In the angry business of boxing, where there generally is little love lost between fighters and their managers, it is pleasant to recall the tender feeling that existed between Jake Mintz and Wilf Greaves (right). Mintz, no mediocre manager, had never been accused of having a heart of grilled cheese. He had slept on pool tables and operated a bucket game in a carnival. As a young flyweight, in order to insure a large bipartisan following, he had boxed under the name of Irish Jack O'Boyle while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. As a matchmaker and then promoter, he had overlooked no publicity stunt that would move tickets. The late John Lardner once described him as "three-quarters brain and one-quarter Westphalian."
"I don't know where he gets that Westphalian business," hollered Jake. "I am Jewish all the way."
Jake was a short, popeyed, bespectacled man with a broken nose and a fringe of wild hair around his bald head. In his first venture as a manager he steered Ezzard Charles to the heavyweight championship, expertly picking Ezzard's spots while commandeering countless columns of newspaper space. As Ezzard's career declined, Jake set out in search of the horn of plenty—a white hope.
So determined was Mintz to find a white heavyweight with championship potential that almost every unemployed able-bodied white youth in sight was hauled into a gym. On a dark street one night a white stickup man put a gun in Jake's back. Jake whirled on him, knocked him down, kicked him in the ribs and hauled him off to a police station. After taking a second look at the stickup man's heavyweight physique, however, Jake refused to testify against him, forcing the district attorney to throw out the case. Jake then marched the hoodlum to a gym. But his fistic prowess was no better there than it had been in the alley and Jake, sorrowing once again, let him go.
In the spring of 1955 Mintz found himself in Edmonton, Canada, where he had taken Ez Charles to fight an obscure antique named Vern Escoe. While there, Jake heard so much talk of an amateur middleweight named Wilf Greaves that he phoned Greaves and invited him to his hotel room. Greaves arrived—dimpled, sandy-haired, square of jaw, politely conversational.
"He come into my life out of a clear blue cloud!" Jake exclaimed in one of his malapropisms. Telephoning a newspaper in Pittsburgh, his home town, Jake shouted: "This kid used to be the amateur champion of the whole British Umpire!"
Forthwith Jake descended upon the Greaves home to persuade the boy's parents to turn over their son to him. "He comes to the house," Greaves said later, "to sell my mother and dad a bill of goods. He didn't give them a chance to get a word in edgewise, except 'yeh...yeh...yeh.' When he finally finished talking he got up and said, 'Well, I'll put the contracts in the mail.' Then he's out the door and gone. He didn't give us a chance to say yes, no or maybe. He didn't even ask me if I wanted to turn pro. He hadn't even seen me in the gym."
In any event, Greaves joined Jake in Pittsburgh, and Jake immediately sold his interest in Ezzard Charles. He and his wife, Julia, put up Greaves in their apartment and didn't bill him for the rent. He bought Wilf a suit, a topcoat and shoes. "Yes," said Jake, wincing only slightly, "and he is a nice eater, too." Jake called Greaves "my Monkey-face." Greaves called Jake "Pops." Veteran fight managers practically threw up.
The first time Greaves got in a Pittsburgh ring he was astonished to hear boos from the crowd. He had not been told that Pittsburgh fans booed all Jake's fighters just as automatically as Landon Republicans had hissed Roosevelt. Of his first four pro fights, Greaves won only one. He boxed crudely; his punch was jolting but not shattering. He had great heart, however, and Jake saw him as a diamond in the rough.
"I got a lotta confidence in my Monkey-face," Jake said. "Right now I got to buy him some golf sticks. A golfer he is! A golfer and a tennis player! You ever hear of a fighter plays golf and tennis?"