When President Harry S Truman stopped off at Scott Air
Force Base while heading home to Independence, Mo., after
World War II,military brass lined the landing strip, eager to
meet and to shake hands with the man whose use of the
atomic bomb had ended the bloodbath.
Truman stood at the door of the presidential plane, waving
his hat in a friendly salute. To begin his greetings, he spied
a dumpy, smiling sergeant standing at attention among the
non-coms and said, ''Hi, Sam.''
Sam Muchnick, now 83, remains one of the friendliest faces
on both sides of the river. The sportswriter-promoter-good
will man-good guy symbolizes the nice things that can
happen to a temperate man who always has seemed to rise
above life's rat race.
At noon Friday in Belleville, barkeep-restaurateur Jack
English will throw his annual, informal birthday lunch for
Muchnick. As usual, politicians, newspapermen, old
coaches and former athletes will pay their respect to good ol'
''Tham'' the lisping man.
It's a big year for Muchnick, if not for his beloved Cardinals,
the club he covered in the pennant-winning seasons of 1930
and '31. He was a wrestling promoter for nearly 40 years
and president of the National Wrestling Alliance for 25.
As a result, directors of the Missouri Athletic Club voted to
extend to him a special meritorious-service award at the
club's annual sports dinner, moved up to Nov. 2 from
The dinner will be a private party, highlighted by m the
announcement of a man or woman sports personality of the
year.awerlabw Muchnick's appeal crosses economic and
ecumenical borders. A Soviet-born Jew, Sam is closer to
Catholic priests than to rabbis.
Sam still pines for the love of his life, Helen, 15 years
younger, who died seven-plus years ago. Her death
occurred 11 months before he sold his wrestling promotion.
His last crowd was a capacity 19,821 -- ''paid,'' he
emphasized -- on New Year's night 1982.
Although he hangs his hat in a fashionable Brentwood
condominium, he skirts loneliness by spending more time
on the street than a Fuller Brush salesman. He's a generous
host and a good guest.
The kiss-and-makeup style engendered by Muchnick, a
Central High graduate, was never more evident than when
he headed the National Wrestling Alliance for a quarter-
century. The alliance covered 40 states, four countries
(Canada, Mexico, Japan and Australia) and had European
Now? The alliance is gone, and wrestling, always a circus,
has degenerated into a chamber of horrors. Said the revolted
Muchnick, ''I think Lou Thesz could beat Hulk Hogan right
now, and Lou's 72.''
If there's one thing I like about Muchnick,s it's his ranking
journalism as second only to medicine among the
professions. ''Without the newspaper,'' he has said more
than once, ''crooked politicians could run amok at all levels,
local and national.''
Muchnick got into the newspaper game unusually. A
$1,900-a-year postal clerk, he entered a nationally
syndicated contest to pick the All-Star teams that had
considerable appeal from the '20s and into the '30s. For
finishing third in 1925 -- ''I still think Frank Frisch should
have been at third base rather than Ozzie Bluege'' -- he
received $25 from the Post-Dispatch and an invitation to
write what he thought the Cardinals and Browns needed for
For the Redbirds, Sam listed a right fielder and a pitcher as
a top need. They got both, Billy Southworth and Grover
Cleveland Alexander, and their first pennant. By then, at the
recommendation of Post-Dispatch sports editor John
Edward Wray, Muchnick had sought and gained a
sportswriting job at the old St. Louis Times.
''At a pay cut to 20 bucks a week,'' he recalled, grinning.
When the Times went under in the Depression summer of
1932, Muchnick rejected a chance to go to New York and,
also, turned down a job from old boss Sid Keener, then at
the merged Star-Times. There, he would have had to take a
So as a combination boxing-wrestling columnist, he wound
up in public relations for promoter Tom Packs. Ultimately,
he promoted successfully on his own, including the most
recent boxing championship bout in St. Louis, welterweight
Don Jordan over St. Louis' Virgil Akins in 1959.
But here I am running out of space without having told how
Sam met Al Capone; how he beat Frank Lane in handball
for a suit of clothes; how friend Ray Steele beat King
Levinsky in a 35-second mixed wrestling-boxing match; and
how Sam chickened out on a chance to play left field for the
Cardinals in an exhibition game in '29 so he could drink
Prohibition beer with a couple of pitchers; and how he loved
to pull pranks on comic Lou Costello and others.
But maybe I'd be stepping on Muchnick's lines when he
accepts the meritorious award from the MAC.