Five weeks ago (SI, March 27) revelations of fixed college basketball games began to spread over the nation's front pages. At first, only four students from two colleges—Seton Hall and the University of Connecticut—were named by New York District Attorney Frank Hogan as having taken bribes. Last week Mr. Hogan's office listed as conspirators eight students from five other schools: Mississippi State, the universities of North Carolina and Tennessee, LaSalle and St. Joseph's colleges. Sadly, more are still to come. When the scandal broke, play for the national championship was reaching its final stages, and of the four teams that were to fight it out in Kansas City, one was St. Joseph's, which had not yet been mentioned in connection with the fixes. But Sports Illustrated was aware that three St. Joseph's players had accepted bribes. Accordingly, Basketball Editor Ray Cave spent several days in Philadelphia with the team, and traveled with it to Kansas City, where he watched it win third place in the tournament. He particularly observed one of the three players, a forward named Frank Majewski, because it was Majewski who had brought the other two into the conspiracy. Cave's report on Majewski, out of deference to the grand jury's inquiries, has been held up until now. What follows, then, is a unique sports story: a portrait of a fixer drawn at a time when he was still unexposed, but operating under the dual stress of national championship play and of the knowledge that an investigation was in progress that might bring his private world crashing down around his ears. Last week Frank Majewski's private world crashed.
The St. Joseph's College basketball team, champion of the East and winner of 24 out of 28 games, was holding its final practice before leaving Philadelphia for the national championship tournament at Kansas City. Its members looked crisp and confident as they scrimmaged, with one marked exception—a round-shouldered, burly 6-foot-3 blond who was moving with the mechanical listlessness of a sleepwalker. "Everybody looks good but Majewski," said the Rev. Joseph M. Geib, faculty athletic moderator, as the practice ended. "I don't know where his mind is, but it certainly isn't here."
Frank Majewski's mind was in the New York district attorney's office. Only five days before, on March 17, D. A. Frank Hogan had disclosed a new basketball scandal. Two players from Seton Hall University had admitted taking bribes to shave points, players from other schools were being questioned, and as many as 20 colleges were said to be involved. That very Wednesday morning detectives had come to Philadelphia to pick up a LaSalle College player and take him to New York for questioning.
Now, with his team preparing to play Ohio State in the semifinals of the national championship—an athletic stature little St. Joseph's College had never achieved before—Majewski was surely wondering how close the bribery investigation was getting to him. For he knew he could be charged with:
May 7, 1961
•Accepting $2,750 to shave points in three St. Joseph's games.
•Successfully recruiting the two best St. Joseph's players, Captain Jack Egan and Center Vincent Kempton, to join in the game-fixing conspiracy.
•Causing his nationally ranked team to lose at least one game it could and should have won.
Majewski knew that if he were questioned he not only would face personal disaster but his team would not be allowed to play in the championship games. And in spite of his muddied morality, Majewski wanted St. Joseph's to do well in the NCAA tournament. He was greatly worried, and he looked it.
St. Joseph's is a small school (1,450, with only 150 living on campus), located on the fringe of big-college basketball much as it is located on the fringe of Philadelphia's exclusive Main Line—just outside, wishing it were in. Jack Ramsay is athletic director and a teacher of education courses as well as basketball coach. His office is a small, unpainted cubicle. His budget is small, too. St. Joseph's players got hats as gifts for their good season this year, and even that modest purchase made Ramsay wince. His recruiting is limited. Six of his 11-man squad went to high school within two miles of the campus.
There is no limit to St. Joe's basketball spirit and confidence, however. It rose from barely tolerable to downright insufferable when the Hawks won the regional title to qualify for the semifinals at Kansas City.
On the morning of March 22, the day before the team was to leave for the west, St. Joseph's publicity man William Whelan was assessing its strength for a visitor. "They're a great team," he said. "Two good little guards, and you know Egan is one of the best forwards there is. Majewski, our other forward, has killed a couple of opponents. He is inconsistent, though. Invariably, when he isn't shooting well, he doesn't rebound well either. One night he makes seven out of 11 shots, the next he hardly scores."
Whelan got out the scorebook. "Now here, against Dayton, he got just four points and only one rebound."
[The grand jury last week charged: Dec. 8 and Dec. 10, 1960 (Aaron) Wag-man gave Majewski $750 to influence his play in a game with the University of Dayton. The final score: Dayton 67, St. Joseph's 65. The deal was that St. Joseph's would win by less than three points, or lose.]
"And against Seton Hall," said Whelan, "he didn't score a point. He took seven shots and missed them all."
[The grand jury charged: Wagman paid Majewski $1,000 to influence his play in a game with Seton Hall University. The score: St. Joseph's 72, Seton Hall 71. The deal was that St. Joseph's was to win by less than 10 points.]
"But he played his worst against Xavier," said Whelan, "he made one shot out of five and got three points."
[The grand jury charged: Wagman paid Majewski $1,000 to influence his play in a game with Xavier University. The score: Xavier 87, St. Joseph's 75. St. Joseph's was to lose by more than 11 points, and lost by 12.]
While Whelan was talking, Egan, Kempton and Majewski were taking a special examination which they had missed because of basketball travel. The course was ethics. That afternoon Majewski had the terrible practice session that befuddled Father Geib.
