HOW ED SNIDER BETRAYED HIS BOSS JERRY WOLMAN, TRIED TO STEAL THE EAGLES, REWROTE HISTORY AND CREATED A MYTH

By Theodore N. Beitchman

Here’s the thing about Flyers owner Ed Snider:

When he died a couple of months ago in California at the age of 83, Philly mourned and the lame-ass Philly media fawned as if he were the Pope, Prince or Muhammad Ali.

The love demonstrated at the celebration of his life at the Wells Fargo Center a few days later spoke volumes about the effect his 52 years here had on this town.

Especially on sports and philanthropy in areas related to Israel and youth hockey through his foundation.

He was the longest-serving owner in this town, and he was memorialized as the best ever sports team owner this star-crossed city has ever had. Though I would argue that Connie Mack of the old A’s was way better.

But most of the folks writing those stories and reading them on wall-to-wall coverage on TV didn’t know a thing about how Ed Snider got started in sports ownership, let alone how he betrayed and sand-bagged the man who had given him a job at Snider’s father’s behest.

I knew Ed Snider professionally over the past 25 years and also know some of his family and many of his friends and colleagues.

And I send my deepest sympathy to all who inhabited his world and the many lives he touched.

But being called the greatest owner in Philly history is like being called the tallest tree in the Mojave Desert.

The ownership fraternity in Philly has included absentee car dealers, a couple of dipsomaniacs and some trust funders with nothing better to do with their time and money than own a sports franchise.

Truth be told, Snider’s record as an owner is filled with lots of promises and disappointments and few successes:

The Flyers have been a very popular franchise for almost 50 years, but they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975 — when Madonna was 16. And Snider had the annoying habit of only hiring execs from the Flyers “family,” as if they had the market cornered on competence. Of course, fans took solace in knowing that “we are always trying to win another Cup,” as Snider said constantly. And the team did make the Cup finals another six times — the last time in 2010 — but never won the Cup again.

The Sixers, whom Snider ran from 1996 till 2011 under the Comcast banner, are just now escaping from the dumpster fire Snider hires Billy King and Ed Stefanski left.

Snider once told me that he had a chance to buy the Eagles in 1984, when Leonard Tose had crapped out, but he passed. Which tells you all you need to know about Ed Snider, business genius. The Eagles are worth $2.4 billion today! Guess he wanted to retain a franchise in the rinky-dink NHL instead of the money machine NFL.

By my experience and reporting — I interviewed him three times over the past quarter century — Ed Snider qualified as a mixed bag.

As the Noah Cross character in “Chinatown,” played by the great John Houston, famously said:

“Of course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

By that standard, Snider was an institution in Philly and in the National Hockey League.

The more than 500 Flyers who attended that late-April celebration of Snider’s life at the Wells Fargo Center were represented by the greatest Flyer of them all, Bobby Clarke, who spoke about the owner’s passion, friendship, support and loyalty.

LOYALTY?

REALLY?

That’s what pissed me off.

 

Snider (middle) with Eagles coach and GM Joe Kuharich and owner Wolman.

Snider (middle) with Eagles coach and GM Joe Kuharich and owner Wolman.

Snider arrived in town in 1964, soon after fellow Washingtonian Jerry Wolman bought the Eagles and gave him a job, making good on a promised favor Wolman made to his banker Sol Snider, Ed’s father.

Snider’s job included a handsome salary, an expense account, use of a limo, the gift of an $83,000 down payment on a Main Line home and a gift of 7 percent of Eagles stock.

Wolman, who died in August 2013 at the age of 84, was an up-from-the-bootstraps developer who had made a fortune building apartments in and around Washington.

By 1963, he was 36 years old and worth $36 million.

Not bad for a poor kid from Shenandoah, Pa., who loved the Eagles and often hitched down with a buddy to watch them play in the 1930s and 1940s.

 

Foreman (left), Wolman, Frank Sinatra and Taxin.

Foreman (left), Wolman, Frank Sinatra and Taxin.

