- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Dutch Sam, the greatest little man of his age—he weighed 131 pounds and beat good men of 160—trained on Blue Ruin, but his practice was not indorsed by the Bimsteins of his time. In fact when, in 1814, at the age of 39, Sam succumbed in only 38 rounds to Bill Nosworthy, the Baker, they all said that if he had stuck to Heavy Wet he would not have had such a premature downfall.
The Neutral Corner, at Eighth Avenue and 55th Street, is to Stillman's what the Castle Tavern was to the Fives Court. Managers and trainers adjourn there after Dr. Lou Stillman, the President of the University of Eighth Avenue, locks the iron grille across the portals of his Ivy-League sweatbox at 3 in the afternoon. The managers receive telephone calls at the Neutral, and the trainers exchange gripes, often about a hostile region known as out-of-town, which in their stories is the equivalent of west of the Missouri in the works of A.B. Guthrie. Referees and judges out-of-town are notoriously treacherous, and the boxing commission physicians there are even worse. They will stop a fight if the New York boxer has an eyelash brushed back into his eye, but they will let the out-of-town fellow continue even if he looks like he had been hit by a Cadillac. Out-of-town it has gotten so you cannot even rely on an opponent. An opponent is supposed to offer a credible degree of opposition. That is why he is called an opponent. But a trainer who hangs out in the Corner came back from Washington, in the state of D.C., a week or two ago, spluttering with rage because the promoter had provided a cut-price opponent. "The opponent comes out in the first round and goes down three times without we had hit him yet," the trainer raved. The commission had accordingly declared the bout no contest, and held up the purse of the fighter the opponent had not waited to be hit by. "Can you imagine?" the trainer said. "A bum like that has the nerve to call himself an opponent."
Nick Masuras, behind the bar, said: "Out-of-town you're dead."
Nick, a restaurant man who used to be an armory middleweight, is one of the three proprietors of the Neutral. He thought of the name and founded the place, later taking in as partners Chickie Bogad, a former matchmaker, and Frankie Jacobs, better known as Frankie Jay, a former manager. That gives them quite a diversity of points of view on the Sweet Science, and a visit to the Neutral Corner has a didactic value for undergraduates of the University of Eighth Avenue, who go there to play shuffleboard, put slugs in the cigarette machine and listen to their elders if that is indispensable in persuading Nick to let their tabs run another week on account the six in Danbury fell through. Trainers do not mind their clean-cut American youths being in a saloon where they can watch them. Many features of the Neutral are qualified to instruct, for example the hundreds of photographs of oldtime worthwhile fighters, men who have become classics, like the portraits of John Marshall and Coke and Blackstone in a law school.
Nick is a big man nowadays; he was a tall, rangy middleweight who broadened with the years. As senior proprietor he works the day shift, and as he knows all the day customers he can tell them where to get off. "Don't be miserable," he will call out to an ex-pug who wants service when Nick wants to talk baseball at the other end of the bar, or "What makes you so miserable?" to a manager who wants change for a quarter so he can put in a call for out-of-town and ask if they will accept the charges. If Nick is looking up some important fact in Nat Fleischer's Ring Record Book and Boxing Encyclopedia, which is kept in the drawer of the cash register to settle bets, he will let the manager wait a long time. When Nick, who is 48, was fighting, Whitey, who is 59, was already a trainer. (When Whitey was fighting, he would never train, but he does not emphasize that in his lectures.) Sometimes, when undergraduates are within earshot—they would have to go out the front door and run a block to get out of it—Nick tells about a time he was fighting a guy in the 102d Medical Regiment Armory and he was so arm-weary that he said to Whitey, between rounds, "Be careful with that sponge, Whitey, you're getting water on my gloves. It makes them heavy.
"And Whitey looks up at me," Nick says, "and he says, 'You little bum, if you done your roadwork right you wouldn't feel this way. I hope he kills you.' "
At this point an irreverent under-grad sometimes asks: "How many miles you run every morning in them day's, Nick? A hunnerd, or a hunnerten?"
Nick goes on without honoring the interruption. "And the guy I was fighting was a bum," he says. "A nothing fighter. I done it to myself."
All the Neutral Corner wits consider it a misfortune that the period of technological unemployment in the Sweet Science caused by television should coincide with a time when the cost of feeding fighters has reached an unprecedented peak. It is an old, convention-ridden art, and none of the trainers has yet tried to feed Cheeriwobbles, Pip-squeaks, or any other form of succedaneum for nourishment advertised by the sponsors of competing television programs, which might reduce feeding costs. Nick, who is a good restaurant man and has a good cook, Jimmy the Chef, says it costs at least $3.50 a day to feed a fighter three meals, "and that's only giving him a steak every other night. If he has a fight coming up he's got to have a steak every day." Maybe he doesn't, but everybody connected with the Sweet Science believes he does, and there is a morale factor involved. A tear still wells to each eye when I remember a story by Jack London I read when I was 12 about a fighter in Australia, a has-been, whose family butcher refuses him credit for a bit of steak before his last stand. It is a real Jack London fight, like Marlon Brando versus Burt Lancaster on a carpet of eyeballs, and the veteran needs the strength for just one more appallingly terrific punch to pull it out—but he hasn't had the steak. His arm falls as limp as a vegetable dinner, and the sirloin-stuffed betting choice knocks him out. It would make a great brochure for the American Meat Institute. The managers, who usually okay the bills for fighters en pension at the Neutral, are lucky at that that they aren't living in the days of John L. Sullivan, who ate beefsteaks or mutton chops three times a day when he trained.
" Sullivan rises at 7 a.m. and washes, brushes his teeth and rinses his mouth, and takes a swallow of pure spring water," it says in The History of the Prize Ring (1881), with lives of Paddy Ryan and John L. Sullivan, a work long wrongly attributed to William Dean Howells, "then removes his night clothes and is sponged with sea water [so his skin wouldn't cut], rubbed perfectly dry with coarse towels, dresses himself and takes a walk of a mile. It is then about 8 a.m., at which time he breakfasts on beefsteak or mutton chops cooked to suit the taste, coarse bread, with butter, and a cup of weak tea. His appetite is always good, and there is no occasion for an appetizer. Half an hour after breakfast (he is dressed so as to be comfortable for the purpose) he takes a brisk walk of from eight to 10 miles, the last two of which are with an increase of speed to bring on a good perspiration. Going direct to his room he is stripped and rubbed down with the coarse towels. When perfectly cool he is sponged with sea water and given another good rubbing. Then he dresses and remains quiet until dinner, which is at one o'clock p.m., and consists of beef or mutton, roasted or boiled, plenty of stale bread, with butter and one or two potatoes. [Being a heavyweight, he naturally wasn't worried about poundage.] He remains quiet after dinner for an hour, when he commences exercise in hitting a football suspended from the ceiling, or using dumbbells or club swinging, or short splint [sic] races, such as suits his fancy. He takes supper at 6 p.m., of cold roast beef or mutton or mutton chops, stale bread with butter, plain apple sauce and weak tea, and once or twice a week Irish or Scotch oatmeal, well cooked, with milk. After supper he takes a moderate walk of half an hour and retires at 9 p.m., sleeping in none of the clothes worn during the day. He has sufficient cover on his bed to be comfortable and no more, as he says he never perspires excepting when exercising."