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Monday, 27 October 2008

It's Not the Same That It's No Longer Green

By Tom J. Mariani

I was working my way through college as an apprentice pressman in 1966, for the newly merged San Francisco Chronicle/Examiner. This is back when the sports section, still called The Sporting Green, was printed on green newsprint. They stopped doing that long ago. The cost of green newsprint got too expensive. Often they still use green ink for the heading, SPORTING GREEN. It's just not the same.

Back then, you could tell which journeymen were serious horse players. As the presses were made ready to print the afternoon Examiner, they had the Sporting Green, when it was still green, from that morning's Chronicle folded, sticking out of their back pockets.

They'd be checking the Bay Meadows race track results to confirm how much they lost or won the day before, and making their picks for the day's races. This was way, way before online live betting with your credit card on your iPhone. Offtrack betting was a whole, different, illegal thing through a bookie.

Daily players, or those who had an occasional "hot tip," would have to get their bets written down on a "slip" of paper and their money, to "Mary the Book" in the composing room. There was also another "Mary" that collected slips and money in the insert department.

A runner for a bookie would pick up the slips and money before the first post time. He'd also deliver the payoffs from the previous day's races. Late bets were called in from a phone over at a bar called Hannos in the Alley. The "Marys" always wore a green visor, and the bets and money were stuffed into ink-stained aprons. They were not always females. There was an original "Mary" I was told, who collected bets who was female. That's where the nickname came from.

Bay Meadows closed down a few weeks ago to make way for business and residential construction. They auctioned off everything from seats to signs. Too bad there weren't some mementos of offtrack betting too.

I doubt if Hannos still has the big black dial phone they kept under the bar for the "Marys" to call in the late bets. It was a separate line paid for by the bookie. When it rang, you knew who was calling. It was a bookie with the results from Bay Meadows.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Hi Tom,

I loved your story because it brought back so many fun memories of those days.

We didn't play the horses but we had a bookie who came into our place every day to get the "Numbers". His name was always Shorty. I don't know why but the bookie would change or die and the replacement was called Shorty,too.

Wilt Chamberlain could have taken that job and we would have called him Shorty.

He would leave our place every morning with 50 slips of paper with our number selections on them and the way we wanted to play. Straight or Boxed. We usually played a dime on each number. The high rollers in our place sometimes "Boxed" a number for a Quarter.

Funny, now that I think of it, Tom, Shorty came in and got the numbers every day but I seldom saw him GIVE money to anyone.

Now the State of Pennsylvania runs the numbers racket and I wonder if they call Ed Rendell "Shorty" in the Governor's mansion....

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