So many people have asked about Ted Stepien that I am starting to get a complex. They want to know why I virtually ignored him in both of my books. I’ll tell you. It was not an oversight. It was intentional.
There is no question that Ted was one of the most bizarre characters I have covered over the last thirty years. This website is actually named after him. His very name has become a Cleveland punchline. And that’s my problem. I don’t like to pile on. Ted is long gone. First his wife died. Then Ted passed. Out of respect to their five daughters. I’m not going to kick their father around, even though you might say he deserves it for his inept management of the Cavaliers in the early 1980s.
Some people took advantage of him. I’ll never forget the day he called a press conference to announce the signing of a free agent. Ted thought he had the deal done, but no papers had been signed. The press conference was set for noon at his “Competitors’ Club,”a girlie bar in the basement of the Statler Office Tower.
Half an hour before the press conference, Ed Keating, the player’s agent, said to me, “Wait right here. I’m gonna get another million out of Ted.”
Both Keating and Stepien had offices in the Statler Office Tower.Keating asked Stepien to step into his lair, where he had his secretary type up a fresh contract that raised the player’s salary by an extra million dollars.
“Sign it or cancel the press conference,” said Keating.
Stepien should have cancelled the press conference and sent everybody home. He should have told the caterer to take away the tray of cold cuts and close the bar, but Ted caved in. With his back against the wall, Stepien signed the contract and held the press conference. In the corner of the room Keating laughed his rear end off. Keating could be vicious. That’s how people did business with Ted. They squeezed every dollar out of him.
Others took delight in getting under his skin. One of the best was Doug Clarke, a columnist for the Cleveland Press. In April of 1982 Doug wrote a withering column about Ted, who responded by banning Clarke from press row. I think he tried to ban him entirely from the Richfield Coliseum, but that was difficult to enforce. There were too many entrances.
That was during the ten weeks that Doug and I worked together at The Press. Being teammates, we worked out a game plan. I distracted the usher’s attention to allow Doug to slip past and take his usual seat on press row. In those days the media sat on the floor at courtside. It was a civilized arrangement, quite unlike the press facilities downtown at the Q. However, I believe that security eventually escorted Doug to the exit.
When I write my next book, maybe I’ll include a chapter on Ted. I surely will include his softball toss from the observation deck of the Terminal Tower. That was part of the 50th anniversary of the Terminal Tower. One of Ted’s softball players was supposed to catch the ball, but his first throw dented a car and his second throw broke the arm of a lady passerby on the Square.
“Ted, they’re taking her to the Lutheran Hospital emergency room. Please go to the hospital and apologize to her,” pleaded Dan FitzSimmons, who put together the anniversary festivities.
“Then send her flowers,” FitzSimmons said.
Ted said no again. There was no saying no to her lawyer. Once again, Ted paid through the nose.
I’m starting to think that Ted does deserve a chapter.
Editor’s Note: This is the coolest blog entry I’ve ever had the privilege of posting here at Stepien Rules. Dan Coughlin has covered the Cleveland sports scene for 45 years, as a sportswriter for The Cleveland Plain Dealer (1964-1982) and on WJW-TV 8 (since 1983). He was twice named Ohio sportswriter of the year and was honored with a television Emmy. Dan has written two books: Crazy, With the Papers to Prove It and Pass the Nuts. He blogs at Coughlin Forever. We are beyond honored that Dan has taken the time to write this for us here at Stepien Rules. Thanks a ton Mr. Coughlin, I owe you a beer.
Dan Coughlin Photo Credit: (c) Danny Vega