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Authors: Dan E. Moldea

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BOOK: Interference
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After the allegations of team associations with bookmakers were first made public, Baugh continues, “someone was talking about Mr. Marshall taking us down to the newspaper office and make the sons of bitches prove it. Some said not to pay that much attention to it—just let the damn thing go. I told them that I'd rather make them prove it—if they had any proof. ‘Let us see it.'”

However, Baugh did not know that George Marshall had secretly recorded the quarterback's conversations with known bookmakers during the week Flaherty and O'Brien had broken their initial story. The surveillance was arranged through a D.C. police officer, Joe Shimon, who had been hired by Marshall via publisher William K. Hutchison.

“Hutchison ran a news service in Washington and was very close to Marshall,” Shimon told me. “Hutchison had some news-reel cameramen who filmed Redskins games. Then he and Marshall would invite some friends to see the films.

“Hutchison called me and asked how to wire a room for sound. When I asked why, he told me that Marshall suspected that some of his players were fixing games and wanted to prove it. So I arranged for Hutchison to get the equipment he needed to do the job.

“I didn't hear anything more about it until several years later when Hutchison died. He had left me some of his personal effects and included was a stack of the recordings of Baugh, some other players, and bookmakers talking about the Redskins games.”

The surveillance of the conversations, recorded on old seventy-eight phonograph records, has been obtained for this book. They include conversations in which Baugh and other players were heard discussing point spreads, player injuries, inside information, bets, and their bookmaker friends.

In 1943, most of the Redskins from the 1942 NFL championship team had been drafted into the military and gone to war. Baugh, who had joined the team in 1937, was not among them. He had received a deferment because he was the sole source of support for five people, including his wife and two children. He also was a rancher and in 1941 had purchased a sixty-five-hundred-acre cattle ranch in Rotan, Texas, an hour north of Sweetwater and at the foot of Double Mountain in West Texas. The
government wanted ranchers ranching and providing food for the troops overseas. Later, Baugh developed his property into a twenty-one-thousand-acre spread. During the recorded conversations, Baugh told those present, “I wish I had [the] ranch in Texas paid for.”

Baugh brought Pete Gianaris's name into one of the discussions. Gianaris was a Washington gambler who had been convicted of bookmaking in 1938 and once owned a 25 percent interest in boxer Rocky Marciano. He was the personal Washington representative of Frank Erickson on the local gambling scene. In an earlier taped conversation, Gianaris had been recorded telling a Redskins player from whom he'd been receiving inside information and placing bets, “I'm the only one that books football. … The story is out that I've been fixing the [Steagles] game.”

Gianaris was alleged to have bet $40,000 against the Redskins at 4 to 1 odds and won $160,000 on the game. Gianaris guarded his words during the discussion and never admitted during the recording to have paid off any Redskins players. When he was asked by another person in the room, “Don't you understand that people think you're fixing Baugh?” Gianaris flat out denied it. “I am not,” Gianaris said. “I've never given him a nickel in my life.”

When Gianaris's name was brought up at a subsequent conversation, Baugh asked, “You know what I'm worried about?” “I do know Pete Gianaris. See, he's been down that [road with Marshall]—just like [Baugh then recites the names of three gamblers/bookmakers] and all us boys.”

“What's the difference, Sam?” someone asked.

“Well, that's the only gamblers I know, see? … Well, people know I know Pete, and they see me with Pete, see? And there's talk come of it that makes it look bad.”

“Well, when they come and ask you, I'd say, ‘I certainly know him,' I wouldn't try to deny it.”

“I don't try and deny it,” Baugh replied.

“So what the hell's the difference? You're going out with a gambler. You know a gambler. So [why] the hell are three gamblers owning three clubs in the league? … How about Charlie Bidwill? … And you've got Tim Mara. And you've got Art Rooney. So what the hell, ‘Why sure I know gamblers. They're friends of mine.' Goddamnit, they don't own our club, though.”

Although there is no evidence on the recordings that Baugh or any other Redskins player ever threw a game in 1943, the evidence is clear that Baugh and perhaps as many as four other players had personal and/or financial relationships with gamblers and bookmakers.

