'Have I Got A Story!'

May 18, 1987
May 18, 1987

Table of Contents
May 18, 1987

NBA Playoffs
Payne Stewart
Joe Goldstein
Track & Field
First Person
Point After

'Have I Got A Story!'

Hold the presses. Joe Goldstein, sports p.r. man par excellence, is on the phone with another earful

By Douglas S. Looney

Joey Goldstein, 59, Traffics in talk. Talk, talk, talk. Talk, talk. Talk. He is, gratefully in the view of some, almost the last of a dying breed. He's the chairman of the board of the good-ol'-boy network, an old-style, old-timey, knows everybody, hears (and repeats) all rumors, exaggerates everything, let's have lunch, fast-talking, New York-style sports publicist. Did we forget to say hustler? "I am not a hustler," Goldstein sniffs. "I am a practitioner who enlightens the American populace and brings joy to the world."

This is an article from the May 18, 1987 issue Original Layout

Goldstein is a mouth for hire, only a phone call away from any company or person that hopes to use sports as a vehicle to attract attention, as in free attention, via the media. His clients include Bob Hope, corporations such as Mobil Oil, Manufacturers Hanover and RJR Nabisco, and for years, the entire sport of harness racing. He has flacked for almost every sport, including the Saudi Arabian Olympic soccer team. Which is the ultimate irony for a Jewish lad from Conway, S.C. Goldstein, 24 hours a day, has but one thought in his chaotic brain: "I hope for attention in the press."

And at this moment he and Helene, his wife of 31 years, are sitting in a Manhattan eatery with Fred Lebow, the majordomo of the New York City Marathon, another Goldstein client. Lebow is trying to talk, but he has no chance against Goldstein. Finally, in exasperation, Lebow says, "The problem is, you remember everything, like a computer. But you're like an overloaded computer that goes haywire. I hate you, but I can't do without you."

Helene: "When people say something like that, they mean it in a loving way."

Joey: "Yeah, that's right. I'm a person who brings about ambivalence."

Helene: "Well, another word that does come to mind is annoying."

Everybody laughs, because truth often will do that. There are precious few major sportswriters, sports editors, TV columnists, TV assignment editors and sports broadcasters who have not been annoyed endlessly by Goldstein, who wants nothing more than a modest—or, hey, not so modest—mention of whatever person, place or thing he is thumping for. One of Goldstein's best friends, NBC veep Alan Baker, says of his pal, "He's the Jewish equivalent of the Chinese water drip."

Another very close buddy, Dick Schaap of ABC News, says, "Anything you can say about Bob Irsay, you can say about Joey." Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jimmy Breslin snorts, "All we are seeing are the last days of a hustler." And Bob Hope chuckles, then says of Goldstein, "Sounds like a bright fellow. I'd like to meet him sometime."

Goldstein, who desperately wants to be loved, is thunderstruck when told what his friends have said about him. "Why would they try to louse me up?" he whines, which is another thing he does well. Yet, perhaps the truest measure of Goldstein's genius is that over the years, three of his closest friends have been Howard Cosell, New York Post columnist Dick Young and the late, legendary New York Times columnist Red Smith, all of whom hated each other in every direction—but loved Joey.

Goldstein, somehow, can endlessly torment his all-star list of names in the media, yet end up with most of them liking him. Not everyone, mind you. One of Goldstein's rivals, a cowardly fellow who asks not to be identified, fumes, "If Goldstein were found stabbed to death with a bone-handle knife in his back at 3 p.m., by 8 p.m. the list of suspects would be narrowed to 100,000." Far more typical, however, is George Solomon, sports editor at The Washington Post, who says, "I enjoy hearing from Joey."

Charlie McCabe, a vice-president of Manufacturers Hanover, which sponsors, among many things, the New York City Marathon and the Westchester Classic golf tournament, says of Goldstein, "He's the General Patton of sports p.r. He gets to Paris first, even though he might beat up on the wounded." Goldstein's sense of history is offended: "That was Sicily in the summer of '43. Patton didn't ever go to Paris." At Mobil, Herb Schmertz, vice-president of public affairs, says, "Joey is right out of Damon Runyon. In fact, if Damon Runyon were alive, he'd be writing about Joey."

True. For Goldstein is a Runyonesque character who still refers to bars as saloons and thinks of Manhattan phone numbers in terms of such outdated exchanges as GRamercy, PLaza and Circle. He is excessively generous with friends and will hire a limo to make them comfortable, though he rides New York City buses and has been seen emptying rest room dispensers of paper towels to take back to his office.

And the flattery. Everywhere, he bestows flattery. It's phony through and through, but somehow it works. A secretary has flowers on her desk, so Goldstein says, "Those flowers are so gorgeous. They complement you, beautiful one." Another office, another secretary: "I've always been susceptible to Nordic beauty." To a reporter he says: "You're doing your usual work. Routinely brilliant." Does anyone believe this junk? No. Do they like it? Yes.

