left to right:
Marty Fleischman, first court presentation, Leicester Hemingway (Ernest’s brother), Jasa
(one of the top French players), Ernie Larsen, fronton GM
Most spend their final two years of college pursuing their degree, preparing to start their
career. I spent my last two years pursuing the pelota (ball).
Nearly every weekend, I would convince my roommates, Mike Singer, Eddie Goldstein,
or Herb Gould to make the trek to Daytona. Here was our perfect weekend: leave
Gainesville at 6:30 am, play Jai-Alai for the allotted two hours, check in at the Indian
Palms Motel on U.S. 1 which charged $10 per night (we split it 4 ways), drive over to the
boardwalk on the beach to play our favorite pin ball machine Slick Chick, have a
footlong hot dog and milk shake prepared by a toothless carni at the stand, put a dime in
to watch the Dancing Chicken, go on the beach and body surf for hours, shower at our
luxurious motel, and get to the fronton with fake IDs to watch the pros.
The perfect day! That is, until one Saturday night Eddie, who was a year younger than
us, got stopped and questioned at the north entrance. The rest of us had gone in the other
entrance trying not to draw attention to him. Standing in the main lobby, we see Eddie
being interrogated by the Chief of Security. Poor Eddie, he folded like a cheap suit.
Couldn’t remember the name on his ID, nor the color of his eyes. Next thing we see, he
is being escorted by the police into the back security office.
Fortunately, I remember that one of our fraternity brothers who had graduated was the
announcer there. I quickly had someone call him in the booth, told him what happened,
and asked if he could influence his security personnel to free Eddie. He got Eddie sprung
with the promise he would not come back with any more fake IDs.
Realizing it was still early and only the first game had played, Eddie had to sit in the car
for hours waiting for us. We told him that was the price he had to pay for confessing. I
still feel bad to this day that we made him sit in the car. But, Jai-Alai does strange things
One of my frat brothers, Mark Einhorn told me he had a younger brother, Neil, who was
coming up as a freshman and was an avid amateur Jai-Alai player. Neil had actually
attended the North Miami Amateur School of Jai-Alai, which was taught by renowned
instructor Epifanio, the same man who taught Joey Cornblit, the greatest American to
Neil and I got permission from Tampa’s GM, Ernie Larsen, to practice at Tampa Jai-Alai
on Sundays. The catch was, no a/c, no lights, just use of the court. The caretaker for the
fronton would open the gates for us and let us in.
It was heaven for Neil and me. We played countless hours of singles, just the two of us.
We played until we dropped. Neil beat me 9 out of 10 games, but we could not have
been happier. I now was convinced, I wanted to make Jai-Alai my career.
Sitting in Landmark Apartments, mid November, my senior year, I bought a Tampa
Tribune to see read Tom McEwen’s column on the Gators. On page one, half way down
the page, a headline hit me like a lightning bolt: “Johnny Barker Named PR Director of
In shock, I read on that Johnny Barker was leaving the University of Tampa as Sports
Information Director to take the job at Tampa Jai-Alai. I knew that if someone was just
beginning a new position, leaving a high profile job at UT, he was likely to be the there
for many years to come. But, that was my job. That was going to be my career. Ernie
was saving it for me, but he wasn’t. And, obviously he didn’t.
I was lost. My dreams were shattered. There were truly no other executive positions
available for a young college graduate at Tampa Jai-Alai. This job was it. And, it was
just given to Johnny Barker, a man I had never met, a man at that moment I despised.
I spent the last few months completely depressed. I couldn’t even bring myself to go to
Daytona or Tampa to practice. Even though I was going to get my degree in Advertising,
I didn’t want to write it, produce it, or sell it.
And then it happened. It was the end of April, 1971. I had about 6 weeks left until
graduation. The phone rang. Stopping our non-stop bridge game, I answered it only to
hear the distinct voice of General Manager Ernie Larsen: “Marty, I have a job for you!”
I asked him what he meant, still astounded he even got my phone number. He told me
using some expletives that Johnny Barker had quit, with over a month left in the Jai-Alai
“You can have the PR job, but I need you right now!” Larsen said as if he was still
commanding a Navy frigate. What? My dream job is back? My life, my dreams..all
right at my grasp
But, I have almost a month to go until graduation, my parents invested in me to get a
college degree, and I’m dropping out now? I explained this to Larsen. He insisted that if
I wanted the job, he needed me now!
This was the dilemma of a lifetime. How do I explain to my parents that this is what I
want, the career that I want to pursue. It was there for my taking, but I had to take it
NOW! I got The Offer!
So, I promised Ernie I would call him right back, I needed to talk to my family. I called
home, got Mom, Dad, and my older brother Sol on the phone. I told them about the
conversation and they predictably said, “You cannot drop out of school!”
Then, my brother came up with an idea, “Ask him if you can work the final 4 weekends
of the season, commute from Gainesville. Those are the busy nights, he should be able to
get by those few week nights. Tell him after this season, you will be there full time.”
What an idea. Would he go for it.
I called Ernie back and explained that I was just too close to graduation, my family
insisted that I get my degree. I, then, proposed the compromise idea. Ernie said he
would get back to me. An hour later he called back and agreed, the idea would work.
“Marty Fleischman, 21 year-old son of local Channel 13 sports personality Salty Sol, was
named Public Relations Director of Tampa Jai-Alai.” This was now the small headline in
the Tampa Tribune. It, also, said that I had replaced Johnny Barker, who held the
position for less than 4 months. I now loved Johnny Barker.
Why did Barker resign in 3 months? Much to my dismay, I would soon find out.