So, what on earth is professional wrestler Gorilla Monsoon doing to the future editor of P&GJ in this 1975 photo taken at the Philadelphia Arena? It’s a compelling, somewhat poignant story that ultimately ties into the pipeline business. I will turn the story over to my alter ego, a wannabe sportswriter who met many interesting folks and hoped for a career that never happened.
My first brush with sports figures occurred in 1969 at a high school baseball game I covered for my school paper. The Yankees sent a scout, a former pitcher named Randy Gumpert, to check out our pitcher. “I know who you are, sir. Mickey Mantle hit his first Major League home run off of you in 1951.”
“That’s right, but he’s hit quite a few since then,” he said, seemingly stunned that someone could recall such an obscure fact.
Two years later I interviewed Smokin’ Joe Frazier and his courtly manager Yank Durham before their first fight against Muhammad Ali. Toweling off after a grueling workout, Frazier recalled his true-to-life Rocky story where he trained by slapping sides of beef around in a butcher shop. Durham laid out their game plan to beat Ali. They had it figured perfectly.
I’m a lifelong baseball and wrestling fan. I wore out college roommates by keeping our TV tuned into every wrestling program and practicing holds on them. I decided I would write for a wrestling magazine. I wrote to the Philly promoter, asking how I could find such a job. He shattered my illusion by telling me that these are actually trade journals!
Undeterred, while reporting at a suburban paper in 1975, I met and interview the Philly wrestling ring announcer, a lovely man named Buddy Wagner who lived in our area. Wagner saw I was a somewhat deluded but nice young fellow and took a liking to me, inviting myself and our photographer to the dingy Philly Arena to meet the grapplers. I met legendary champ Bruno Sammartino and nearly had my hand broken by the 401-pound Monsoon who hoisted me up with one hand.
Mr. Wagner and I met several times at his home for drinks and talk. He wanted to take me to Madison Square Garden to meet wrestling impresario Vince McMahon, Sr. It never happened. Mr. Wagner died a year later of a heart attack.
In 1978 I was reporting in Endicott, NY, where a pro golf tournament was held every fall. Knowing my love of sports, I was asked to help cover the event. Arnold Palmer teed off and I thought it would be fun to be part of Arnie’s Army. Who’d have guessed he’d shoot a remarkable 66, his best round in years, and lead after the first day? Even he was stunned. I’ve never met a nicer human being.
It seems unbelievable that Palmer and Ali died just months apart. I met Ali in 1989 while he was promoting his cologne at a Houston store. I carried a gorgeous Ali doll that I presented for his autograph. He held it, molded it into his classic pose, signed it beautifully and thanked me. What a guy!
My home and office are shrines to Mickey Mantle, whom I met him at an autograph show in Houston in 1990. It was a Sunday morning and as I handed him an intricate statue to sign, the Mick was already plastered. With a huge smile, he held the figure and asked “where the ….am I supposed to sign this ….in’ thing?” Wherever you want, Mick, I coolly answered. A drunk he may have been, but he died like a man.
I did end up working for a trade journal, one which has been very good to me, and where I’ve learned a valuable lesson: if you can make it in pipelines or pro wrestling, you can make it anywhere.