NO ATHLETE EVER had so much going for him as Jack Dempsey did. First of all, he was one tough cookie, and a fine fighter. He was handsome and had a terrific nickname, the Manassa Mauler. He had one savvy manager, Doc Kearns, and for a promoter, maybe the best ever: Tex Rickard. Dempsey also came along at exactly the right moment—the start of the Roaring '20s—so he was included on the A-list of the era's golden gods: Ruth, Grange, Tilden, Jones and Man 0' War. But those gods all had far better records. After Dempsey won the heavyweight title on July 4, 1919, he carefully picked his opponents. For Tommy Gibbons, he had his own ref and the whole purse. For Georges Carpentier, he had a 17-pound edge. For Luis Firpo, he was saved by the ringside press, who helped him back into the ring after Firpo batted him out. Then Dempsey took off three years before losing decisively to Gene Tunney. All the while, he avoided the true top contender, Harry Wills, the Black Panther. Dempsey was a popular champ, but to rank him in the company of Johnson, Louis, Marciano and Ali is nonsense.
The two peoples who have been most prejudiced against Sadaharu Oh are the Japanese and the Americans. Although born in Japan, Oh had a Chinese father and thus was never fully accepted in his homeland, where racial purity is so highly prized. On his own team, the Yomiuri Giants, a full-blooded Japanese teammate, Shigeo Nagashima, was always more popular—while Oh hit 868 home runs, won two Triple Crowns, was a lifetime .301 hitter and a top-fielding first baseman. In chauvinistic America, of course, his accomplishments were always written off as bush league. Yogi Berra crudely summed up the consensus after Henry Aaron edged out Oh 10-9 in a home run contest: " Aaron could be that Nip in the dark at LaGuardia." However, now that Ichiro Suzuki has shown that the best Japanese players can play with the best here, it is impossible any longer to dismiss 868 home runs—roughly one for every II at bats—as just a Ginza lounge act. Would Oh-san have hit 868 in the U.S.? No. But 500? Almost certainly. Maybe a lot more.