Pickleball Points — A slice of humble pie helps you aim high

It is the time of year when we think of family and old friends. This story is about a very gentle fellow and dear friend who has passed. He not only wrote about all the racquet sports, but held more national titles in more racket sports than any other player in the world.

His name was Dick Squires, and it is his 1978 quotation in his book “The Other Racket Sports” that gives us the most reliable source that “Pickles” was the dog that continued to fetch the ball when pickleball was being developed.

I first met Dick on top of a New York City skyscraper, where I had gone to meet past tennis legend Sidney Wood and learn about the then-new racquet sport of platform tennis. It was a beautiful day, but you didn’t want to run too far in any one direction to fetch a stray ball, as we were two dozen stories in the air.

I didn’t at first realize Sidney had invited a fellow sitting in the room adjacent to the court. I waved to him before Sidney even introduced us and asked him to hit a few balls with me, then took off my blue blazer and loafers, and went outside onto the court.

About then, Sidney caught up with us and introduced Dick Squires. When Dick started to explain the game, I said, “No need,” and went on to say that I was a tennis player and will figure it out.

Platform tennis is played on a raised court that is surrounded by a chicken-wire fence. Well, Dick proceeded to hit ball after ball into the creases of the surrounding wire fencing. When the ball hit the crease, it just dropped, and there was no play. All my tennis skills were worthless, and finally he asked if I’d had enough.

Dick served a large slice of humble pie to me that day, and it later served me well. As I later traveled around the racket world, I was always careful in meeting new people, remembering his humble-pie serving.

You see, Dick played tennis as well. As a junior, Dick was named to the U.S. National Junior Davis Cup squad. Coach Clarence Chaffee said he was “the finest all-around racquets athlete” he ever coached. At Williams College, the “Squires Cup,” is still awarded annually to a talented varsity Williams College racquet-wielder who exemplifies leadership by selflessly sharing his or her on-court skills with teammates.

Dick Squires won three national championships in different sports, which included the National Junior Tennis Doubles title in 1949, the National Squash Men’s Doubles title in 1954 and the National Platform Paddle Tennis Doubles Championship in 1966.

He would have likely received his championship trophies dressed in madras slacks and a preppy red blazer with the crest of one of his sports sewn on the chest pocket. His dress attire echoed his personality.

His enthusiasm for all the racquet sports was such that he served in quite a few administrative roles along the way. Dick was twice a finalist in the Squash Racquets Championship, and later served as the president of the National Intercollegiate Association.

In 1966, he was a finalist for the National Squash Rackets Men’s Singles title, serving as the president of the National Squash Tennis Association. Just two years later, in 1968, Dick was captain of the U.S. Olympic frontenis team at the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

In platform tennis, he was known as “Mr. Paddle,” and he won two more national titles in the Men’s 45+ category. He was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2003. Roger Flax, my college tennis teammate from Maryland in the ’60s, who took up paddle in the ’90s, attaining a No. 3 national senior ranking…. says this about Dick:

“One of the all-time great platform tennis national champions was the legendary Hank Irvine, an ex-Davis Cupper from Rhodesia. Hank won numerous platform tennis national tournaments, and was considered a ‘paddle legend’ when inducted into the Platform Tennis Hall of Fame in 2003.

“But guess who Hank revered and looked up to as a ‘paddle hero’ and benefited greatly from? That’s right…Dick Squires, who was a paddle role model for everybody, and truly the ‘Babe Ruth’ of platform tennis! When I fell in love with paddle myself, all I heard was the name Dick Squires, and how Dick could hit that ball.’

Dick earned a three-page feature story about his brilliant promotional efforts in the December 20, 1976, edition of People magazine. Dick was asked in 1982 to join Tennis magazine, where he served as their national ad manger. In this period, he kept tinkering with two other New York Times-owned magazines, and in 1995 was named publisher of Tennis Buyers Guide and Tennis USTA.

I always thought of Dick as the Praetorian Guard for all racquet sports. He knew absolutely everyone, and he used his contacts to foster the responsible development of all the racquet games.

I frequently was asked to attend one of the hundreds of cocktail parties Tennis magazine organized. At some point, Dick would typically pull me over to the side, and with his big smile and bright preppy outfit of some combination of pink slacks and/or bright yellow blazer, ask me to meet later to discuss some subject. Invariably, it was someone, or some company, making exaggerated claims, and it was always a discussion about the good of the order for racquet sports.

Periodically, Dick would call and invite my wife and me to a special tennis weekend. One such trip was to Newport, R.I. After an afternoon of tennis with legends from the world of tennis, we were his guests at Beechwood, the Astor Mansion. He seated us with tennis superstar Ille Nastase, probably hoping I would help subdue the bad boy of tennis before he got too rambunctious.

Dick and I would normally find a way to get away from the glitter and hit tennis balls. To watch him handle a racquet or paddle was like viewing performers from front-row seating at a Broadway hit. As he barnstormed the country as “Mr. Paddle” over 18 months, doing 43 platform tennis exhibitions, he would dazzle the crowd with trick shots. Even during the national finals, dressed this time in a pink tennis sweater, he would hit a behind-the-back winner in the fifth set of the finals.

My wife and I were his guests with his children when he married Dr. Joan Finn in 1986. In a book he wrote about their love affair, Dick asked to be remembered “As a fun-loving, decent guy who left behind mostly happy memories for a lot of good people whom he both liked and loved.”

We miss you Dick. Regarding racquet sports, there is always someone just around the corner willing to serve you a slice of humble pie.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.

By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point