Max's life in the '40s and '50s consisted of a lot more than being Sacramento's star. His financial security was set, thanks to the foresight of his manager, Hoffman. One of Max's favorite lines was, "I got an annuity that's going to pay me $2,200 a month. I don't know what an annuity is, but I sure as hell know what $2,200 is." To boost his income, and his ego, Max was always involved in things which kept him in the public eye. He had a long-running nightclub act with Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom, appeared in movies and on TV and refereed dozens of bouts all over the country. Our town, however, was where Max returned after his travels.
I didn't see Max as frequently when I was 11 and 12. By then I was playing 36 holes of golf by day and Little League baseball in the evenings. It was a thrill to have Max witness one of my greatest moments. He happened to be sitting in the stands at Land Park's Diamond 3 when I hit my only Little League home run, an inside-the-parker. I was a singles hitter but I belted a long ball that evening. It had to be a shot or I never could have crossed all four bases because I was so slow. Max stood up and cheered, as did my teammates, as I plodded from third to home. He booed when the other team argued, correctly, that I'd missed first base. He cheered again when the ump, my friend Frank Radich, ruled I'd missed it by three feet, but Frank had been waiting four years for me to hit a homer, and he knew I'd have died if it were taken away from me. Frank spoke with great authority. Not only was he the umpire but he also was the toughest kid in our area. The home run stood. My team won 1-0.
Max joined parents, kids and others at the great victory ceremony at Vic's. Though I was no longer a cute little white-haired kid, I was still Max's favorite. It sure raised my stock in the neighborhood. Max picked up the tab for the small army of celebrants—except for one. I bought Frank's milk shake. It was the least I could do.
As new kids moved into the neighborhood they became aware of Max. It was generally understood that if they wanted an introduction, they'd have to go through me. It was while providing such a service that I last saw Max. On Halloween night of 1959 I was 13 and trying hard to appear older and more adult. Seven or eight of us had been running around fighting with other groups, setting off firecrackers and smoking those awful rum-soaked cigars. One of our number, Greg Armstrong, was relatively new in town and wanted to meet Max. Upon our appearance at his door Max invited us in for Cokes. The little herd of hotshot teenagers was instantly transformed into a respectful assemblage by the force of Max's personality.
As we were leaving, Max pulled me aside, put me up against the wall with my feet off the ground, put his face right next to mine and quietly growled, "If I ever catch you smoking again, or even smell it on you, I'll drag you straight to your dad and we'll take turns on you." I almost wet my pants.
"You won't Max, I won't do it no more."
By the time my feet were back on the ground, my friends were halfway down Max's walkway. I went down the steps, paler than usual, after them.
"Bring the new boy over tomorrow and we'll show him the den."