Richard (Dick) Gerrity (center), ex-FBI agent, became Tampa’s popular General Manager in late 1974. Giles Ellis, Jr (l) was Asst. GM and helped run Ocala Jai-Alai with Gerrity. I (r.) became Dick’s Jai-Alai mentor.
With the threat of unionization of the players now gone, the Board of Directors of World Jai-Alai could resume its strategy, a management coup and company expansion. John Callahan had been named CEO of World Jai-Alai with Rick Wallace running the daily operations as Chief Operating Officer. L. Stanley Buddy Berenson retained the title of President, but then named to an innocuous position as “Chairman.”
Few of us in Tampa knew that board member Alan Trustman was still pulling the strings. His goal was to oust Berenson from all corporate power and control the company himself. Trustman had apparently asked the First National Bank of Boston, the original lenders to the founders of World Jai-Alai, for advice on an executive that could run our growing company. In essence, Trustman wanted a “hatchet man” that could fire Buddy or at least minimize his power. John B. Callahan, a past advisor to the bank, was their recommendation.
The first time I met Callahan was when he came to Tampa to confront the possible unionization of the players into the Teamsters. He was later described in the media as a tough, burly, no-nonsense Irishman. Callahan had been a partner at the accounting giant Arthur Anderson and Company but had left to form his own consulting firm.
My first impression of Callahan, he was extremely personable. I could see that he tried to understand the player issues. Having been a boxer in his younger days, he seemed to have a tremendous respect for athletes. He was very friendly to me that morning, yet I could see the tension between himself and Berenson. I, also, noticed that Callahan was now making the decisions.
Alan Trustman had decided that most of the general public thought the sport of Jai-Alai was fixed, that games were rigged, and management was in on the scheme. (Of course, I would learn that nothing could be farther from the truth.) I, also, heard that Trustman was concerned that if World Jai-Alai did expand to other states, the Mafia might try to get involved.
To change this public perception and to protect the company (meaning himself), he instructed Callahan to bring in as many FBI agents as possible to fill security and management positions. It certainly was logical that a retired FBI agent could fill the slot perfectly for a security position. But many of us on the inside were trying to figure out how an FBI agent, especially those that had never even seen a game of Jai-Alai, could run a fronton.
The first name we heard in Tampa was H. Paul Rico. He had been named the Corporate Chief of Security for the company. I knew absolutely nothing about Rico, except he had worked in the Boston office of the FBI and later in Miami. I had no idea that I would practically become part of his family.
In the summer of 1974, while working at Ocala Jai-Alai, we received word that a gentleman named Richard Gerrity would be arriving. He had just retired from the Miami office of the FBI and would be training for a security job with World. I was told to teach him all I knew about the sport and the fronton, a rather strange request for someone that was going to work security.
When Dick Gerrity arrived in Ocala, he exuded this charisma and friendliness unexpected from a guy who had handled truck hijackings and armed robberies in Newark, New Jersey. One of the first things he asked me on our initial meeting was, “Are there many golf courses around here?” Having been an avid golfer my entire life, my eyes lit up. Turns out, Dick Gerrity absolutely loved golf. We instantly had a bond that would last his lifetime.
Richard J. Gerrity was soon named General Manager of Tampa Jai-Alai, replacing Ernie Larsen. He would, also, be titled GM of Ocala Jai-Alai, though he remained in Tampa during the summers.
Dick was an absolute dream to work for. He let everyone do their jobs, being mainly a figurehead at the top. (Giles Ellis ran the day-to-day operations) The media liked him, as did the local movers and shakers in Tampa. He joined clubs, made large local contributions, and became the perfect host to fronton functions. But I did notice a slight “edge” to him in rare confrontational situations. There’s no doubt, Dick Gerrity had engaged in some tough battles during his FBI career in New Jersey. He was definitely someone you wanted on your side.
Though making sure the Tampa business grew, Gerrity’s main focus was still golf. And, he played almost every day, whether with me or with others. We formed the Tampa Jai-Alai Golf League, with employees and management participating each week. Scores were discussed during the evening performances while Bolivar, Laca, Gorrono, and Jesus were dominating the Jai-Alai games. It wasn’t that Jai-Alai was unimportant to him. He loved hanging with the players and would make a nightly visit to the player’s quarters. But golf was his passion.
I could not have been happier. I now had a boss that loved golf, greeted me with a smile each night, and relied on my Jai-Alai knowledge to help make business decisions. Dick seemed to be grooming me for a management position in Tampa and Ocala.
I was working in Tampa during the winter, Ocala (living in Gainesville) in the summer. It was like a year-round party. Business was growing in both frontons. It just seemed things could not be any better…. until I was summoned to Miami by Callahan.