Mention Jersey City to a sports fan and the response will vary with his sensibilities. The right-thinking sort will immediately call up memories of Dempsey's classic battle with Carpentier at Boyles' Thirty Acres. An embittered Brooklyn fan will recall it as a way station on Walter O'Malley's flight to California. But those of us who fancy the grotesque will remember the wonderful brawl between Max Baer and Tony Galento, staged in Jersey City 25 years ago this summer.
Baer and Galento were the two most colorful heavyweights of their time. Of the two, only Baer was as pretty as Cassius Clay, but either could have out-talked him. Galento's "night stick" was his murderous left hook, while Baer had one of the hardest right-hand punches in boxing history. The two men detested each other sincerely and unflaggingly. As the columnist "Bugs" Baer (no relation to Max) wrote at the time, the promoters "turned the clock back and two cuckoos popped out."
Baer, a loud-mouthed Adonis, would have been at home as a modern wrestler. He postured and grimaced through his fights, flexed his enormous shoulder muscles, exchanged insults with the crowd and gestured derisively at his opponent. (One evening, earlier in his career, he had been badly outboxed by Tommy Loughran. As he chased the elusive Loughran around the ring, a fan at ringside kept shouting: "Hit him with your right, Max! Hit him with your right!" Baer, winded from throwing punches that never connected, finally turned on his supporter. "You come up here," he snarled, "and hit him with your right!")
Galento was a stubby, neckless man with a bloated face and a belly as big as Baer's chest (Tony's waist measured 42 inches, Baer's chest 44). He was as loud as Baer, and a good deal meaner, but there was some difference of opinion about his character. "He's the only fighter I ever hated," Baer said of him, while Tony's wife claimed, "He's really a big-hearted slob."
Galento and Baer were signed to fight in Jersey City's Roosevelt Stadium on July 2, 1940. The bout was scheduled, by some supreme optimist, for 15 rounds. Because of aversions to training, each even in his prime was subject to shortness of breath; Max liked women. Tony liked beer. Each had briefly known glory, Max during the 364 days he had held the heavyweight championship of the world. Tony during the second he had stood over Joe Louis after having knocked him down. Each had been knocked out by Louis in four rounds.
Under the circumstances, more talking than training took place in their respective training camps.
Tony's pride was his tavern in Orange, N.J. There he retreated when training became arduous, as it often did, and he would tie on his apron and serve beer to his customers while he told them how he was going to "moider th' bum."
Two nights before the fight, Tony's face was cut in a minor fracas in the saloon. Three stitches were required to close the wound, and there was speculation that the bout might have to be postponed. To squelch a rumor that would have affected the gate receipts, Abe J. Greene, New Jersey's boxing commissioner, examined Galenio's multiscarred face and called the latest notch "an abrasion."
"It is inconsequential and will only spur me to speedier victory," Galento said, according to Greene. Tony may have been misquoted.
Twenty-two thousand people, paying almost $100,000, found their way to Roosevelt Stadium on the night of the fight. Both fighters were just past 30 and near the end of their careers, but the crowd had paid for blood rather than artistry. Galento was an 8-to-5 favorite. Though a head shorter than Baer, he outweighed him, 245 pounds to 221. By style and temperament he was more suited to the Pier 6 tactics the fighters' contempt for each other seemed sure to touch off.