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Myron Cope
June 28, 1976
Meet Frank Fuhrer of the WTT Pittsburgh Triangles: "the most obnoxious owner in sports," says one star performer on his team
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June 28, 1976

Not Nearly As Sweet As He Looks

Meet Frank Fuhrer of the WTT Pittsburgh Triangles: "the most obnoxious owner in sports," says one star performer on his team

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Another voice and then another joined in. Soon the entire squad was singing in three-part harmony. First, "Row, row, row your boat," then, "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley" and finally "99 bottles of beer on the wall." Up front, seated between Fuhrer and the driver, General Manager Dan McGibbeny Jr. saw that not only had the back of Fuhrer's neck turned Bloody Mary red but also that the knuckles of his fingers, pressed upon the dashboard, had turned milk-white. Says McGibbeny, "The team knew Frank was boiling, but singing was their way of keeping from getting down in the dumps and going into a losing streak. Still, it was frightening. Frank did not utter a word, but I was looking for him to climb over the seat at any moment and start throwing punches."

At last, the limousine arrived at La Guardia. McGibbeny and the others climbed out. Fuhrer remained frozen to his seat. "Kennedy!" he snapped at the driver and, leaving his athletes dumbstruck on the curb, roared off to find a flight home that would not compel him to share their company.

Charlie Finley. Certainly. By now, you surely have remarked upon Frank Fuhrer's resemblance to the owner of the Oakland Athletics—both of them self-made millionaires in insurance, both autocratic and headstrong, both owners of championship teams. The analogy, however, does not sit comfortably with Fuhrer. Pointing out that he regards Finley as an obviously capable sports executive and an innovator of great value to baseball, Fuhrer nonetheless appends the reservation that if it is true that Finley treats his athletes as objects and welshed on his contract with Catfish Hunter, then one should not label Frank Fuhrer a Charlie Finley.

Still, the resemblance persists in Fuhrer's conviction that he has every right to hand his coach the lineup and advise his players of their shortcomings. "I don't know a tennis ball from a pile of manure," he says, "but I know how to keep people organized, motivated and disciplined. Hmmp?" Fueled by his opinion of himself, Fuhrer early last season combated a Triangles slump by issuing orders that caused Vic Edwards' mustache to bristle.

Edwards had succeeded Rosewall as coach, Rosewall having decided after one season to lighten his tennis travels and Fuhrer having turned to Goolagong's guardian in order to make certain Evonne did not exercise an option to cancel her contract. "We were on a road trip," recalls McGibbeny, "and we got creamed in San Francisco. Then Hawaii walloped us two nights in a row. Frank said, 'We're better than this,' and he got out the records." Seeing that Gerulaitis and Mark Cox consistently had won when paired in doubles, he ordered Edwards to cease coupling Kim Warwick with one or the other and never mind Edwards' emphasis on resting either—and, furthermore, to see to it that Evonne played singles on every program. "We ran off nine straight wins," says McGibbeny, "and, from Hawaii on, went 31 and 4." Along the way Edwards nonetheless grumbled, firing off complaining memos to Fuhrer. "He wrote me so damned many memos," snaps Fuhrer, "that I had to employ two girls just to stack 'em up." Worse, Gerulaitis had threatened to leave the team, claiming that Edwards' personal secretary had struck him on the back with a thrown water glass.

But a solution was at hand. To Edwards' great distaste, Evonne had fallen in love and in mid-June married English businessman Roger Cawley, a breach that was confirmed when Edwards failed to attend the wedding. "I got unexpected assistance from Cupid," trumpets Fuhrer. "I didn't need Edwards' hot air anymore." Edwards' capacity for inflaming Fuhrer was soon to be replaced by Cawley's, Evonne's husband refusing to allow Fuhrer to dispatch his wife around town for promotional appearances. But in the meantime, Fuhrer had rid himself of Edwards, firing him two weeks after the Triangles won the championship. "His wife telephoned me," Fuhrer remembers, grinning, "and called me the lowest form of humanity."

This year Fuhrer elevated Mark Cox, 32 and mature for his years, to player-coach after brushing aside a stipulation Cox introduced into negotiations. "You must agree not to interfere," said Cox.

"I'll interfere any time I damn well please," replied Fuhrer.

He has, and in fact determined at the outset of the season to apply personal pressure to the 21-year-old Gerulaitis to achieve greatness. Like Fuhrer, Gerulaitis neither drinks nor smokes. He does drive a Rolls-Royce Corniche and on his last birthday ordered the public-address announcer at the Civic Arena to invite the crowd of 10,858 to proceed from the match to his birthday party. "He'd taken the top floor of a hotel," says McGibbeny. "They came all night, in waves. I've seen some heavy damage at parties, but this was the first one I ever attended where they broke a bathtub." To which Fuhrer adds, "Vitas is going to have to give up the fast life and live tennis 24 hours a day. I've told him to get some sleep. I've told him, 'I'm liable to have to stick a $1,000 fine on you, and if you find a broad who's worth that much, tell me, and I'll go along with you.' " Neither that nor Gerulaitis' attainment of greatness has occurred. As the first half of the season ended Cox's coaching job looked shaky, the club remained at the bottom of the Eastern Division standings, crowds had fallen off sharply and a banner hung by Pittsburgh fans proclaimed FRANK FUHRER'S MIND BELONGS ON THE DISABLED LIST.

While clinging to the hope that Team Tennis will become a profitable enterprise, Fuhrer writes off his tennis losses against the profits of his Frank B. Fuhrer holdings. Even so, he says he has suffered a net loss after taxes of more than half a million. Characteristically candid, he pinpoints his obstinate determination. "I'm engulfed in an ego trip with the rest of the idiots who own clubs," he says. He confesses to having been astonished by two obstacles that professional sports ownership has revealed to him: "The total greed of the players and the general cheapness of the sporting public. The public wants you to provide the greatest stars in the world but wants a free ticket to the matches and thinks it's doing you a favor by showing up. All the players care about is getting as much as they can and skipping as many matches as they can. I've never had a player come up to me and say, 'Frank, what can I do for you?' It's always, 'How much more you gonna do for me?' "

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