When Spike Webb retired in June 1954, after 35 years' service as the Naval Academy boxing coach, Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey sent a wire to Webb saying, "The Naval Academy will not be the same without you."
And there is no doubt in anyone's mind that Webb's departure from the Academy was heartfelt. At a dinner given in his honor in May of that year, some 200 Naval officers of all ranks paid tribute to him as the Grand Old Man of Amateur Boxing and the world's most successful Olympic boxing coach. But perhaps more important to Webb than the speeches was the silver trophy he held in his hands. It represented the Navy's highest praise. Engraved were the words: "Well done."
Webb became so much a part of Navy life during his career that he was a frequent participant in the midshipmen's summer training cruises. All told, he sailed nine times with his boys. "In giving a 'rezoom' of my life," says Webb, "I've got to tell about those cruises."
On shipboard Webb supervised athletics, organized Happy Hour boxing tournaments and trained the Navy football team. On the side, he did a great deal of deep-sea fishing, some of it through the porthole with the line tied around his ankle while he dozed off on his bunk. Webb says he caught his biggest fish—a yellowtail—while asleep in Guant�namo Bay.
When Webb was cruising on the old
, he organized a boxing tournament aboard that ship and the
. The two battleships were plowing across the Atlantic together. The finals were held on the
. Webb was scheduled to referee, but the water was too rough to send him over. The admiral came up with what seemed to be the perfect solution: Webb would climb to the crow's nest with a pair of binoculars and a signalman and referee from there. Then the two battleships were brought within 300 yards of each other.
At the end of each bout, all eyes on the
looked to the top of the Ark. Spike scrawled the decision on a scrap of paper and handed it to the sailor who-wigwagged the message to the crowd around the ring. Reporting the tournament later, Dan Parker wrote in his column in the New York
: "Spike occupied the ideal position for a referee—out of reach."
During Webb's 35 years at the Naval Academy every one but the superintendent sampled one of his practical jokes. Spike's favorite victim was Signor Generoso Pavese, the excitable fencing coach, whom Spike nicknamed Chichicabuchi. Once Webb sent the fencer's left shoe to the cobbler and had it raised a quarter of an inch. Chichi limped around for several weeks thinking he had ruptured himself.
Chichicabuchi's prize possession was a fine English derby. Every morning he would fondle the hat lovingly before placing it in his locker. One day Webb sneaked in a substitute derby. Then at noon he jerked open the locker door and, before the thunderstruck Chichi, he threw the derby on the floor and jumped up and down on it. It took two coaches to subdue the rapier-waving Italian and rescue Webb from his refuge on the rafters.
A few days later, when Chichicabuchi was leaving for a fencing meet at West Point, Webb "doctored" his suitcase. Chichi hurried in, grabbed the suitcase and fell flat on his face. The Italian, his thunderous temper in full blast, ripped the bag open, expecting to find it loaded with pig iron. Webb, however, had been more thoughtful. He had nailed the suitcase to the floor.
The son of an Irish mailman, Spike Webb was born in Baltimore in 1889. He was christened Hamilton Murrell Webb, but after knocking out an opponent at the old Eureka Athletic Club, he was rechristened by Hughie Jennings, the great Baltimore shortstop. "That left of yours is like a marlinspike, kid," said Hughie. "From now on, your name is Spike Webb."