Monday, May 10, 2010

Pinkey Mitchell Strikes Out

by Pete Ehrmann
Printed with permission of the Author

Editor's Note: I am pleased and honored to welcome Pete Ehrmann to He will be writing about the Borchert Field's history as a boxing venue, and the fighters who fought in the Orchard's ring.

Pete Ehrmann has been writing about boxing for 45 years. His first by-line appeared in The Ring magazine when he was 14 years old, and he has contributed articles to The Ring and many other boxing publications ever since, as well as newspapers and magazines. He lives in West Allis, Wisconsin.

Welcome, Pete!

The most famous no-hitter in Milwaukee occurred at Borchert Field on August 11, 1928 – but it had nothing to do with baseball. It was a boxing match between the reigning welterweight (147-pound) champion of the world, Joe Dundee of Baltimore, and the only Milwaukee boxer ever recognized as a world champion.

Pinkey Mitchell
(Author's collection)

Myron "Pinkey" Mitchell was also the only fighter in boxing history to win his championship not in the ring, but rather in an election. In 1923, he was proclaimed the first junior welterweight (140-pound) champion of the world after readers of a magazine called The Boxing Blade voted for him in a contest designed not only to anoint a new divisional champion in boxing but also to boost the magazine’s circulation.

Pinkey — called that since his father remarked upon his birth on December 6, 1899, "He’s a pink little fellow!" — was the brother of Richie Mitchell. Four years older than Pinkey, Richie was the most popular boxer in Milwaukee history, called "The Idol" and "Richie the Lionhearted." On January 14, 1921, Richie fought Benny Leonard for the lightweight championship of the world at Madison Square Garden in New York. In the first round, champion Leonard knocked him down three times; but Mitchell got up and then floored Leonard and almost knocked him out. Mitchell was stopped in the sixth round of what boxing historians consider one of the greatest bouts in ring history.

When Pinkey turned pro in 1917, local reporters said he was even better than Richie. But their enthusiasm for the 5'11" Mitchell nosedived as the handsome boxer said to look like the "president of a college debating society" started fighting like one. Pinkey did lots of clinching and stalling, with no appetite for mixing it up in the fashion of his older brother. Richie fought more recklessly than he should have, because he worried about giving the crowds their money's worth.

"(Pinkey) is not a satisfying performer," complained The Milwaukee Journal. "He is a great puncher, brainy boxer and all, but his tendency to hold and to display the tricks of clinching has served to dampen his popularity, and deservedly so."

Oddly enough, fighting anywhere but his hometown Pinkey was a tiger, which helped when The Boxing Blade, published in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced its contest to crown the first junior welterweight champion in 1922. Annual subscriptions to the magazine cost $4. From May to October, announced editor Mike Collins, anyone who purchased a new subscription for half that amount, $2, would be entitled to cast 200 votes for the new 140-pound titlist.

On October 18, 1922, Pinkey Mitchell was proclaimed the winner, finishing in first place with 100,800 votes out of more than 700,000 cast.

For a while, Pinkey's new title changed him. He fought more aggressively, pleasing local fans and critics. "The time has arrived when Richie's kid brother must be accepted as the leading Milwaukee favorite," wrote Sam Levy of The Journal after Mitchell beat Johnny Tillman in a rousing fight here on January 13, 1923. "No longer is Pinkey the lethargic battler of yore. No more does he confine his evening's toil to clinching. He is a true-blue fighter – a pleasing performer."

When Mitchell beat Bobby Harper in Portland, Oregon, on April 8, 1924, the Portland News called him "easily the best fighting machine that has stepped between the ropes (here), as he has class stamped all over him."

It took just one bad fight for Pinkey to louse himself up with Milwaukee fans again. It was at State Fair Park on August 1, 1925 – the first outdoor fight ever held in Wisconsin, and the junior welterweight champion’s first hometown appearance in more than a year. At the end of 10 clinch-filled, uneventful rounds, many of the 6,000 fans tossed their leather seat cushions into the ring to express their disappointment at the lack of violence exhibited there by Pinkey and New Jersey welterweight Willie Harmon.

Chagrined, Mitchell gave his $5,000 paycheck back to promoter Frank Fawcett and begged for a chance to redeem himself. Through the newspapers Fawcett asked Milwaukee fight fans to name the opponent they would most like to see fight Pinkey next. Most of the 1,500-plus respondents told Fawcett they would not pay to see Pinkey fight again at all, and that the only Mitchell they wanted to see was Richie – who'd been retired for two years.