The secret of Goldstein is the person-to-person nature of his work. His company, Joe Goldstein Public Relations, has 13 employees but the other 12 don't have jobs without Joey. Big public relations companies waste time and money on slick proposals and useless, albeit often beautiful, press kits. Goldstein operates out of his pockets. He scribbles notes on pink cards, then loses them.

Goldstein is forever riffling through a cluttered briefcase that is without hope. If there is anything slick about him, it escapes attention. He just talks. Oh, yes, and gets results. "And I'm a little bit better organized than it looks," he says defensively. Please let that be true. Happily, Helene handles the financial end because, Joey says, "I can't dun people. It goes against my image as an artist."

Lebow readily confesses that pre-Goldstein, the New York City Marathon was going nowhere. "People maybe thought it was a dance marathon," says Lebow. "I don't know. Then Joey arrived [in 1976] and the rest is history." Suddenly, the race was publicized everywhere. Similarly, harness racing garners little attention in print, mainly because the public cares so little about it. But from the time Goldstein started working full-time for Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island in 1954, and later took over p.r. for the entire sport, until he gave it up in 1980, he generated attention far beyond the public's interest. For example, take the time that a French trotter named Jamin came to the U.S. for the International at Roosevelt Raceway. Goldstein created, well, the myth that Jamin had to have artichokes to survive. There were no artichokes. Finally, some were found in California. An airline flew them to Idlewild (now Kennedy) Airport, some 12 miles from the track, free; a helicopter hurried them over to Roosevelt; pencils scribbled and cameras rolled; Jamin won the race. Never mind that the value of the artichokes to the horse was as a laxative. What a story!

But harness racing decided in the early '80s to save the money it was paying Goldstein and promote itself. It has been a dismal experiment and the sport—Joeyless, artichokeless—has all but disappeared from public attention.

Goldstein doesn't just run around saying, "Please put Mobil's name in the paper, please mention the Marathon, please mention Hope's TV special." Sure, he tries to create news, but more significant, he has the clout to produce legitimate sports people for legitimate interviews for legitimate stories. Athletes like him and will cooperate. Goldstein even got Joe Frazier to cooperate with the press, which ranks up there among world wonders.

Naturally, athletes like Goldstein because he gets them on TV or in print. Goldstein not long ago wanted Olympic hurdler Greg Foster to do some interviews in New York before a Mobil-sponsored meet. "I wouldn't do this for anyone but Coach," said Foster, in reference to Goldstein. Joey lured Foster with the offer of a hotel room, theater tickets ("I'll get you Cats") and transportation to workout facilities.

Underlying it all, Goldstein is an event, a happening. He constantly interrupts, he routinely is late, he's always on the phone or lusting after one. He acts important, therefore he is. "I'm good and I'm conscientious and I'm always the brightest one at the meeting," he says modestly.

While he's waiting for someone in the lobby of a New York radio station, Goldstein asks the switchboard operator if there is a phone he can use. She obliges, and he smiles. "It's easy to be my friend," he says. "Just give me a phone." This phonese drives sane people bonkers. Charlie Leerhsen, a former Goldstein employee who now is a senior writer at Newsweek, says, "He'll occasionally ask you a question, but you then see his eyes glaze over as you start to talk. He's thinking of phone calls he could be making." Goldstein acknowledges this and laments, "It's an addiction and an affliction that bothers me. I'm trying to cut down."

What we are dealing with here may be the ultimate triumph of style over substance. Is Goldstein an intellectual? "I have been to Italy 41 times," he non-answers. Whether his day begins at his home in Old Westbury on Long Island, at his East Side apartment in New York or on the road, Goldstein is hopelessly overscheduled, hysterical, late and on the phone. Whence the frenzy builds. Old buddy Red Auerbach says, "He's always full of pep, know what I mean?" Yes, sir. Says Goldstein, as he darts through Manhattan's underground passageways that he knows like the back of a telephone, "I'm energized about everything I work on. I'm eager. I'm anticipating." He gets his shoes shined ("I do this every day, except if I'm wearing rubbers"); he gets a manicure ("New York is such a dirty place. Of course, I love it"); he's on the subway; he gets his blood pressure taken at a doctor's office—all the while he's checking his watch. He needs to use a VCR in somebody's office, but he won't listen to instructions how to use it—he never listens—and only wants to know one thing: "How do you get it on fast forward?" For Goldstein, a moment when he is not talking is a moment wasted.

And here is the ultimate. Joey ("It's such a sophomoric name. How can a guy post middle-age and Jewish be called Joey?") has found a newsstand where he can buy The New York Times and the New York Post by 11 p.m., which he hustles—of course—back to his apartment to read. Ergo, he has the next day's news read before the next day arrives. Fast forward, huh? And talk about getting the jump: Goldstein always works July 4, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve. Why? "Things are real slow. It's the best time to get things in the papers. And the guys appreciate it." Which raises the question, how many people at big p.r. agencies work on Christmas?

