Witnesses of the week
Heavyweight Harry Thomas' sworn story in SI (Dec. 13) that it was Jim Norris, boxing's head man, who ordered him to throw his fights with Max Schmeling and Tony Galento produced reactions from near and far.
Reaction No. 1 came from Norris, in New York, who called the article "untrue, libelous and absurd." Then, several days later, in Chicago, he announced that he had advised his lawyers to sue for $5 million.
Arch Ward, Chicago Tribune sports editor who broke the Thomas story in 1939, disclosed in his column how he got it: "One day we had a call from a former associate, Jimmy Crusinberry, who...for many years earlier had been a baseball reporter for the Tribune.... He told us he had heard strong rumors that two or three professional boxing bouts involving widely known personnel had been faked.... It was Crusinberry who suggested that we contact Harry Thomas...we still don't know where Crusinberry got his tip."
December 20, 1954
In Arizona, Crusinberry spoke up to tell SI where he got his information: from Harry Thomas himself (see next page).
In Germany, Max Schmeling, apparently in some confusion as to what Thomas had said and when he said it, paid tribute to Thomas as a fighter and deplored his statement. "I had under-estimated Thomas, who was not considered a great fighter," Max told the United Press, "and I really had to fight hard to defeat him. He put up a good fight and the victory cost me lots of sweat." (Thomas' version was that he gave Schmeling a rough time of it in the early rounds until ordered to ease up.) Max denounced the Thomas story as "pure invention" and asked: "Why did it take Thomas all these years to claim that something was foul?" Thomas, of course, had made his original statement in 1939.
In his Orange, N.J. tavern Tony Galento gave thought to the matter and decided he had been insulted. "No bum like Harry Thomas had to quit for me," said Tony. In Galento's view Thomas was "the world's champion liar" and Norris "a swell guy."
The Illinois State Athletic Commission expressed the view that "any further hearings should be held in New York and Pennsylvania," where the Schmeling and Galento bouts were staged. But then Illinois' new-brooming Governor Billy Stratton, who had appointed all three members of the commission, said at a press conference that "in view of the nature of the charges the commission is warranted in looking into the matter although the events allegedly occurred more than 20 [sic] years ago." Norris ought to have an opportunity, he added, to explain the whole thing to the commission.
In an era when small fight clubs are vanishing from the U.S. scene and when boxing's name has fallen low, a chunky, 30-year-old Spokane, Wash. bachelor named Gus Cozza is working night and day to make a name for himself as a boxing promoter in his home town. He hopes to make a profit (though only in order to give the money to charity) but does not mind losing his own cash since he is impelled by an unusual though refreshing theory—that a man can enhance his own reputation as a public-spirited citizen and quite possibly his reputation as a good businessman by producing good, honest professional fights.
Spokane's new promoter is, obviously enough, a rather unusual type. He was orphaned at three, grew up in the homes of various older brothers and sisters and worked his way through high school and Spokane's Gonzaga University. With little more than a hammer and a government surplus truck he launched himself as a building contractor. He put up more than 2,000 houses—including a $100,000 show-place for himself—and in a few years found himself well on the way to riches. Ten months ago the Washington State Boxing Commission (which was delighted at the idea of a boxing impressario who was willing to lose money for the sweet sake of publicity) granted him a promoter's license.
Cozza immediately set out to look for "connections rather than entanglements" in the fight game. He flew east, lunched with Ray Arcel, Al Weill and various other promoters and fight managers. He did the same in California. He made no alliances with Jim Norris' I.B.C. because he believed he had something which would serve him better: money. "Managers," he says, coldly enough, "regard their boxers as merchandise. I'm used to buying merchandise. Sure, there are a lot of crooks in boxing. There are crooks in lots of businesses. But you don't have to deal their way if you know values."
Cozza, a dark, handsome, heavy-browed man, started out by leasing a defunct dance club and turning it into a gym. He promoted his first cards there. The fights began at 9 o'clock, in the hopes of attracting Friday evening shopping crowds. He lost $1,500 a card. "Boxing," he reasoned, "had a bad name. I wanted to show it could be promoted properly." But he had no illusions that he could lure TV fight fans away from their sets without big names. Last week he began the second phase of his operation—he promoted a fight between Featherweight Champion Sandy Saddler and a local boxer named Bobby Woods in Spokane's shiny new 8,400-seat Coliseum.
Cozza took his seat at ringside suffering with a heavy cold—in his enthusiasm he had insisted on doing road work with Saddler every morning, and the effort was a little too much for him. But he eyed the proceedings with a satisfied air. A crowd of 5,744 people attended the battle (which Saddler won in 10 rounds) and paid back close to the $20,000 which Cozza had shelled out to put on the show. The new promoter has already discussed Spokane appearances with Middleweight Champion Bobo Olson and Light Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore, and hopes to present nationally televised fights (with Spokane blacked out) in the future.
