NEW TGS...TIME CAPSULE: PREDICTORS, NOT TIPSTERS!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor
As you might have been able to tell from our first two issues, a lot has changed with TGS since last season, and none of it is pandemic-related. In fact, our switch to an all-online publication in a more easy-to-read format has been in the works for well over a year. With the kinks still needing to be worked out, we continued to produce our publications in a traditional manner last season, always with an eye to 2020. Eyes, important things...something we and our many longtime readers knew would benefit from our new look. Squinting at smallish type is no longer required!
We think it’s important, however, readers know that, even through management changes, TGS at its core essentially remains the same publication it was when launched by Mort Olshan way back in 1957. Obviously, for decades there has been little physical resemblance of our modern versions to their original form in the late ‘50s, and the publication has evolved with new technologies. But the philosophy of TGS has never altered, and the commitment to provide a unique, valuable, and enjoyable read for its customers. And there are still links back to the days of Mort Olshan, as myself and our Managing Editor, P. Carl Giordano, were both introduced to the business by Mort and learned it from him. Between Carl and I are a combined over 75 years of employment with TGS, still adhering to the standards set by Mort and others who have preceded and also worked with us across the decades, including Carl’s dad Phil, Mort’s longtime trusted associate. Though many of the names of our colleagues have changed, we’re still a couple of direct links to the past, and TGS essentially remains a family business as it was when it made its debut as “Nation-Wide Football” in the fall of 1957.
Throughout the course of each season, we also like to remind readers that we have been around for a while, and we’ll often reminisce about some of the games and events of the past that captivated us once upon a time, and continue to fascinate us decades later. We like to tie in many of these “Retrospective” pieces with current and upcoming events to provide further context. Mostly, however, in an industry where various sorts, some unsavory, have come and gone throughout the years, we think it’s good to know, and that you know, we’ve been around for a long, long time. And, most importantly, still getting a huge kick out of what we do...as Mort Olshan did throughout his iconic career.
Recently, while doing some research for other projects, we stumbled across a story that ran in the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram’s edition from Sunday, December 9, 1973, a colorful feature on TGS and Mort as penned by an honored sportswriter of his era, Rich Roberts. Indeed, Mort’s name became well known across the country in the 60s and 70s as he would syndicate selected college and pro selections via his “Pigskin Prophecy,” which appeared weekly in dozens of newspapers far-and-wide across the states, including the I-PT in Long Beach.
Almost a half-century later, this particular Rich Roberts piece still reads well today. In it, Mort effectively, if not eloquently, states the objectives of TGS and its principles in what has often been a misunderstood and manipulated industry. Having known Mort (an animated character, to be sure!), we can almost envision how this interview with Roberts proceeded. Let’s just say it would have been a hoot to be a fly on the wall and witness the proceedings. And while it was still a few years before Carl or I began at TGS, what follows could have probably been written about Mort in almost any of the 46 years he was associated with the publication.
So, without further adieu, we present “Predictor, not Tipster...I'm no tout” as it appeared on December 9, 1973 on Page 3 of the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram sports section, as written by Rich Roberts. A treatise, if there ever was one, on the essence of TGS.
“People tend to confuse all aspects of this. I don’t handicap a line for anybody. I don’t bet. I predict. Even as a kid, I was always trying to predict the games.” –Mort Olshan
A third-floor suite of a Sunset Boulevard office building is the clearinghouse for perhaps the most sports information that flows in and out of any newspaper in the land.
Ledgers are stacked upon desks and filed in pigeon holes in the backroom. They contain newspaper clippings–some new, some frayed–pasted among illegible notations in various colors of ink.
On each desk there is also a phone, manned by the three-man, one-girl staff of Mort Olshan. This is the headquarters of Nation-Wide Sports Publications, Inc., whose business is to gather information relative to forecasting the results of football and basketball games and dispense it chiefly in a weekly pocket-sized publication called “The Gold Sheet.” Excerpts are featured regularly in this paper.
It is not a tip sheet, as one might purchase along the thoroughfares leading to a race track, nor does Olshan regard himself a tout.
“There’s too much work and effort that goes into it,” he says. “We research the same as they do in the stock market.”
KIPLINGERS, HE SUGGESTS, would be an analogy to The Gold Sheet. Nothing shady, all above board.
“It has been a source of sensitivity and embarrassment early in our career,” says Olshan, employing the first-person plural. “You predict games and right away you think of bookmaking and all the underground things. But we scrupulously avoid any association with that area.
“We have been thoroughly checked and investigated. Long before Watergate became popular, they listened to our phones, and they’re convinced that we do what we say we do.”
The logical question is, if Olshan is so smart, why doesn’t he use his information for himself instead of selling it to the public?
“It’s not that we lack confidence,” he says, “because the record of 25 years will speak for itself. But we don’t want to mix the two for legal reasons. Betting is illegal, handicapping is not. (Editor’s note 2020: remember, this interview took place 20 years before PASPA, and almost 45 years before its repeal.)
