In making the disclosures about boxing on the preceding pages, SI takes not even a dour satisfaction. For one thing, it is not pleasant to report fresh evidence of corruption in a well-loved sport. For another, virtually all the most important assertions, save the central one which involves James D. Norris Jr., president of the International Boxing Club, were published 15 years ago by the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune is sponsor of the Golden Gloves Amateur tournament, which it originated, and is by no means an enemy of boxing. Neither is SI.
Across the years there have been other campaigns to clean up boxing's dirty business, and most of them have ended in failure. This magazine refuses to conclude from such evidence that the effort is hopeless. Furthermore, it believes that because of the truly nationwide following boxing has attracted in the 1950s, a renovation was never more in order. In 1939, when Harry Thomas made his first revelations about the fixed fights he had engaged in, the integrity of boxing chiefly affected the relatively small number of Americans who go to fights. Today, week after week, television brings prize fighting into the U.S. family living room. (Concurrently, the bread-and-butter economics of boxing has shifted fundamentally: a promoter today depends not so much on the gate as on his TV take.) Today the probity or lack of probity of the men who run boxing becomes the concern of anyone who can twist a dial.
It is usually a mighty hard thing to prove that a fight has been fixed. There can be thunderous boos from the audience, but boos have seldom cost a hoodlum a dollar—not even when a state boxing commission, stirred into paper-shuffling investigation by the fury of a cheated crowd, has performed with delicacy and decorum the job of making all look well with the world of boxing again. Or not even when a state boxing commission of integrity has tried honestly and failed because no one will talk.
December 13, 1954
Many Americans have concluded that nothing much can really be done—and go so far as to say, "Why not close professional boxing down?" SI does not accept that counsel.
Boxing was once a mostly illegal sport in the United States, with bouts either billed as "exhibitions" as professional wrestling is now, or presented unlawfully in clubs which were the equivalent of speak-easies. Today boxing is legal in 48 states, watched over by state or local commissions with licensing powers. Able to issue and revoke licenses, the commissions control the livelihood of promoters, managers and boxers. They possess a truly extraordinary power.
Few, however, have cared to use this power against James D. Norris. But it is worth pointing out that the International Boxing Club has now drawn the attention of the Federal government. Before the Supreme Court of the United States, the Department of Justice is seeking to establish that the IBC is a business in interstate commerce and a violator of the antitrust laws. If the government wins its point, boxing may come under a battery of existing Federal statutes and be policed as other interstate business is.
There are still other sources of control. For instance, a great share of boxing's legitimate revenue comes from television. The entire television industry, which must certainly have appraised its own self-interest by this time, is vitally concerned.
But perhaps the most pertinent question at this moment is not who is going to control boxing or who should control it. The question to be answered first is simply this: IS BOXING GOING TO BE A LEGITIMATE SPORT OR A DIRTY BUSINESS?
The U.S. prize-fight menu on television last week offered for public consumption one very good fight, one mediocre fight and one horrible fight. In the very good one, 22-year-old Lightweight Rookie Frankie Ryff fought ten blazing fast rounds with a Cuban veteran named Orlando Zulueta, won decisively despite cuts over both eyes, and left Madison Square Garden echoing with heartfelt applause—a sound which has all but vanished from U.S. fight arenas.
In the mediocre fight, Heavyweight Charlie Norkus spent ten rounds chasing Reluctant Roland La Starza around the ring at the Cleveland Arena and flailing the air with a wonderfully ponderous overhand right. The fans dutifully sang fistiana's latest song hit, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." In the horrible fight, Welterweight Champion Johnny Saxton, the Klutching Kutie of the IBC, strained and wrestled through ten slow rounds at Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium with Ramon Fuentes, a local boy who is almost as adept at grabbing as he. The fighters clinched 138 times by actual count. The fans not only sang "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," but stamped, booed and threw showers of paper cups from the sixth round on. When the contest was over, one gallery seat holder rose, flung a penny down into the ring and spat in dramatic disgust.
Mutiny in Kooyong
Every follower of American tennis has long been aware—and possibly sometimes envious—of the Hop-man System (SI, Aug. 30). It is in effect, a sort of continuous boot-training period during which Harry Hopman, nonplaying captain of the Australian Davis Cup team, marches a squad of able youngsters around the world from tournament to tournament, capturing all the available cups and trophies. The success formula has been a relatively simple one: live only for tennis.
In Melbourne last week, despite what Captain Hopman says of the fine state of health enjoyed by Australian tennis (see page 30), the inevitable revolt came at last. At first it was a one-man mutiny touched off by Lew Hoad, 20, powerhouse hero of last year's Davis Cup Challenge Round. Playing in the Victorian championships, Hoad seemed a pale, ineffectual shadow of his old self. He was carried to five sets before disposing of England's Roger Becker in an early round. Next time out he had to come from behind to eliminate Sven Davidson of Sweden in another five-setter. During this lackluster match, the blond powerhouse heard a strange noise echoing around Kooyong Stadium: the sound of Australian voices jeering him for one of the worst showings of his career.
Off the court Hoad told newsmen with a frankness they could hardly believe: "I was just fed up. I did not care whether I won or not. I'm just tired of tennis and I get so I do not give a hang." In his semifinal match against the American champion, Vic Seixas, Hoad lost in three straight sets. Some observers thought they detected angry tears in Lew's eyes.