If these plans fail? "Well," he says, "I didn't start out building houses with the idea of making a million—just to put up the best house I could."
Tempest in a piggy bank
Since their championship season of 1948 the Chicago Cardinals have been the low team on the professional football totem pole. Stumblefoot, butterfinger players and a porous defense have run the team into the cellar and into the red.
Naturally, with the team in such a consistently depressed state, there have been rumors that the Cards were not long for Chicago, that they would be sold or shift their franchise.
Well, not so. The owners have responded to such talk with a dramatic gesture. They have installed a profit-sharing program, the first in professional football and the first, very likely, in any major professional team sport.
The Cards, it was announced by Managing Director Walter Wolfner, will set aside no less than 50% of the net profits from all their 1955 football operations, including radio and television receipts, for distribution among players and coaches—players to get 33%, coaches 17. The idea is to give the team "incentive."
There's a catch, though. In their championship 1948 season the Cards netted only $7,500. Thereafter the team has lost money every year until 1954, when poor regular season gate receipts were offset somewhat by increased radio, TV and exhibition money. This year's profit is conceded to be tiny.
While Cardinal players and coaches expressed pleasure over the new dispensation, there were intimations that other, more prosperous owners in the National Football League were having nightmares that their players soon might be demanding a share in real, true profits. Thus spake George Halas, owner-coach of the Chicago Bears: "If [Wolfner's] looking for incentive, I suggest he double each player's salary immediately."
A NEWSPAPERMAN REMEMBERS
Jim Crusinberry today is semiretired, wintering in Arizona. At 75, he can look back on a long, eventful career as a newspaperman in Chicago, St. Louis and New York. His stories on the Black Sox scandal, along with others on horse racing and boxing, are included in the book, The Greatest Sport Stories from the Chicago Tribune.
Crusinberry has full confidence in Harry Thomas and declares that the first time the heavyweight boxer told his story of the fixed fights he implicated Jim Norris. Here is what Crusinberry told SI this week:
"I was the party who arranged for Harry Thomas to tell his story of how his bouts with Max Schmeling and Tony Galen to were fixed to the Chicago Tribune, and I have never doubted that he was telling the truth.
"I was living in Chicago at that time and was well acquainted with Lee Carroll, the man to whom Thomas wrote that the fight with Schmeling Dec. 13, 1937 was fixed for him to lose.
"A few days before that fight Carroll came to me and showed me the letter. I told him that he should be sure and keep it in his possession.
"After the Galento fight, Thomas, whom I'd met through Carroll, told me the whole story. He implicated Jim Norris then as he did in the SI story, along with Joe Jacobs and Nate Lewis. He said then that Norris was his real manager, not Lewis, and as I remember it his story was substantially the same as he told it to SI.
"After I'd heard the story I said to him, 'Harry, now that you're through fighting, wouldn't you like to get this thing out into the open and off your mind?' and he said, 'Yes, I think I would.'
"He took a day to think it over and then came to me and told me he was ready to tell the story.
"I then went to Arch Ward, the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, and told him the story. He took charge from there.
"I noticed at the time that Jim Norris' name was not included in the Tribune's account but I never made any inquiry as to why it was omitted.
"At the time I was employed by a Chicago radio station. I gave the Tribune the story because I knew Arch Ward and because I had formerly worked for that newspaper and knew it would print it if any paper would.
"Harry Thomas was a big, nice, honest sort of guy. A lot of people talk of him now as if he were some sort of stumblebum but he was a good fighter. I often thought that if he hadn't started so late, he could have become champion. He could hit hard with either hand and took a punch well. But he was 27 or 28 years old before he started serious professional boxing.
"I never saw any real reason for Thomas to lie about it. I never had a doubt then that he was telling the truth, and I don't have any now."
Writing on a Roman wall
A dispatch from Rome reveals that a soccer field will be built on the site of the Circus Maximus. Readers of ancient history will recall the Circus Maximus as the greatest of the ancient Roman stadiums, where as many as 200,000 spectators gathered to root the favorite chariot home.
Chariot racing and the Circus Maximus seem a far cry from baseball and minor league ball parks, but baseball men doing the ostrich act with the minor league problems of declining attendance and disappearing leagues ("Don't worry. Baseball is too popular to die out.") might well study the parallel. Chariot racing was the sport in ancient Rome, just as baseball, baseball men claim, is today. Fan loyalty, however, is not undying. Distractions, like Goths or television, can wreak havoc if uncontrolled. And while an abandoned ball park may not have the size and dignity of an abandoned Circus Maximus, it's just as empty.
