Baltimore boxing anything but depressed in 1930s

John Steadman

May 22, 1991|By John Steadman

Times were tough so boxing, paradoxically, offered a desperate escape to a better way of life. Maybe. It was an era when Baltimore enjoyed a reputation, conferred upon it by promoters, as "one of the hottest fight towns in the country."

It was the 1930s. The nation, gripped in the Great Depression, had welfare lines stretched to infinity. Yet Baltimore occasionally staged as many as four different professional boxing shows in a week.

What was going on then in Baltimore boxing so interested Buddy Ey, a retired city police sergeant who's now a special investigator in the juvenile division of the State's Attorney's office, that he embarked on a mission. It took him hundreds of hours of research to review 10 years of Baltimore's three daily newspapers.

He turned back the pages to Jan. 1, 1930, and then painstakingly moved forward, peering at microfilm, until Dec. 31, 1939. He found, in that decade, that professional cards were held in church halls, amusement centers, burlesque houses, theaters, Oriole Park, Bugle Field, Carlin's Park and Westport Park.

Ey says the sales gimmick that topped them all was when promoter Les Sponsler advertised "40 rounds for 40 cents." No fewer than 22 reigning or previous world champions fought in Baltimore during that time frame, but neighborhood rivalries gave a personalized touch to the club attractions.

"There was a battle in 1931 between Vince DiSantis and Joe DeAngelis for the lightweight championship of Highlandtown, held at the Gayety Theater," says Ey. "Everybody was stirred up. And then there was a tough fighter around who could really punch named Larry 'Killer' Marino. There were unbelievable matches between Bucky Taylor and Pete Galiano."

There was a show in 1938 at Carlin's Park featuring the "Fighting Finazzos." It was an event that made Robert Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" syndicated feature -- six brothers on the same program. Earlier in the decade, 1931, when the depression pressure was on, Buster Brown was preparing to do battle with Jimmy Tramberia for the benefit of the Dundalk World War I veterans. But the total receipts only came to $48 and the bout was canceled.

"There were times at the New Albert Auditorium and other places where they staged battle royals," recalls Ey with dismay. "The boxers would be put into the ring blindfolded and then try to knock the daylights out of each other.

"There was so much going on back then, you have to read the old files to realize what a boxing center Baltimore was. Once at the New Albert, in 1933, Ethel Waters and the cast of 'Rhapsody In Black' watched Young Kid Norfolk knock out Young Harry Wills."

Ey has published a book, selling for $20, that lists the results of what he found in the old records of what he calls "Baltimore's most eventful decade of boxing." Why did he devote himself to such an undertaking when there's no way he can turn a profit because of the limited commercial appeal?

"I had to do it," he says, sounding much like the man who discovered a mountain and knew he had to reach the summit. "I wanted to know who did what, where and when. Put names and dates together, plus the results, and you have authenticity."

Ey, himself, has enormous credibility. He was an amateur boxer and later taught the sport for 12 years at the Police Academy to more than 2,500 recruits. He has served with the Maryland State Athletic Commission and is a member of the World Boxing Historians Association.

He is so enamored with what boxing means to him personally that he says he has never seen a bad fight. Some are just better than others. Truly a romanticist.

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