The revolt against the Hopman System spread rapidly. Hoad's mother, Mrs. Bonnie Hoad, told the newspapers: "Lew has not had a chance to relax since the Davis Cup last Christmas. He was under discipline during the Davis Cup and soon afterward went into the army for national service training. When he came out he went on an overseas tennis tour—still under discipline." The Melbourne paper Truth printed an open letter to Hopman beginning: "WAKE UP TO YOURSELF. It's because of you, Harry; because you won't let him off your apron strings; because you treat him like a child; because you make him eat, think, drink, and live for nothing else but tennis."
Hopman took up the challenge like the experienced warrior that he is. "There's no reason for Hoad to play below his top," he replied. "But his lapse is mental and unfortunately it is difficult to overcome in championship play." Replied Truth hotly: "Come off it, Harry. That's a lot of hooey. He was driven into mental lapses before he went onto the court. Give the boy a break...let him go out at night occasionally. Let him blow his stack to the press if he wants to, instead of bottling up his story for your exclusives in the Flinders Street Flash [a competitive reference, the Melbourne Herald, for which Hopman reports tennis]."
At week's end the tennis world had lots to contemplate. And so had Hopman. Although Mrs. Hoad had acknowledged that she didn't really think Hopman "browbeat the boys," he was still faced with the task of getting his four-man squad in shape for the Challenge Round. He sounded confident: "It will not be so difficult in Davis Cup play, when he [Hoad] has the team captain
at courtside to arrest any tendency to lose concentration or interest."
Morituri te salutamus
Before the major league meetings in New York this week, the men who own baseball spent a week contemplating the minor league sessions in Houston, Tex. Faced with the bitter and pressing problem besetting baseball, they did just what Columnist Red Smith predicted they would do with the same bitter and pressing problem
at the major league meetings. They closed their eyes and hoped it would go away.
The problem, stated simply, is this: the minor leagues are dying. Some baseball men at Houston realized this, and for a small moment there was hope that they might try to do something about it. But in accepting the fact, they seemed to feel that they had solved the problem. "The minor leagues?"—these men said, with a figurative shrug of the shoulders—"the minor leagues are doomed." That taken care of, they went back to more important things, like studying the plywood bulletin board that carried among other things the official averages of the Pennsylvania-Ontario League.
J. Alvin Gardner, for 23 years president of the Texas League before his retirement last spring, said: "Everybody's making so much of the plight of the minors, but in all the years I've been in baseball I've never seen any big years except right after the war. It's always been a fight in the minors."
It's always been a fight, Mr. Gardner, but never like this. Before, it was a fight to get people interested in baseball, instead of in movies, bingo, picnics, necking or long drives in the country. Now, people are interested in baseball, but they stay home to watch it on television. This works fine in the major leagues, because the dollar lost at the gate when a fan stays home to watch the game comes back in the form of increased TV revenue. In the minors, the fan who stays home to watch baseball on television usually watches major league baseball, and the minors don't share in the loot. The parent club, counting its money, looks irritably at the minor league franchise with its books in the red and severs connections. Another minor league town dies, another league is crippled.
When enough towns die and enough leagues are crippled, minor league baseball as we know it will no longer exist. This is a matter of great importance to men who have money invested in minor league teams. (A small voice whispers that it might almost become a matter of great importance to men who have money invested in major league teams, too; with no minor leagues, where will the major league players come from?)
At Houston the minor leagues wrestled with the problem, took it in their teeth and worried it as a dog would a bone. Frank Lawrence, angry owner of the Portsmouth, Va. team in the Piedmont League, announced that the suit he had filed against the major leagues (which held that unrestricted broadcasting and telecasting of major league games had ruined the minors) would be carried through to the end. The minor league representatives passed a measure barring commercial broadcasting and telecasting of baseball games from stations outside a ball club's own home territory, which is anything within a 50-mile radius of the ball park. This could not become organized-baseball law unless the major leagues also approved it, which seemed highly unlikely, so the minors went a step—a very big step—farther and voted 19-14 to end the major-minor agreement, the backbone of organized baseball. Because such a step requires a three-fourths vote of approval, it failed to pass. This time.
The minor leaguers tried at Houston—like children trying desperately to make a tolerantly amused parent understand that the house really is on fire—but they accomplished nothing.
The major leaguers smiled and nodded, enjoyed the food and the drinks, cut up old touches, made a few major league trades, and studied the bulletin board.
Billiards: bad show
When the world is wrong, hardly to be endured," J. B. Priestley, the novelist, once wrote, "I shall return to Thurston's and there smoke a pipe among the connoisseurs of top and side." Mr. Priestley's reference was to Thurston's Academy in Leicester Square, a hallowed hall of billiards and snooker which is to British practitioners of these arts what Wimbledon is to tennis fans. Now the distressing news from London is that neither Mr. Priestley nor any other fugitive from an unendurable world may count on finding sanctuary at Thurston's much longer. For early in the new year, the academy will be torn down by the Automobile Association, which owns the land and needs more space for its own wretched business.
Thurston's was opened in 1901 by the firm of Thurston and Company, Ltd., which manufactures billiard tables. In the years since then, it survived a bombing in World War II and regularly drew to its tables the greatest names in British billiards. All the stories of the great matches at Thurston's could not be told within the limits of a Dublin wake. And, in the solemnity of the moment, it would be unseemly to tell more than one. Seems that one time Tom Reece perfected a new stroke and decided to try it on another artist of the cue, Melbourne In-man. Reece made two breaks (runs to you) of nearly 3,000 which meant that Inman had to sit still for almost five days. During the second run of 3,000, Reece demanded that Inman be charged admission as a spectator. After an interval, the spectators laughed quietly. It was a joke, you see. Inman did not laugh, however. Simply ignored the remark and when his turn came, he got up and won the match.
Not a very good show, tearing down Thurston's.