Miami, Fla. is a sandspit eight feet high surrounded on three sides by an ocean, a swamp and Fidel Castro and on the north by envious people. O. Henry once said that Californians are a race. Miami is a race—dogs, horses and to the beach, year round. It also has jai alai, which is supersonic handball. Miami's attractiveness is unassailable. Its girls wear the least the longest. Its air is sweet. Its crab grass is ever green. Its architectural tastes, particularly along the beach, are loud, and so are its disc jockeys. They make Miami radio unbelievable. But Miami television is another matter. Miami television has Sportscaster Clure (Scrooge) Mosher.
Clure Mosher is an ex-pro football player and horse race caller who, as he appears regularly on WCKT, Channel 7, an NBC-TV affiliate, is large, nasty and opinionated. These qualities do not necessarily set him apart from other sports-casters, but he also knows quite a bit about sports. In his charmingly boyish, insufferable way, he also knows quite a bit about a lot of other things, and he never tires in the telling. He has advised his listeners on such topics as weight control ("I lost 50 pounds, and I owe it all to clean living") and the desirability of residing in Las Vegas ("Forget it!").
The television audience of Miami is very loosely divided into two groups: those who like Mosher, or the minority group, and those who would like to see him swallow his tie, right down to the shirttail. Everybody, everybody, watches Clure Mosher. Even Jack Paar. Paar called him "that idiot sports announcer" because Mosher's 15-minute sports show was cutting into Paar's opening monologue on the NBC Tonight Show. WCKT was strong for keeping Mosher where he was. Paar was affronted. Mosher was undisturbed. "Eve named a few idiots myself in my time," he said blandly. "WCKT," he added, "knows what it's doing." Paar eventually gave up and became a weekly, and Mosher was saddened. "I liked Paar, because he was a controversial guy like me, but after he made that remark I delighted in kicking him around every chance I got. I miss him."
Miami is not quite sure how it got Mosher. Most people you talk to believe he was run out of Chicago, where he was general manager and race caller at May wood Park. "Malicious gossip," says Mosher. In any case, he is now far and away Miami's leading TV personality. His late (11:15) sports show outdraws the other two local stations combined, and he is to begin a supplementary early-evening show in September. He appears frequently in the columns of Miami newspapers, especially that of Jimmy Burns, sports editor of The Miami Herald, with whom he carries on a phony feud. Miami is right down Mosher's taste line. He appears regularly at dog tracks, horse tracks, in cocktail lounges and on the blotter of the Miami Beach Police Department (Mosher does not drive a car very well). He also has appeared as a horse race handicapper for the Herald—he specialized in long shots—and once wrote a guest column for Jimmy Burns into which he breathlessly crammed excoriations of baseball, Aqueduct, boxing, the hypocrisy of college recruiting and Jimmy Burns. "It's easier to write for Burns than to read him," he wrote. Mosher actually prefers to be identified with sportswriters. He doubts if any other sportscaster could skillfully pinch-hit for a columnist. But then, he doubts sportscasters anyway. "What do I think of New York sportscasters?" he answered one caller on his special telephone show. "There are none." He expresses admiration for Red Barber, but he advised NBC viewers to tune out the sound of the last Rose Bowl game "because Mel Allen will just confuse you."
July 14, 1963
Those TV critics who have seen him swear by Mosher. "He is never guilty of the fatuous smile," said one. "He thinks fast on his feet, doesn't use a script or TelePrompTer and doesn't have to. He knows what he is talking about."
"He tells coaches, players, umpires, referees, sports editors and sports managers what to do," said Kristine Dunn of the Miami News. "He tells them what to do after calling them dumbbells and idiots for doing whatever it is they have already done that wasn't what he would have done. We admire Clure Mosher," she said. "He has never failed to entertain us."
Mosher is 42, 6 feet 2, 215 pounds of hardihood. He has square, flat features, a pouty mouth and droopy eyelids. If he were finished in bronze or lacquer he could be a substitute Buddha in the Horyu-ji temple. His television expression is one of charitable annoyance, as if he had just missed the subway because the guy in front of him fumbled the token. When he speaks it is not thunder, but a sort of nasal bray.
