He had a night-court pallor, a consumptive face and a jockey's body, and he reminded one of Sparrow in The Man With the Golden Arm, the stray who collected other people's dogs. This little ghost was a collector, too—for the telephone company. Faking a cop, he made an excellent move on the fighter's corner, and suddenly there he was handing Thad Spencer a piece of paper. It was a summons and it said that Thad Spencer owed a $318 phone bill. Spencer, his hands gloved, dropped the paper as if it were a burning coal, and his manager, Willie Ketchum, kicked it away, babbling: "Git it outta here, ya crazy punk, the fighter's on!"
The afternoon did not improve for Thad Spencer and, much to the bafflement of those who had made him an 8-5 favorite, he was seldom on—or ever close to it—against Jerry Quarry in the last semifinal of the WBA's heavyweight elimination tournament last Saturday afternoon in Oakland, Calif. Quarry's performance was a thorough and balanced piece of work, artistically glinting in areas, and in the 12th and final round he ended it with a knockout, which was really just a technical knockout. The action boggles the mind.
Spencer, being clubbed savagely, did not drop to the floor, but the referee stepped in with only three seconds to go and called it a knockout. It was, of course, a minor point but one of sufficient weight to be compared with all the other nonsense that saturated the area last week, such as Shirley Temple announcing her decision never to run again; or the ceaseless excavation by fans of the barnacled "white hope" pitch; or, finally, Charles (Sonny) Liston, his face almost angelic, saying at a California State Commission hearing: "I never accepted any advice from Blinky Palermo." Blinky is now athletic director in a large iron-barred building in Lewisburg, Pa.
Liston got his license back in California, and Ambrose Bierce, for years a Bay Area scourge for Hearst, would have gleefully cackled at his flawless put-on. Jack London would have viewed it differently. A racist, London spent considerable time in Oakland, which sits on the water like a dark-cowled nun. He pirated oysters there, but contrary to sophisticated opinion he did not commit suicide because of the place. It was London, whose contempt for Jack Johnson was boundless, who created the "white hope" aura around Jim Jeffries, and it is Oakland's misfortune that this dubious heritage from London helped revive the repugnant term.
February 12, 1968
One doubts if Quarry, naive and ignorant of much around him, had ever understood the expression before coming up to Oakland, but he does now. "It's what they want; they want a white man," said the 22-year-old Quarry, who has always been painfully sensitive to the opinions of others. The large crowd waiting outside his dressing room could not have pleased him more. He walked out of the room, and there the ring announcer, who was acting beyond the call of duty, asked for quiet and said: "Don't try to shake Jerry's hands because they're sore. But please give a big hand to a fellow I think is going to be the next champion."
"Gee," Quarry whispered into a reporter's ear, "I think I've really won the crowd to my side, and that's pretty important."
Had he won their respect as a fighter or only their attention because he was white? Before the Spencer fight, it seemed likely that the latter was true. Quarry had not had many winning or fine fights, and in his own town of Los Angeles he had inspired loud cynicism—not without cause. He had fought two dismal draws with Tony Alongi, had lost to a man (Eddie Machen) who for his own good should not have had a license, had proved disgusting against Brian London and then had stolen two fights from Floyd Patterson.
Quarry's sometime fans might have tolerated all this if he had not so often excused himself with complaints of low blows and references to the physical disabilities he has suffered. Though in excellent health now, Quarry has had a difficult time physically. At 13 he had nephritis, and he was sent home from the hospital, he says, with the prospect of being a semi-invalid the rest of his life. Somehow, he beat that sickness, but misfortune kept trailing him. He got a broken arm when hit by a baseball, and then a broken knuckle slugging an umpire over a disputed call, another broken knuckle in a street fight, a broken back when he dived into a pool but never reached it, two more broken knuckles from street fights and a cracked ankle bone while sliding into a base.
In Oakland he was still reciting this chronology of disaster. "I'd like, you know, to be less emotional about what people say about me," he says, "but I can't. It seems like I'm always being put in the position where I got to prove something, prove to the people that I'm real. There have been some tough moments. For two weeks after the Machen fight I considered quitting, but I changed my mind. Suddenly, I didn't want to be called a quitter. I thought about how people would come to my children and tell them that I could have made it big but that I was a quitter. Now I consider the Machen loss the best thing that could have happened to me. If I would have won in the condition I was in maybe I would have never learned the importance of conditioning."
Quarry apparently forgot the importance of being in shape before the second Patterson fight. He was not in condition and had nothing left after the sixth round. But he was prepared for Spencer, a prince of the night and neon whose persiflage succeeded in angering Quarry, a man devoid of any sense of humor. Soon the ill feelings between the two were very real, not the work of a publicity man's creativity. "He's a fool," said Spencer, "when he says he's gonna take me out on the street and whup me if I open my mouth again. Why, I was born in the street. You wait, when I'm through he's gonna be catchin' the first thing smokin' outta town after the fight."
After the fight, it was Spencer who should have left town, although he did not. A crowd of 12,110 that paid some $115,000—outside of the fight in Germany the only good gate in the tournament—watched one of the dumbest fights ever made. Spencer's stupidity almost equaled Quarry's periodic brilliance; his tactical blunders were endless. He let Quarry take him repeatedly to the ropes, where Quarry is quite destructive and gets the maximum leverage on his punches. Worse, Spencer tried to trade punches with Quarry early in the fight. Quarry is an instinctive counter-puncher and is at his best when he is hit. Spencer must have known better.
