Friday, June 10, 2011

A Half-Pound Shy

By Pete Ehrmann

Eighty-one years ago today, Borchert Field came within seven hours and eight ounces of hosting a world championship boxing match.

And no, I don't mean eight minutes.

Thanks to that measly extra half-a-pound registered when Eddie Anderson weighed in for his fight with Benny Bass at 3 p.m. on June 10, 1930, what was supposed to be a 10-round contest for the latter's world junior lightweight title that evening was downgraded to non-title status.

The junior lightweight division was created in 1921 for fighters who would've needed to cut off a limb to make the 126-pound featherweight limit or grow an extra one to be a bona-fide 135-pound lightweight.

Benny Bass—called the "Little Fish," of course—was a hard-punching Philadelphian who'd won the 130-pound belt by knocking out Tod Morgan on December 20, 1929. He'd successfully defended it twice since then, in addition to fighting a couple non-title matches.

Benny Bass
(Author's collection)

One of the latter, on February 22, 1930, had 4,000 fans at the Milwaukee Auditorium in a state of full-blown hysteria as Bass and the same Eddie Anderson fought 10 wild rounds in which there were nine knockdowns—seven scored by Bass, two by Anderson.

Referee Freddie Andrews' verdict of a draw made a rematch inevitable, and on May 23 promoter Tom Andrews announced that Bass's world title would be up for grabs when they fought again on June 10 at Borchert Field.

The Milwaukee newspapers all insisted that it would be the first ever world championship fight in Wisconsin, but that must've come from the overheated PR mill of promoter Andrews, who as the world's most renowned boxing record keeper surely knew that on June 4, 1908, Milwaukee was the site of the Stanley Ketchel-Billy Papke world middleweight title fight.

In any case, it was definitely the first championship fight for Cowboy Eddie Anderson—he was from Wyoming—in a long decade of plugging away in the ring that started when he was 16 and weighed barely more than a hundred pounds.

Eddie Anderson
(Author's collection)

Ten days before the Borchert Field championship match, Anderson was a solid 140. So after he arrived in town on June 5, in addition to his boxing workouts at Tommy Neary's south side gym, the Cowboy ran up to 10 miles at the lakefront every morning.

"This will be the first time in two years that I boxed at 130," he told Jim Delany of the Wisconsin News. " I was down to 131 once, and the effort didn't seem to harm me any, so I guess I won't have any trouble with 130."

Bass also trained at Neary's, and in the final days before the fight up to 400 fans squeezed into the gym to watch the champion and challenger work out. That and ticket orders coming in from all parts of the state had Tom Andrews dreaming of topping the local attendance record for a boxing match of 7,916, set 16 years earlier at the Willie Ritchie-Ad Wolgast lightweight fight at the Auditorium.

Andrews had the ballpark set up to accommodate 18,000 customers. The newspaper guys figured on maybe 12,000, tops, but that would still be one for the record books plus a boon to the Milwaukee Jewish Orphanage on N. 21st St. and W. McKinley Ave., which was down for a cut of the proceeds.

The day before the fight, the Little Fish predicted he would whale the stuffing out of Anderson within five rounds.

"I'm not going to waste any time on him," Bass said. "He'll be blinking before the first round is over, and if we get as far as the fifth he'll think he's on a carousel."

The beatings the champ dished out to his sparring partners at Neary's made him a 3-1 favorite to back up his bold talk; but Anderson, who'd been knocked down before but never out, invited Ed Dunn of the Milwaukee Sentinel to "Tell all your friends who like Bass to stop me to come over to the Schroeder hotel and I'll cover their money. No one is knocking Eddie Anderson out."

That he still weighed one-and-a-half pounds over the junior lightweight limit on June 9 didn't bother the Cowboy, either. "I am surprised at how easy I am making this weight," he told Dunn. "I feel as strong as I do weighing 135, and you can take it from me that after the fight there will be no alibing about the weight hurting me."

So all the stars seemed aligned for the greatest night in local boxing history—until the afternoon of the fight when Cowboy Eddie found himself a maddening half-pound over 130 (to Bass's 128½ pounds). Members of the state boxing commission agreed to give the challenger an extra 30 minutes in which to make the required weight, and Anderson sat in an electrical steam cabinet and was pummeled by a masseur in an effort to sweat and rub the excess ounces off.

Thirty minutes later he was still a quarter-pound too heavy. Anderson begged the commissioners to wink at the difference and let the fight go on. It did—but without Bass's title on the line.

Anderson's weight was the first of two huge dark clouds suddenly looming over the event. After several days of ideal weather, late on the afternoon of the fight it started to rain.

"When the news got around that Anderson failed to make the championship weight the sale [of tickets] went dead," reported Dunn in the Sentinel the next morning. That and "the rain that started at 4 o'clock … kept a number of state patrons from driving in."

When Bass and Andrews stepped into the orchard ring at about 10 p.m., the attendance was a disappointing 4,500, and the $30,000 gate envisioned by Andrews amounted to only a third of that.

Cowboy Eddie came out with both guns blazing, but the Little Fish had called it correctly. After Anderson was counted out in the third round his handlers had to carry all 130-plus inert pounds of him back to the dressing room.

The Sentinel photographer was on the scene when Eddie Anderson sunk to the canvas for the fourth and final time at the ball park Tuesday night. Benny Bass put him there after three punches had floored Eddie and weakened his resistance. Referee Walter Houlchen is the other figure in the picture.

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