by Marty Fleischman
After weeks of interviews following the killing of our owner Roger Wheeler, things began to settle down. I tried to do my job of promoting Miami Jai-Alai with the local news media, deflecting questions about the unsolved murder. We had no answers. Nor did the Tulsa Police or the FBI.
I was still trying to develop a relationship with those friendly to our sport. Most of the South Florida press liked Jai-Alai. Many loved the horses. Maybe the common denominator was that most just liked to gamble.
In late 1981, the WPLG (Channel 10) sports director Chuck Dowdle suggested we take a ski trip to Banff, Canada. Chuck was one of the top sportscasters in South Florida having moved down from WSB in Atlanta. He was an past Georgia basketball star, extremely personable, and was quickly becoming a good friend. I went to my boss and asked for a week off to make the trip. Donovan and Rico thought it was a great idea and gave me the go-ahead.
Chuck’s idea was to bring the spouses (his girlfriend, Clarice) and my now very pregnant wife Sue. Poor Sue loved to ski. But this trip would involve just après-skiing for her. This meant she would be sitting in the warming house at the bottom of the slopes waiting for us, not her idea of a fun vacation.
In addition, she would have to endure a very long plane ride, which involved three stops and a bus to our final destination. But being the trooper she was, she happily agreed.
I decided to invite my brother Sol and wife Sandra along, knowing they would enjoy the entire adventure. Sol was one of the top architects in Tampa. His wife Sandra is a double for Elaine in Seinfeld. I knew Chuck and Clarice would love hanging out with them. The only problem, they were not much into skiing.
My brother still hasn’t forgiven me for taking them way up Lake Louise ski area only to find a T-bar lift half-way up the slopes. I think he set a record that day for falling off the T-bar. He finally took off his skis and wanted to walk the more than a mile down to the base. I think that ruined all future ski trips for both of them.
Oh, those great memories. I finally got him back for all those years of being the “little brother.” But Chuck and Clarice enjoyed their company, and they became life-long friends. Chuck and I have remained friends to this day.
Another great talent in the South Florida sports radio market was Ed “Eddie K” Kaplan. Ed had a late-night sports talk show that dominated the market of any and all gamblers.
Eddie K was one of the most interesting characters I had ever met. Here was a guy that gave up a lucrative law career to do something he always loved, talking sports. A graduate from Michigan and an ex-prosecutor, Ed used his prosecutorial skills and his love of sports (and gambling) to field the many calls from the nuts of late-night talk radio. And Eddie K loved Jai-Alai!
Ed agreed to do monthly remote broadcasts live from Miami Jai-Alai. He would interview players, fans, employees, and sometimes do play-by-play of games he had placed a wager. Ed would end up being one of the biggest supporters of the sport. We immediately became close friends. To this day when he calls, it’s as if no time has passed since early 1981.
So, things were progressing nicely. Summer Jai-Alai was doing as well as our normal winter season. I was coordinating the state-wide Jai-Alai tournaments which generated enormous fan interest. And interesting perks came with the job in Miami.
For example, one day I got a call from an assistant editor of Playboy magazine. He said the upcoming September “Playmate of the Month” was from South Florida and they wanted to do a photo shoot around something unique to the area. Jai-Alai was perfect.
Now, I must confess, I read Playboy… only for the illuminating articles, of course. But here was a chance for us to get national publicity. Plus, I would get a chance to meet the upcoming Playmate of the Month.
I walked (actually ran) to Dick Donovan’s office. I told him about this great opportunity for national exposure. He and Paul Rico both agreed that I could proceed with coordinating the effort.
Later that week, I met the photographer and Connie Brighton, the Playmate. Trying to remain cool, (and remembering I was newly married), we discussed the photo shoot. They suggested having Connie wear a Miami jersey and helmet, surrounded by Jai-Alai players, staging the scene on the court.
Since we were doing the photography during the day, I decided Kevin Koffman, my assistant and I would dress up like players and be in the scene. After all, the actual players needed their rest from playing the night before. So, I thought it best to let them sleep. This was my chance to be in Playboy.. fully clothed, of course.
The photographer, also, wanted to shoot in a residential setting as a background with palm trees. So, I brought them home to my townhouse to use the outside as a backdrop. My wife, for some reason, was not overly enthusiastic about meeting “Miss September.”
A few months later, there it was. Right across from the centerfold were the scenes of Connie in uniform surrounded by us “pretend” players. I don’t know how many readers actually saw it, because you had to get past the large fold out of the nearly naked Connie. Heck, I almost missed it, too.
I found that there was never a dull moment living in Miami. The future would reveal shooting movies and meeting celebrities. I would coordinate one of the most memorable episodes on the top network television series, Miami Vice.
But the good came with the bad. I was not prepared for the call from Bob Lawson, our corporate Chief of Security, that fateful morning telling me that ex-World Jai-Alai CEO, John Callahan’s body was found in the trunk of his car at Miami International Airport. Callahan was shot dead, similar to Wheeler. Two World Jai-Alai executives in two years. A coincidence? No one knew who was next.
From the Editor of The Pelota Press
Marty will be off for another “fieldtrip” for the month of October. He will be able to see the seasons change on a trip heading north with his wife while enjoying retirement after an amazing career.
His columns will resume in early November.