NOTE: I got an inquiry today (3/22/2016) from a sportwriter in NYC about this column and one of the “perps” I mention. I immediately took that as “a sign” I am suppose to re-post it. So I am…. Originally posted back in May 2008 BM (BM = Before Marvin). …. This column is lengthy but A Humdinger!
I stumbled upon something recently that flumoxed me. Roadhouse is #1 on my classic movie list; but Casino is a contenda for Top 3 along with Green Berets. Guess what I have learned about Sam “Ace” Rothstein and his shady pals? It involves the darkest chapter in the history of ACC Basketball. Got your attention?
If you’ve never seen the movie Casino or if you think ACC Basketball began with either David Thompson or Michael Jordan then everything else here is so far beyond your scope of comprehension that you should skip over to the right column and peruse the menu at MEZ. The rest of you settle in for a yummy albeit lengthy trip wherein cinematic art & gritty reality morph into one.
If this starts sounding like I’m channeling Mickey Spillane ….. well, I AM.
Our story begins in the very early 50s in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. Out in those bleachers a star was developing – Frank Rosenthal. Frank and his pals were betting on any/every thing going on on the field. Frank learned how to “handicap” sports. Frank learned very well. Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal would over the next 25 years become the #1 most notorious sports “bookie” in the history of American sports. Sports Illustrated even named him so.
Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, blue-collar Jewish kid from Chicago’s North Side, would become Sam “Ace” Rothstein – major domo of The Tangiers, husband of “Ginger” and, alas, mob associate of “Nicky Santoro”. “Ace” = Robert DeNiro ….. Ginger = Sharon Stone ….. and, of course, Nicky = Joe Pesci who immortalized baseball bats in a way Hillerich&Bradsby never imagined.
Young Frank’s skills w/ sports betting caught the attention of the Chicago mob. The bosses quickly saw Frank’s unique skills at setting odds and generating $$$ for them. Through the 50s Frank honed his unique skill and the Mob recognized his value to them. ….. If Frank could make X $$$ for them by guessing the outcome of sports events, imagine how much he could generate if he knew the outcome in advance !! Uh oh!
The period from 1957-62 was pivotal for Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal ….. for ACC Basketball. And for the future of Basketball in America.
As “Lefty” was running the mob’s sports gambling operation, Everett Case and Frank McGuire were birthing a phenomenon known as ACC Basketball. Case came to Raleigh from Indiana with his Hoosiers Hotshots and set about making William Neal Reynolds Coliseum the center of Southern basketball not dominated by a certain Bluegrass Baron up in Kentucky. But Case needed “a hated rival” to gin up the fans ……
Enter a dapper Irishman from NYC by way of St John’s – Frank McGuire.
With McGuire’s imports from NYC and Case’s Hoosiers the perfect adversaries, Case and McGuire would meet for Sunday dinner at Case’s home in Raleigh and contrive “bitter rivalry” scenarios to gin up their quite naive fans. The off-court theatrics between the two cagey coaches were as phony as pro wrestling but the on-court battles were quite real.
Meanwhile in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, in the innocuous office of The Cicero Home Improvement Company, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal took a meeting with an ambitious young basketball player named Jack Molinas.
Jack Molinas was an exceptional basketball player …. possessor of a genius level IQ (175+) and a terminal penchant for larceny. By his own admission he’d “rather swindle you out a nickle than earn an honest dollar”.
You can take Dr Naismith, Phog Allen, Rupp, Dean, Herb, Spud Webb, “Biscuit”, MJ, Bird, Magic, LeBron, Kobe, Wilt, Russell et al ….. and it could be argued that NONE OF THEM would have the impact on the sport of basketball as that ambitious young man meeting w/ “Lefty” Rosenthal that fateful day in Cicero, Illinois.
This column is about “Lefty”, “Ace”, Doug and “Dutch” but we could write a book just about Jack Molinas. In fact someone HAS written a book about Jack Molinas. Molinas with his small-time goon pals Joe Green and Aaron Wagman would form Fixers Incorporated ….. and almost destroy basketball in America.
