Haislet asked that the boy be given six months of training, then six weeks of rest, including a trip to Europe, and then a fight or two, followed by another training period until he had been given enough time "to learn his trade, mature, and become psychologically and physiologically ready."
Schoor felt no less strongly that Beattie should be brought along slowly, but his plan was to fight the boy occasionally in out-of-town bouts against "carefully selected" opponents as part of the training process. At first, Beattie made Schoor's approach look good by wining three straight fights by knockouts. Then, on a hot and humid night in Saratoga Springs, in front of half a dozen New York sportswriters, Haislet's prophetic warning came true. The opponent was John Barrazza, sparmate of George Chuvalo, a ranking heavyweight contender. The kindest words that boxing people had been able to say about Barrazza was that he was a "catcher," a fighter who could take punishment. For two rounds Barrazza confirmed his reputation, taking a fearful beating about the head from Beattie's vicious lefts. But in the third round Beattie suddenly stopped pitching and started catching, and soon he was all but immobile as Barrazza pounded at will to the vast midsection. "He hurt me, yes, he did hurt me," Beattie recalls with chagrin. "I was exhausted, I could see three of him coming at me, but I couldn't get out of the way." At the end of the fifth round Referee Arthur Mercante awarded Barrazza a TKO, and an ambulance was called to take Beattie to the hospital, where he was placed in an oxygen tent. Doctors discovered that his foot, injured in training, was broken in three places. Unable to pivot, he had been a stationary target. Schoor remembers trying to shake Beattie out of his lethargy in the hospital. "I told him, 'You didn't lose because of your foot. You lost because you were not in shape. And let this be a lesson to you!' " Beattie has two vivid memories of his trip to the hospital: "I remember Freddie Fierro sitting in the ambulance with tears in his eyes, and I remember Schoor saying to me, 'Every boxing writer in the state was there,' and, 'You quit, you quit on me.' "
In the light of the subsequent publicity Schoor's anguish was understandable. Jack Mann felt constrained to remind the 400,000 readers of the
New York Herald Tribune
that The Harder They Fall was not about James J. Beattie. "He can't play Budd Schulberg's classic patsy because he's smart enough to do something else for a living," Mann wrote. "He should."
Murray Robinson, in the
New York Journal-American, observed that the fight had "exploded another ring bubble, the brain child of a New York press agent and his partners.... I use the past tense in referring to him as a fighter."
Beattie's first opponent after the Saratoga Springs disaster was Al Alberts, a boxer whose name does not appear in The Ring Record Book, largely because Al Alberts is not his real name. Other easy opponents came and went (three potential opponents were turned down by the Massachusetts Boxing Commission as unfit), and Beattie rolled up a string of seven straight knockouts, making his overall professional record read, to date: 11 wins, 10 knockouts, one loss by TKO.
Though not all agree, many of boxing's insiders are satisfied that Schoor's system of heavy training and occasional fights is as good a way as any to bring the big fighter along. ("It was good enough for Marciano," said one. "It oughta be good enough for Beattie.") Beattie's opponents may be stiffs, but they are also Beattie's peers. As Schoor points out, "We are fighting kids that can beat Jim. Take, for example, we fought a kid named Frank Davis, and we told Jim the only way he could get hurt was to walk into a wild overhand right. Well, he walked out into a wild overhand right and went down. He got up, and Davis knocked him down again. Then Jim got up and knocked Davis out. Jim could very easily have lost that fight, but he showed something. I try to match him against opponents of his own experience and against opponents who can teach him something."
Not that every Beattie fight has been a tutorial success. In his New York debut Beattie knocked out one Duke Johnson of Red Bank, N.J. with the first punch of the fight, at 24 seconds of the first round. Johnson, it developed, had been put to rest in seven of his previous 13 fights, and the commission doctor recommended strongly that he seek some other means of gainful employment.
The main difficulty presented by a record consisting of 10 KOs over the likes of Duke Johnson is that it offers no yardstick by which to evaluate the fighter. "Can he hit?" asks a hanger-on at Gleason's, where Beattie works out daily. "Whadda we know? He's only been fightin' punchin' bags. Dolores Del Rio'd look good against a punchin' bag." A New York heavyweight who was asked to hire on as a sparmate for Beattie said, "I turned them down. I ain't no fool. Maybe someday I'll fight him and get a big, fat payday. You can hit this guy easy with a right hand." But veteran Manager Al Braverman says, "This kid is a handsome white giant who can punch. As if that isn't enough, the kid's intelligent." Charley Goldman, who trained Marciano, says, "This kid could be just the thing to get boxing healthy. He's got a nice left, but he's slow—maybe too slow. And they could be bringing him along too fast. He should be fighting in the sticks, where he can come along slow, build up his confidence and get those press notices without getting hurt." The consensus is that he is a legitimate prospect in a very early stage.
As for Jim Beattie, he is more than commonly aware of what is happening around him, and so honest about himself as to be almost an affront to boxing, where honesty is not recognized as one of the nobler virtues. Beattie looks back on all the drum rolls and trumpet voluntaries and says simply: "They shouldn't be talking so big about me. Who the hell is Jim Beattie? I might get up against a really tough top-name opponent and go completely to pieces, totally out of my mind. Maybe I can't take it. They don't know that. They don't know whether I'm gonna get into a fight and start making amateur mistakes because the pressure eats my nerves out. They don't know. I know I'm not yellow, but they don't know it. I'll speak for every boxer that climbed into a ring: there's the tension, the nervousness, almost downright stark fear. There's nothing in the world as real as fear. Fear is the one thing. And my own fear isn't a fear of getting hurt. That's never bothered me. I'm afraid of looking bad."
Beattie figures that the fear of looking bad might have some connection with his childhood when, for a period, he did look bad. His father and two brothers were excellent baseball players, and Jim, the middle brother, could not get the hang of the game. But the family was close-knit and loyal, and the Beattie boys kept trying to inflict their hapless brother on the neighborhood baseball teams, while Jim cringed with shame. "One day when I was about 14 my brother Davey talked his team into letting me play first base, and I got a single my first time up. Then I got to second base and the bases were loaded. So what do I do with the bases loaded? I try to steal third. The guy on third headed for home, and they tagged him out. I ran back toward second but the guy on first was coming into second: so they tagged us both out. That made it a triple play, and the batter hadn't even swung at the ball yet. That one play gives you an idea of what kind of a baseball player I was. You can laugh, but there was nothing funny about it to me. I felt I was letting the whole family down.