Joseph Wear

George Bush’s DAVIS CUP Connection – A Strange Tale From 80 Years Ago

The United States and France will renew their storied Davis Cup rivalry this week in the quarterfinals in Winston-Salem, N.C. as captain Patrick McEnroe’s U.S. squad – Andy Roddick, James Blake, Bob and Mike Bryan – will look to continue their run towards a second consecutive Davis Cup title against French captain Guy Forget and his nominated team of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Michael Llodra.

Interestingly, this 15th meeting between the two Davis Cup superpowers (series tied 7-7) comes 80 years after one of the most famous and most-politically involved Davis Cup matches in the history of the competition, in which, perhaps appropriately enough, the great, great uncle of President George W. Bush – Joseph Wear – was a central figure.

In the spring of 1928, Wear, a former player who medaled in tennis at the 1904 Olympic Games, was the Davis Cup Committee Chairman for the United States Lawn Tennis Association – now the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA). The United States was, for the first time since 1919, not in possession of the Davis Cup after the four French Musketeers – Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet, Jacques Brugnon and Jean Borotra – snatched the Cup from Bill Tilden and the U.S. team the previous year in Philadelphia – ending the U.S. record seven-year stranglehold on the Cup.

Wear met with USLTA President Sam Collom and the Davis Cup Selection Committee to decide which Americans would represent the United States in Davis Cup play. The United States were due to meet Italy in the Davis Cup Inter-zone Final in Paris, and presumably, in the Davis Cup Challenge Round against the French in what would be the christening event for its’ new tennis stadium, Stade Roland Garros (now the site of the French Championships). On the agenda of the Davis Cup Selection Committee and the USLTA Executive Committee was whether Tilden, regarded as one of the world’s most famous athletes at the time, had violated his amateur status when he filed newspaper reports from Wimbledon, for which he was paid. Wear, and USLTA President Sam Collom, reviewed the evidence at the USLTA Davis Cup Selection Committee and no suspension or discipline was discussed in depth.

Wear and Collom set sail on July 6 for Paris and the Davis Cup matches on the S.S. France. While on board, radio dispatches were sent to Colom and Wear of the meeting of the USLTA’s Advisory Committee, where charges were, in fact, filed against Tilden for a breach of his amateur status. Collom advised the USLTA’s Advisory Committee that no suspension would be issued until Collom would get to speak to Tilden in person. While Collom and Wear were on board the S.S. France, the USLTA’s Advisory, Davis Cup and Amateur Rule Committee met in New York – minus the USLTA President and Davis Cup Committee Chairman – and voted to suspend Tilden as the playing captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team. The Committees also voted to have Wear replace Tilden as captain of the U.S. team. Under USLTA rules, Collom and Wear were helpless to overrule the committee. Wear, upset at the committee members’ decision, cabled the USLTA in New York and resigned his post as USLTA Davis Cup Committee Chairman upon setting foot back on U.S. soil upon his return from France.

At the draw ceremony to announce the line-ups for the Inter-zone Final between the United States and Italy, Collom announced publicly Tilden’s suspension from the team. Headlines in the world press resulted as Tilden was regarded as one of the world’s most famous sports personalities. The story was particularly sensitive in France, where the French Tennis Federation had invested significant financial resources in the construction of Stade Roland Garros, expecting to reap a financial windfall to help pay for the stadium’s construction with the match-up between the Tilden-lead U.S. team and their “Four Musketeers.” Without Tilden, the French Tennis Federation would not have its’ marquee match-up for the opening of its stadium and would face a severe financial crisis. Fans that already had purchased tickets for a potential U.S. vs. France Challenge Round had already requested refunds upon learning of Tilden’s suspension from the U.S. team.

The French Tennis Federation contacted the French Foreign Ministry to inquire whether the issue of Tilden’s suspension could be turned over to the American Ambassador to France, Myron Herrick. It is believed that Herrick brought the issue as far as the White House, where President Calvin Coolidge endorsed Tilden’s reinstatement. (Coolidge had an interest in the Davis Cup since his Secretary of War from 1923-1925 was none-other than Dwight Davis, the event’s founder). Herrick allowed the USLTA to devise some sort of punishment after the conclusion of the Davis Cup in exchange for re-instatement to the team “in the interest of international good feeling.”

While the diplomatic gears moved in full motion, Wear captained the Tilden-less U.S. team to a 4-1 win over Italy to advance the United States into the Davis Cup Challenge Round against France. Tilden rejoined the U.S. team for the Challenge Round, while Wear remained as U.S. Captain. The French went on to defeat Tilden and the U.S. by a 4-1 margin in front of overflowing and enthusiastic French crowds at Roland Garros.

Wear returned to the U.S. Davis Cup captaincy in 1935, when he steered the United States into the Davis Cup Challenge Round with a 4-1 victory over Germany. The United States would then lose to the Fred Perry-led British team 5-0 at Wimbledon, but Wear did have the opportunity to coach an up-and-coming young red-headed future champion by the name of Don Budge. Wear, in fact, is the only U.S. Davis Cup Captain to captain both Bill Tilden (1928) and Don Budge (1935). The uncle of George W. Bush’s grandmother Dorothy, was himself an accomplished tennis player himself having won a bronze medal in men’s doubles at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, Mo.

“No one in tennis is held in higher regard than the Philadelphian,” wrote Allison Danzig in The New York Times in 1931, who noted that Wear won the 1914 “Racquets” championship with Dwight Davis. (Racquets is a sport similar to court tennis or squash.) “His appointment as Davis Cup chairman in 1928 was hailed as the entry of one of the country’s most representative sportsmen into its lawn tennis councils and was forseen as a guarantee of the maintenance of the association’s international relations upon their high plane of noblesse oblige…From the beginning, he won the confidence of the candidates for the team and became their warm friend, and no one was ever a more welcome or respected figure in an American Davis Cup camp.”

We hope that the drama in this week’s United States vs. France Davis Cup series remains only on the court.