He arrives at the gym a little after 5 p.m., undresses in the narrow, gray locker room and puts on his red sweat trunks. The lockers are labeled uniformly; the first initials and last names of fighters are printed on white backgrounds that are shaped like boxing gloves, but his locker also has the full name, DANIEL ANDREWS, on it.
He comes outside into the gym proper, a chocolate-eyed black man shuffling across the scraped, gray floor on sandaled feet. His short Afro cut hugs his head like Persian lamb, and his shoulders are hunched slightly forward the way they are when he is in the ring. "That's Danny Andrews," says a man who is pointing him out. "He's sparred with Griffith and a lot of other good fighters."
He walks past the sign that says PLEASE DON'T BE AFRAID TO THROW GARBAGE IN WASTE BIN and heads for the old-fashioned white radiator on the far side of the ring, where he had hung his rinsed-out T shirt the night before, THE CONCORD, it says in faded green letters across the front of the shirt and, for Danny Andrews, the name of the Catskill resort is a royal crest. The shirt represents two visits he made to the Concord to work as Emile Griffith's sparring partner. He was there for three weeks last year, and three weeks the year before that. He earned $100 a week plus room and board, and he had a good time. "I ate in the big dining room, and I went to the shows," he says. "And I met lots of people."
It is also relevant that he sparred with a man who has been a world champion. Danny Andrews is 29 and he has achieved an outstanding lack of success in his six years as a professional prizefighter. He has won only 10 of his 33 bouts; he has drawn two and lost 21. He still sees himself as a fighter, but it does not offend him if someone else describes him as a sparring partner. The names of most of the men he has fought are obscure, but he has been a sparring partner for such top boxers as Carlos Teo Cruz, Frankie Narvaez, Curtis Cokes, Don Fullmer, Ismael Laguna and Griffith. "I feel good that I'm able to go in and spar with those guys," he says. "Like you take Griffith. He's rough and he's strong and he's also smart. When you spar with someone like him, you know the manager picked you because he feels you can do the job. He just can't pick an ordinary guy."
Now in the gym, he pulls the Concord shirt over his broad chest—he weighs 150 pounds, is smoothly muscled with good shoulders, a slim waist and no fat—and he sits on a chair and puts on his boxing shoes. He unrolls his gray-white bandages and slowly wraps his hands. When he finishes the wrappings, another fighter secures the bandages with strips of adhesive tape. Then he wriggles into a leather cup and a trainer straps on his headgear. The trainer helps him into his gloves, and fingers grease across his face. He steps into the ring and the trainer gives him the mouthpiece that he bites into place. He moves about the ring loosening up as he waits for the buzzer that marks the passage of working time in the long, white-walled room.
This is Gil Clancy's gym on West 28th Street off Seventh Avenue in New York's garment district. The gym is part of the Telestar Athletic Club, Inc. and Telestar Sports Corporation, which are run by Clancy and Howie Albert, who manage fighters like Griffith and heavyweight prospect Forrest Ward. The building in which the gym is located also contains a fur company, a button manufacturer and a firm that makes costume jewelry. It is across 28th Street from a Spanish-American restaurant and an educational institution called Brown's Pressing School. The gym is on the fifth floor of the building and at the center of Danny Andrews' life. Danny works nights as a $100-a-week maintenance man at York College in Bayside, Long Island, N.Y. and he sleeps days in a $50-a-month room in a private home nearby in Corona. Each day he gets up at 3 or 4 in the afternoon and takes the subway to Manhattan. There is little opportunity to express oneself as a floor waxer, and Danny is faceless on the subway and on the streets of the city. But Gil Clancy's gym is his turf. In the gym he is like a party regular in a local clubhouse.
