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The History of Squash

Half a century ago, one of the top squash players in the world was a fellow named Henri Salaun, who'd taught himself English by watching movies. According to several accounts in "Squash: A History of the Game" by James Zug, Salaun's talents on the court were exceeded only by his histrionic gifts.

"He was notorious for quitting matches before he lost them," Zug writes, nor was that Salaun's only irritating practice. On occasion he'd leave the court during a match to take a shower. He'd sometimes roll on the court and moan in pain, then somehow manage to rise and win a dozen points in a row...a performance worthy of some of the more accomplished thespians among today's pro soccer players.

James Zug has a wonderful time telling these stories of Henri Salaun and various other eccentrics - of whom there are quite a few - among squash's elite. He writes of Victor Niederhoffer, a former U.S. national champion, that he cultivated "rodomontade eccentricities." One of them was to wear sneakers that didn't match to formal dinners. There may be another book having to do with sports that includes the word "rodomontade," but I have not encountered it, which suggests that Mr. Zug himself has at least a passing acquaintance with eccentricity.

Needless to say, a book dedicated to presenting the history of squash is not for everybody. My initial worry, in fact, was that it would not be for anybody who wasn't a member of at least two clubs that wouldn't admit Victor Niederhoffer when he tried to join them. But James Zug is a good story teller, and his game offers more good stories than most folks might have guessed that it would. There are some intriguing photographs in his book, too. Especially goofy is the one of another former national champion, Mark Talbott, lying in the truck in which he sometimes lived.

I'll stop now, lest you conclude that everybody who plays squash is peculiar.

This program aired on September 13, 2003. The audio for this program is not available.

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