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Provided by J Michael Kenyon through WRESTLING AS WE LIKED IT.

by John M. McGuire

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday, August 4, 1996

   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 1946.

   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 traveling secretary.

   "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.

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