Charlie Brumfield says he wants to be remembered as the Ben Hogan of racquetball, but right now he seems to more easily resemble Jimmy Connors in style and temperament. The sport can probably thank him for that.
The brash, 29-year-old San Diego man is touring the country to spread the word on racquetball, a sport that has 6 million American fans, according to figures based on equipment sales.
Last night, Brumfield, the holder of 28 national titles in both singles and doubles competitions, conducted a five-hour clinic on the fine points of the game at the Capitol Courts Club in Sterling, Va., where just about everybody knew who he was.
Brumfield is ranked second in world competition, competition that is largely confined to this country and Canada.
"I'd like to be remembered as the Ben Hogan of racquetball, getting out to the grass roots and helping to promote the sport around the country, helping the generate junior involvement through clinics and camps," he said.
He said he is toning down his image to be more informative than controversial now that the public and press are becoming more familiar with the sport. "I don't have to be controversial anymore to call attention to the game," he explained.
National Racquetball, the official magazine of the U.S. Racquetball Association, called Brumfield "spirited, sensitive, egotistical . . . understanding, intelligent and crude."
That characterization resulted from such Brumfield pronouncements as: "I can't practice with players of my own ability since there are none," and, "I don't think I'm being egotistical when I say I am and always have been the premier player in the game."
Like Connors, Brumfield orchestrates the audience's reactions by letting them know between rallies just what he thought of his opponent or the referee's call. His quips and put-downs, however, are often tongue-in-cheek.
Like Connors, Brumfield is laughing all the way to the bank.
Brumfield began by playing handball - "the snottiest, dirtiest, crustiest sport in the world" - then switched to paddleball when he dislocated a finger. In 1968, he picked up racquetball and dominated all championships until Marty Hogan, 20, too the title and top ranking from him last year.
A magna cum laude graduate of the University of San Diego, where he majored in economics and business administration, Brumfield went on to the university's law school. But, after graduation, the court where he practiced was 20 by 40 feet in a gym.
"My stock answer is that I wanted to make my living honestly so I didn't practice law," he said. "Besides, there's more money in racquetball. I'm making $125,000 a year right now and I don't want to be sitting in an office behind a desk. You know, the average income for attorneys in San Diego is 20 grand."
Most of his income, Brumfield said, comes from endorsements of equipment and clothing. Tournament purses range from $1,500 to $4,000 and $8,000 for the nationals, figures which will grow as the sport does, he believes.
"My personal opinion is that there is a 10-year lag between the time the first guy makes $100,000 and the time parents start telling their kids to go out for that sport."
He said racquetball will far surpass tennis and golf as participatory sports in the future because it costs less, can be learned very quickly and is probably a far better sport for weight control and conditioning.
"This is a blue-collar sport. It doesn't have the social scene that tennis has because you've got to sweat to play, which some people consider odious," he said.
The game relies on power and reflex, which is why it is especially appealing to young persons, although there are competitive divisions for players 55 and older. CAPTION:
Picture, Charlie Bromfield, the world's greatest (by his own admission) racquetball player, demostrates shot. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post