Monday, January 05, 2015

Jimmy The Greek

I had heard of Jimmy the Greek as a bookie, a famous bookie. A list of his best picks were even canonized in the infamous Book Of Lists. In the 1970s he published handbooks on college and pro football and baseball to help other gamblers gamble. He was eulogized in the movie The Legend of Jimmy the Greek, the book Farewell Jimmy The Greek (1996) by Ginger Wadsworth, an autobiography, and even a 1974 board came called "Odds Maker."  But he was also a radio man. That twist will take a little explaining.

Born in 1981, Jimmy Snyder got into gambling as a teenager in Stubenville, OH. It's long rumored that he was involved with the mob. Regardless, by 1948, he was so established he was giving odd on the presidential election and correctly called it that year for Harry Truman on a7:1 odds. In the parlance of the times he was a high-roller. He tried to parlay this into more legitimate stock investments but failed. He moved to Las Vegas in 1956 and began a weekly pro-football betting line. Sometimes you have to go with what you know.

Somehow his blue-collar fame as a sports gambler led CBS to hire him as an analyst on The NFL Today program...the pregame show for National Football League games. He started in 1976 and the stint lasted for 12 years. He appeared in segments with totally legitimate reporters, radio hosts and sportscasters like Phyllis George, Irv Cross, and Brent Musburger. Brent had been on the program since it's debut in 1975. Together they would make predictions about that week's NFL games. On the program everyone still called him Jimmy The Greek and he became a minor celebrity. This led to endorsement deals, books and that aforementioned board game.  But Jimmy blew the whole sweet deal.

On January 16th, 1988, Jimmy was fired by CBS.  On that very day he made an amazingly racist comment to WRC-TV reporter Ed Hotaling.  He was explaining that in his opinion African Americans were naturally superior athletes at least in part because they had been bred to produce stronger offspring during slavery. The exact quote was “The black is a better athlete to begin with because he's been bred to be that way."  Note: It was Martin Luther King day. Complex magazine rated this as one of the most racist statements made in the last 25 years of sports reporting. [source]

Snyder suffered from diabetes in his later years and died of a heart attack on April 21st, 1996 in Las Vegas, NV, at the age of 77. He was buried at Union Cemetery in his home town of Steubenville, OH.