So for the next year, Pinkey fought elsewhere "because the public doesn't want me" in Milwaukee.

Sam Levy seconded that motion: "The only time the junior Mitchell arouses even slight interest these days is when folks hereabouts read of his bouts in other cities. Most of them, as a rule, are disappointed when they learn he has won."

Meanwhile, a new local idol, featherweight Joey Sangor, won the first fight held at Borchert Field, beating Henry Lenard in 10 rounds on July 27, 1926. It wasn’t much of a bout, but nobody tossed seat cushions into the ring because after what happened at State Fair Park the year before the state boxing commission refused to allow cushions (and beer) to be sold at the ballpark.

When Pinkey was finally brought home for another chance, against Mexico's Tommy White at Borchert Field on August 12, he promised to go all out. "If Mitchell is serious, he’ll be forgiven for his lethargic exhibitions in previous years," wrote Sam Levy. "All will be forgotten, regardless of the result against White. Losers are as popular as winners – if the one involved puts forth his best efforts."

This time, Pinkey didn't disappoint. "Local Boy Redeems Himself With Fans" was The Journal's headline the day after the fight in which Mitchell thrilled the crowd of 6,000 by pasting White throughout the 10 rounds. "He rehabilitated himself," wrote Levy. "No more is he the lethargic, clinching, tugging sort of ring gladiator. No more does the ringsider heap abuse upon him. Instead, Myron now has succeeded in reviving the family name which so long blazed the fistic trail in the heyday of Brother Richard, the lion-hearted."

That lasted a whole two weeks. On August 27, Mitchell again stepped into the ring pitched over home plate at 8th and Chambers. He beat Jimmy Finley of Louisville, but it was such a snoozer that "the happiest moment of the entire evening was when the timer sounded the final gong," wrote Levy.

Pinkey left town again. A month later he lost his junior welterweight title to Mushy Callahan in California.

In early August of 1927, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a service organization akin to the Elks and Moose, held its international convention in Milwaukee. Thousands of Eagles came for meetings and special activities arranged for their entertainment. Among them were concerts, a street parade, and a beauty contest at Marquette Stadium.

The centerpiece of the convention, though, was the professional boxing match promoted by the Eagles at Borchert Field on Thursday, August 11, pitting Joe Dundee, the welterweight champion of the world, against Pinkey Mitchell.

It was a non-title fight scheduled for 10 rounds, and in spite of past disappointments by Mitchell local observers had their fingers crossed. "If Pink is game to take a chance today, we see no reason why he should not make this one of the greatest fights ever seen in Milwaukee," wrote George Downer, sports editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel. "Pink is a good fellow, a credit to the game in many ways, but he has never been a gambler. If the other chap 'stung' him, he always knew what to do. As a result, he stands today, absolutely unmarked, after nearly 10 years in the game. You cannot hurt the other fellow much when every punch is shot with the idea of keeping clear of a possible counter…

"It is up to Pink. He alone knows what he is going to do. Certainly this writer does not. But we do know that if he fights as he has in many of his recent engagements here, Pinkey Mitchell will be 'all washed up' in Milwaukee."

The fight lasted six wretched rounds. "A descriptive account of the six rounds is unnecessary," wrote Sam Levy in the next day's Journal. "We tell it all in one word – clinching. Mitchell was the greatest offender."

The 7,000 spectators stood and cheered when referee Dauber Jaeger, disgusted by the fighters' refusal to fight, declared it "No Contest." Up till then, many fans had entertained themselves by singing, "H-O-L-D him, Pinkey! H-O-L-D him!"

George Downer called the fight "a sad 'dance'" and said that after three strikes the hometown boxer was out for good with Milwaukee fans: "We like Pink personally – but he will never be popular with Milwaukee fight fans. They can never forget the fights he has put up, marked mainly by clinching and stalling, nor will they ever fail to contrast his ring tactics with those of his dauntless brother, Richie, who had an abnormally developed sense of his responsibility to his public."

Mitchell and Dundee were both suspended by the boxing commission for "violating all ring rules." Pinkey never fought in Milwaukee again, and the Eagles told Dundee to forget about his guaranteed purse of $10,000. He sued for the money and the case famously went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Dundee never did get paid.

Richie Mitchell died in 1949, and when the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame was established two years later he was among its charter inductees. His little brother, boxing's only elected world champion, isn't likely to be voted into that one.

Pinkey notwithstanding, Borchert Field was a strong boxing venue through the late 1940s. More about that in the future.

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