after all, this IS a book about ping-pong. So I’ll close by saying that it was a particular joy to follow the ascent of one of my heroes: Patty Martinez. Seeing her in the 1980s with her old hardbat casually trounce an entire field of U.S. team hopefuls, left such an impression on me that I ultimately switched to hardbat myself. Indeed, I was eagerly awaiting this particular volume largely to learn more about Patty, and it didn’t let me down.
Thanks, Tim. You make me proud to play table tennis in America.