Too, he's a mighty sports resource, a walking, talking yellow pages. Any reporter needing an unlisted phone number can get it from Goldstein, whether the number has to do with Joey's clients or not. Need facts? Call Goldstein. Need directions? Call Goldstein. He's a kind of AAA without the membership fee. He arranges hotel reservations when all rooms are booked, makes last-minute dinner reservations for 8 p.m. on Saturday, gets tickets to hit shows at the last moment (he attends every Broadway play each season) and somehow finds a parking pass when there are no more left. "I do want to be loved," he says, "or at least regarded fondly."

Still, he can't help saying he thinks boxing's Don King and Bob Arum are "venomous fools," that former Olympic boss Avery Brundage was "the most outstanding fascist in history" and that Jimmy the Greek is "semifraudulent."

When Joey was growing up, the Goldsteins were one of only six Jewish families in Conway, which is 15 miles from Myrtle Beach and the South Carolina coast. His dad, Max, went bust in a dry-goods business during the Depression and moved his family to New York in 1940 because he finally found a job there, selling shoes for $37 a week. The Goldsteins lived on the Lower East Side, and Joey thrived at The Boys Club of New York. Today, he is thrilled to report that his old basketball coach, Ben Lieber, recently won $2 million in the state lottery, playing a series of numbers, most notably, "He remembered me and played my old number, seven."

What a story! A check with Lieber, however, reveals he won only $660,000 and while he did use number seven in his picks, it was for another youngster who wore seven. Says Lieber, "Joey was one of my lesser protègès." Goldstein is momentarily deflated.

All this is perfectly in character. Breslin says, "Joey exaggerates everything he tells you by five years." And Baker says, "He's 50 percent right about everything." However, Leerhsen comes to Goldstein's defense, saying, "It's a p.r. man's instinct to exaggerate. It's not a lie for him. He just sees things in a heightened way."

Anyway, sniffs Goldstein, he did win the spelling bee at his boys club three times—an exhaustive search could not document this, but come on, let's take his word for it. He says he won the bee one year because he could spell mellifluent. Still can. He tells a group of Mobil executives that he now has a list of 184 TV columnists; "about 100," corrects Dave Herscher, who is Goldstein's right-hand man. The Millrose Games are 90 years old, says Goldstein; about 80, says Herscher. Anyway, "Dave joined me on April 1, 1972," says Goldstein. "Actually it was on April 2," corrects Herscher.

While at Seward Park High in New York, Goldstein became the school's correspondent for the New York World-Telegram, and later the Times, too. He subsequently began doing unimportant sports stories, like the Knicks, for the New York Sun. And when the paper folded, he got a job at Madison Square Garden, doing basketball publicity. In '54 he went to work full-time at Roosevelt Raceway. In 1969, he opened his own firm.

The one thing Goldstein won't talk about is how much money he makes. Well, he slips a little, saying it costs him $500,000 a year just to keep his office open. And, well, a guess of $750,000 in gross income, he says, wouldn't be too silly. Whatever his income is, he owns 42 pairs of shoes, 60 suits, 25 hats, 10 raincoats, and he buys only hand-stitched linen handkerchiefs. Goldstein says it's a throwback to South Carolina. "I had two pair of knickers, and I never want to get caught short again." He carries 17 credit cards.

At The New York Times, columnist George Vecsey says Goldstein's persistence does pay off, as once when Vecsey did a Goldstein-inspired piece on a "fading Soviet high jumper, who made one more good column." Others at the Times are less enthusiastic. Former golf reporter John Radosta chafes at the memories: "Time was, Joey Goldstein had the [Times] sports department in his back pocket. No more." Radosta is still bitter over being assigned to cover a horseshoe pitching contest in Pennsylvania and a snowmobile race in upstate New York, both Goldstein projects he deemed unworthy of the Times. Says Radosta, "I've always had the feeling his ethics were a little bit shadowy." Still, while not being a Goldstein fan, Radosta admits, "If I were a sponsor involved in sports, I'd look for him." Veteran sports publicist Irving Rudd snaps, "People who know me know what I think of him. I have nothing else to say." But another competitor, Mike Cohen, says, "He's my idol. I'd say his only weakness is he forgets where he leaves his shadow."

Make no mistake, Goldstein may be a dinosaur and he can be tough on his staff—screaming is his executive style—but, trust us, you want to sit next to him at a dinner party. And there he is, at New York's La Guardia Airport, dialing a call.... It's ringing.... It's answered. "Here I am," he says. He always is.

SEVEN PHOTOSJOHN IACONOPHOTOJOHN IACONOArriving at a Madison Square Garden track meet, Goldstein got an officials' greeting.PHOTOJOHN IACONOHelene has kept her hustling husband organized for 31 years.PHOTOJOHN IACONOJoe tracking Herb Douglas and Mrs. Jesse Owens.