When the Liston-Patterson fight was canceled out of Miami because of a knee injury to Liston, an injury brought on, Mosher said, by poor prefight ticket sales, he referred to Liston's doctor as "a genius." The reference was so syrupy that a man called immediately after the program to challenge Mosher. "How dare you call a doctor an idiot!" he said. "I didn't say he was an idiot. I said he was a genius," Mosher replied. "You did not. You said he was an idiot. I heard you."
The Mosher rhetorical formula is to say nice things 80% of the time and let "that tiny 20% arouse the masses." On those rousing occasions he attacks by innuendo, by intimation, inflection, slur, sarcasm; by land, sea and air and frontal lobotomy. If he does not draw blood he at least leaves a bruise. He is discriminating. He attacks only living things: Ford Frick, the "do-nothing commissioner"; Spencer Drayton and the TRA, "the most overrated group in the world"; Bobby Dodd, Georgia Tech football coach, "a myth of perfection—with that halo he should have been a broker"; Bill Fugazy, whose "only contribution to boxing was his retirement"; Pete Rozelle, "the commissioner in name only. George Halas runs the NFL. Halas is a pillar. A pillar"; Roger Maris, "the greatest .260 hitter in baseball"; Floyd Patterson, "a fraud"; Ray Robinson, "a draft dodger"; Avelino Gomez, "a draft dodger"; Rocky Graziano, "a bum."
So thoroughly convincing is Mosher that he has been introduced at banquets as "the man who likes nobody." "Maybe you're right," he said, beginning one talk. "I've been here an hour and haven't found anybody I like yet."
Cassius Clay appeared on the Mosher show one night recently, and there was speculation beforehand on the appetizing alternatives of the debate: enfant terrible Clay would shut up Mosher; adult-terrible Mosher would shut up Clay. The debate did not go the distance, however, because Clay walked off the air, a stunt he was later to pull in London, but under more propitious circumstances for his record as a loudmouth. This time Clay was getting clobbered. Condensed, the action went like this:
Mosher: Our guest tonight—Cassius, get your head up—is called the Louisville Lip. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Cassius Clay.
Clay: I'm the greatest. I'm the prettiest. People are amazed. They say anybody pretty as me oughta be in Hollywood.
Mosher: You're absolutely right, Cassius. I really do feel you're in the wrong business. I haven't seen you act, of course, but I have seen you box.
Clay: Well, I never even heard of you until people told me about you popping off about me all the time. I hate popoffs.
Mosher (reflective): You know, Cassius, there's something I've been meaning to tell—
Clay: You're lucky you're not a fighter—
Mosher: Quiet, now, I'm talking. I was going to say, Cassius, that we've got three things in common. You're from Louisville, and I spent a lot of time there. You lost your driver's license for speeding, and so did I. And the third thing we have in common, Cassius, is neither of us can fight. Clay (undecided whether to laugh or be outraged): Hm...hm...Thas a joke, right?
Mosher: No, Cassius, that's no joke.
Mosher changes tack, softening the interview. They talk about Cassius' folks. About Sonny Liston. About Clay's fight with Henry Cooper. Cassius is lulled. Uncontested, he goes into his routine. He calls Liston that "big ugly bear" and Cooper a "bum." Mosher says, offhandedly, that "if Cooper's a bum he falls into the category of everybody else you fight," but Clay pays him no mind. He drones on. He says how Floyd Patterson "would apologize if he even dreamed he could beat me."
Mosher closes in. "I agree, Cassius. Patterson is one of the few fighters you might be able to beat. In fact, you and Patterson may go down in history as the two who made the most money with the least talent."
Clay is rocked. He fumes. He sputters. He tries to get up, but the microphone is still attached to his neck. It clatters to the table as he frees himself. He stalks off camera. He is defeated, and he is also daunted. The timing could not be better. Mosher turns to his audience and says good night. At the fadeout he is smiling. Contemptuously, of course.
