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Archie Peck, noted croquet player who won 7 national championships; Oct. 10, 1935 -- May 16, 2012

Archie Peck, the man once described as the Babe Ruth of croquet and the winner of seven national championships in the genteel sport played with exacting precision on lush greenswards, died May 16 at a hospice in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was 76.

The National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, where Peck was croquet director, announced his death, which it attributed to cancer of the tongue.

Peck ran a real estate agency in high-toned Palm Beach, Fla., and was skilled at golf, tennis, skiing and jai-alai long before he knocked a ball through a wicket.

He was in his 30s before he took up a mallet and quickly became one of the stars of croquet.

Peck mastered the infinite possibilities and pitfalls of maneuvering a ball around a six-wicket court. In a promotional video for the National Croquet Center, Peck described croquet as "a game so rich in strategy, it's known as playing chess and billiards on grass."

Peck won the U.S. Croquet Association's national singles titles in 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1982 and is the only person to have won four individual championships. He was doubles champion in 1977 and 1979 and, in 2007, won the international-rules version of the doubles championship. He continued to compete until two weeks before his death.

Peck knew that croquet had a "geriatric stigma" and, in 2006, told the Orlando Sentinel, "It's about the world's worst spectator sport, unless you're a croquet player."

But students of croquet said the debonair Peck had a natural charisma. With his deep tan set off against an immaculate white uniform, he cut a dashing figure on the court. Often wearing shorts that showed off his long limbs, he became known to female admirers of the sport as "Silky Legs."

John Archibald McNeil Peck was born in Norwalk, Conn., and grew up in Palm Beach. He was a television cameraman in the 1950s and 1960s for a station in West Palm Beach and later ran a real estate firm founded by his father.

He once drew a few muted objections from staid local residents when he rented a Palm Beach mansion to the Rolling Stones.

When he was named to the U.S. Croquet Association Hall of Fame in 1984, his citation noted: "Baseball may have its Babe Ruth, football may have its O.J. Simpson, golf has its Jack Nicklaus and tennis has its Rod Laver. That is all right because we have our Archie Peck."

In 2008, he was inducted into the World Croquet Federation Hall of Fame.