SI Vault
Gerald Holland
August 16, 1954
For world-wide interest, for widespread participation, for shattered records, for thrilling triumphs of the human spirit, this is the greatest sports era in history
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August 16, 1954

The Golden Age Is Now

For world-wide interest, for widespread participation, for shattered records, for thrilling triumphs of the human spirit, this is the greatest sports era in history

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There was everything around Jack to make him go bad. Many of his pals did. But Jack's way with his fists set him apart, and when an old-time fighter named Andy Malloy told him he might go places, Jack listened hard. It was Malloy who taught the young Dempsey the fundamentals of boxing and hammered into his head the importance of keeping in condition?until Jack was safe from the temptations of his squalid world.

Jack got $2.50 for his first fight on a regular promoter's card?and he won with a one-punch knockout. But he was crude and it took a few beatings by old trial horses to make him realize it. Once he did, Jack never failed to learn from every fight and he learned so fast that one night he got a telegram from a manager named Jack Kearns. Kearns offered only a railroad ticket and $5, but that was enough. Thus the partnership was born that, with the connivance of promoter Tex Rickard, led to the boiling hot afternoon in Toledo when Jack mashed a sack of potatoes named Jess Willard, attacking him as if he were the very symbol of the life Jack was now to put behind him forever as heavyweight champion of the world.

There have been other great champions (notably Joe Louis, a product of boxing's modern incubator: the Golden Gloves tournaments) but Dempsey?more than any other man?gave boxing big-time status and with the collaboration of Gene Tunney, the gentleman and scholar who got $990,445 for a single fight, made it acceptable even to women. By the time television came along it seemed the most natural thing in the world for all the networks to present regular boxing programs as staples of family entertainment. It is probable that some of the antics that pass for boxing on television would make the blood of Theagenes, Figg and Sullivan run cold. But most dispassionate observers will go along with the proposition that for color, for odd characters in and out of the ring, for strange techniques and eagerness to please, for courage and candor and sheer cussedness, the weird world of boxing offers millions of Americans highly entertaining interludes in which they can watch somebody else take a beating for a change.


There is only one thing certain about the precise origins of the Babe's Game. Baseball was not invented by General Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, N.Y. in 1839 although Organized Baseball put on a monster centennial celebration there in 1939 and so is stuck with the myth.

As a matter of fact, bat and ball games seem to be almost as old as man himself. But baseball historians have come to agree that the game is essentially American, owing a little to cricket, a little to rounders, a little to town ball, but owing most to the inventiveness of American boys. Baseball became the name for it along about 1835 when flat rocks?or bases?replaced the hazardous four-foot-high stakes that had formerly marked the runners' stations.

The haphazard rules of the early games were first put into some sort of order by the Knickerbocker Baseball Club of New York City in 1845. The Knickerbockers also commissioned a surveyor named Alexander Cartwright to redesign the square playing field and it was Cartwright (and not Doubleday) who came up with the baseball diamond of today.

Through the years baseball has survived wars, scandals and depression. The fans' faith was badly shaken by the Chicago Black Sox Scandal of 1920 when it was revealed that Chicago players had "thrown" the 1919 World Series to Cincinnati, but two men rose up to carry baseball to greater heights of popularity than ever before.

One man was Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a federal judge in Chicago selected by baseball men to rule over the game as a czar. Landis was accepted at once as a symbol of uncompromising honesty and (as his very name suggested) a rock of righteousness. The judge even looked the part for which he was cast, with his jutting chin, his great shock of snow-white hair and his piercing eyes as angry against corruption as a Biblical prophet's.

The other man was George Herman Ruth, the Babe, the boy of the Baltimore "home," the superman, the eternally lovable scamp, a big hulk of an athlete America took to its heart as it has no other. If baseball's status was ever in the slightest doubt, the Babe blasted it away with his home runs and his unique way with the kids of America with whom he seemed to have some secret and beautiful communication.

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