Nevertheless, even with the evidence in hand, Elmer Layden and George Marshall issued a joint statement—simply declaring that their investigation of Redskins' associating with gamblers had “turned up absolutely nothing.” Later that year, the Redskins became the Eastern Division champions but lost the NFL championship game to the Chicago Bears, 41-21.

I told Baugh that his room had been ordered to be bugged by Marshall, and I read him a portion of the transcripts of the recordings in his hotel room. Baugh became furious and replied, “Now wait just a goddamn minute! There wasn't anybody in that room beside football players! I never knew any bookmakers! I never made a damn bet in my life, and I won't today!”

When I specifically asked him about Pete Gianaris, Baugh explained, “You know what I remember about Pete Gianaris? One of the boys [a Redskins player], I don't remember who it was, asked me if I wanted to go have dinner at a fan's house one night. It was Pete Gianaris. I never knew Pete Gianaris was a gambler. I never knew what Pete Gianaris did. I won't deny that I knew Pete Gianaris …

“I never made one damn bet in my life on a football game. I made one bet in my life on a horse race. It lost, and I [vowed] that I was never going to bet again. The horse didn't get the call.”

Reflecting on his life playing football, Baugh says, “I enjoyed it all my damn life. Money wasn't that important then. You did it because you enjoyed the game.”

5 The Big Fix

ALTHOUGH BASEBALL WAS STILL king among sports gamblers, gambling on college and professional football games had increased in popularity after World War II, giving Bert Bell, the new NFL commissioner, more and larger headaches.

Bell had replaced Elmer Layden on January 11, 1946. Bell—who received a three-year contract at $20,000 a year—sold his interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers to Art Rooney so that he could accept the position. However, he later moved the NFL's headquarters from Chicago to One Bala Avenue in Bala-Cynwyd, just outside Philadelphia. Action had always seemed to follow Bell, and his role with the NFL would be no different.

On December 15, 1946, just hours before the NFL championship game between the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears, New York mayor William O'Dwyer, district attorney Frank S. Hogan, and NFL officials announced that there had been an attempt to fix the game. Gambler Alvin J. Paris of Elizabeth, New Jersey, was immediately arraigned for his attempt to bribe Giants players Merle Hapes and Frank Filchock, the former backup quarterback for Sammy Baugh in Washington.

Baugh told me, “Filchock was a real good football player. We got him on a trade from Pittsburgh. He was a good passer and a smart quarterback. I remember Mr. Marshall was talking about trading him [to the Giants in 1946]. I told him that, no matter what they did, they should never trade Filchock because he was as good a quarterback as anybody in the league at that time.”

Baugh said that Filchock's role in the attempted fix “surprised” him. “Filchock never got into any trouble at all at Washington as far as I knew. I remember both Filchock and Hapes. We heard they were offered the money and didn't report it.”

During my interview with Merle Hapes, he told me, “On the day of the championship game, Bell came with some people and picked us up. They put us into a private room. We told them we were innocent, but their announcement had already been made [that an attempt had been made to tamper with the game]. We had been blackballed, and they had to do something. They didn't want to hear what we had to say.

“Sure, I knew the man [Alvin Paris], and I couldn't lie about that. His father [Sidney Paris, who had served four years for mail fraud] was a member of the Elks in New York, and I was a member in Mississippi. The son asked me if I would throw the game, and I laughed at him. I said, ‘I could never do anything like that. Forget about me.' Bell asked me if I took any money, and I told him, ‘I had nothing to do with it.'”

The attempted fix had been discovered through a wiretap on Paris's telephone. Paris was held on a $25,000 bond and was later convicted for his role in the attempted fix.

Paris had actually fronted for three partners who were associates of Frank Erickson and had bet at least $20,000 on the Bears to win by ten points. Even after the attempted fix had been uncovered, the Bears still won the game, 24-14.