Wagman and Green were lowlife pool sharks who earned a meager living hustling rubes in local billiard parlors”. Wagman also sold hot dogs and crackerjacks for Harry Stevens in Yankee Stadium and claimed unverifiable friendship with Yankee stars of that era. Aaron Wagman tended to boast a lot. As did Joe Green. Fixers Incorporated was doomed from the get-go to self-destruct.
Simply ….. Jack, Joe and Aaron thru their supposed connections in college basketball could arrange to “fix games” thereby giving “Lefty” and a St Louis fellow named Dave Goldberg the edge they needed to rig the betting lines across the country. That had great appeal to “Lefty” and to his over-bosses in the Chicago mob.
If Jack Molinas did not invent the art of “point-shaving” he certainly refined it. “Point shaving” does not mean “throwing the game” but rather influencing the final score “spread” to the advantage of “Lefty” and his associates. Molinas’ guys would have refs and players “on the take” to control that final score. Fixers Incorporated set out to control college basketball scores across the country to the advantage of organized crime via Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal.
From 1957-61 pretty much any college basketball game mighta been “fixed” as Jack Molinas was a busy guy. He even employed a Tip-off Time Man to report the starting time of games so “Lefty” knew when to shut down the betting. The Tip-off Time Man’s name was Marvin. “He was about 5’4”, weighed 300 lbs and walked with a limp. He always wore a little pointy hat but never a necktie.”
The most famous of Molinas’ “players on the take” was Connie Hawkins who somehow got from the slums of Brooklyn to Iowa. When the “fit hit the shan” in 1961, Hawkins was banned from basketball but was later reinstated when Molinas signed a prison affadavit claiming Connie never “threw” a game that he knew of.
Meanwhile Molinas’ stooge Joe Green became friends with Case recruit Anton “Dutch” Muehlbauer. Uh oh! “Dutch” was described as “a very very poor student” assured Case could get him enrolled at NC State along with a pal – Stan Niewierowski. “Dutch”, Stan and teammate Terry Litchfield were soon “on the take”. Joe Green loved comic books, especially Batman and Captain Marvel so he would send “Dutch” and his teammates their money between the pages of comic books. The three NC State players were indeed eventually found guilty of “point shaving”.
The scandal is credited with sending Coach Case into failing health. He retired in 1964 and died of cancer on April 30, 1966 at the relative young age of 66. Among Case’s innovations to basketball, he is credited with coming up with the tradition of “cutting down the nets” after a big win.
OK, now you UNCers are giggling and chortling. Not so fast my Tar Heel friends! When Joe needed to communicate with his State “employees” he used his UNC guy – Lou Brown (no relation to “Larry”). Lou along with teammates Ray Stanley and Tar Heel legend Doug Moe would all go down when Fixers Incorporated imploded.
In late 1960, Joe Green invited Doug Moe to dinner in New York. Doug had been a star at Erasmus Hall in “the City”. Joe explained “how it worked” to Doug. Doug was NOT interested at all in being involved BUT Doug did take a $75 “gift” from Joe Green and failed to report the meeting or the gift to his coach. That would ultimately short-circuit Moe’s career at UNC and keep him out of the NBA for several years. He later became famous as a longtime NBA coach and the only man alive to refer to Dean Smith as “Smitty” to his face.
In Chapel Hill the scandal blew up enough sand to exacerbate a growing feud between McGuire and AD Chuck Erickson. McGuire bailed to the NBA’s Warriors leaving UNC Basketball in the untested hands of a 30 y/o chain-smoking Kansan. The afore-mentioned “Smitty”.
Meanwhile “Lefty” had moved his operation from Cicero to Miami. Jack Molinas was ambitious and quite street-smart. Alas, he thought he was smarter than “Lefty’s” associates. “Point shaving” is an inexact science that is never 100% guaranteed. If Jack’s “locks” became unlocked and the mob lost $$$, they were not happy and expressed their unhappiness to Jack via “Lefty”.