During his years in the public eye, Bing Crosby has demonstrated a well-publicized enthusiasm for horse racing (he helped finance California's Del Mar Track), for baseball (he is an owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates), for golf (he annually conducts a tournament at Pebble Beach) and big-game hunting (he has published an article on the vicissitudes of pursuing Rocky Mountain sheep). But the other day, as a guest on Ed Murrow's TV show Person to Person, Bing confessed that his favorite sport was none of these.
"Oh, Ed, I think fishing, really," Bing said, when the question was put to him. "Conditions vary, and fish vary and their temperament varies and their desire to bite or feed varies with the feeding conditions on the stream or lake or ocean or wherever you happen to be. It's always a challenge and a problem and you've got to keep thinking. It's a complete relief. It's very difficult to take any problems fishing...they disappear as soon as you get that line on the water."
Bing proved that he meant it by refusing to say a word more. "Ed," he apologized, "I wouldn't want to tell you about [my favorite spots] because there would be a lot of traffic headed [that way]."
A vote for rugger
Anglo-American relations have reached new heights of amity in many fields, but few Englishmen have yet shaken the feeling that U.S. football is mayhem conducted by padded madmen—and few Americans the tolerant impression that rugby is a sort of basketball played on a soccer field. This mutual suspicion is understandable enough; hardly anybody on either side tries the other's game and the number who have played both, seriously, is infinitesimal. This fall, however, Rhodes Scholar Vincent W. Jones, a six-foot-three inch, 227-pound ex-Dartmouth tackle, won his blue in rugby at Oxford and after catching his breath came to a conclusion that may well startle many of his countrymen: rugby is tougher and a lot more fun.
Jones, a Californian of many enthusiasms and interests (he is a Phi Beta Kappa, a sports car driver, a big-game hunter and a mountaineer who flew to Africa last summer to climb Mount Kilimanjaro), did not sit in judgment, however, without puncturing at least one of England's fondest illusions—that good rugby backs would run wild in U.S. football without pads and helmets. Says he: "They wouldn't last 30 minutes." He entered a few other demurrers, too. He finds that the rain-drenched, almost rootless English turf gives terrible footing. He could not grow accustomed to the fact that Oxford provides no showers for muddy, sweat-drenched players after a game. "You are expected to walk all the way back to your own room to change if you don't die on the way."
Nevertheless, he chose rugby as the more interesting sport. "As a lineman in football I'm just a pawn. In rugger I take part in the tactics; I can pass and even make like a fullback and score. Rugby practice is relaxation—football practice at home is grim routine." Jones gave his reasons for feeling rugby was the harder game: "It is 80 minutes of continuous running and shoving; it takes more endurance. There is only a five-minute intermission and you don't lie down in a dressing room, you stand on the field. There are no substitutions. Rugby demands more continuous awareness of what you have to do next. It's exhausting. Of course, you get more physically beat up in football but you aren't completely exhausted."
Jones, who is the first American since 1931 to win a blue in rugby, did not go to England unprepared. He began playing the game in Bermuda during vacations, continued it at Stanford while studying law and toured Australia with a U.S. rugby team before going to England. Even so he was hardly prepared for some of Oxford's attitudes.
When he was invited to play with the varsity team for the first time this fall he naturally presumed that he would—as at Dartmouth—be expected to turn up for practice daily. He did not know that one does not mingle in practice with the team before receiving an engraved three-by-five inch invitation card from the captain. "The secretary took me aside," Jones recalls, "and said in a fatherly tone, 'Vince, we know you have good intentions but you really must work out on your own unless you receive an invitation.' " The secretary called him aside again after he had enthusiastically shaken a fellow player's hand after a score. "Vince," he was told, "we don't want to turn this into an emotional game like soccer."
But for all this other-worldly atmosphere, Jones confessed as he warmed up in the dressing room before this year's Oxford-Cambridge game at historic Twickenham (Cambridge won, 3-0) that he had never felt as keyed up in three years of varsity football in the U.S. Later he confessed to a sense of genuine bliss. The dressing room at Twickenham boasted ten large, old-fashioned white bathtubs, and after the game the players climbed into them, two to the tub, and sloshed in companionable luxury.
Everyman a Queeg
The Caine mutiny by Herman Wouk was a runaway bestseller in its original edition. It has reached hundreds of thousands of other readers as a drugstore paperback. It was made into a hit movie with Humphrey Bogart and was satirized on television by Jack Benny and Leo Durocher. Presumably, therefore, every adult in the U.S. is aware that Commander Queeg of the story was addicted to rolling two small steel balls between his fingers when agitated. Now an enterprising manufacturer has announced (Weekend Shopper section, SI, Dec. 6) that anyone may own a pair of what he calls "Qweeg balls." Recommends them (at $1 the pair) for nervous, supercharged, ulcer-ridden friends, for that "Mr. High-powered" on your Christmas list.
No special rates for football coaches quoted, but it wouldn't hurt to ask.