I received an email from Sean Plotter, one of the editors of The Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, to write an essay describing how my experiences at Dartmouth influenced my life. I was honored. I handed in the piece, and then I was informed that it didn’t have enough bite, that it was typically gushing with memories of days gone by at Dartmouth. He told me he wanted something “with a harder edge.”
Unfortunately (or fortunately) my experiences were disgustingly positive. Red Rolfe, Tony Lupien, and Doggy Julian all treated me with kindness, and my memories of them are relentlessly positive.
Thanks to the blogosphere, I am able to publish my article for anyone who is interested. The following is the article I wrote for the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.
I Owe It All to Dartmouth
By Peter Golenbock ‘67
It may not be true that when I came out of my mother, my first words weren’t “wah,” but rather “wah who wah.” But it might as well have been. Ever since I can remember my father Jerome, Class of ’37, had brainwashed me about a magical place in the Hanover woods about which Daniel Webster once said, “It’s a small school, but there are those who love it.” He had gone to college in the teeth of the Depression, and after two years, out of money, he reluctantly left Dartmouth to finish his education at law school. He regretted leaving, but his loyalty to the place never left him. He would regale me with the story of how day after day he and his friends on their trips to Baker Library would watch the artist Jose Clemente Orozco stand astride tall scaffolding and paint his famed murals.
“Orozco only had one arm,” my father would say. I never did find out how Mr. Orozco lost his other arm.
We were living in Southern Connecticut, and I can remember my father and I going to New Haven in the winter of 1957 to watch Dartmouth, led by All American Rudy LaRusso, Chuck Kaufman, and Dave Gavitt beat Princeton for the Ivy basketball title, 67-66.
Every other fall we would pile in our Chrysler and head for dingy New Haven to watch the Dartmouth-Yale football game. Dressed warmly against the cold I can still see in my mind’s eye Indians’ quarterback Billy King leading Dartmouth to the 1962 Ivy title.
I applied early to one school, Dartmouth, and I was accepted in mid-December of my senior year. I took it for granted then, though today I continually wonder what they saw in me as my grades and boards were okay but nothing special. I traveled to Hanover to be interviewed, and the man assigned to evaluate me turned out to be my hero, Billy King. I spent five minutes recounting to him how he had led Dartmouth to victory that chilly day in New Haven, and I have to think that had something to do with my getting in.
In the fall of my freshman year I tried out for the sports department of The Dartmouth. As a kid from Southern Connecticut I followed all the New York pro teams, the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants, the Knicks and Rangers, and the football Giants. At Dartmouth I entered the cliched world of hoopsters, cagers, glovemen, thincladsmen, harriers, icemen, and my favorite, the booters. My first assignment, one fit for a gung-ho freshman, was to write up a cross country meet. I have no memory of it. The next day the short article under the headline “Harriers Win” appeared in the paper. No byline was affixed. It was written in English and I got the score right, so I was given another assignment. And another and another.
Before I knew it, I was spending most of my spare time at the D offices and at Dartmouth sporting events. My studies were what I did between assignments. By autumn’s end I was given the prestigious task of writing up one of the varsity football games. The account appeared on Page 1 under my byline. I didn’t know it, but my education, my real education, had begun.
As a reporter, I quickly discovered, I had carte blanche to wander the corridors of the Alumni Gymnasium and pester anyone I wanted about anything I wanted to know.
Most of what I wanted to know was pretty inconsequential, of course: How were the Indians preparing for the Cornell football game? What were the prospects for the coming hockey season? How did our pitching staff shape up?
Instinctive how to go about it, I cozied up to an extraordinary group of men who had the answers to my questions: the coaches. Bob Blackman was the winningest football coach in the Ivy League for a generation. Tony Lupien was a Harvard grad who had played for the Phils and Red Sox and taught his baseball players how to the play the game right. Doggie Julian had won a national championship at Holy Cross and had coached in the NBA. Eddie Jeremiah was one of two college coaches to win three hundred games in hockey, and Whitey Burnham was a cerebral, interesting guy whose soccer teams were Ivy champs. All loved Dartmouth and Dartmouth athletics. Never once was any of them ever curt or condescending or anything but respectful to me.
I was also taken with Elmer Lampe, who most students saw as just a lanky old guy who helped run the intramurals program. But I knew something about the history of college football, and Elmer Lampe had been an All American end at the University of Chicago under the famed coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. I also knew something about our athletic director, Red Rolfe. As a kid, I was a nutty New York Yankees fan – I have yet to get over Bill Mazeroski’s home run to end the 1960 World Series — and one day at the Stamford Library I came across a history of the Yankees by a writer named Frank Graham. I must have read that book a hundred times, devouring stories about Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio – and Red Rolfe, their star third baseman.
