Running Del Mar for the Bettor : Operations Chief Also Found Excitement as NFL Referee
The pictures on Harry (Bud) Brubaker’s wall tell the story of his life--autographed mementoes from Babe Ruth, Bing Crosby, Hank Aaron, Willie Shoemaker and baseball manager Sparky Anderson, whom Brubaker coached at Dorsey High School in his native Los Angeles.
At one time, Bud, as his friends call him, was on a first-name basis with Marilyn Monroe--"a shy, gorgeous woman,” he calls her--and former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover--whom he remembers as “a mysterious man, an aloof man.”
One thing Monroe and Hoover had in common, Brubaker said, was that they both loved horses.
Brubaker, 79, is director of operations for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. He oversees racing at the Del Mar Race Track, where he has worked since 1945 and which ends its 50th season today. Brubaker also is still a consultant to the National Football League. He worked as a referee from 1950 through 1970, officiating some of the biggest games in professional football.
He is also a longtime resident of North San Diego County, which he considers “just a notch below heaven.” He’s lived here every summer since 1945 and continuously since 1976. His current postmark is Encinitas.
As Brubaker reviewed eight decades of change, he had a kind, cherubic face and a quick, easy laugh
About the increasing congestion in San Diego County: “I swear we’re getting to be like L.A. The traffic is just incredible.”
A few minutes later, he’s marveling over the speed, size and strength of today’s pro athlete. He says pro football will end in the next century because it will be humanly impossible to take the punishment required to play it.
“The size and speed will finish off the game,” he said. “The human body wasn’t meant to take all that. Nobody in the defensive line weighs less than 275 pounds any more, and they all run 40 yards in less than five seconds. All quick as cats, too.”
Brubaker still scouts potential referees for the NFL. He has his eye on a “terrific ref” in the Pacific 10 conference but knows he can’t recommend him because he’s only 4-foot-10.
“I have nothing against short people,” he said, “but, these days in the NFL, you’ve got to have a presence on the field. If you don’t, they’ll walk over you.”
Intimidation, NFL style
Brubaker recalled that more than one player has tried to do that to him.
“In one game in Dallas in the late ‘60s, the Cowboys were driving,” he said. “They had the ball near the other team’s goal line. They were playing in the Cotton Bowl then--what a crazy, noisy old place that was. Well, somebody fumbled the ball into the end zone, and it rolled out of bounds.
“The rule in those days was for the other team to get the ball back. It was ruled a touchback and came to the 20-yard line. Don Meredith (then the Cowboys’ quarterback, later a commentator on ABC’s ‘Monday Night Football’) just came unglued. He was yelling, ‘How could that be? That’s ridiculous!’ And the crowd just went bananas. He and I went ‘round and ‘round for quite a while--one of those games that lingers in the memory.”
After the 1968 NFL championship game between Baltimore and Cleveland, won with stunning ease by Baltimore, Brubaker and the officiating crew he headed were speculating as to how severely the Colts would hammer their next opponent, the New York Jets, the American Football League champions in Super Bowl III.
“We all said Baltimore would kill ‘em,” he said, which, of course, didn’t happen. After brashly saying that he “guaranteed” a victory, Jets quarterback Joe Namath pulled it off, a gesture and a game Brubaker remembers as a turning point in NFL history.
Brubaker never refereed a Super Bowl game, but he did oversee several NFL title games.
It’s the Excitement
He loved officiating and watching football for the same reason he loves going to the track each day and doing his job--supervising the parking lot attendants, the ticket takers, the program sellers, ushers and gatemen.
“I admit it,” he said. “I love excitement.”
He’s seen people win as much as $200,000 in one day, and he’s seen the sadness of someone losing that much.
He said a frequent bettor at the track was Pete Rose, whom Brubaker got to know through Sparky Anderson, who managed Rose when both were with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1970s.
“Every time the Reds were in town to play the Padres in a night game, Pete was at the track during the day,” Brubaker said.
Ever a man who adheres to rules, Brubaker sighed.
“Pete knew the rules,” he said. “If he bet on baseball, he must have known it would come back to haunt him. Why did he do it?”
When Brubaker started refereeing NFL games, he got $100 a game. When he finished almost 20 years ago, he was paid $450 a game. He said that now, if a ref is a 10-year veteran, he makes $2,000 a game.
“You have to enjoy it,” he said, “and you have to have the highest integrity. I’ve had people ask me, ‘When players say those things about you, doesn’t it bother you?’ And quite honestly, it didn’t bother me. But I’ve seen a lot of guys quit because they couldn’t stand the criticism.”
Instant Replay Endorsed
Officiating now is different than when Brubaker did it. He thinks the relatively new innovation of instant replay is a good idea “because everyone makes mistakes. Even though I do think it hurts a ref’s confidence knowing that thing is up there.”
When Brubaker stalked NFL hash marks, officials who threw flags couldn’t say “sorry” and retract their intention--as they’re permitted to now.
Did Brubaker ever make a call that cost a team a game?
“Probably several times,” he said with a laugh. “There were more than a few I wish I’d had back. But most of the mistakes a ref makes are never picked up by the crowd or anyone else.”
One of the best decisions he ever made was coming to work at the track. He’s proud of what he said is one of the largest “handles” in the nation: With off-track betting, Del Mar averages $7.2 million a day in proceeds. He said that racing at Del Mar, minus off-track revenues, averages $3 million a day during the season.
Brubaker is often asked whether he likes horses and whether he ever wins any money on them.
“Oh, once in a while I bet,” he said. “Sometimes, I’m lucky; sometimes, I’m not. Knowledge is a great thing, but I’m hardly a confirmed horse bettor. I’ve been around too long and too much to spend all the money I make betting horses.”
On the rare occasions that he’s around horses, Brubaker is apt to appear tentative, something he never was on a football field staring at the likes of Big Daddy Lipscomb.
“Mine is a front-side, not a back-side operation,” he said. “Horses are on the back side. I handle the people who come to the races. I don’t dislike horses, but I’ve never ridden very much. People, much more than horses, are my cup of tea.”
In the off-season, Brubaker helps to oversee off-track betting at the fairgrounds.
With such growth, a lot is gained, but a little bit is lost, Brubaker said, just as it is with NFL linemen who in no way resemble ordinary men. Del Mar is now “more serious,” he acknowledged. People have to work harder, whether they’re managing the track, riding a horse or scrambling to make a buck by picking a winner.
Somewhere along the way, everyone seems to have gone a little bit crazy over fun and games.
Brubaker recalls fondly the days when he would greet Betty Grable or Harry James in the Turf Club. He played softball with James and often shared a joke with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, who he said were as side-splittingly funny in person as they were in the movies.
Joe Frisco, Funnyman
Out of all of the people he knew--Crosby, Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Durante or Pat O’Brien--Brubaker said the funniest was a comic named Joe Frisco.
“He was one of those guys you find yourself thinking about 40 years later,” Brubaker said. “Maybe it was the way he said things, off the cuff all the time. He’d stick his hands in his pockets, pull out a dollar and say, ‘I must be wearing somebody else’s pants.’ Or he’d check into a cheap hotel by the beach, gaze out at the Pacific Ocean and say, ‘Well, at least for a little place, they do have a nice pool.’ He kept everybody in stitches all the time. He just never became a big star like Crosby.”
What he remembers about those days is that there seemed to be more cookouts on the beach, more laughs, less intensity. But he wouldn’t trade any of it, then or now, for anything.
“Mainly,” he said, “it’s all been a lot of fun.”