So, when a crusty Washington Star columnist, Mo Siegel, told him the Eagles were for sale, Wolman headed like a rocket to Philly to inquire. He went to Bookbinder’s, where his dad delivered produce decades before, and asked to see the proprietor. The legendary John Taxin took a liking to Wolman, filled him in on the Eagles’ prospective sale, and then sent him over to see the team’s managing partner Frank McNally, Philly’s fire commissioner!

Wolman charmed McNally, who headed the owners — called the 100 brothers — each of whom paid $3,000 in 1949 for 1 percent of the team.

There was a handful of bidders but only one other serious group, headed by developer Jack Wolgin, and even though the Brothers had set a price of $4.5 million Wolman and his attorney anticipated that the winning bid would be much higher.

On Dec. 6, 1963 sealed bids were opened in a conference room in the Fidelity Building on south Broad St. And at 4 p.m., Frank McNamee arose and announced that the 36-year-old outsider from Washington had won the bidding with a total of $5.505 million — only because Wolman’s intuition told him to add to his original $5.3 million bid.

Over the shouts of “default” and “objection” from the losers, McNamee said matter-of-factly:

“Jerry Wolman is owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. Good day!”

That is a true fact, as they say in the law.

Three years later, Wolman was building what is now the John Hancock Building on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago when the foundation started to slip. So did Wolman’s world because he had to tear down the four stories that were built. Before long word got around to the banks that were holding Wolman’s paper, and they called his loans.

Wolman and his team scrambled to find lenders, which they did in Kuwait. In exchange for a $43 million loan, the Kuwaitis wanted title to the new National Hockey League team that Wolman was starting.

If he didn’t get the loan, Wolman would slide into bankruptcy.

So, on Oct. 18, 1967, he assembled his Eagles brain trust at the team’s offices in the old Bulletin building at 30th and Market Sts., and laid out the issues, asking each of the employees to sign over the stock he had given them — he would pay them $1 million each, the equivalent of $7.1 million today! — so he could get the $43 million loan.

Snider and his brother-in-law Earl Foreman, Wolman’s once-trusted legal advisor, refused. Wolman fired both on the spot and prepared for bankruptcy.

No one, not even the traitors Snider and Foreman, ever denied this story.

 

It wasn’t long before the fiercely proud Wolman declared bankruptcy, with assets of $85 million and debts of $92 million.

Before he had a chance to sell his prize possession, the Eagles, Snider and Foreman tried to buy the team on the cheap.

In a hearing in March 1969, Judge Joseph O. Kaiser of U. S. Bankruptcy Court, who was overseeing Wolman’s case, uttered these fateful words: “Is anyone present interested in bidding for the team?”

Wolman heard the familiar voice of his former confidant Foreman, who suggested that he would make a bid of $4 million and that the Eagles had little or no value since they had deteriorated under Wolman’s “mismanagement.” Foreman and Snider were trying to grab the Eagles for a fishcake.

“That’s ridiculous,” Wolman shouted. “I feel the Eagles are worth $16 million,” which took the air out of the room and quieted the traitorous Foreman.

“Mr. Wolman, you have 90 days to find someone who will pay that amount.”

Hello, Leonard Tose.

The heir to a trucking company had been one of the 100 Brothers, thanks to an investment his dad had made, he was also part of the group that lost out to Wolman in December 1963. Tose was a well-tailored and -coifed man about town in a town that had few of them. When he showed up for his meeting with Wolman with two bottles of Johnnie Walker Red, Wolman had a pretty good idea that Leonard would bite on the $16 million.

The deal closed on May 1, 1969 for a pro sports record $16.115 million and, by 1970 when he walked out of Bankruptcy Court for the last time, Wolman was virtually broke but all his creditors had gotten dollar-for-dollar compensation.

 

“Time heals all wounds.”

So goes an age-old axiom.

For Ed Snider the opposite was true:

Time wounds all heels.

