Just call them the guys.
What they call themselves is the 1-2-3 Club. They're a seasoned bunch.
This assembly has nothing to do with numerology, and there's no Greek motto or, really, any kind of specific purpose. Which makes it an uncommon organization these days.
The name is just a straightforward reminder of how long
their weekly lunches used to last. First thing you know, it's 3
p.m., and a few kibitzers are still holding forth. And talk
about kibitzing; some of these fellows are world-class
needlers and schmoozers. And what a body of experience.
Among them are old major-league ballplayers, a clutch of
vintage sportswriters, a few retired sports executives, an ex-
National Basketball Association player (Al Ferrari of the old
St. Louis Hawks), and the man who's probably the world's
longest-tenured sports cartoonist, Amadee Wohlschlaeger.
There's also a handful of younger members rarely seen at
the Monday midday gathering, but they usually make an
annual appearance, at the 1-2-3 Club Christmas party at
Norwood Hills Country Club. Each year, they have a Ladies
Night ball at Norwood Hills for wives and significant others.
A queen is named. One year it was Sam Muchnick.
In an era when most organizations and institutions are
mindful of which way the wind of political correctness is
blowing, the old 1-2-3 Club goes about its business the way
it's gone about its business for half a century.
Take away the gray hair and hearing aids, and it could be
The hard-core 1-2-3ers are the men who go back to the
beginning, or close to it. Chief among them is Muchnick, 90,
the only surviving member of the four 1-2-3 founders. The
others were Globe-Democrat sports editor Bob Burnes; Bill
Fairbairn, also of the Globe; and Leo Ward, the Cardinals
"We've got more deceased members than we do active
ones," cracked 84-year-old Wohlschlaeger, the cartoonist,
his trademark cigar in one hand. If there was need for a
recruiting poster for this unusual club, Wohlschlaeger would
be a good candidate.
Indeed, age has set in to such an extent that most meetings
have a hospital report. And guest speakers are urged to
speak loudly (enunciating so that lips can be read) for those
members whose hearing is impaired.
The first meeting in 1946 was innocent enough. It took place
in a small Chinese restaurant at 11th and Locust streets
downtown. Muchnick can't recall the name.
"Leo didn't have to be at the ballpark until 3, and Burnes and
Fairbairn didn't have to be at the Globe until about then,"
Muchnick says. "And, of course, I was a promoter," meaning
wrestling promoters are not bound by time clocks.
From here on, who was admitted when becomes murky
because the records were lost. But within a year or so, Bob
Broeg (former sports editor of the Post-Dispatch) and some
others joined, including Lowell Reidenbaugh of The Sporting
News, Muchnick says.
This is a fraternity. To gain membership, another member
must bring the applicant to two meetings. As with all
fraternities, there is some ritual, such as walking clockwise
around the squared tables, shaking each hand. Then the
guest gives a little talk and later writes a brief autobiography.
(Knowledge of sports, particularly the old days of baseball,
probably helps.) Then the members vote. The group set a
membership cap of 50.
They met for a time in the lounge of the long-gone Claridge
Hotel at Locust and Eighth streets. Then at Fred Harvey's in
Union Station, a hotel at Jefferson Avenue and Market Street
that's now a parking lot, and, finally, the back room of
Maggie O'Brien's, 2000 Market Street.
In all, their combined ages total a number greater than the
age of the United States. And in these Nineties, a decidedly
ungilded age, they are what you'd call a counter-diversity
group. Or an anachronism. The only woman present is the
waitress, Mary Ann Kuehl. She could be the granddaughter
of just about every man here.
Mostly, this group is about one thing -- camaraderie,
memories and sports trivia.
The 1-2-3 Club turned 50 this year. And in that half-century,
only three women have been invited to sit around the joined
tables. The first was Babe Didrickson Zaharias, a famous
Olympic track star and golfer. She cost Muchnick money.
"Members have to pay a quarter if they use a profane word,"
he said. "Guests cost you 50 cents. She swore so much that
I had to pay $12."
Later, Eileen Watson, widow of wrestler Whipper Watson,
came for lunch. The third and most recent woman guest
was Susie Mathieu, former public relations and marketing
vice president for the Blues.
So each Monday, precisely at 11:30 a.m., there is this
gathering around an arrangement of tables set in a large
square -- anchored at two corners by old big-league
ballplayers, usually ex- catcher Del Wilber and Boris "Babe"
Martin, who once went by Martinovich.
At another corner sits former St. Louis Cardinals publicity
man Jim Toomey. And, of course, the chair in the southwest
corner is always taken by Muchnick, the parliamentarian, the
great, gray presence. Muchnick has this amazing habit of
matching the day you see him with a significant moment in
his life on that date. For instance, on Monday, June 22, he
recalled that on that day in 1918 he was at a Cardinals
game when Lee Meadows pitched. Meadows was the first
pitcher to wear glasses.
That's pretty much how it goes at a 1-2-3 luncheon.