To be a guest of Mosher has, despite its peril, become no small prize. Mosher is selective. He invites whom he darned well pleases, and if the connection with sport is vague, then too bad. Celluloid horsemen Dale (Tales of Wells Fargo) Robertson and Lorne (Bonanza) Greene appeared on his show, and once he had George Raft. Nobody could remember Raft having been on a horse, but Mosher explained that George had "seen a few at the track" and, besides, "wasn't he a friend of Leo Durocher's?" A guest on the Mosher show is guaranteed no amenities. He has his favorites—Bill Hartack, Paul Hornung, Milt Pappas—and admits to being more tolerant with them, but as a rule you take your chance when you take your seat. Boxing Promoter Chris Dundee is a frequent Mosher target. "The Miami Beach Boxing Commission would license Capone and Dillinger if they thought Dundee could draw a crowd," says Mosher. After Dundee had endured a Mosher grilling one night on the air, Mosher suddenly produced a wriggling black rubber snake and tossed it into the promoter's lap. Dundee squealed in terror, jumped up and toppled his chair as he fled from the rostrum.
Mosher will do anything to relieve what he considers the lassitude of a straight sports show. Often he will cut the news short to give people a chance to call him up and tell him off. This usually means 45 more minutes of calls after the show is off the air. Trivialities—anything, that is, which he cannot condemn, condone or ignore—bore him. "I hate to give the baseball scores," he says, "so I make them short and painless as possible." Much of his mail is taken up with this democratic failing. A lady baseball fan in Hollywood, Fla. was appalled one night when Mosher reported that "there was bad weather in the North, so we won't have to wade through all the scores." She wrote the station manager: "Mister Mosher doesn't enjoy any sport, or anybody, except football, which we have to hear not only the results of but get a play-by-play, too. We persevere, why can't he? Or is he some kind of a nut?"
As a result of this single-mindedness, Mosher's faith in the sports fan is limited. He feels he or she is 1) perceptive, alert and knowledgeable about averages and scores, and 2) gullible as a blowfish in more flexible areas. In those areas he shams it up something terrible every chance he gets, and he gets away with it every time. He once presented Actor Bob Strauss, a stolid type who played "Animal" in Stalag 17, as "the captain of the D√ºsseldorf Dodgers soccer team." Strauss diffused his Bronxian patter with enough ja's and da's so that no one, apparently, was the wiser. An old friend from Havana came to Miami with two lovely Latins and asked Mosher to "give 'em a mention" on his show. That night Mosher noted the unexpected arrival of "two fine Cuban tennis players, Se√±oritas X and Y, who have been granted permission to play on our ladies' Davis Cup team."
A real discovery for Mosher was "the Mississippi State football scout who has seen both the Miami and Florida teams play and is here tonight to give us his expert opinion on the two teams." He then brought in Phil Burke, a Baltimore barkeeper, who has a practiced line of doubletalk and a natural stutter. Burke's scouting report went something like this: "The most important tondout M-M-Miami team is, of course, tinning. For the M-M-Miami quarterback, the tillian best bet, especially when he's rolling out to pass. Lot of nelve. His martlig romby is something to see. But in addition, he's g-g-gotta know when to pleuthe. Pleuthe and valderq difference between a good and great quarterback. If he has these factors, tondout can be attenduated. Pro scouts are constantly searching for a man with sundle, and p-p-plenty of it."
Burke's penetrating analysis was quite indecipherable, and Mosher, unable to control his pleasure, broke out giggling. When the show was over, he was swamped by callers demanding penitence for "laughing at that poor football scout with the stutter." Thus encouraged, Mosher had Burke appear twice more, at discreet intervals—once as a former big league umpire and again as a Pittsburgh Steeler scout. After the second show, he hustled Burke across the 79th Street Causeway to the Bonfire Restaurant, a popular trough for visiting sports people, and introduced him to Stan Musial, Joe Garagiola and Florida Assistant Coach Pepper Rodgers. "This is Phil Burke, the ex big league umpire," Mosher said, then stood back to admire the babbling Burke as he confounded Musial, Garagiola and Rodgers with nelves, valderqs, martligs and p-p-plenty of ciz. "Before long," said Mosher, "they were right up to his face. Practically had their ears in his mouth. They didn't know what he was talking about, but they were too polite to ask him to repeat a word." Mosher was sublimely pleased.
The chef d'oeuvre of the Mosher impostures, however, is the Irving Wasserman Case. Wasserman was an almost All-America halfback at UCLA who was invented by Mosher one night at the Bonfire when he was gently ragging a regular named Doc Finney. "Who do you like in the UCLA game?" Finney asked Mosher. "UCLA," Mosher replied, "if Wasserman plays." "Who's Wasserman?" "He's their great halfback, but he's got a bad knee." "Oh."