The gym is no Concord, but it is not supposed to be a spa, and the dues are only $10 a month. At the 28th Street end of the room there are two torn couches oozing stuffing as if someone had bayoneted them. There is a photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King above a pay phone, and columns of numbers are scratched on the wall. Across the room past the shadow-boxing mirrors, the exercise mat, the three body bags and the blue-and-orange braces for two speed bags, there is the roped altar of the ring. Beyond the ring the radiator squats against the wall, and dirty windows look out upon downtown buildings that line up against each other like gray cliffs. The locker room and the three-stall shower room are partitioned off, and there is a John and Emile Griffith's dressing room. Griffith no longer owns a title but he is still an important fighter and he is royalty at Clancy's gym, where a sign on the door of his cubicle says EMILE GRIFFITH, PRIVATE. When Griffith works out, he is accompanied by a latter-day squire who carries his equipment and wipes him down. (On a recent afternoon Griffith kidded briefly with Danny, who kidded back. "You giving me that tough look," Danny said, and he glanced around to see if anyone had noticed him talking to Emile Griffith.)
There are fight posters on the gym walls advertising bouts at the Felt Forum and the Sunnyside Arena, and there is a NO SMOKING sign and a sign that says ONLY TWO (2) ROUNDS PER BOXER ON HEAVY BAGS WHEN OTHERS ARE WAITING. Next to an office a bulletin board carries an obituary of Rocky Marciano, a story about Jack Johnson and a sheet headed "Telestar Men in Action." One item reports that "Emile Griffith outpointed Art Hernandez in their Sioux Falls, S. Dak. battle." Another tells how "Tom 'The Bomb' Bethea lost a split 10-round home-town decision to No. 2-ranking middleweight Carlos Monzon in Buenos Aires." Bethea is a compact puncher with whom Danny frequently spars, not for money but for their mutual education. "He's nice to spar with," says Danny. "You have to think about what you are doing."
The buzzer sounds. There is the whup-whup of fists digging into the heavy bags, and the boppity-boppity of fists racing against the speed bags. Managers, trainers and assorted hangers-on talk to each other and to fighters; there is more Spanish spoken than English. Kids from Spanish Harlem, who are the new minority group and have taken over what is left of boxing in New York, are represented in the gym, and there is also a delegation of Brazilians who have been imported for fights in Madison Square Garden. Lightweight champion Ismael Laguna of Panama (Danny's book on Laguna is that "he's never there to hit") is stylishly skipping rope, and another lightweight is pounding his orange-gloved fists into a medicine ball held by a trainer. A tall, big-muscled young heavyweight with a mod haircut and a baby face is shadowboxing, a balding little pug is putting his aging body through hard labor on the exercise mat, and a 30ish man who comes to the gym just to work out is hitting a heavy bag—"I'll destroy this bag," he says, grinning. A Latin light heavyweight is working on one of the other body bags; perspiration has turned him into glistening ebony as he follows the instructions of a spindly, coat-sweatered man who is wearing dark glasses. The coat-sweatered man has eye trouble. His name is Sandy Saddler and he was once the featherweight champion of the world.
In the ring Danny Andrews is boxing. He is shooting out jabs and using his forearms and elbows to block the hooks of a quick young Colombian welterweight named Rodrigo Valdes. Danny is competent, he knows how to stick and move and how to handle himself in close, but there is neither power nor fire—he is like a piano player who hits the right notes but lacks expression. Whereas Rodrigo Valdes is all fire; the arc in which he punches is a little too wide, perhaps, but he punches with force and he doubles up on his hooks. After the workout Danny will say, "The boy I sparred with today learned a lot from me." The following week Rodrigo will knock out David Melendez, a red-hot New Yorker, in the Garden, and he will have the sort of headlines that Danny Andrews has never had. Sometimes Danny stands outside himself and looks at the Rodrigo Valdeses of his world and think, "I could have been there, that should have been me." But it never happens. The gym is one thing, and the arena is another. When Danny fought the same David Melendez in June 1968, he lost an eight-round decision. Now, he spars in Clancy's gym, and men sit and stand around the ring watching, but they are not watching him. They are watching Rodrigo Valdes, who is a golden boy. They are not watching Danny Andrews, who is a sparring partner. If there is a credo for sparring partners, it was expressed some years ago by George Nicholson, an amiable heavyweight whose only claim to immortality is that he was Joe Louis' sparring partner. Nicholson's summation was reported by the late A.J. Liebling, and went as follows: "You can hire any kind of cheap help to get theirself hit. What you got to pay good money for is somebody that is not going to get hisself hit. By not getting hisself hit, a sparring partner does more good to a fighter because he sets the fighter to studying why he ain't hitting him."