- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"They wanted $300,000 cash, $300,000 carry. I took in some Clevelanders, Ellis Ryan and Dave Jones as partners. They'd been with the Indians and stood well in Cleveland. They represented the top Gentiles in the community. It was a fusion, Jew and Gentile. This way I'd get better standing in the community for Randall.
"I believe McBride selected me because he thought I was a scrapper. I think he felt I'd fire Paul Brown. I remember what Brown said when we were introduced to the players. 'Here are the owners,' he said. 'As soon as we get rid of them we'll get down to business.' He didn't give a damn. He had a hell of a contract, full power to hire and fire. He was kingpin, because he was a winner. I sent for him once and we had a talk. I said, 'Paul, you've got enough to do coaching the team. Why don't you stay out of the office, and we'll raise your salary and you won't have as much to do. You'll make more and the club will make more.' (He owned 1%.) We parted friendly. He acted like he agreed. The next day the papers ran a big story: SILBERMAN TRYING TO FIRE PAUL BROWN. Well, I couldn't fire him, not in Cleveland. Not then. He was idolized. I was nothing next to Paul Brown. I even had trouble getting past the locker-room door. They finally got rid of him, but they had to pay him $82,500 a year to do it and I think he's still getting paid. By that time I'd sold out to Jones for $600,000."
Another couple of phone calls and Saul bought Tropical Park in 1953. First from a guy in New York, whose name Saul keeps private. "How would you like to buy Tropical Park?" the guy said. "Nat Herzfeld won't sell Tropical Park." "You didn't answer my question. We had a meeting. We selected you. We want you to buy it. Here's Nat's number in New York. He's waiting for your call." Saul talked to his lawyer, Herman Siskind. Siskind said he must be crazy, he already owned Randall, the Browns and Painesville Raceway. "Where's the money coming from?" Eventually there was a meeting in New York, a dinner date with Jerry Herzfeld, Nat's brother. "I got there at 7:30 and it got to be 11:30 and Tropical Park hadn't been mentioned. I said, 'I thought we came here to talk about Tropical Park.' 'Oh, are you interested?' 'What the hell you think I'm here for?' 'O.K., you can have it for x number of dollars.' 'I'll take it.' You could hear a pin drop. They were dumbfounded. They expected some negotiation. Finally, one of them said, 'What do we do now?'
"The next day we went to Herzfeld's office to finalize the deal. There was an Associated Press guy there, waiting outside, and I remembered I had promised Milt Ellis [executive sports editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer ] the next big story because I'd asked him to hold off on the Browns announcement and somebody beat him to it. Anyway, our lawyers get hung up over a back-taxes clause, and I'm thinking more about that promise to Ellis than making the deal, so I called him, got him at the Theatrical Grill in Cleveland. I said, 'Milt, I'm going to buy Tropical Park.' 'Fine, how much money do you need?' 'I'm serious, Milt. It's a deal. Remember that promise I made? I'm paying you back. Go set up your story and I'll call you when it's final.' He said his deadline was 11:30 or something, and it got to be 11:20 and still no deal, so I called him back. 'Listen, Milt, go ahead and run the story and quote me, say I said I bought it.'
"Well, we still can't iron it out, and finally one of their guys pulls out a watch and struck a pose. 'It's one o'clock,' he said. 'You've got five minutes.' I said, 'Look, you big son of a bitch, nobody pulls a clock on me. You go to hell,' and I got my coat and hat and went for the door. I had to pull the best bluff I could. I got to the door and somebody called me back, and we quickly worked out a compromise and signed the papers. Then we all went down to Reuben's for coffee. Everybody was happy. Must have been 5:30 when we're walking out and Herman Siskind, my lawyer, says, 'Did you call Ralph?' 'No, I thought you did.' Jerry Herzfeld says, 'Who's Ralph?' I said, 'That's my partner.'
Saul Silberman today is fresh out of partners. Except for stocks and real estate, Tropical Park is his last piece of equipment. He owns 97%. When he bought it in 1953, it was worth $2� million; it would sell today for as much as $12 million. He and DeChiaro split in 1961. DeChiaro wanted him to quit all the fun and games and stick to building houses in Baltimore. "He took the position that if I'd devoted my time to building, instead of a few million we'd be worth a hundred million. Maybe he's right. I don't know."
What seems to irritate those persons who find Silberman irritating is that he is no respecter of persons. Politicians, college presidents, theatrical people, football coaches, syndicated columnists come regularly to his Turf Club, and he loves to sit around when the races are over and kibitz and watch them eat the kosher salami and the special hot dogs he has flown in from Cleveland. "Bet you never had any of that at the Ponderosa," he beamed when Lorne Greene came in to try the salami. But he made Senator Frank Lausche, then governor of Ohio, put his coat back on on the hottest day of the year at Randall Park because a Turf Club rule was tie-and-coat. His fights with his fellow track owners are not sensational, but are regular. "I wish the Moris would sell Hialeah Park," he said once, "because then maybe we'd get somebody who would cooperate." His present feeling about Jimmy Donn of Gulfstream is that he "is a big hog, always after what somebody else has." (Donn wants to split Tropical's winter dates with Hialeah, and let Silberman run during the summer.)
There is a certain sense of Old Testament morality to the way Saul goes about things. He thought the Thoroughbred Racing Association high-handed when it dropped him during the trouble with State Attorney Gerstein, so when it was cleared up he allowed the TRA to reinstate him, then he resigned. "Who needs you?" he said. For years he shielded his wife from an associate who flaunted his affairs. If they were both invited to the same party, Saul would call up and find out who so-and-so was bringing, his wife or his girl friend, and if it was the latter the Silbermans stayed home. Politicians give him a pain in the saddle. "It's against the law for liquor or parimutuel plants to give money to candidates for office, but every son of a bitch who runs comes around asking for money," he says. "Politics is not honest at any level. I know for a fact that Kennedy bought West Virginia with bags full of money. I never had much respect for the Kennedys anyway, and then the other day I see a picture of Jackie Kennedy wearing a miniskirt. Awful."
There was a time at Randall when a photo finish did not sit well and the crowd downstairs was acting like it might rearrange the furniture. Against the counsel of his friends, Little Caesar walked down into the lions' den. "Now wait a minute," he said, holding up his hands. He explained how close the picture showed the finish to be. He invited them to examine the picture and if anyone thought the stewards had ruled incorrectly he would pay double. He won the crowd. At Tropical one year the placing judges separated an even closer finish and made a horse named Deemster the official winner over another named Teacher. Saul took another look at the picture. He decided it was a dead heat, and the track would pay off on Teacher as well. A lot of people had already thrown their tickets away. A lot of people who never bought tickets said they threw their tickets away. Some of them weren't too smart (Tropical does not sell a "$20 win" ticket) and could be weeded out, but the track still paid out $22,000.
The Miami Herald got on him for that one. The Herald wanted the pictures, as is customary, but there was some suspicious dillydallying going on and when the pressure was applied Saul reacted: "Don't put a gun to my head." He battled with Russ Harris, the Herald racing editor, a former college professor and perennial leading handicap-per. He began a discussion of the situation with Edwin Pope, the columnist, by saying, "Listen, sonny boy," and Pope reacted to that, and what could have been smoothly handled became a cause c�l�bre.