Part of the allure has to be that name. Jacuzzi. It is Italian, and the most casual student of history knows about the Roman baths, yet the name is sometimes mistaken for being Japanese, another culture big on baths. It also happens that words with "zz" in them—terrazzo, jazz, Zsa Zsa—have a sort of, well, razzmatazz. And the name onomatopoetically fits the product: just close your eyes and let the water bubble and flow: ja-cu-zziiiiiiiiiii. It could easily have been called something like, say, "Swirl-O-Matic," but it wouldn't have been the same. Then, too, you don't build a multimillion-dollar business on rhythmic syllables alone.
The benefits of hydrotherapy were known to the Egyptians and Greeks, and by the time the seven Jacuzzi brothers, immigrants from Italy to northern California, got into the foam two decades ago, firms like Ille Electric, Whitehall Electro Medical and Dakon had pretty much wrapped up the hospital and sports markets in whirlpool equipment. That left only the consumer market, and the close-knit Jacuzzi clan had a grim personal entry into that area. In 1943, one of the brothers' infant sons contracted rheumatoid arthritis, leaving the boy crippled and wracked with pain. His parents took the child to Bay Area hospitals for whirlpool therapy, which was being used on World War II casualties and soon would receive even greater impetus from the postwar polio epidemics.
In later years Jacuzzi Research, a division of Jacuzzi Brothers, would advertise that its whirlpool grew "out of a father's love." This was melodramatic but accurate. Realizing that the whirlpools used on his son were essentially adaptations of the type of water pump Jacuzzi Brothers was making, the father, Candido, had his engineers develop an aerating jet pump that would enable the boy to receive therapy at home. Next Candido came up with a unit that sat right in the water and could be moved from one bathtub to another. Other sufferers learned of this "portable Jacuzzi" and the firm found itself turning out special orders.
The decision to market the portable unit came in 1955, with the new product to be sold in drugstores and bath-supply shops and by a corps of high-powered salesmen enlisted to make free home demonstrations. Then, thanks to a former Oakland sportswriter named Ray Schwartz, who handled Jacuzzi Research's publicity until his death in 1961, portable Jacuzzis were doled out as prizes on TV's tear-jerking Queen for a Day. The pitch was directed mainly at people with rheumatism, bursitis and the like, but Schwartz, by soliciting testimonials from Randolph Scott and the late Jayne Mansfield, got across the idea that whirlpool could also be used by the beauteous and the sound of limb.
Over the years some 200,000 Jacuzzi portables have been sold, which encouraged the company to move into whirlpool bathtubs and components and has helped it gross $67 million in 1974. Nonetheless, by far the major portion of Jacuzzi Brothers revenue comes from sales of water pumps, marine jets and swimming pool equipment.
While cautioning that it seldom cures anything in and of itself, doctors generally agree on the salubrious effects of whirlpool therapy. By providing moist heat and a kind of gentle massage, whirlpool treatment stimulates circulation and often hastens healing of muscle pulls, torn ligaments and strains. "The only harm is in thinking it does more good than it actually does," says Dr. Robert Kerlan, the Los Angeles sports orthopedist. "Otherwise it's a very restful, relaxing treatment. A lot of people with arthritic problems, for example, use it to get themselves moving in the morning and for comfort before going to bed."
The marriage of whirlpool and sport goes back many years. In the early '30s the Brooklyn Dodgers went in for whirlpool treatment and New York Knick Trainer Danny Whelan recalls a similar contraption when he was with the Rochester Red Wings of the International League in the '40s. "The whirlpools we used then leaked and weren't grounded," Whelan says. "It was fortunate somebody wasn't electrocuted."
Today Whelan and other trainers use gleaming full-body tanks, with adjustable headrests and rubber hand grips. Ille, Whitehall and Dakon still dominate the market, but until the recent proliferation of health clubs, many teams took a Jacuzzi portable along on road trips.
Joe Namath's knees, Sandy Koufax's elbow and Singh's right hock have all been dunked in whirlpools, as have the corporeal parts of most other sports figures. "The whirlpool is the trainer's best friend," says Ralph Salvon of the Baltimore Orioles. It also has provided a boon to clubhouse comedians who like to slip rubber duckies into the tanks whenever photographers come around.
Bath toys aside, hydrotherapy is a serious business. Rather than risk the equivalent of dishwater hands, which might affect their grip on the ball, pitchers sometimes take the precaution of wearing rubber gloves while soaking their throwing arms. And Dean Nesmith, the University of Kansas' longtime trainer, warns that "whirlpool can be downright harmful. By letting the jet play directly on an injury, you can bruise the area and increase bleeding."