O'Donnell: Nuttiness is no stranger to Arlington Park

  • Arlington Park opens a shortened season on Thursday.

    Arlington Park opens a shortened season on Thursday. Daily Herald file photo

Updated 7/23/2020 12:17 AM

SINCE IT OPENED IN 1927, Arlington Park has survived a lot.

Catastrophic fire. ... Owner petulance. ...Goofball executives.


Until this summer, the nuttiest president was a fellow named John Mooney.

He came aboard in the winter of 1981-1982. It was months after the inaugural running of The Million.

Few knew it would also be the final full year of ownership by the brawny Gulf & Western conglomerate.

Mooney quickly alienated top-flight colleagues, most notably Sheldon Robbins, the masterful COO.

He had a reporter from Phone Programs of Illinois - a corporate sister of SportsPhone -- arrested near the Arlington paddock for violating track policy.

And in his coup de stooge, Mooney fired Phil Georgeff.

He told the mythic Georgeff to stop calling horses to the finish line and end his narrative each race at the 16th pole.

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"He was demolishing the drama of the game," Georgeff later said. "He claimed it was 'Eastern style.' I told him my way was 'classic Chicago style,' tried and true for decades and what the fans wanted.

Frustrated, the cocksure Georgeff let the brilliant Gary Deeb know that on Million II Day, he possibly would throw Mooney's way to the wind and spin 'em all the way to the wire for NBC Sports and an international TV audience.

Eight days later, before The Million, Mooney waxed Georgeff.

"I saw him downstairs as I was leaving," Georgeff said. "He stuck out his hand. I brushed it aside and said, 'Mr. Mooney, I guarantee that you will rue this day to your grave and beyond.'"

"The Voice" was right.

Less than 10 months later, Robbins and pal Joe Joyce -- Mooney's predecessor as president of Arlington -- got word that Gulf & Western was selling.


They convinced Dick Duchossois to put up 90 percent of the reported purchase price of $18.3 million. Supremely affable Chicago businessman Ralph Ross came in with the other 10 percent.

The new group's first move was to fire Mooney.

Its second was to bring back Georgeff, on a glorious Saturday in September 1983.

Thursday, Arlington begins its infield fly of a 2020 meet.

Thanks to the pandemic and "Bunker Bill" Carstanjen of Churchill Downs Inc., AP will run a cutout-bin 30-program season with peanuts for purses and no spectators for the time being.

Racing secretary Chris Polzin is being hailed as a wizard for somehow getting approximately 700 horses onto a shaky Arlington backstretch.

But for an oval once commonly known as "The Grand Old Lady," it is a coda more befitting a wicked witch of the worst.

And the nuttiest.

STREET-BEATIN': Jason Benetti is going deep on his projections for the new Boom-Boom White Sox. So is 39-21 asking too much? (And if Rick Renteria's Boys of Labor Day can win three straight World Series, Jerry Reinsdorf will offer his ultimate tribute -- he'll break 'em up.). ... As for the Cubs, David Ross's first crew already seems more arced-out than the old Franksville on West Addison. That means 27-33 seems just about right. ... As expected, Kevin Cross and NBCSCH trounced the ghostly Marquee Network in audience numbers for the Sox-Cubs preseasoners on Sunday and Monday nights. ... Forbes magazine says: "The Marlins' Sandy Alcantara looks like the next Lucas Giolito." (Whatever happened to the first Lucas Giolito?). ... Notable lodging for the Blackhawks in Edmonton: The top six seeds will stay in a Marriott attached to Rogers Place. That leaves Patrick Kane and associates with other wheat field groundlings in a property 10 minutes away. ... Bob Costas -- still searching for the perfect valedictory roost -- has signed on as a special contributor to CNN. (He's only won 28 Emmys.) ... The hot dice of Adam Amin continue: Fox Sports has tabbed the Addison native to supplement his local Bulls TV work with primary NFL, MLB and college basketball assignments. (First up will be the Cubs-Brewers on Fox-32, Saturday at noon.) ... And Teresa Hanafin -- on fringe backlash to news that Dr. Anthony Fauci will throw out the first pitch before Thursday's Nationals-Yankees opener (ESPN, 6 p.m.) -- wrote: "That prompted some in the MAGA crowd to whine yet again and claim that they will boycott the team, which is kind of easy to do when you're not allowed into the games."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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