Even Cancer Can't Take The Fight Out Of Charley Eckman

December 15, 1991|By Pat O'Malley

Battling cancer and trying to shake the aftereffects of chemotherapy, Charley Eckman is still Charley Eckman. The guy forever will be fighting to save horse racing in Maryland and contributing to great ideas to make the state as good as it can be in sports.

Eckman, the longtime Glen Burnie resident who was one of the five inaugural inductees into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame in October, stillis pushing hard for simulcast betting on the ponies to become a reality in Maryland.

Horse racing is Charley's first love in sports, and this is a manwho as visible and loud as he is still manages to get things done behind the scenes. A little known fact is that it was Eckman who led the way to Class AA minor-league baseball coming Frederick.

Recently, Eckman received a letter of gratitude from Terry L. Randall, who ispresident of Sports and Recreation Associates, the outfit that brought the Frederick Keys to the state. Randall wrote Eckman after receiving the 1992 Baseball America calendar of "Great Minor League Baseball Parks."

Frederick's Harry Grove Stadium is featured on the coverof the prestigious baseball calendar.

"All too often as we hurry through projects in life, those who provide the initial spark are notproperly recognized," wrote Randall to Eckman.

"Please, be assured that I have not forgotten the man who called me during the summer of 1988 and came to Hagerstown to find out how he could move the discussion of AA baseball in Maryland and baseball in Frederick off of dead-center.

"I have not forgotten who arranged the meeting with Governor Schaefer that started the funding process for the stadium . . . Charley, it would not have happened without you.

"I can not begin to thank you enough, and I'm certain that each of the approximately 600,000 fans who have watched games at Harry Grove Stadium would want to shake your hand if I could ever adequately explain the major, but unheralded, role you had in the process."

Randall invited Eckman to attend Opening Day with him next season.

How much do you think that thoughtful letter meant to Charley at a time when he is fighting for his life against cancer?

Believe me, it meant a lot. Charley beams from ear to ear when he shows the letter. Beneath that boisterous exterior is a caring man who loves to help people, something I've known for a long time, but had reinforced a few weeks ago.

Charley and his wife, Wilma, were honored by their four children -- Barry, Linda, Gail and Janet -- at Fred's Restaurant in Annapolis on their 50th wedding anniversary. The outpouring of love, respect and appreciation by each of the children reassured those of us there how important family ties are.

Acting as the family spokesman in telling the life stories of Charley and Wilma, Barry told of how Wilma was in chargeof everything in the house and Charley from the front door to the outside world.

She was "Mrs. Inside" and Charley was "Mr. Outside." In other words, it was, and still is, Wilma's job to take care of thehouse, while it's Charley's job to take care of making the money to pay for everything.

The guy has hustled all his life, starting as a kid on Stricker Street in East Baltimore.

"At home with Wilma, Iride shotgun," said Eckman. "When I was coming up my father made $35a week, tops, but we still got along.

"Nobody had any money in the late '20s and early '30s. A quarter is what I got for being bat boyfor the Baltimore Black Sox, and I would come home and buy a 19-centquart of ice cream from High's and I was hot ----; dead tired but a big man on a Sunday afternoon.

"I would eat that ice cream very slowly."

Even in these hard times when he is considering "giving up the chemo, not taking it anymore and either getting through it or dying -- it's a very simple game," Charley is still out there hustling. The cancer may have slowed him down a bit, but it hasn't stopped him.

Charley still gets around and is still battling for horse racing and hoping someone will listen.

It's his idea to simulcast races and off-track betting in Maryland by setting up legal betting parlors at choice locations throughout the state. Charley has seen it work and played a role in its development in Pennsylvania where he started the World Series of Handicapping at Penn National 18 years ago.

Eckman wrote Governor Schaefer two years ago with his ideas on simulcastbetting and told the chief executive that "we have to have it in order for racing to survive in Maryland."

The former NBA referee and coach is against betting parlors in Baltimore, but instead wants to see them in four strategic locales -- on the road to Ocean City duringthe summer, Hagerstown, Shrewsbury, Pa., and possibly in the Easton area because of the number of horse farms in that area.

"Never putone in Baltimore because it could hurt the crowd at Pimlico," said Eckman. "It's only about 15 to 20 minutes from Baltimore to Pimlico and to have a betting parlor in downtown Baltimore would take away fromthe gate.

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