by Dennis Dalman
When he was a kid playing with buddies on a farm near Milaca, little did Mitchell Mesko know that he would one day, years later, meet a football hero who figured in one of his rough-and-tumble kids’ games.
The hero was O.J. Simpson, and so many years later Mesko, much to his astonishment, served as his golf course caddie. That includes the very morning of the evening Simpson was alleged to have stabbed to death his ex-wife, Nicole, and acquaintance Ron Goldman.
Mesko’s long-ago childhood game was dubbed “Razzle Dazzle.” Based loosely on the game of football, the ball would be in constant hectic play until all participants grew dog tired or someone got hurt. The whole point was to see which kid could keep the ball longest, and most rules were tossed out in a brutal game of “give it up” or “get be slammed.”
Mesko, who now lives in St. Cloud, is the author of the just-published memoir, “Confessions of a Caddie.” In an interview with the Newsleader, he shared some anecdotes from the book, and his memory of the kids’ game Razzle Dazzle ends this way:
“I never liked to give it (football) up, and I sure as hell didn’t like to get slammed. So to keep out of harms’ way when things got tight in those crazy games, I used what (friend) Pete call my ‘O.J. jitter-bug moves,’ with me yelling at the top of my lungs, ‘I’m the Juice, I’m the Juice!’ ”
Flash forward 30 years, and there was Mesko the caddie, aka “The Mitchell Man,” caddying for world-famous O.J. ‘The Juice” Simpson. It was to be it the next-to-the-last day of his caddying for Simpson – the morning of June 12, 1994.
On the next morning, June 13, there was a charity golf event at the Riviera Country Club where Simpson and his buddies, known as the “Group,” gathered for a game. Mesko noticed that morning Simpson was ill-tempered and loudly cursing at a movie producer about petty annoyances. Simpson, Mesko told the Newsleader, was often verbally abusive on the golf course, though mostly the legend’s charisma and charm conquered hearts and won the day.
Mesko recalled after the charity game, at about 11 a.m., he said to Simpson, “See ya later, Juice.” Mesko completed some other tasks and got back home to his wife, Susan, at about 5 p.m., and just one look at his wife’s face told him something was terribly wrong. Then he noticed the TV news that was on, a flurry of news that the bloodied bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and a man named Ron Goldman were found on the walkway right outside Nicole’s condominium in a suburb of Los Angeles. The two had been killed the night before, on June 12. O.J. Simpson was a suspect in the savage murders.
Like millions worldwide, the news left Mesko and his wife “stunned, shocked, horrified.”
Mesko said he believed right away that Simpson had likely committed the awful crime. As a caddie who’d known Simpson on the course for five years, Mesko notes in his book that he had seen firsthand the “the little-known and alarmingly crude side of this famous (“Juice”) persona.”
The long subsequent televised trial, one of the most sensational in U.S. history, ended with the astonishing acquittal of Simpson. Families of the victims then filed a civil lawsuit against Simpson, which resulted in a $33.5-million judgment against him for wrongful deaths. Still later Simpson was convicted in robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas related to some of his personal property he said was stolen from him. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison and paroled in 2017. Simpson continues to play golf, a game he loves as much as he loved football.
Although the Simpson story figures prominently in “Confessions of a Caddie,” it is only the dark and tragic part of a book that is – more than less – an ecstatic valentine to the sport of golf. “Confessions” is written in a direct, conversational, lively vivid style with plenty of humor and keen insights into the roles that caddies perform for golfers – experts on every aspect of a particular course, morale-boosters, conversational buddies and keen knowledge of their clients – their strengths, weaknesses and peculiar foibles. “Confessions,” as the name implies, is also bluntly frank about Mesko’s own life, including the three-and-a-half years he served in prison for felony theft when he was a young man.
In the Los Angeles area, Mesko caddied for or knows scores of famous people who loved to golf. To name just some: late actor James Garner, whom Mesko said was a great guy, the best; Jack Nicklaus; Tiger Woods; Magic Johnson; Bill Russell; Ernie Banks; Terry Bradshaw; rocker Alice Cooper; actor Joe Pesci; the late Glenn Frey (singer-songwriter for The Eagles) and Bill Clinton.
“I never caddied for Clinton,” he said. “But I did meet him, and the Secret Service that day were all over the (Riviera) course. It was a crazy scene.”
Mesko, now 60, left Minnesota for southern California when he was 22. After several jobs, including a golf-course greenskeeper, he said he fell into the caddie business eventually, quite by accident, because people trusted him, liked him, he knew how to be discreet and so recommended him for caddy jobs. He caddied at many of Los Angeles’ nearly 100 golf courses for seven years, and more than five years he worked at his all-time favorite one – the Riviera Country Club at Pacific Palisades near Santa Monica.
Mesko returned to the St. Cloud area in 2001, worked at Electrolux, then sold men’s clothing at a Crossroads store for 10 years and also worked selling for an aerial-photography service.
It took him three years to write “Confessions” in longhand. The book is dedicated to “caddies the world over, the members and staff at Riviera Country Club and the hundreds of golfers that allowed me into their lives.”
In his introduction, Mesko writes this:
“First and foremost, this is a book about the most wonderful sport ever invented – the game of golf. It can be rewarding, joyous, raise your aspirations and self-esteem with one swing! Then turn on you the next. Like a monster, leaving you shamed, embarrassed, frustrated, ready to quit. As if somehow you had miraculously turned into the notorious Greek statue by Alexandros, Venus de Milo (statue missing its arms). Golf is at best a fickle mistress. The devil is in the details and the details are in this book.”
“Confessions of a Caddie” is available via Barnes and Noble and online at amazon.com.