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Compelled to Clear the Record
If Somebody Asked Me I’d Say...
by Mort Olshan

Throughout the years, I have read so many erroneous stories about the Minneapolis Gorham Press (the office that for years established the national sports-betting line) that I feel compelled to clear the record. Typical is this assertion: “The Gorham Press had ‘correspondents’ in every conference, who in turn had ‘bird dogs’ at every school, keeping them posted on information vital in determining the pointspread on each game.”

As I was the editor of the Minneapolis Green Sheet and one of the four handicappers responsible for the “Minneapolis line,” I feel qualified to set the record straight. I worked for this firm back in the late ’40s and early ’50s. At no time were there any “correspondents” or “bird dogs.” Many people offered to help us, but Leo Hirschfield, director of the organization, rejected them. Leo was the most moral and honorable of men, disavowing dishonest associations like one would avoid the plague. Meticulous in releasing the odds, he worried over the tiniest detail for fear it might be misconstrued. Leo had one of the quickest minds I have ever encountered. Though he did not follow the games that closely, nor play a role in the actual handicapping, he intuitively knew if a game was out of line. He will always remain unchallenged as one of the truly decent people I have ever known.

As mentioned there were four handicappers. Each of us worked independently. Years of experience and countless hours of reading the dailies were our foundation. Sure we talked to people, experts who had an intimate understanding of their local scene, but they were not paid “correspondents.”

The bulk of our work was performed on Sunday after the game reports and statistics were thoroughly digested. It was a day for deep concentration. Early Monday morning, the four of us would come armed with portfolios containing all the facts and figures into Leo’s office. There we would discuss one game at a time, each of us offering his opinion of what the opening line of the game should be. Suppose the first game on the line was Boston College-Navy. I might open up making Navy a 7-point favorite. Carl might chip in with a handicap of 6½. Jimmy would indicate that he saw Navy 8½. Then Joe, who had the final say, would announce his figure. Generally there were few major differences. However, when there were... the arguments would run hot and heavy. Each man would defend his opinion. Joe would be left to render the ultimate decision as to what number would be released to bookmakers across the country. It was a tremendously exciting time for a young guy in his early twenties.

As anyone who is even remotely sophisticated about such things knows, handicappers try to put up a number that will, as nearly as possible, divide the betting opinion of the public. In theory this is ideal. In reality it is rarely achieved. Most of the action is initiated by injuries, assorted rumors, and betting syndicates. The astute handicapper first evaluates what he believes to be the actual power difference between two teams. Then he tries to anticipate how the public will react to his appraisal. This unique perspicacity separates the pro from the amateur. Either you have the “feel” or you don’t. It’s kind of a sixth sense; something no amount of schooling can give you. The bettor-handicapper finds himself in an adversarial role, trying to outwork and maybe outsmart the oddsmaker. And that’s precisely what makes this game so challenging and exciting.

This story was first published in the Winter 2002-2003 issue of Gambling Times Magazine.

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