No sooner than Wolman headed back to Washington with his pride battered but his reputation intact, Snider began to rewrite history with a systematic program of disinformation, in which he claimed, among other things, that:

Wolman sent him to Philly in 1963 to “strategize” to buy the Eagles;

It was Snider’s idea to start a hockey team in Philly;

He — Snider — built the Spectrum;

Wolman never fired him for his disloyalty;

Wolman never gave him $83,000 for a down payment on a Main Line home.

None of these claims are true, and all would have passed through the hourglass of time undisturbed but for the fact that Wolman published a biography in 2010 — “The World’s Richest Man” — that laid out his story for all the world to see.

So journalists of the ilk of the Daily News’ great Stan Hochman began following up and asked Snider questions about Wolman’s claims.

Snider, who had published his own vanity book, “Full Spectrum,” in 1997, in which Wolman is barely mentioned and cropped out of all pictures, pitched a fit.

Lies, Snider claimed!

That’s when I noticed and began a thorough investigation.

 

Ed Snider cared about facts. And opinions.

He proved that almost 19 years ago when he sued WIP over its erroneous report that the Flyers’ Eric Lindros had missed a game because he was hung over. Snider won an undisclosed settlement from the station he once owned.

And Snider had expressed many opinions about the events leading to his 1967 divorce from Jerry Wolman — in books, interviews and newspaper articles. However, Snider’s version of these events often does not survive basic fact-checking.

In October 2010, I emailed Snider’s press attaché, Ike Richman, requesting answers to a series of questions relating to his relationship with Wolman, and within an hour and a half Richman shot back the following communique:

“Snider has issued this statement and will not answer any questions.” To wit:

“Jerry Wolman and I worked very closely together many years ago, and at one time enjoyed a good relationship. Unfortunately, in many partnerships, things don’t always work out and people move on. And that’s what happened with Jerry and me. I’ve moved on and am not interested in rehashing events that may or may not have occurred more than four decades ago. I’m very proud to be spending my time and energy these days running a company that has created thousands and thousands of jobs and has brought happiness and excitement to millions of fans and to be engaged in charitable and civic causes that benefit the community.”

 

So let’s examine the major disagreements and nail down the facts:

WHO BOUGHT THE EAGLES IN 1964?

In “Full Spectrum,” in a 2008 interview conducted by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship, and on the Flyers Alumni web site — Snider left the distinct impression Wolman had equity partners when he bought the Eagles and that he was one of those equity partners.

An excerpt from the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship interview: … toward the end of ’63, my brother-in-law, Earl Foreman, was very friendly with a guy named Jerry Wolman, who heard that the Philadelphia Eagles … might be for sale, and wanted to know if I would go up and see what was going on and work with him … So I went up to Philadelphia and strategically decided what to do to get the team, and we bought the Philadelphia Eagles for $5,555,000. The Eagles are now worth $1 billion.

Daily News clip reporting that Wolman bought the Eagles.

Daily News clip reporting that Wolman bought the Eagles.

THE FACTS: As he describes in “Richest Man,” Wolman got the tip from Mo Siegel that the Eagles were for sale (Siegel worked for me at the Washington Star in the 1970s, and he verified this). It was Wolman who drove up to Philly from D. C. and met John Taxin, who got him in to see the team’s managing partner. And it was Wolman — and Wolman alone — who won the bidding for the Eagles in December 1963.

The deal closed in February 1964 — for $5.505 million — and it was then that Wolman hired Foreman and Snider, giving each employee minority shares in the team. As reported by Sports Illustrated’s Bud Shrake in its Sept. 23, 1968, issue, “Morgan Guaranty Trust of New York loaned Wolman $6 million with 100% of the Eagle stock as collateral.”

Wolman agreed to hire Snider as a favor to his good friend, Snider’s dad Sol. Ed Snider was 31 years old at the time, had run only one small business and had no experience in sports.

WAS SNIDER FIRED BY WOLMAN?

In “Full Spectrum,” Snider was at the Flyers’ first game at the Spectrum on Oct. 19, 1967, and was shown a headline from the next day’s Inquirer: “Snider Fired by Wolman in Struggle Over Eagles,” and he responds, “Bullshit I was fired!” When Philadelphia magazine ran an excerpt from Wolman’s book in July 2010, Snider reiterated his claim that Wolman never fired him.