At Dartmouth I now had opportunity and access to hear stories about the Yankees directly from one of their greats. I couldn’t’ believe my luck. I was awed when I first approached him, but it turned out Red was as happy to see me as I was to see him. Red had played for the Yankees from 1934 to 1942, and he had a stint as manager of the Detroit Tigers from 1949 through 1952. In 1954 he became Dartmouth athletic director. By the fall of 1964 the now white-haired Red was 56 years old, and the coaches were impatient for him to retire. Tony Lupien, who didn’t know what it meant to be politically correct, was perhaps his most strident critic. We would chat, and Lupien would complain that Red was second-guessed his coaching, that unannounced he would walk out onto the ballfield during practice to show his players proper techniques. It drove Lupien crazy. Even though I was a reporter, it never crossed my mind to write any of this. Tony and I had become buddies, and he was confiding in me.
And so when I first met Red, he was isolated and nostalgic. I told him I wanted to write an article about his playing days with the Yankees for The D, and I could see his eyes glisten. To the coaches Red was a nuisance. To me he walked on water. Red spoke of his deep admiration for Lou Gehrig, and when he talked about Lou’s fatal illness and the day the great first baseman asked to be benched after playing in 2,130 consecutive games, I thought Red was going to break down. Years later I would interview 92-year-old manager Joe McCarthy about Gehrig, and his response would be the same: wet eyes. I never wanted my interview with Red to end. I was enthralled — in the proverbial zone. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was doing something that made me come alive, that gave purpose to my adolescent life.
Other members of the Dartmouth athletic department were invaluable. The sports information director, Ernie Roberts, asked if I would like to be the Dartmouth correspondent to The New York Times. I would be paid five dollars an article regardless of which sport I covered. The job entailed writing a paragraph about the contest along with the statistics and calling it in to the Times sports desk. For features, The Times would pay me twenty-five dollars.
Before long I was averaging twenty-five dollars a week, and I was in high cotton. I ate breakfast at The Midget Diner every morning, and from behind the counter Ray and Velda would make me steak and eggs for a buck. At night my roommate Rich Hershenson and I’d wander down Hanover Street past Lou’s and the Nugget movie theater to Minachiello’s for a grinder and a root beer and to ogle the townie waitress, the owner’s adorable daughter Lisa.
During my sophomore year, Doggie Julian’s basketball team was struck by injuries. Doggie didn’t even have ten players to scrimmage during practice. I told him I had played in high school, that I’d be happy to join the team as a practice player. And so that year I practiced with the team, wrote the articles about the team, and I even did the play-by-play of our road games against Brown and Yale one weekend.
We finished a solid 2-23 that year. I had the pleasure of watching Bill Bradley and Princeton annihilate us 106-46 and 93-33. The two games we won against Amherst and Holy Cross were at the buzzer. When Vic Mair hit the winner against the overconfident Crusaders, no one was more shocked than we.
It was time for Doggie to retire, and all the coaches wanted Dave Gavitt, the freshman coach at Providence, to replace him. Red Rolfe wasn’t so sure. Seaver Peters, Red’s assistant, asked if I would write a column in The D touting Gavitt. With conviction I wrote a long piece on why Gavitt should get the job, and it wasn’t long after that he was named. Gavitt didn’t let me practice with the team, but we would have marathon games of horse before practice. I wonder if he still remembers.
Doggie and Eddie Jeremiah both died before I left Dartmouth, and they burn in my memory. They loved the game, and they loved coaching, and they loved Dartmouth. I can remember writing Eddie’s obituary in The Dartmouth and weeping as I was typing.
During my senior year Ernie Roberts, the Sports Information Director, asked if I would be interested in becoming his assistant. I suspect if I had said yes, I’d still be living in Hanover. But I had been accepted into New York University Law School, and I had always assumed I’d be a lawyer, and I reluctantly declined.
Law school kept me from getting drafted for Viet Nam, and after I graduated, I went to work for Prentice-Hall writing for banks and insurance companies about President Nixon’s wage and price controls. I was on the job six weeks and was bored silly. During lunch, I saw a catalog of Prentice-Hall’s books. One of them was Doggie Julian’s classic, Bread and Butter Basketball. I was sure there was a great book to be written on my childhood heroes, the Yankees, who won fourteen pennants and nine world championships in the years between 1949 and 1964.
I knocked on the door of trade book editor Nick D’Incecco and told him my book idea. In those sixteen years, I told him, the Yankees drew more than twenty million fans. “If I can sell my book to one percent of them,” I said, “we’ll have a hit.” D’Incecco, who was as big a fan of the Yankees as I was, gave me a contract and a check for $2,500 a week later.
Dynasty, my first book, became very popular. In it I interviewed almost every important Yankee player of the era, including Billy Martin, who liked what I wrote about him so much he asked me to write his autobiography with him. Martin’s agent had another client, Sparky Lyle, the star relief pitcher for the Yankees. I wrote his book too.
Sparky’s book, The Bronx Zoo, was a monster hit, and my book with Billy, called Number 1, also was a smash. Thirty years later I am still at it. Looking back, I was able to do that because of my training at Dartmouth. Thanks in part to Red Rolfe, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.
Peter Golenbock’s latest book is 7: The Mickey Mantle Novel. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.