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Meet the 1-2-3 Club, a group of legends who gather to talk sports

The 1-2-3 club is a group of sports-minded retirees, who meet every Monday (except on holidays) in St. Louis to talk about sports. Photo: Dilip Vishwanat for Sports Illustrated

The 1-2-3 club is a group of sports-minded retirees, who meet every Monday (except on holidays) in St. Louis to talk about sports.

It started simply enough. On a November Monday in 1946, Leo Ward, traveling secretary of the Cardinals, and Bill Fairbairn, a sportswriter for the Globe-Democrat, met for lunch in downtown St. Louis. Two hours later, they still hadn’t ordered their food -- they were busy imbibing and talking sports -- but they had had such an enjoyable time they decided to do it again the following week, with each bringing a friend. A week after that, the group had grown to eight.

Thus began a unique fraternity whose name evolved from the 1-3 Club, to the One Too Tree Club to, finally, the 1-2-3 Club and is thriving 68 years later. The organization, now comprised of 55 regulars, six out-of-towners and four emeritus members meets every Monday (except holidays) at a St. Louis suburban restaurant to discuss the latest topics in sports.

Led by current president Bob Bunton, the agenda includes, but is not limited to, the local teams: Cardinals, Rams, Blues, Saint Louis University basketball and Missouri football and basketball. Trending national stories, such as baseball’s replay system, California Chrome’s shot at a Triple Crown and graduation rates among college sports programs also draw attention.

This is not some lunch social involving your typical Monday morning quarterbacks. The 1-2-3 roster includes a lineup of heavy hitters, such as Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog; Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith; two-time, Super Bowl-winning assistant coach Jim Hanifan; Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III; Orioles executive Lee Thomas; former NFL players Bob DeMarco, Gus Otto, Johnny Roland and Tim Van Galder; former NBA player Al Ferrari; former major league baseball players Joe Cunningham, Kerry Robinson, and Ted Sizemore; broadcasters Bob Costas, Jay Randolph and Ron Jacober; and St. Louis restaurateur Kim Tucci. When interpretation is needed on sports rules, former NFL referee Rich Hantak, former major league umpire Dave Phillips, and former college basketball officials Rich Eichhorst and Ron Zetcher provide it.

You need more than just a sports opinion to join the 1-2-3 Club, which, remarkably, has had only 127 members in its history. A prospect must have some affiliation with sports (there are several sportswriters, announcers and coaches), attend three luncheons as a guest of a sponsor, and then be voted on. It used to take a unanimous vote to elect a new member, but Ward invariably would cast a “no” to limit the exclusivity so now it requires two negative votes to preclude admission.

The majority of members are retired and well into their golden years. Former high school and college coach Paul Martel recently turned 90. Ferrari, 81, is the longest-tenured member, having joined in 1962. Former major leaguer Don Lenhardt and longtime sports cartoonist Amadee Wohlschlaeger both had crossed the 100-year-old threshold when they died recently.

After attending one of the luncheons years ago, the late Jack Buck, a national broadcaster and St. Louis icon, joked that the average age of the 1-2-3 Club was deceased. In fact, 64 members have passed away.

Taking the attitude of if you can’t join ‘em, imitate ‘em, wives and significant others formed their own group, which meets one Friday a month.

They call themselves the 4-5-6 Club. 

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