THE FACTS: On Oct. 20, 1967, the Associated Press issued the following dispatch: “PHILADELPHIA, (AP)–A still unexplained dispute between top executives of the Philadelphia Eagles exploded today and resulted in the firing of Ed Snider as vice president of the National Football League club.”

And in Shrake’s article from SI on Sept. 23, 1968: “The Philadelphia franchise earned more than $840,000 in each of the past two years, but the profit vanished in loans to Wolman and severance pay for former vice president Ed Snider, fired with 12 years remaining on his contract.”

If Snider wasn’t fired, why was he collecting severance pay?

 

WHOSE IDEA WAS THE SPECTRUM AND WHO BUILT IT?

In a June 2009 article in Philadelphia magazine, Snider said:

“I was vice president of the Eagles. It was 1966, and I heard that Jack Kent Cooke [owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Redskins] wanted to get a National Hockey League franchise and build an arena in L.A. I had been to a hockey game at the old Boston Garden and thought it was a fabulous sport …. I said, ‘I think Philadelphia would be a great place for a hockey franchise.’ So I … talked to the president of City Council, who was a South Philadelphia resident, about putting an arena on the parking lot where the Vet was going, and increasing revenues for the city. He was very enthusiastic. We went to Mayor Tate, and he said, ‘Let’s make this deal.’ Only 11 months of construction. You can’t do that today. The new building took six years.”

 

Wolman Seeks to Bring Big League Hockey Here_ArticleTHE FACTS: There is no documentation in “Full Spectrum,” articles from the Bulletin, Inquirer or Daily News that confirm Snider ever met with Tate or City Council president Paul D’Ortona to discuss a new arena.

In an interview with me, Wolman refuted everything about Snider’s version:

“Our group had discussed a new arena, but when we met with the NHL board of governors in February 1966, Snider wasn’t even there. The NHL raised the legitimate question of a 15,000-seat arena and said we would never be ready in time. I assured them we could do it, and the Blackhawks’ Arthur Wirtz stuck up for me because I was building the John Hancock Center in Chicago.

“I hired the architect, Skidmore, Owens and Merrill, the finest firm in the country. My attorneys negotiated the lease with the city. I arranged for a permanent loan from Columbia University through a correspondent (Henry Goldschmidt). I negotiated and hired McCloskey Co. to do the construction and had numerous meetings with Matt McCloskey.

“Snider was never involved in any of this. As a matter of fact at the ground breaking on June 1, 1966, if you look at the picture in “The Richest Man,” Snider is nowhere to be found. It’s just me and Mayor Tate.

“And it took 15 months, not the 11 Snider said it did. I put Bill Putnam in charge because he had experience from the banking end and the construction end; he had honchoed the Forum in L. A. Snider was his assistant.”

Snider was involved in decisions such as the name for the arena, the color scheme, plans for a back-up arena in case the Spectrum was not completed on time, and various other marketing-related issues.

A picture in “Full Spectrum” shows only Tate with a shovel at the groundbreaking. Wolman has been cropped out.

EPSON MFP image

A clip from the Daily News, headlined, “Wolman To Build, Then Give Arena to City,” is reproduced here.

 

Whose idea was it to start the Flyers? Who met with the NHL?

In “Full Spectrum” in 1997, in his 2008 interview the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship and in his Philadelphia magazine response in June 2009, Snider takes full credit for the idea and execution that resulted in the Flyers’ founding in 1966:

“ … I heard, and it wasn’t big news that the National Hockey League was expanding from six teams to twelve … and they had all these cities that were vying for it … and we weren’t even mentioned. So the banker who financed the purchase of the Eagles was with JP Morgan and was leaving. He was in their sports division and he was leaving to go to work for Jack Kent Cooke, who expected to get a franchise in Los Angeles in the National Hockey League … so this guy told me all about the league and what was going on.”

