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Joel Rubenstein, 67; Played Key Role in 1984 Olympics

February 03, 2004|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

Joel Rubenstein, a key aide to Peter Ueberroth with the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee and one of the founders of the Baseball Assistance Team, which provides financial aid to former baseball players and employees in need, died Sunday of complications from cancer. He was 67.

Rubenstein, who suffered from lymphoma and died at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, summoned the strength last week to travel to New York City to be honored by the Baseball Assistance Team. Other honorees were New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens.

"He was in great spirits, but he knew he was physically not in good health," said Jim Martin, executive director of the Baseball Assistance Team. "I said, 'Joel, you're a trouper.' He was all smiles and gave a nice talk."

Rubenstein was instrumental in the success of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and its revolutionary corporate sponsorship program, which helped net a $225-million profit. One of his primary responsibilities as protocol chief was entertaining international Olympics officials who traveled to Los Angeles.

Rubenstein established a routine with waiters at the Palm restaurant in West Hollywood in which he would ask them if they had any tiny lobsters to show his guests.

"They'd run back and bring out a 20-pound lobster," Rubenstein told author Kenneth Reich in the book "Making It Happen: Peter Ueberroth and the 1984 Olympics." "And we'd say, 'This is a U.S. Small. But for you we have a four- or five- or seven-pound lobster.' "

Rubenstein also inspired his fellow committee members by his steadfast belief that the 1984 Games would proceed even after President Carter announced the United States' boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

"When the Olympics had its darkest hours preparing for the Games, he was always the headlight," Ueberroth told The Times on Monday. When Carter announced the boycott and "we were afraid the Olympic Games might be canceled, he said, 'No, no, we just have to keep making friends around the world.' He displayed great leadership when things got tough."

The Los Angeles Olympics drew a then-record 141 countries, including Romania and China.

When Ueberroth became commissioner of Major League Baseball after the Olympics, Rubenstein followed, as executive vice president for marketing. Rubenstein spearheaded a new corporate sponsorship program that increased profits and boosted attendance.

"He brought baseball into the modern age of marketing and sponsorships and merchandising," Ueberroth said. "He's a supreme marketer."

Ueberroth said he had asked Rubenstein to help put together the Baseball Assistance Team with $100,000 in seed money. Since its establishment in 1986, the program has provided $11.5 million to approximately 1,700 former players, minor leaguers, scouts, trainers, umpires and alumni of the Negro Leagues, according to executive director Martin.

"He was a no-nonsense guy," Martin said of Rubenstein. "When you worked with Joel, you knew things were going to get done."

When Ueberroth left baseball in 1989, Rubenstein became a partner in Ueberroth's investment and management company, Contrarian Group Inc. Ueberroth cited Rubenstein's assistance in becoming co-owner of Pebble Beach Co., which owns the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.

A native of Baltimore, Rubenstein attended the University of Maryland and eventually ran his own public relations firm. He was director of marketing for toy giant Mattel before Ueberroth added him to the Olympic committee in unconventional fashion. Before engaging in formal discussions with Ueberroth about a position, Rubenstein attended a luncheon in which Ueberroth introduced him as "the fellow who is going to raise money for the Olympics."

Rubenstein is survived by longtime companion Julie Diller; sons Todd and Jeff Rubenstein; and two grandchildren. Memorial services are scheduled for 3 p.m. Wednesday at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

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