Mosher could not resist expanding on his creation on the air. "I like UCLA over So-and-so," he said on his Thursday night football-selections show. "Big, if Wasserman plays." Finney's modest football wagers became contingent on Wasserman's fitness, and Mosher kept him well informed. One Saturday as he gave the scores, Mosher read this account from a blank piece of teletype: "Irving Wasserman ran back the opening kickoff 90 yards for a UCLA touchdown, but it was called back because of a clipping penalty. Wasserman later intercepted a pass to stop a Washington drive. Score after one period: UCLA 0, Washington 0." Nothing Wasserman did, of course, was ever quite good enough to make the Sunday papers.
Mosher eventually tired of the fun. He feared discovery. Red matchbook covers with Irving Wasserman's name engraved in gold letters had begun to appear in the hands of his friends, and Doc Finney, though dying a weekly death, was becoming suspicious. "How do I get rid of Wasserman?" Mosher asked his director, Bob Alshouse. "Beats me," said Alshouse. "He's your monster." Finally, one grim Thursday night Mosher predicted a UCLA victory, but "it'll be close because Star Halfback Irving Wasserman today eloped with Bo Belinsky's former girl friend."
Mosher's fiction is effective because it is infrequent. He calls it harmless fun. If his fun and his impiety toward the medium in general chill the hearts of purists, they only warm WCKT Station Manager Charles M. Kelly. "This business of reporting sports like a high school sports editor is for the birds," says Kelly. "Too many sportscasters start out in a kneeling position. They attack with reverence. They sound like they're reading promotional copy.
"We encourage Clure. We don't present~ just another sportscaster; we present Clure Mosher."
Do Mosher's flirtations with libel and slander (he has never been sued, only threatened) make Kelly flinch? "I'm over my flinching days with Clure. We trust his common sense, his knowledge. He knows a bum when he sees one."
What of Mosher's theatrics? What about Irving Wasserman and Phil B-B-Burke? Is this good for the station? "Debunking," answers Kelly, "is a form of deflation. There's a lot in sport that needs deflating. With Clure, you just can't be relaxed, that's all."
Kelly is just now learning to relax with Mosher. When Clure first came to WCKT six years ago, Kelly suggested Mosher leave him his scripts before each show. After five days of receiving scribbles that were only faintly related to what Mosher had to say, Kelly thanked him for his trouble and said it would not be necessary after all. Kelly was in Chicago one night when he got a frantic call from the former head of a major network telling him to get back to Miami, quick, because "there's a fellow down here who does a sports show that's ruining you!" "Oh, yes," said Kelly, undisturbed. "You must mean Clure."
Mosher will not be tamed. Many attempts have failed. When he came to Miami in 1953 to start his first show at a small UHF station, his causticity made him a fast reputation and worried the life out of Station Manager Ed Little, a burly ex minor league catcher. "You've got to be more reserved, Clure," said Little. The next night Mosher came on wearing a monocle and a beret and primly waved a cigarette holder. He then read a complete list of soccer scores from England. When the program was over, Little was on the phone. "You're fired!" he shrieked. Mosher, of course, was not fired. "Too many people were buying UHF converters to hear what I was going to say next," he said.
One of Mosher's best friends is Dick Fincher, a wealthy young Oldsmobile dealer who is the husband of Actress Gloria De Haven and who just recently was elected to a seat in the Florida legislature. Fincher enjoys being identified with sports and makes himself available for almost anything. He once asked Mosher to "please take it easy" on the Orange Bowl Committee, a perennial Mosher target. Fincher was then a committee member. For the next three nights Mosher treated the Orange Bowl Committee as if it were a subsidiary of the Mafia and threw in a few unkind words for the Miami Boxing Commission as well (Fincher was a member of that group, too). "Clure," said Fincher on the fourth day, "you remember that conversation we had? Forget it, will you please? Will you please just forget it?"
One young Miami radio announcer decided to make his reputation by sniping at Mosher. He did for several days. Mosher ignored him at first, then one night he announced icily: "I hear somebody is attacking a lot of things I have to say. Well, I won't glorify the creep by mentioning his name on the air, but if he attacks me once more, I'll go down there and break his neck." The announcer has not mentioned Mosher since.