After the practice the team went across Fifty-fourth Street to Sam Fishman's restaurant for a goodby and good luck banquet. Sam Fishman is the Toots Shor of Fifty-fourth Street. A piece of cut-down basket netting, souvenir of a big St. Joseph's victory, hung from his ceiling, and his patrons were arguing not about whether St. Joseph's would beat Ohio State, but about how much the Hawks would win by. Sam himself was renting two television sets so his customers could watch the championship games. He told the team to eat all it could. It was all on the house. "These are great boys, just great," said Sam Fishman.
At a much smaller and less gala lunch at Sam's that day, Jack Ramsay had shared little of the local enthusiasm, openly confessing concern about his opposition and less openly worrying about the basketball scandals. He lowered his voice once, ran a hand through the last of his thinning hair, and confided: "If one of my players were ever involved, I guess I'd just quit. You watch them and watch them, but you can't know all the people they meet, or all the things they do. What's more, nobody can tell when a player is shaving points. Nobody!"
Next morning, in a pouring rain, the team took off from Philadelphia for Kansas City. After half an hour the stewardess announced, "Please fasten your seat belts, we are approaching the Philadelphia airport." She had meant to say Washington.
"Well, they said this team wasn't going anywhere," wisecracked a player, getting one of the trip's few laughs. Jack Egan played hearts with big Vince Kempton. Frank Majewski sat by himself, reading the New York Daily News from front to back, as if leaving what he might find on the sports pages to the very last.
Intelligent and very old
At 22, Majewski was an intelligent, soft-spoken senior majoring in industrial management. He maintained a C-plus average, had no scholastic problems and was well liked, though not quick to make friends. He had the quietest personality of anyone on the St. Joseph's team. When a group of players congregated, he had a way of standing at the edge. Remarks that drew belly laughs from others got only chuckles from him. He was a very old 22.
The son of a Jersey City printer, Majewski grew up in a close-knit Polish household, where he acquired a deep sense of family responsibility. As a senior at St. Anthony's High School he was on the all-county team. He received queries from the scouts for several schools, including West Point, Seattle, North Carolina State, Manhattan and Navy—eventually taking a basketball scholarship at Holy Cross. "But it was too far from home," he said that day on the plane. Unsettled, he flunked out in his freshman year.
Jack Ramsay had been "mildly interested" in Majewski as a high school player. "But I thought he was banging his head against a wall trying to play against big men," he remembers. Majewski's natural talent was limited. He was neither a good shot, nor fast. He excelled, though, at the rugged defensive play which can be so valuable. St. Joseph's gave him a scholarship the year after he left Holy Cross.
During Majewski's sophomore year in Philadelphia, his father died. "I'm just now getting over that," he said. "For a while I felt kind of lost." The next year his mother had a heart attack. She is unable to work. Majewski implied there was financial trouble at home. "I can hardly wait to graduate and start working," he said. "Things aren't all peaches and cream."
Aside from his family difficulties, Majewski has had a measure of plain bad luck. When he was 5 his grandmother spilled a pot of tea on him, causing a burn that scarred his neck. He has a way of turning that side of his face away from you. He tends to wear high-neck sweaters. "I don't think it shows much, do you?" he asked.
During Christmas vacation four years ago he suffered a compound leg fracture while playing basketball. He was on crutches for four months. Calcium deposits around the break kept him from playing much of the first half of his sophomore year. He played well at the start of his junior year, then severely sprained an ankle. At the end of that season he developed a hernia, and was operated on last spring. "I'm no stranger to hospitals," he said.
The latest injury limited the kind of work he could get last summer, a period in which his earnings helped support his mother. He found a job sweeping the roof of the Maxwell House Coffee plant in Hoboken. When possible he worked overtime. He played little summer basketball.
Whatever the cause, on specific occasions—family trouble or bribes—Majewski was an erratic ballplayer all season. ("Some days he seems to stand around and do nothing at all," an irritated Ramsay complained.)
"It isn't that I don't put out," Majewski said. "This team seems to play only as well as it has to. I know I don't get up for every game now. I can't, but I don't know why."
As he talked, Majewski gave the suggestion of an answer to his own question. Basketball is a game, and somber Frank Majewski seemed to have reached a point where worry, pressure and fear made it impossible for him to enjoy a game any more.
Yet, ironically, basketball was about to offer him one last challenge that stirred him. He played well in a lost cause against Ohio State in that NCAA semifinal. The next night, in a game against Utah for national third-place ranking, Majewski was at his leaping, fighting best. Once he even outjumped Utah's 6-foot-9 Billy McGill.
Then, with the score tied and one second to play, Frank Majewski got the ball. He was all alone, 20 feet from the basket. He shot, and missed. St. Joseph's went on to win in four overtimes, but after the game Majewski was thinking only of the shot he missed. "I wanted it to go in so badly," he said.
It was almost as if he owed a debt to St. Joseph's and had tried to pay it off in his last game.
Last Thursday, nearly a month later, Father Geib and the public learned Frank Majewski's secret. It came out after a New York grand jury indicted Aaron Wagman, a 29-year-old convicted football game fixer, on 38 counts of corruption and conspiracy.
Egan, Kempton and Frank Majewski were expelled from St. Joseph's College. Gone with their college degrees were professional basketball careers for Egan, drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, and Kempton, drafted by the New York Knickerbockers.
"I really needed the money," claimed Jack Egan, father of two children, whose wife had suffered a miscarriage just before the basketball season began.
"Whoever contacted me knew I could use the money," said Kempton. "I needed it for something special, something I can't talk to anyone about."
And sad and serious Frank Majewski was home again with his widowed mother. "I wanted to get through school, get a good job, play a little ball and just take life as it comes," he said. "I guess I'll take life as it comes now, but it won't be coming so nicely."