Chapter Three: Sports Celebrities

Angel Cordero Jr. comes back to the winner’s circle after winning the Preakness Stakes on Gate Dancer (Blood-Horse photo)

The Reading Room was always a really nice place to work.  Being a part of such a high-class establishment meant a lot to us. We were proud to say we worked there. The fact that very few people knew anything about its members or who frequented it made us feel even more a part of something big.
        My relationships with the members started to become very special. There were people I really enjoyed talking to and I was feeling great about having the opportunity of mingling with such high-profile types.
        I was never a big horse racing guy, but I sure knew a lot about team sports. It was those members that were affiliated with team sports that really got my juices flowing while working as a server on the porch. The first person that comes to my mind is Mr. Sonny Werblin who once owned the NY Jets football team, also was the Chairman of Madison Square Garden and was instrumental in the building and managing of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, but was best known for giving Joe Namath, in 1965, a then record $400,000 signing bonus. He was a nice guy who didn’t mind me asking questions that pertained to the NFL, Jets, or the Knicks. I remember telling him I liked the Cowboys and him saying nice things about Tom Landry, the Cowboys’ legendary head coach.  I also had another member who knew how much I loved the Cowboys introduce me to someone, as he said, “Who runs all the teams, including your precious Cowboys.” I went inside and a gentleman turns and says, “Hi Stewart, I’m Pete Rozelle.” He was the then Commissioner of the NFL. Wow!! That was pretty, cool!!
        Wellington Mara and his wife were another favorite of mine. Being the owner of the Giants’ football team, Mr. Mara was also aware of my love for the Dallas Cowboys. In the summer of 1987, he brought me something and said “Stewart, I brought something I wanted you to see”. I asked, “What you got, Mr. Mara”?  I will never forget what he pulled out of his pocket. He pulled out a case and told me to open it. Inside was his 1986 Super Bowl ring. He even let me take it to the kitchen to show my friends. Although I wasn’t and still am not a Giants fan, I was most definitely a Wellington Mara Fan!! He was a great man to be around and I am glad I had the chance to get to know him.

Stewart White as a waiter at the Reading Room

Wellington Mara

George Steinbrenner

Peter Mahovlich

Another member, whose name I can’t recall, but was a regular of mine, told me he had a guest coming and whatever I did, not to say anything about that pitch. It turned out to be former Brooklyn Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, who in 1954 served up the home run pitch to Bobby Thompson which was later, called the “shot heard around the world,” pushing the NY Giants to the World Series. 
        George Steinbrenner was once a guest at one of my tables. I told him how much I loved the Yankees. He raised his World Series ring he was wearing and told me how hard his team worked to get this. There was also John Galbreath and his son Dan, owners of Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates, they would regularly sit at my tables. They were extremely friendly, and I came very comfortable being around them. I was so at ease with them, that once, I came out to take their order, in my Cousin Sonny’s Pirates baseball cap. Boy, did they get a kick out of that. They used to talk with me about Roberto Clemente, one of the greatest Pirate players ever and a Hall of Famer, who died in a tragic plane crash in 1972.  He was one of my all-time favorite baseball players.
        Right there next to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.  I also met Brent Musberger and Jack Whitaker of CBS Sports who were in Saratoga covering the Travers Stakes. Mr. Whitaker had yellow jacket and green trousers on. I’ll never forget how colorful his outfit was.
        A local sport reporter in Albany by the name of Rip Rowan used to sit with a gentleman named Mr. Burke on the back lawn. Once through them, I was introduced to a huge 6’7” man who was a guest of theirs. That man turned out to be Peter Mahovlich of the Stanley Cup Champions, Montreal Canadians of the National Hockey League.

       Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, who was a legendary Las Vegas odds maker, would frequent the Reading Room. He was a very entertaining person to me. He was always known to be a colorful, brash and sometimes controversial man. He didn’t disappoint during his visits. I remember how he used to complain about the size of our pancakes. He would say “these aren’t meant for a big man!” due to the thinness of them. Funny thing was, he would order them every morning he showed up.
        World famous jockey Angel Cordero and his family would sit at the big round table in the center of the porch. I enjoyed taking care of him and his family.  He used to flash that big smile and was always very pleasant.
        These high-profile sports celebrities were all just a part of the experience that made my job at the Reading Room so delightful. Each day you would have the opportunity to engage, get to know and enjoy prominent people like the ones I mentioned. From one day to the next you would be amazed at who you would see right before your eyes. I loved working there. Oh yeah, I can’t forget to mention it again. The tip money continued to be awfully good!

For the next installment, chapter four,  we'll meet "The New Breed" 

For pervious Chapters:  Chapter One: The Beginning
Chapter Two: The Old Guard

 

 

Jimmy "The Greek"


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