SI Vault
 
A NATIONWIDE LOOK AT BOXING'S STRAW BOSSES
Robert Coughlan
January 31, 1955
The IBC sets the tone for boxing in the larger cities except—perhaps—San Francisco. Boston has Valenti and violence, Detroit offers Piazza and Finazzo, Philadelphia has Blinky and Muggsy, and Los Angeles has Babe, who isn't even the real McCoy
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 31, 1955

A Nationwide Look At Boxing's Straw Bosses

The IBC sets the tone for boxing in the larger cities except—perhaps—San Francisco. Boston has Valenti and violence, Detroit offers Piazza and Finazzo, Philadelphia has Blinky and Muggsy, and Los Angeles has Babe, who isn't even the real McCoy

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

During his trial some years ago on a charge of receiving stolen goods, Babe McCoy, Los Angeles' leading matchmaker, was asked by the prosecutor whether his license as a matchmaker was dependent on his "good conduct and good behavior and honest dealing."

"Not necessarily," McCoy answered. Thrown a bit off balance by this unexpected candor, the prosecutor persisted, "They wouldn't give you a license if they thought you were dishonest or associating with thugs or persons of that kind, would they?"

"Oh," McCoy reassured him, "they make no questions about that."

Although McCoy was acquitted, this little colloquy sums up a good deal about the boxing business in the U.S. these days. In two preceding articles in this series, we have examined the International Boxing Club and its president, James D. Norris, and the underworld boxing syndicate headed by killer Frank Carbo and seen how they work together. We have also, through some typical examples, seen how this combine operates to freeze out independent managers. Soon after he took office, New York's recent athletic commission Chairman Robert Christenberry wrote that these "...Two serious problems, gangster influence and the threat of monopoly control, have combined to produce...the gravest crisis in [boxing's] history."

However, Christenberry did little or nothing to improve the situation during his term as chairman. As to why he failed, there are many apocryphal and probably untrue stories. A concrete reason, which may in fact be the overriding one, was offered recently by a minor New York boxing promoter: " Norris has got the New York commission where it hurts. They get smart with him, all he has to do is threaten to take his fights to Idaho or some crumby joint like that."

Of course, it would not be quite so simple. Despite TV, New York is boxing's capital for good economic reasons, and in the long run even Norris could not avoid them. Accordingly, to clean up the sport in New York would be to go far toward cleaning it up generally. On the other hand, it is perfectly obvious that boxing, whether or not it is "interstate commerce" within the meaning of the antitrust law, is a national activity. No state commission can supervise it. Although boxing's friends should wish New York's new Chairman Helfand courage and luck, the fact remains that the rehabilitation of the sport is a national problem.

To find out just how much of a problem it is, SI's correspondents in all parts of the country have been investigating the boxing business in their own localities. What follows here is a summary of their reports. By and large, and with exceptions, as we shall see, the high aroma of boxing diminishes in proportion to the distance between these localities and the Norris-Carbo operations base in New York. Proceeding, then, from New York, we shall look at boxing's major centers—Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles, beginning with:

PHILADELPHIA

Back in the 1920s a man named Harry Stromberg (alias Nig Rosen) headed one of the East's more successful bootlegging operations. Today Stromberg is known as the racket boss of Philadelphia although he lives in New York City and runs his fief mostly through lieutenants. Among his good friends in Philadelphia are Herman (Muggsy) Taylor and Frank (Blinky) Palermo. Taylor is far and away the city's leading boxing promoter. And Palermo is Philadelphia's leading manager and, indeed, one of the most important managers in the U.S.

We had a view of Taylor in action in last week's article, in which Donald Rettman, former manager of middleweight George Johnson, told how Taylor had taken Johnson away from him. Taylor, who testified before the Kefauver Committee that he had never been arrested, has testified also that he knows Frank Carbo "very well" and has been acquainted with such other scofflaws as Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Charlie Fischetti, Rocco Fischetti, Jake (Greasy Thumb) Guzik, Meyer Lansky, Little Augie Pisano, Mickey Cohen, Jimmy La Fontaine, Willie Weisberg, Longie Zwillman and Murray (The Camel) Humphreys. In 1930, when Al Capone was released from a year in a Philadelphia jail on a gun-toting charge, it was friend Muggsy who went to North Philadelphia Station and "saw him on his way home to Chicago," he testified. Taylor's position in local boxing approximates Norris' in New York: local fighters and managers get no place without his approval, and promising new fighters usually end up, one way or another, under his control or that of people allied with him. He has local autonomy in his area and is not officially connected with the IBC, but is tied in to the Norris empire through tacit understandings and to the Carbo syndicate through mutual underworld friends. IBC fights in Philadelphia are always under the banner of "The International Boxing Club, James D. Norris, president, and Herman Taylor present...."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6