Hapes, a fullback, was benched before the game by order of Commissioner Bell. Only Hapes's name appeared in wiretapped conversations conducted by New York law-enforcement officials. The wiretaps indicated that past NFL games, as well as several college basketball games, also may have been successfully fixed. It was known that underworld figures had been wining and dining professional and college athletes at cocktail parties and in local nightclubs.

Filchock—who denied being approached and thus was permitted to play nearly the entire game—threw two touchdown passes and six interceptions in the Giants' losing effort, in which the bookmakers' bets were covered. Hapes told me, “I still can't figure out why they didn't let me play. They let Frank play because they needed a quarterback. I was their sucker, and I'm still damn bitter about it.” Later, Filchock admitted that he had been made the bribe offer.

Each player was to receive $2,500 to throw the game, in addition to $2,000 in bets that would have been placed on their behalf. They were also offered off-season jobs. The situation became the biggest public sports scandal since the fixing of the 1919 World Series.

On the basis of Paris's statements to the district attorney, East Coast gamblers David Krakauer, Harvey Stemmer, and Jerome Zarowitz were also indicted and later convicted. At their sentencing, the trial judge scolded them, saying that they had “attempted to destroy the faith and confidence of the public in American sport.”

Stemmer had been previously convicted for offering bribes to members of the Brooklyn College basketball team.

Within twenty-four hours of the sentencing of the conspirators, both Hapes and Filchock were suspended indefinitely by the NFL commissioner. Bell said that the two players were “guilty of actions detrimental to the welfare of the National League and of professional football.” Both Filchock and Hapes went to play in the Canadian Football League.

Hapes says, “I'm not putting the blame on anybody. It was a screwup. Bell gave us a reprieve, but we were already going to Canada. He told us that we could go to any club we wanted. I went on to Canada anyway to play for five years.”

In the wake of the bribery scandal, Bell received a five-year contract as commissioner from the NFL team owners, which increased his salary to $30,000 a year; and in 1954 it was extended twelve more years. Bell, who realized that gamblers had taken a major interest in the NFL, said, “Let them bet. That's their privilege. My job is to keep it from having an influence on our game.”

On January 23, 1947, at the NFL owners' meeting in Chicago, Bell was given dictatorial powers designed to crush all future attempts to corrupt professional football. Specifically, Bell ordered that anyone in the league who receives “an offer directly or indirectly, by insinuation or by implication, to control or fix or accepts or bets anything of value on a professional football game in any manner whatsoever” must report to his club officials or the commissioner. Those who failed to comply with Bell's directive could be barred from the game for life.

He also ordered all NFL owners and personnel to stay out of gambling casinos in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Bell said that NFL
personnel “must be not only absolutely honest; they must be above suspicion.” To ensure this, Bell later hired former law-enforcement officials as consultants in several NFL cities to monitor the behavior of the league's players.

But gambling continued and had already become more sophisticated.

According to sportswriter William Barry Furlong, the point spread was invented during the early 1940s by University of Chicago-trained mathematical wizard Charles K. McNeil, who was also an obsessive sports fan.
1
This new method of handicapping attempted to attract an equal amount of betting on teams playing uncompetitive games that would otherwise draw little public interest and low-betting volume. Under this system of pricemaking, gamblers could bet on the favorite team and give points to the underdog—or take the underdog and the designated points.

Prior to this, bookmakers simply gave odds, like 3 to 2 or 7 to 5, on upcoming games. This traditional practice of making the odds rather than setting the point spreads continues to be used for betting on several sports, including baseball.

However, the best evidence is that the point spread began before McNeil. Frank Costello's personal bookmaker, Ed Curd, who was also an influential Kentucky oddsmaker and a close friend of McNeil, told me that McNeil did not invent the point spread. “I don't know of anyone who can take credit for that. McNeil fell into line like everyone else. But in my estimation he was the best handicapper who ever lived. He operated out of the Gym Club in Chicago. While he was there, he was a very active player [gambler]. He was probably more of a player than a bookmaker. He was his own service. Back then, people made out their own prices [point spreads]. There were different prices all over the country.”

BOOK: Interference
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