Mosher off-screen is comparatively subdued, warm, considerate—even democratic. He recently put a man down with one punch at the Play Lounge when the man crowded him, called him "that creep on TV" and swung on him. But most of the people who approach him are friendly, and he responds in kind. "I like the way you dislike people," said a man from Fort Pierce, interrupting Mosher at dinner at the Plantation Restaurant. Mosher shook his hand.
On the final night of Florida Derby Week two years ago, Mosher and a few of the boys were whooping it up over the poker table in the Diplomat Hotel. There was a shortage of ice, and after several failures by others in the room, Mosher grabbed the phone and screamed at the bell captain: "This is Clure Mosher. Get your fanny up here in a hurry, or I'll come down and chew it off you." The bell captain promptly appeared, and Mosher took him by the scruff and led him out on the terrace. "This is the eighth floor," said Mosher. "Either we get plenty of ice up here in the next two minutes or I'll throw you off." Then he smiled, handed the bell captain a $20 bill and patted him on the back. In less than two minutes, two bellhops came in dragging a huge bag of crushed ice. Mosher did not take any. He was drinking beer.
In his book Veeck—as in Wreck, Baseball Man Bill Veeck describes how Mosher helped break the color line without incident at a Miami restaurant in 1955 by spearheading a party that included Negro Outfielder Larry Doby, then with the Cleveland Indians. Veeck was impressed. Petulant Jockey Hartack likes Mosher well enough to have done his show on occasion. Director Alshouse, who has worked with Mosher nine years, calls him "the greatest guy in the world." He says he would not want the expense of Mosher's Christmas gift list.
Still not entirely convinced that to know Mosher is to love him are the police of Dade County. He has been arrested five times for speeding. Early one morning he "fell asleep at the wheel" and sideswiped five parked cars in a line of six. CLURE CLUNKS FIVE, said the Miami News. "Five out of six isn't such a bad average," pouted Mosher. A friend suggested that this was bad publicity for his sponsor of eight years, The General Tire of Miami. "Hell," said Mosher, "if I didn't have General tires on my car, I'da been killed." After another accident—"it happened while I was adjusting the seat for my wife"—the investigating officer did not press charges because, he said, Mosher is an "outstanding citizen." Mosher was elated, but Miami Police Inspector Paul Denham was not. "The outstanding-citizen remark was a personal opinion," said Denham, "and does not necessarily reflect that of the department."
Mosher was born in Fort Worth—"and by the time I was 10 I was already well traveled." He spent the first four grades of grammar school in four different cities as his dad journeyed around selling meat. When he was 9, he watched enthralled from an apartment window across the street as his elementary school burned to the ground. "It was tremendous," he said. "Every kid waits for this, and there it was, happening, and I was there." Always big and always athletic, Mosher attended the University of Louisville on a football scholarship. The flame there was Mary Gene Stuky, whom he married in 1941. They now have two adopted children, Mary Lee, 10, and Richard Clure, 15 months.
Veeck described Mosher as an "All-America" in his book, but that was an error. Mosher was, however, the first Louisville player ever to be drafted by the pros. He spent a year with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1942 as a reserve center, then served two playing seasons on undefeated Navy teams at Bainbridge (with Choo Choo Charlie Justice) and at Camp Peary, Va. He accepted a bonus to sign with the Buffalo team of the old All America Conference in 1946, but his knee was bothering him, so he quit football, pocketed the bonus and went with his dad as an odds calculator at May-wood Park. He spent one season making the morning line at Roosevelt Raceway in New York. At 29, he became the general manager at May wood, "the youngest general manager in racing," according to the Chicago Tribune. He also called the races at Maywood and at Sportsman's Park and emceed a track-side ABC television show on Saturdays. Speaking out for a living appealed to him. When the UHF station opened in 1953, Mosher headed south.
