The recent ratings clinic conducted in Ocean City, Md., by Gold Medalist Darryl Noble and his wife, Cathy, was well-received and professionally administered. Darryl is my kind of guy. There were no fancy introductions — he and his wife each took a sip of water and got to the task. They spent the next three hours evaluating four players at a time.
Since Darryl is the person responsible for ratings for the national ruling body of pickleball, there could be no one better suited to the task. Not only did they evaluate the players, they then spent quality time with each person afterwards, pointing out areas where each player should concentrate on improving. All the participants were pleased and appreciative of Ocean City for arranging this clinic.
The participants completed forms in advance and then, four players at a time, participated in the evaluation.
When I was leafing through the waiting participants, I found an application submitted by Stanley Stanpenzack. I am guessing that he saw me enter the facility and took off to parts unknown. He had indicated on the form that he was, on a scale of 2 to 5, an 8.5. That was typical of the behavior of old tennis legend Stanpenzack. After all, Ocean City was one of his old stomping grounds, where the only known photograph of him was ever taken, albeit a blur.
Stanpenzack was the greatest tennis player in the history of tennis that no one ever saw play. Sure, McEnroe and Connors won their major titles, but always in front of a lot of people. Try getting great without anyone seeing you play!
When McEnroe pulled out of a professional exhibition in Atlanta, I told the organizers I would call Stanley to see if he could play. The committee were sure Stanley had died, and did not take me up on it — probably afraid they couldn’t afford his under-the-table advance-payment requirements.
After two-time All American (1974, 1975), and then long time coach at Stanford University, John Whitlinger won the NCAA Tennis Championships his first time, he told me that he flew from California to Salisbury, Md., to challenge Stanpenzack. John was playing well, and he thought he could give Stanpenzack some greatly needed instructions on humility and class in sport.
Unfortunately, just as Whitlinger’s commuter plane was approaching the gate, Stanley’s flight was taking off. John told me he was upset, but figured Stanly was simply afraid of playing him and possibly losing his status in tennis.
Stanley was so much better than the completion that he would wear a World War I Prussian spiked helmet when he played, and after he won, despite his young age, would fill it with beer, or sometimes vodka, and drink from it in the umpire’s chair.
Stanley didn’t care, as he was quite wealthy. As a teenager, he married an Italian princess and lived an envious lifestyle. I once heard he, ever the showboat, parachuted into the tennis court for a match. The chairman of the United States Tennis Association’s Junior Tennis Committee told me that a major point of discussion on their agenda in one of their national meetings in Kalamazoo was to initiate steps to have Stanpenzack barred from all official tennis tournaments worldwide.
Sport Illustrated’s Curry Kirkpatrick, who was at the top of his own game in the 70s, claimed to have spent four months tracking down the 6-foot, 5-inch Stanpenzack while researching a national tennis story. When Stanley called to enter a professional tournament, every director jumped to have the legend play their event. Yet, the illusive Stanley avoided the press and publicity.
There was only one photo ever published. Tennis great Ilie Nastase actually held him so a tennis reporter could photograph him at a professional tournament in Ocean City, Md.
Two time NCAA All-America Gary Plock told me on his tennis podcast, chipandgarytennis.com, that Stanley used to wear a raincoat on hot humid August days to psyche out his opponents. He told them that it was so humid if felt like rain and he wanted to stay dry, and while his competition tried to figure out his comments, Stanley would beat them in about 10 to 12 minutes.
Tennis promoter Bill Riordan reported that when he spoke to Stanley about his sportsmanship demeanor, his sincere response was that he always gave his opponents a game, if they wanted it or not.
I thought players of my vintage would be interested to know that Stanley is apparently hanging around the courts. What does this have to do with pickleball? Well, everyone says that pickleballers have all the fun, but, as you can see, we had our fair share in tennis as well.
Pay attention — we better all hope Stanley doesn’t get too involved in pickleball, because it will be lights-out for the rest of us. And if Stanley happens to be reading this column — call me. I would love to do an in-depth interview.
Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.
By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point