“Besides, it’s a question of being discreet to the outsider. It’s been an excellent business that has provided me many good things in life, we have to choose one or the other.”
A PHONE RINGS. It is one of Olshan’s mysterious informants calling in.
“This may sound arrogant,” he says, “but I’ll put our sources up against anybody in the country. I don’t think AP or UPI can get on the phone and get information as fast as we can.”
One envisions an Olshan agent floating over the Rams’ practice in a hot-air balloon. A sinister-looking waiter cocks his ear as he serves John McKay his soup.
Mort laughs. “There are no spies on campuses or anything like that. They are business people, sportswriters, people with whom we share this mutual love of sports and handicapping. One might be a doctor or a stockbroker. There’s a statistician that works for a major insurance company.”
Of course, all sportswriters aren’t to be trusted.
“Many of them are prejudiced in what they say and motivated by reasons other than objectivity,” Olshan says, “like building up an opponent to sell tickets.”
ONE SPORTSWRITER, Larry Merchant of the New York Post, lauded Olshan in his book, “The National Football Lottery,” in which he told of his one successful season of betting on pro football and presented his conclusive theories.
Mort’s response was gracious only to the point that Merchant is “an exceptionably fine writer.”
Otherwise, the author was summarily dismissed as “a novice, pure and simple,” who had published a book of “juvenile expertise.”
Olshan explains, “This is a terribly complex thing, and the Larry Merchants of the world have no concept as to what it takes to consistently survive in this jungle. It’s work and effort and time...15 or 16 hours a day for 25 years.”
Olshan has also written a book, a rather dry (“We’ll try to get some sex into it next time”) and technical treatise on “Winning Theories of Sports Handicapping.” Even at $19.95, though, it might rank high on the Christmas list for the serious bettor.
IT SHOULD BE understood, that Olshan does not claim perfection, only consistency at being right more than he is wrong. He is shaken by upsets.
“Oh yes, because it strikes at the very foundation of what we’re trying to do.”
Generally, he is cold and analytical in his methods.
“Our only sentiment is with the team we’ve predicted,” he says, “and we get emotionally involved in that sense. We like to see the correctness of our predictions.”
Alas, he laments this a “horrendous” season (Ed. note 2020: Mort is talking in 1973, remember), climaxed by UCLA’s 23-13 loss to USC. He had picked the Bruins 23-17.
“How can you figure a team that has played almost errorless football from midseason on, going against a team that had been fumbling and making all kinds of mistakes...how can you figure them committing six turnovers to none?”
Mort is raising his voice and waving his arms.
“But I don’t mean to get emotional,” he smiles.
After all, it’s not the worst beating he ever took. In a series of bowl games a few years ago he lost nine of 10.
MORT’S GREATEST COUP was in selecting 27 of 28 winners among his “Exceptional Predictions” on his Confidential Kickoff release during the 1968-69 seasons.
“That I would consider to be the top forecasting event not only in our history,” Mort says, “but in the history of the business. That’s what really built us up. The word of mouth was fantastic.”
Olshan says, “Even as a kid, I was always trying to predict the games. It goes back to when I was eight years old. I can remember some ESP even came into it.”
As a kid, Mort claims he possessed a gift of clairvoyance that allowed him to exactly forecast USC’s last-minute 7-3 win over Duke in the 1939 Rose Bowl, the late Freddie Apostli’s ninth-round knockout of Freddie Steele for the middleweight title and a pinch-hit homer by the Cubs’ Kenny O’Day in the 1938 World Series, among other happenings.
“But we don’t use ESP now,” he says. “After a while you get false impressions.”
OLSHAN, 47, ENTERED the Marine Corps in World War II and enrolled in the University of Buffalo after being honorably discharged.
“But I was one of those guys that didn’t quite make an adjustment to college life,” he says. “I left Buffalo after one year after picking up a magazine article about Leo Hirschfield, the ‘Wizard of Odds.’ I decided on a lark to go to Minneapolis to see if I could find employment with him.”
In those days, Hirschfield’s “Minneapolis Line” was the most respected odds listing in the country. Mort later branched out on his own.
He still keeps long office hours–10 hours on Saturday, 13 hours on Sunday–and admits he seldom sees a game in person.
“But it’s losing that makes it hard,” he says. “When you’re winning, you never get tired.”
Mort was actively involved with The Gold Sheet for the remainder of his life, even after selling the company to a collection of his key employees in 2000. Mort still kept his corner office and, most days, regular hours, enjoying the buzz of the business, interacting with his longtime colleagues, and keeping on top of the action. Lung cancer finally slowed him down and then took him in 2003, but his vision of The Gold Sheet as a beacon in the industry has endured. And it’s in that spirit that TGS proceeds today, well into its seventh decade of publishing and adjusting to the times, but at its core holding the same values as the company did in 1973, and indeed back to its beginnings in 1957.
We don’t say it enough these days, but as TGS embarks into a new era, we’ll certainly say it now.
Thanks, Mort! (And thanks, Rich Roberts!)
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