"Are you kidding?" The Greek said. "I've never hit a golf ball in my life." Palmer refused to believe Jimmy.
When Jimmy's mother realized that the priesthood was out of the question, she put him into violin lessons and, hedging her bet, also began pointing the boy toward law. "I'm sure I would have been a great attorney," The Greek says. Right up until the day he quit school to go into the gambling business, he was at the top of his class.
His father ran a grocery store. One day when Jimmy Snyder—Dimitrios George Synodinos—was nine, he started walking the five blocks home from the market with his mother, his two little sisters and his aunt, who was staying with them because she had recently left her husband, the war hero. They had walked about a block and a half when Jimmy said, "Mom, I feel like playing some more back at the market." At first, like any mother, she said no, it was almost dinnertime, but then she shrugged and said he could go back.
"It's 1,000-to-l any mother lets the kid go back, right?" The Greek says.
He was playing ball on the side wall of the shop when Brooksie, the neighborhood cop, came in and spoke quietly to his father. "Come on," he said to his son, and they walked over to the police station in silence. Jimmy saw his mother's red pocketbook lying on the desk there. "She's dead, isn't she?" the boy said.
The aunt's estranged husband had gone berserk and shot her and Jimmy's mother with a Luger he had saved from the war. Then he shot and killed himself. He would have shot anybody who happened to be with his wife, even a nine-year-old. "I'd've been dead if my mother hadn't let me go back to the store," The Greek says.
So much for the violin. "I'll tell you one thing," Jimmy says. "If my mother hadn't been shot that day, there never would have been a Jimmy The Greek. Mother would have made me stay in school, and after that everything would've been different. I probably would've become an attorney." He stops and looks away, then turns back. "But, whatever, I would've been a success. I wouldn't have become Jimmy The Greek, but I would've been a success."
Such is the stature of the Oddsmaker to the Nation that if you follow him around, you will discover what is on America's mind merely from what he is asked. "Jimmy, what d'ya think about...?" "Who do you like in...?" "Hey, what's the price on...?" The Greek doesn't have to take a poll; he is his own walking sample precinct.
Besides, odds are like anything else today; they need a personality to certify them. To state, for example, that the odds on Sue Ellen shooting J.R. are 5-to-2 is a so-what. To state that Jimmy The Greek says they are 5-to-2 is a validation: O.K., I'll betcha.
Odds. Times have really changed, says The Greek. When he first started as a gambler in the 1930s, very few Americans understood how odds worked. The Greek likes to think he educated America in odds. He also claims he was more or less the co-inventor of the point spread and to have been primarily responsible for its popularity. He dreamed up the teaser and the over-and-under one slow day in the 1950s shortly after he had decided to settle in Vegas—abhorring a vacuum as he did. Until The Greek moved to Nevada there hadn't been a single reliable sports book in the land since Senator Kefauver closed down the old "Minneapolis line."