A classic meeting in Miami ….. “two little guys with big shoulders and no necks – professional bone-breakers known as the Goon and the Midget – were waiting for Molinas and Green in their Miami hotel room. Quote “Lefty” – if everybody’s answers don’t match tomorrow morning somebody is gonna wake up dead.”
Another Miami meeting to discuss a “bad game” involved “a pink caddy driven by a blond floozy named “Sheila” with two bullet-headed goons in the backseat”. Assumed to be the aforementioned Goon & Midget. Jack Molinas himself was once dangled by his ankles from a 7th story balcony to impress upon him how much his mistakes would not be tolerated.
The fatal flaw in most mob activities involve down-line numbnutz who get sloppy and outkick their coverage. The Feds of course eventually got wind of Fixers Incorporated and began their surveillance. Aaron Wagman tried to bribe a Univ Florida fullback named Jon McBeth. McBeth told his coach. Meanwhile another of Molinas street men made an offer to a Univ Oregon halfback who likewise reported it.
The jig was up. The Feds rounded up the whole bunch including “Lefty”. “Lefty” was called to testify before a Senate Subcommittee formed by Robert Kennedy. His appearance set a record as “Lefty” used his 5th amendment rights 37 times including a question as to whether he was right or left-handed. Some say that’s where his moniker “Lefty” came to be. Somehow “Lefty” Rosenthal avoided prison time. Not so with Molinas,
Jack was sentenced to 10-15 years but only served 5 …. at Attica ….. where, oddly enough, he was the inspiration for Burt Reynolds’ character in “The Longest Yard”. ….. On August 3, 1975, Jack Molinas received a bullet to the back of his head while in the backyard of his Hollywood Hills home with his longtime girlfriend Shirley Marcus. Police “suspected” it was an “ordered hit” by the mob. Duh! No arrests were ever made in the case.
After the point shaving hearings in ’61, “Lefty” returned to Miami and “laid low” for a while. Until 1964 when an old Chicago buddy, mob kneecapper Tony “The Ant” Spilotro arrived in Miami. Tony was a hard-core thug. His presence around “Lefty” drew unwanted Fed attention so in 1966, “Lefty” relocated to Las Vegas ….. and “the rest of the story” is Casino The Movie.
Most of Casino IS factual. “Lefty” Rosenthal / “Ace” Rothstein (DeNiro) set up Vegas’ first sports book in The Stardust Hotel (“The Tangiers”). Tony / “Nicky Santoro” (Pesci) soon arrived and immediately complicated “Ace’s” life again. “Ace” didn’t do himself any favors by falling in love with an intoxicating stripper Geri McGee / “Ginger” (Sharon Stone).
How did “Lefty” ever get goofy over a skanky stripper/hooker? Well. none other than Dodger great Don Drysdale once described Geri McGee as “the most drop dead gorgeous female woman on the face of the earth.” Such a woman can have the cleverest of men baying at the moon. Indeed they can.
All the stuff about “Ace” evading the Gaming Commission via various ploys was true. Likewise Nicky putting a rival’s head in a vise until his eyes popped out is factual. Most the “Ginger” stuff was true. Geri/”Ginger” died on Nov 9, 1982 in a fleabag motel in LA. A victim of an overdose of valium, cocaine and whiskey.
And, yes, “Nicky”/Tony The Ant was indeed brutally beaten with baseball bats in an Illinois basement and, with his brother, buried alive in a cornfield in Enos Indiana.
On October 4, 1982 “Lefty” / “Ace” narrowly escaped a car bomb assassination attempt thanks to a metal plate in the floor of his Cadillac.
“Lefty” / “Ace” “retired” after the car bomb attempt. He moved back to Miami and went back to his original specialty as a sports handicapper. Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal died of a heart attack on October 13, 2008 in Miami at the age of 79.
PS: In September of 2004, yours truly met Joe Pesci at a celebrity “do” at LA’s Riviera Country Club. I had to ask him about that beating with the bats scene. Joe says he cannot watch the scene on film due to the graphic realism of the violence.
I’ve never met Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone, Doug Moe or Anton “Dutch” Muehlbauer. But, if I ever do I suspect I’ll write a column about it.