The banker Snider mentions is Bill Putnam. Snider’s hockey interest was piqued when he saw a line for tickets for the last-place Bruins in 1964. Snider claimed that he had to hustle to come up with the $2 million franchise fee after Wolman failed to, as he had promised.

 

THE FACTS: In “The World’s Richest Man,” Wolman describes how Putnam called him from Los Angeles, where he was working for Cooke on starting the Kings and building the Forum, to say that he, Wolman, should bid on a hockey team.

Putnam, whom Wolman had known since the early 1960s when he used Morgan to finance several real estate projects in Washington, was the banker who approved and delivered the $5.5 million check Wolman used to buy the Eagles, when he was still at Morgan Guaranty. Wolman explained that he had no interest in a hockey team but he was interested in buying into the NHL because if Philly were to be a truly first-class sports town it needed hockey.

Wolman, Putnam and Jerry Schiff attended the NHL meeting in February 1966 which resulted in Philly being granted the franchise. If the idea of getting an NHL team for Philly was in fact Snider’s, wouldn’t logic dictate that he attend this crucial meeting?

In “Full Spectrum” Snider allows as how he stayed in Philly so that when the city was granted the franchise he would hustle over to City Hall to tell Mayor Tate and have a celebratory press conference.

“Snider said that he made the presentation to the league,” Wolman told me in an interview. “He was not even present.

“As for the funds: The $100,000 deposit for the bidding came from me or one of my sources. Same as far as all the expenses during the bidding process. I had raised the money and it was the balance of $1,900,000 that was put up by me.

“When I had to sell [because of my financial situation], part of the deal was that Putnam and Snider had to pay off the $2,000,000 that I had borrowed.

Joe King, Wolman’s business manager in Philly, living in Bethesda, Md., confirmed in a November 2010 telephone conversation that the funds for the Flyers’ $2 million franchise fee came from Wolman.

Bill Putnam died in March 2002, and his widow Josie Putnam, living in Palm City, Fla., in an email reported:

“Bill was a vice president and lending officer of J.P. Morgan when he first met Jerry, who used Morgan when he was purchasing the Eagles. I don’t recall Bill ever mentioning Eddie Snider until we moved to Philadelphia in 1966.

“After Jerry’s financial difficulties, my mother-in-law Katharine Putnam pledged her securities as collateral to raise the necessary funds for Bill and Snider which started the Flyers. I distinctly remember telling her she had guts to do that. If Eddie denies that he is lying.

 

“Bill put that team together and he never really got the credit he deserved.”

The Bulletin story from Feb. 8, 1966, which points out that Snider “was not present at the talks …” is reprinted on these pages, as is a memo from Jerry and Anne Wolman to Morgan Guaranty Trust which confirms that Wolman funded the Flyers.

 

WHO PROVIDED THE $83,000 DOWN PAYMENT FOR SNIDER’S HOME ON THE MAIN LINE IN 1964?

In Philadelphia magazine in June 2010, Snider denies that Wolman provided the down payment on his house, but offers that Wolman once tried to pay off his mortgage—a gift, Snider says, he refused. And in “Full Spectrum” Snider says, “Wolman told people that he bought me my house. The truth is, he once tried to pay off my mortgage … when my banker told me what had happened I had him send the money back.”

Eddie Snider Letter to Jerry Wolman pg.1THE FACTS: Wolman has never claimed he paid off or tried to pay off Snider’s mortgage. In “The World’s Richest Man,” the authors write: “Nothing meant more to Snider than when Wolman gave him a gift of $83,000 for his down payment on a grand new home, after having made arrangements for his mortgage.”

Eddie Snider Letter to Jerry Wolman pg.2King, Wolman’s business manager in Philly, confirmed by phone that: “I wrote the $83,000 check that Snider used as a down payment, though I am unsure if the check was drawn from Jerry’s Eagles account or his personal account. I suspect it was the personal account.”

The seven-paragraph letter Snider wrote to Wolman, dated Sept. 4, 1964, thanking him for the $83,000 down payment is reprinted above.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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