MUCH OF WHAT Jesse Greenbaum accomplished in an athletic way is subjugated to the history books. The day in 1950 when he swam the Chesapeake Bay, from Bay Shore to Tolchester, was a distinctive accomplishment. Newspapers streamed it across the front page.
He had played soccer, lacrosse and was a member of the nationally ranked University of North Carolina swimming squad, where the former coach, Dick Jamerson, picked him on the school's all-time team. He won 10 varsity letters in college. Then he turned to golf and, by eyewitness accounts and the scorecard, has recorded 12 holes-in-one.
Three times he won the club championship at Eagles Nest Country Club and, before that, the same title twice at Pine Ridge. He has played golf in various parts of the world but believes the course he favors above all is in his hometown -- a public facility, Mount Pleasant.
"It used to be rated the second best municipal layout in the country," he said. "It had length, style and demanded every shot in the bag. That's why the professionals, when they came here for the old Eastern Open, liked it so much. Changes have been made, the most drastic of which was the extension of Northern Parkway, but it's still No. 1 in my book."
Greenbaum has a deceptively strong golf swing, far from classic in appearance, but more than useful. He can get the ball in the hole, one way or another, as attested by the dozen holes-in-one. There have been years when Jesse played more golf than touring pros, over 300 rounds, simply because weather, to him, has never been a deterrent.
If the mail is being delivered, then Jesse plays golf. Well, almost. During a bitter cold Christmas week, he played a friend and challenger, Norris Cook, who was a rival automobile dealer. On the 18th hole, Greenbaum rolled a long putt through the light snow. It dropped for a birdie and the match was decided. The next day, as a whimsical afterthought, he sent a cab to Cook's office and the driver said he had "an order to take him to Eagles Nest for another round of golf with Mr. Greenbaum."
So here was Jesse beating Cook with the final stroke and then having the audacity to send a taxi for him so he could do it again. Cook got the intent of the message and still laughs about the December morning when Jesse was so protective of his favorite "pigeon" that he arranged to have him personally transported to the course.
Greenbaum has a master's degree in education from North Carolina and has built an imposing business career. He graduated from Baltimore City College when he was only 16 and, two years later, while at North Carolina, entered a Naval officer's training program. While he was taking his physical examination, the next applicant in line was rejected for poor vision.
His name? Felix "Doc" Blanchard, who subsequently passed the eye exam for the Army and later entered West Point, where he became a Heisman Trophy winner and one of the military academy's legendary fullbacks.
"I have often wondered about how that would have changed things if Blanchard had been approved by the Navy," says Greenbaum. "Would it have meant instead of playing against the Naval Academy, he would have been playing for them? Ponder that one."
Ed "Blackie" Brandt, special sections editor of The Sun, is a longtime admirer of Greenbaum. "He's an all-around person," is Brandt's assessment. "Smart, loyal to friends and a tremendous competitor.
Greenbaum's bay swim, accompanied by Charlie Wanner and Bob Hill, covered 9 miles and consumed 4 hours, 55 minutes -- or 25 minutes less than it took the previous record-holder, Elizabeth Colgan, in 1928. "We did it as a lark. A Coast Guard cutter came by and tried to talk us out of it because the boat that was to accompany us hadn't as yet showed up. We hadn't trained, but Charlie and I worked at the Lakewood Swim Club and were in good enough shape."
Jesse Greenbaum, an all-consummate athlete, a tiger of a competitor, never one to back away from a challenge, has created a sports identity in Maryland that separates him from most of the others in the crowd. Gifted, motivated and able. Plus flamed with an intensity that has accumulated victories but, more importantly, admiration and respect.