By Michael E. Miller
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"You did what with Blaze Starr?" Michael Somberg, the police planner for the Miami Beach Police Department, leans across his desk toward the large man who has wandered into his office. "The stripper? Now isn't that a little piece of Americana!" The visitor smiles bashfully and recounts, somewhat reluctantly, the story of how he was on the verge of marrying Starr in the late Seventies. "This guy!" Somberg remarks, shaking his head. "Every time you turn around, you learn something new about him."
Anyone who has plodded this planet long enough is bound to accumulate a photo album or two full of memories, but Sgt. Dick Tobin, who for more than 36 years has worn the uniform of a Miami Beach cop, may have a few more snapshots to share than most as he approaches retirement at the end of this year. From the professional boxing ring to the dugouts of major league baseball to the winner's circle at Belmont Park -- and nearly down the aisle with Blaze Starr -- the placid, unassuming Tobin, Miami Beach's most-senior cop, has crammed more experience into his 61 years than one man should be allowed to cram.
A love of boxing came early -- and easily -- for Tobin, whose six-foot-five-inch frame is only slightly hunched and bulging around the middle. "I got in a lot of fights in school," he confides, the Boston roots unmistakable in his accent ("How can you get rid of it?"). "You see, I was bigger than everybody else, which always started something." The youngest of eleven children and the son of a cop who lived in the working-class neighborhood of Dorchester, Tobin worked his way through the amateur ranks, compiling an 85-2 record, and then turned pro. During an eight-year heavyweight career, he trained with Angelo Dundee in Miami Beach, boxed up and down the East Coast, hung out with champs like light-heavyweight Willie Pastrano, and compiled a 35-0 record. But by his own admission, he was never really a big-time contender. "I never really went at it as I should've," he admits. "I had the urge, but I guess I wasn't in the right clique."
Baseball provided a more lasting love. As a high-schooler Tobin got a weekend job as a bullpen and batting-practice catcher for the Boston Braves. And though he never made the roster, he spent several summers traveling with the team. In the Fifties and Sixties he worked with the St. Louis Browns, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Detroit Tigers, counting among his friends Boog Powell, Jerry Adair, Jackie Brandt, and Brooks Robinson of the Orioles, as well as Norm Cash of the Tigers. Orioles Gus Triandos and Bob Nieman dubbed Tobin "K.O.," a nickname that stuck for years. "They were all like brothers to me," Tobin says.
Remarkably, during a stretch in the late Fifties, Tobin was able to juggle three careers: police work, boxing, and baseball. "I always managed to take from six to twelve weeks vacation and travel during the baseball season," he says. "I'd take a couple of weeks without pay, I had people work for me. I did anything I could to get the time off."
A gambler and track rat since boyhood (he says he has always been prepared to wager his entire paycheck on a single race), Tobin has more recently become a card-carrying member of the owner's pavilion. He currently owns two horses outright and has shares in several others, including this year's Belmont winner, Colonial Affair.
Which brings Tobin to the topic of an affair of another sort. Blaze Starr danced into the gamesman's life one night when he was carousing at the Two O'Clock Club, her Baltimore nightspot. The year was 1961; Starr's scandalous affair with Louisiana Gov. Earl Long had earned her national notoriety. "Now, how did I meet her? Let me think," Tobin says, obviously a little embarrassed at the memory. "I think she was walking by me, and I think I waved to her to come over and have a drink. Yeah, that's what happened." After dating a few times, they didn't see each other until the mid-Seventies, when Tobin rekindled the flame with a phone call. The two lived together for a year, commuting between Baltimore and Miami, before the relationship collapsed. Tobin blames the outcome on Starr's jealousy.
At the police department, Tobin has been your typically dependable, make-no-waves cop. So why no more than a sergeant's stripes to show for three dozen years on the force? "I took the test for lieutenant -- three times, I think -- and I ended up in the middle of the pack," he explains. "But I had so many things going, I didn't pay much attention."
He still has a lot of things going. Come the new year and his retirement, Tobin says, he's hoping to return to baseball. He has been speaking recently with an old friend, Pat Gillick, now the executive vice president of the Toronto Blue Jays, about potential employment with the organization. In light of the increasing number of accidents and lawsuits that too often accompany the exploits of pro athletes, Tobin has offered his services as a security officer/driver for the Jays. "With a payroll of $50 million a year," he asks, "don't you think it would be a good investment to pay someone $50,000 to be on call to chauffeur these guys if they go out drinking?"
While he is hopeful about his chances for a baseball job, Tobin is also philosophically prepared if his plan falls through. He has no children of his own, but he's in the process of trying to adopt. "A lot of people are doubtful about themselves," he observes. "I'm not that way. Now, I can't go out and find a cure for AIDS or anything, but thankfully I was able to do a couple of things I wanted to do.