I'm not sure I should go to this party," I said to my wife. "I have a boxing column due in the morning. Maybe I better stay in and get at it. There's a lot to write about the sporket these days."
"The what?" she asked.
"A new word," I said. "A cross between a sport and a racket. It can't seem to make up its mind what it is. Commissioner Helfand is looking for the answer in New York. The Pennsylvania Commission has shut the sporket down for 90 days, a cooling-off period after someone fed Harold Johnson a crazy, mixed-up orange. Even Governor Goodie Knight out in California is getting into the act. He's investigating boxing too. He suspects not only boxing but even wrestling may be fixed once in a while. Sharp boy, that Goodie."
"Don't you think you can write this in the morning? We promised the Brownes we'd show up."
June 12, 1955
A MOMENTOUS PERIOD
"Well, I really should write this while I'm hot. This is a momentous period in the history of the ring. After all I've followed this business all my life and here it is on the ropes, maybe in danger of being abolished. A few more crooks, another Johnson-Mederos mess, or the boycott of a popular contender like Martinez, one more Jimmy Carter "upset," another phony comeback like Sugar Ray's (which could stand a bit of fumigating, by the way) and boxing may have to go underground. And it's a shame too. Because it's a marvelous sport to watch—at its best. And it's such a natural for TV, if only the guys who've got it in their pockets would straighten up and fly right."
"Doesn't Jim Norris run it?" asked my wife, who doesn't stick close to this thing but picks up a name from time to time.
"He's the head man," I said. "He gets the close-up on the 20-inch screen."
"Then why can't he fix it?" she asked with a woman's way of cutting to the heart of things she doesn't understand.
"I guess he could, if he wanted to," I said.
"But if he's in charge, and he doesn't want to see it abolished, or get a bad name, why shouldn't he want to?" she asked.
"Darling, I guess we might as well go to the party," I said. "I'll write it first thing in the morning."
The Martinis were 10 to 1, about the same as the odds on the Marciano-Cockell, and your chances of staying firmly on your feet were no better than the battered Battersea blimp's. I was into the ninth round when the butler stepped between me and the tray to save me from further punishment.
With praise for my courageous stand still ringing in my ears I slumped down in my corner. Next morning my ears were still ringing, in a somewhat different key from the sound of the alarm clock reminding me it was time to wax creative on my column. I had decided to write about Norris and his response, if you could call it that, to cross-examination by Commissioner Helfand. But first I reached a quivering hand toward the morning papers and turned, as always, to the sports page. The words seemed to be jumping off the page like salmon leaping upstream to the spawning ponds. Pink salmon instead of elephants, spelling out:
NORRIS SPEAKS OUT AGAINST BOXING EVILS
I read on, fascinated. If these old eyes were not deceiving me, Jim Norris was saying:
"Commissioner, I'm glad you asked me about Carbo. Naturally I read your predecessor's statement and am aware that Carbo is a notorious racketeer with a criminal record and an unsavory reputation for controlling leading boxers, even champions, through managers who front for him. I fear it is all too true that Carbo and Blinky Palermo got together to queer the LaMotta-Billy Fox thing a few years back and I was shocked at the possibility that these two gentlemen might have done business again on the Gavilan-Saxton fiasco. After all there is no better way to discourage fight fans than to allow the hand of corruption to stain the championship itself. Believe me, Commissioner, I am just as eager as you are to run the Carbos and Palermos and all their kind out of the game. You can count on me for 100% cooperation."
Helfand: "Thank you, Mr. Norris. Now can you tell me what you know about the 'grounding' of welterweight contender Vince Martinez, because he is on the outs with Bill Daly and the managers' guild."
Norris: "Commissioner, I'm very much concerned over the Martinez matter. Vince was undefeated in 1954, had a real following and seemed a logical challenger for the welterweight title sometime in 1955. But since his falling out with his manager over their financial split, no other manager will match his boy against him. He's been forced into inactivity for half a year now. So one of our most promising and able fighters is boycotted in the prime of his career. I am against boycotts. I think Martinez is the victim of conduct that is absolutely un-American. The boy has won 40 of his 43 fights and strikes me as a standout challenger for the winner of the Basilio-DeMarco title fight. There is precious little boxing talent around these days and we can't afford to have headliners like Martinez barred from the ring illegally. It isn't fair to the fans. I am going to insist that this controversy be settled, even if I have to get some of these managers in here and knock their heads together. As long as I'm in charge, boxing is going to be run according to the fine American standards of fair play."
END OF THE DREAM
The alarm clock was still ringing. I fumbled to turn it off and taking advantage of a mandatory eight-count, I waited for my head to clear. I was reading the newsprint a little more clearly now. Helfand had interrogated Norris all right. But on Carbo, Jim had testified that he had no idea what Frankie did for a living, or what his connection with boxing was, if any. And when asked about the boycott on Martinez, the boss of the IBC pleaded total ignorance. He's been topic A in the boxing business for months but somehow Jim never heard of it.
My wife appeared with a cup of black coffee and a gentle rebuke for my falling asleep after the first alarm.
"Ah, but it was worth it," I said. "I was having the most wonderful dream. I dreamt Jim Norris said..."
"Don't tell me, write it down," she said. "Maybe that's your column."
By gosh, it was.