Must-own Sports Books, Pickleball

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Is This Picklegate? The curious history of pickleball

Published: 2023-03-25
Is This Picklegate?  The curious history of pickleball
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We may have missed the boat.

When we started our Must Read Sports Books channel, we should have, could have, but didn’t account for sports books that didn't have much to do with sports instruction—our sweet spot.


What about entertaining sports books?  

The Curious History of Pickleball:  From Its Origins as Picklepong is one of them.

Author Patrick W. Smith, himself an entertaining figure, recounts how his family's adult beverage-infused lawn game may very well have serendipitously begat the pickled part of pickleball eventually, though he readily accounts that his circa 1959 to 1963 memories called that game picklepong.

It reminds this scribe of a similar sports naming episode that occurred in the gymnasium of the Springfield Massachusetts YMCA when a winter-frustrated-rugby team was introduced to what was to be boxball but became basketball when inventor James Naismith's handyman couldn't find the box James wanted, so brought him a peach basket instead.

Author Patrick Smith goes out of his way, early in the pre-publication edition he provided, to calm the waters between today's Pickleball historians, including us, who relate the history of its origins to friends and family of then-Congressman Joel Pritchard (R), who honored their own backyard game with the name Pickeleball in 1965. 

Long story short, Congressman Pritchard was a not infrequent visitor to the home of Patrick Smith’s aunt and uncle Gretchen and Chuck Bechtlell well-known Republican fundraisers during those pre-1965 times where picklepong was played.


Patrick puts the issue to rest with this excerpt:

My purpose here is not to challenge the veracity of the well-documented history of these facts. My purpose is instead to bring to light the angular backstory, the unmarked trail preceding Pickleball’s earliest development, and the two “political” friends of the Pritchards who are sadly, but not surprisingly, missing from that early list of influential contributors. They are absent, not because of intentional omission, but because they lived on the next island to the north and shared a friendship with the Pritchards that was far more professional than personal. They are my aunt and uncle, Gretchen and Charles “Chuck” Bechtell of Whidbey Island, fundraisers for many and various Republican causes politic.

Once past the hopeful passing of the olive branch, Patrick recounts how picklepong came to be named at the Bechtells.  Amply lubricated visitors, he tells, often earned the popular version of drunk then called pickled, as they pickle-ponged their Wiffle ball over another legendary backyard net.



Adding to the pickle naming heritage that is Smith’s or rather his Aunt Gretchen’s German gherkins, translated as pickles.  Gretchen's Gherkins were co-pilot to pickle-pong onlooking imbibers of drinks with Bechtell monikers of their own such as Rump Slappin’ Dirty Martinis and/or Mother’s Ruin a Gretchen Gin Gimlet.

The Curious History of Pickleball:  From Its Origins as Picklepong Once it passes, its not quite apologetic telling of the birthing story becomes sort of a National Geographic of Puget Sound, showing in mapped detail how the Bechtell’s backyard of pissed politicos is 25 nautical miles north of Congressman’s Pritchard’s vacation venue on Bainbridge Island the until now exclusive stake to pickle sports.

Given that pissed is the UK version of soused, pickled, or hammered, imagine if, in 1952 or earlier, another well-oiled lawn game with a net, a paddle, and a plastic ball got started and nicknamed.  Nah, we won't.

What intrigues the reviewer is the author, Patrick Smith.  Educated at Yale, a Master Karate Instructor, a former Rolling Stones percussionist, now classically engaged in the symphony, Grammy-nominated, teaching at multiple levels as well as partnered with Melinda Alcosser agent to travelers with big hearts and—surprise—pickleballers who want to “seize the dinks and travel to play.”

It’s an interesting read, stuffed with recipes for cocktails and nosh, especially Gretchen’s Gherkins, the pickles that started it all.

Move over Heinz and Vlassic it feels like Gretchen’s Gherkins may have the necessary pickleball tumult to barge its way onto the supermarket shelves—if only there was an entrepreneurial couple around to lead the way.