In the early years of this column, I wasn’t particularly kind to CBS’ Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. I felt many of his picks were based on irrelevant data and bad info.
Then, in 1984, I learned that three of his five children had died from cystic fibrosis, a son was struggling with the disease, his daughter and assistant, Stephanie, was thus far healthy. I called Stephanie and asked if her father would be amenable to discussing the family’s plight. He was and I wrote a column for which The Greek, who died in 1996, was forever grateful.
So grateful, I couldn’t lose him.
In 1985, he invited me to be his guest at the Kentucky Derby. I declined, again reminding him that journalists don’t accept such gifts from those they cover. This was the Thursday before the Derby. “Besides,” I told him, “I have to be at the Americana Hotel tomorrow for a press conference.”
The Greek hollered, “You do? Great! There’s a package for me there. I’ll call and arrange for you to pick it up for me.”
Fine. A package. Snyder told me to just meet “The Prince” in his penthouse suite. Okie, dokey. The old Americana, on 52nd Street, was a big joint. So I arrived early and took the elevator to the top, the 51st floor.
I walked down a hallway and knocked on the door, which soon was opened by a monster of a man who looked angry, as if he woke up on the wrong side of the slab. Behind him was another monster, and there was a woman, who was either a hooker or Mrs. Prince, draped half-dressed over a large upholstered chair.
“I’m here for The Greek,” I said in my best George Raft.
The Prince entered from his room. He was dark and swarthy, likely of Moorish extraction. In accented English he grunted that I produce identification. I showed him the first thing out of my wallet — my library card.
Then he produced a simple brown paper bag that he emptied on the bed. The bag had been stuffed with $100 bills. Next he demanded my attention as he made 20 piles of 10 $100 bills. Good grief, what had I volunteered for? That’s $20,000 in 1985 money, and roughly $19,990 more than I was used to carrying!
I recounted the stacks to prove my diligence, I put the money in the bag, then, as I was signing a receipt, it struck me that something would soon strike me: the fear the same muscle-men who handed me the bag would later separate me from both that bag and my ability to breathe.
So, rather than return to the elevators bank that delivered me, I went the other way, entered a staircase and began a quick descent, re-entering the hotel’s hallways every few floors then again changing directions and staircases.
I did this for 51 flights until, sweaty and exhausted, I came out through the hotel’s kitchen.
After the press conference — by then I had 20,000 reasons to be unable to concentrate — I drove my orange VW beetle and Greek’s 20 grand back to my Jersey home. I called Snyder at the Derby and, trying to act cool, casually told him I’d deposit it in the bank and send him a check.
“No!” he bellowed, as if I’d just said something very stupid. He calmed down to explain that he liked some Kentucky-breds in the Derby but figured there would be better odds for him off-track and far away. He begged me to do him one final favor: Go to the nearest OTB — there was one in nearby Staten Island — and bet those horses.
Again, he had me.
He then began to reel off a list of bets — exactas, reverse wheels, triples, and OTB used letters instead of numbers, so I had to make those changes — until he reached, yes, $20,000. It took an hour to double-check his action, the types of bets and amounts. And the next morning I was going to haul that bag around, again.
I reached the OTB on Richmond Avenue and stood in a longish line. When it was my turn, I believe the first bet was in the $800 range. The clerk said he’d have to see the money before he punched out the ticket. I opened that paper bag. His eyes looked like Hostess Sno Balls.
“Gloria!” he hollered over his shoulder, “I need you!”
He then told me to go down to the last tote machine on the right, where Gloria would meet me.
Gloria, who sounded like Selma Diamond, sandpaper and Parliaments voice and all, came out and opened a window just for me after she, too, asked to see the cash. As I stammered through Greek’s bets as I’d written them on a piece of paper, Gloria looked up and said, “Son this isn’t your money, is it?”
“No,” I said, “It’s Jimmy the Greek’s.”
“Yeah, sure,” she said. Then she muttered something about me being a wise guy and returned to punching out Greek’s tickets.
And all of them — every single one, and I kept a pile, a few thousand bucks worth for kicks — were losers.
Incidentally, one of those Kentucky-breds The Greek bet was Eternal Prince, owned by George Steinbrenner. In a field of 13, he finished 12th.
NBA kids won’t adopt Kidd’s style of play
With the 3-point shot now overwhelming and squeezing the life out of NBA games, I don’t know why teams have to spend a lot of time and money hiring coaches. I loved the way Jason Kidd played — upbeat, move the ball, share the ball, outhustle the other team — but that doesn’t mean that’s how the Knicks would play for him.
Maris classic replay
Baseball and Ballantine: SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio this Thursday at 7 p.m., will replay the July 2, 1961, Senators-Yankees game when Roger Maris hit his 29th and 30th home runs. Mel Allen, Red Barber and Phil Rizzuto with the call.
Man of the Week: Thoroughbred jockey Perry Ouzts had seven rides at Ohio’s Belterra Park on Thursday. He won five of them. Not too bad for a kid who next month turns 66. Ouzts has been described as “tougher than a nickel steak.”