Mosher is probably the highest-paid non-network sportscaster in the business but his money goes like it had wings. He made $41,000 last year from his regular show, special football commentaries of University of Miami road games, a nightly radio show and several TV commercials. But friends say that he probably spent $50,000. He lives in a $45,000 home-with-pool on fashionable North Bay Island, but it is for sale ("we need something smaller"), and his Olds-mobile was repossessed because he objected to the finance charges. He is a chronic check grabber and a conscientious gambler. "I'd rather you called me a 'player,' " he says, holding a fistful of large-denomination quiniela tickets at the Hollywood Kennel Club. He has been known to pick a few losers at horse tracks, and he is forever borrowing, lending, borrowing.
Mosher once wrote a check for $2,300 at the casino in the Hotel Nacional in Havana and blew it all in an hour. He asked Manager Artie Newman for some "walking-around money," and Newman loaned him $200, with the proviso that he stay away from the tables. Mosher hurried back and lost the $200. The next day, as he floated stomach up in the Nacional pool, he called to Newman for some "swimming-around money," which he did not get. On the plane back to Miami he compared pocketbooks with a Miami sportswriter. They each had $3. Mosher gave his $3 to the writer to get home on and borrowed $20 from a cop he introduced himself to at the Miami airport.
Mosher lays claim to the International Frozen Daiquiri Drinking Championship of Havana. He once drank 68 daiquiris in a row to beat off the challenge of a 300-pound Miami sand-and-gravel man named Tom Kearns. But he had to retire his title, after five defenses, when Castro closed Cuba for the duration. Sports Editor Burns said that the only thing Mosher has not lost in his 10 years in Miami are his enemies. But Burns also says, privately, that Mosher's frankness is refreshing and good for sport.
It was Burns who nicknamed Mosher "Scrooge," and Mosher likes it so much he signs "Scrooge" on wedding gift cards. Burns appears regularly on the Mosher show, and they are irregular-looking golfing partners, Mosher giggling at Burns because of his jerky swing and Burns chiding Mosher because he hits irons off the tee. On the show, however, they are archenemies ("greatest act in the business," says Station Manager Kelly). Burns then becomes the champion of the people and usually takes two blows to land one, which is as good as anybody does in repartee with Mosher. "Mosher is rude," Burns complains. "He butts in constantly. I've quit the show 20 or 30 times. I refuse to go back unless he minds his manners. I can usually tell when there's going to be trouble because he says, 'O.K., Jimmy, let's have a good clean show tonight.' "
Mosher's consistency at keeping an uncivil tongue in his head is neatly carried over to his telephone show. "Pittsburgh golf tournament?" he says, answering a call. "I don't know who won it. Why don't you call a Pittsburgh station instead of worrying me?" "How old are you, son? You'd better get back in bed before your old man tans your hide."
"I don't know who's going to win the National League and I couldn't care less. I just wish they'd hurry up and get it over with."
"Stock car races? Hogwash. I don't believe in stock car races."
So he can be down on things, Mosher eagerly reads up on things. He buys or subscribes to as many as 12 newspapers a day and digests what he thinks might be pertinent by showtime. He has almost total recall; he plucks batting averages out of the blue as though he really cared. He also has supreme confidence and has never succumbed to modesty. When Mosher's chief competitor gave up his late-night sports show, Mosher prepared a series of film clips of ships sinking, bombs bursting, buildings falling and, finally, the funeral procession of Kaiser Wilhelm. "If you're wondering what this is," he said cockily, "it's the burial of Channel 4's late sports show." He predicted Sonny Liston's one-round knockout of Floyd Patterson and was so sure of his clairvoyance that he parked in a 15-minute zone at the theater and went in to watch. "When I came out," he said, "I still had time on the meter."
Though the parent advertising firm, D'Arcy, is disquieted by Mosher's spectacular traffic record, General Tire has almost tripled its sale of the line Mosher has advertised since he became the primary sales vehicle in Miami seven years ago. "People come into the stores just to tell us what an s.o.b. that Mosher is," says Andy Demos, a company sales manager. "Then they say, 'O.K., put four new Dual 90s on, will you?' "
Mosher recently agreed to a new one-year contract with General Tire. Job security is not one of his motivations but, like the dogs and horses, he enjoys racing around Miami, and he says he is permanent. Offers from other cities (Los Angeles, New York) have been passed up, because "I'd just be working there so I could retire to get back down here." What about a network show? Wouldn't he like that? "No, I don't think so. The nation's not ready for me."