Sam Toperoff, who wrote The Mafia at Saratoga (page 58), is a gentle man, a connoisseur of 19th century American writers, old furniture—and horses. Horse racing makes strange stallfellows, and though there are no Mafioso in his English classes at Hofstra University, he did meet a trio of "pasta-faced," long-black-limousine types in researching his article, which also will appear as one chapter of a new book, Crazy Over Horses (Atlantic-Little, Brown, $5.75). He might never have started the whole thing had not the Dodgers, whom he was also crazy about, deserted Brooklyn. The departing Bums left an enormous void, and to fill it his casual interest in racing became a passion.
An earlier love was basketball. As a kid he would spend hours shooting baskets, and by the time he entered Queens' (N.Y.) Andrew Jackson High he was copying every move of his hero, an AJH alumnus named Robert Cousy. Sam wore Cooz's old jacket and number, but most of the talent left with Cousy. Toperoff thinks he would have been a better player had he concentrated more on developing his own style. After graduation, an unsuccessful year of college and a stretch in the Army, he entered Hofstra, more mature but paying more attention to basketball than to his studies. In the middle of his junior year he quit the team for more serious pursuits. "I didn't like the kind of person I was becoming," he says. The next year he graduated cum laude, and two years later he received an M.A. in English from Lehigh. He wanted to teach but was uninterested at the time in getting a doctorate. "It was just contrariness," he says. "The fact that it was required almost made me want to try to make it some other way." For the past seven years he has been an extremely popular English instructor at Hofstra, but he hasn't made it that "other way." Unless the tenure ruling is changed or he is reinstated before June, he will be forced to leave Hofstra. "Sorry, Sam, no Ph.D." is what it amounts to now. In spite of the hanging ax, Sam isn't too alarmed. He is working on his third book and is looking forward to more free-lancing. Money may be a little scarce, but he decided years ago that in the long run hardships can be a good thing. In fact, the advantages of having disadvantages was the theme of his first novel, an autobiography called All the Advantages, published in 1967 and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Sam believes that kids who suffer hard knocks may "make it" later for just that reason, and he cites his own childhood.
Sam's father, who died in 1955, had very little time to spend with his son. "He did a great job with the time he had," Sam says, "but often when other kids were doing things with their dads I was alone." And there was not much money.
If he gives up teaching Sam will find free-lancing a lonely business, too. During the struggle his wife will support them on her teacher's salary. Her name is Faith, as good a name as any for the wife of a writer.