Certainly Spencer's manager, Ketchum. had to know how to beat Quarry. His experience in boxing spans 32 years and, even though they may censure his machinations in the underground, few will deny his ability as a manager and strategist. He began on New York's East Side driving a hearse—hence, the nickname The Undertaker—then became a delivery boy for Fight Manager Hymie Caplan, who eventually got busted running crooked poker games. Suddenly Ketchum was managing all of Caplan's fighters. Later he managed four champions—among them Lew Jenkins and Davey Moore—and he trained Marcel Cerdan for a number of fights. Old now, but still exuding vulpine cunning, Ketchum wanted this fight desperately, principally because the sight of his fighters eating plunges him into deep depression over his own fiscal stability. But also he was quite fond of Spencer, this affection countering the charge that he is similar to the manager who said: "Hell, they say I never took care of Beau Jack. Why, I just bought him a new shoeshine box."
"Why, Willie?" he was asked. "Why did Spencer fight such a dumb fight?"
"He knew," said Willie. "He knew better."
"He was told," said Willie, looking over to Spencer who was listening to his father. "I told ya, Thad," said the father. "Get your rest. Stop runnin' around and worryin' about gettin' tickets for all your friends. How many friends ya think ya got now?"
"Feint and stick," continued Ketchum. "Don't follow him to the ropes, box the sucker, don't fool with him early, keep to the jab, tie him up, ya can't stay in close with this guy, and then make ya move after the sixth round. He didn't do nuttin' right. He couldn't even git his punches off."
"What's that a reflection of?" someone asked.
"A lot of reflections."
There had been much concern about Spencer's condition for this fight. He looked dull in the gym, and those who watched his workouts knew he was bad. On a particular afternoon Machen, Spencer's friend, had to go up in the stands and whisper in the ear of one vociferous critic. Near the end of his training Spencer seemed to respond, and against Quarry he looked in relatively good shape—relatively, because you don't move among the dark bars and sweet-scented chicks without leaving a part of yourself behind.
"Nobody," said one fighter, "nicks Thad for anything. He knows what he's doin'. He fights the way he romances. He gives them nothin'."
Machen, a master in ring technique but defeated by everyone, disagreed.
"Nate," he said defensively, talking to Nate Cohen, a gentleman with grace and style who has a part of Spencer, "you babied him. You let him eat $10 worth of Chinese food just a couple of days ago."
Machen continued: "Willie, he didn't want anybody around. Then when he sees he's slippin' he calls me in. What you want—a miracle? Ten days before a fight? Quarry could have been had—but go tell it to a mountain now."
Spencer, maybe because he was trapped, gave too much of himself this time, and he gave it early. The first round, which was enrapturing because of the number of cruel exchanges, was one of the finest anyone can hope to see. Quarry hurt Spencer in the middle of that round, and it may well be that Spencer never recovered. A left hook followed by a right hand made him look like a dying flower. He was bent over and hanging onto Quarry's legs, but somehow he recovered. "Spencer's attitude changed," Quarry said later. "He was worried after I put the two punches on him."
Quarry's two knockdowns came in the last seconds of the fourth and 10th rounds. The fourth was an extremely close round in which Quarry caught Spencer with a left hook and sent him banging to the floor. Spencer seemed to be up at the count of five when the bell rang. It is conceivable that Spencer might have had a slim chance for a decision going into the 10th round. Digging into Quarry's liver and staying with the jab a bit more, Spencer won the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth rounds as Quarry had difficulty getting any rhythm in his punches. The 10th ended Spencer's hopes for a crack at Jimmy Ellis and $125,000 for the final match of the tournament. The blow, at the end of the round, came as Spencer missed with a right in a corner, and Quarry spun him slightly. Spencer then started to slip and Quarry sent a triphammer of a right hand to his head, almost knocking him through the ropes as the bell sounded. The Player, as Spencer refers to himself, was through. He fought valiantly, but, because of the way he fought and because of a crippled ankle (smashed in his boyhood) that impedes any move to retreat, he was perfect for Quarry.
Quarry, who weighed in at 193½ (Spencer was 200½) and was actually 191 right before the fight, has advanced rapidly. He has striking abilities. He has a good jab, recently acquired. He is punishing and artistic at close range, and he is vicious and accurate when going to the body. At long range he is not ineffectual, but he is limited, his punches often being wide and weakened. He also will not lead. Hammer him with a jab, box him and stay away from him early in the fight and he can, perhaps, be bagged.
There are two other aspects to Quarry as a fighter that prompt speculation. One, will he respond to future fights as he did for Spencer? Has he finally unloaded his desultory approach to the conditioning process? And two, how unnerving and destructive is his close relationship with his family? His father, Jack, is co-manager, which gives him part of one-third of his son's purses. The intrigues between Father Jack and the other manager, Johnny Flores, both of whom are constantly and openly sabotaging each other, do not contribute much to Quarry's peace of mind out of the ring—or to his concentration in it.
The history in boxing of families that have a lot to say about a son's or brother's career form a possibly ominous portent for Jerry Quarry. Will he win in his own camp? Will his detractors come to love him? Will he overcome the "white hope" stigma? The answers to these questions, and others in Quarry's soap-opera saga, should be provided by Jimmy Ellis in April.