Babe Farmer: Two Ton’s First

By Clarence George on August 14, 2015
Babe Farmer: Two Ton’s First
That's him in the accompanying photo, behind the wheel of Manville's very first patrol car.

“Nothing good will come of it,” said an unimpressed Papa Galento. “Here you come home, cut and bleeding and bruised. You call that a sport?”

“A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.”—The Pirates of Penzance

“Forget fighting,” said Tony Galento’s father, Frank, as quoted by Joseph G. Donovan in Galento the Great. “Stick to the ice business. Nothing, but heart aches will come of this fighting. If you continue to box I’ll never see you fight, even as a champion.”

“Two Ton” saw things differently. “If I’m ever going to start it’s right away or never,” he said. And so on his 18th birthday, March 12, 1928, Tony had his first pro fight, knocking out Floyd “Babe Farmer” Shimalla in the third at Newark’s Laurel Garden. Floyd who? That may be, but a far cry from Galento’s last opponent, pro wrestler Jack “One Man Riot” Suzek (0-1), who Tony knocked out in the third at the Forum in Wichita, Kansas, on December 4, 1944.

According to Donovan, Shimalla was a “veteran of 16 knockout victories,” but BoxRec says different. At least according to the official record, Farmer fought from 1927 to 1928, winding up with a record of seven wins, five by knockout, and an equal number of losses, four by knockout. Aside from Galento, the only fighter of note he took on was Hall of Famer Paul Berlenbach, aka the Astoria Assassin, who kayoed Farmer in the first at Ridgewood Grove in Brooklyn on May 12, 1928. He also fought the fantastically named Marco Polo, losing to him on points at Ridgewood Grove on February 11, 1928. But whatever the truth of Floyd’s record, he gave Tony a shellacking in “a bitter, bloody fight.” Characteristically undeterred, Galento told boyhood friend and cornerman Jimmy Frain to get him “a piece of that 3 to 1 betting,” Farmer being the favorite. “Bet my end of the purse,” he said. “I’ll get this guy in the next round.” He was as good as his word. An added incentive, no doubt, was a promise from promoter Laddie Kusy, who’d told Tony, “I’ll give you $50 (about $675 today). Knock out Farmer and you’re made.”

“Nothing good will come of it,” said an unimpressed Papa Galento. “Here you come home, cut and bleeding and bruised. You call that a sport?”

What a contrast to Mama Attell when Abe brought home 15 bucks, “Abe, when are you going to fight again?” Or to Papa Leonard when Benny presented him with a dub, “All right, Benny, keep on fighting.”

We don’t know what Tony called it, but it’s how he made his living over the next 16 years (that, and running a bar). He did well by the sport (or whatever you want to call it) and it did well by him. He fought Joe Louis for the Heavyweight Championship of the World, didn’t he? He lost, sure, but managed to knock “The Brown Bomber” to the canvas in the third at Yankee Stadium on June 28, 1939, Louis winning by brutal TKO in the fourth. If Galento hadn’t almost died the year before from his bout with “dat bum ammonia,” an illness that put paid to his planned encounter with John Henry Lewis, the blow “might have finished Louis,” speculates Joseph Monninger in Two Ton. For what it’s worth, by the way, Al Ettore, who fought both Galento and Lewis, picked Tony to stop John Henry no later than the fifth. “He does everything but bite you,” he said.

Papa Galento wasn’t there to see his son almost become champ. Maybe he was right in a way. It really isn’t a sport, is it? As Joyce Carol Oates said, “One plays football, one doesn’t play boxing.” It’s more like what Hemingway said about bullfighting, that it’s “an art, a tragedy, and a business. To what extent it is an art depends on the bulls and the men who are hired to kill them, but it is always a tragedy and it is always a business.” Still, he missed his son coming close to attaining what was then the ultimate sports accolade, the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Like father, like son, “His chance would not come again.”

And what of forgotten Shimalla? Outpointed by Billy Bruns at Ridgewood Grove on October 20, 1928, Shimalla did what a lot of boxers do after hanging up the gloves. Think of Corn Griffin and Bob Foster, just to name a couple. That’s right, Floyd became a cop.

And not just any cop, but the very first constable of Manville, New Jersey. That’s him in the accompanying photo, behind the wheel of Manville’s very first patrol car.

I’d like to think that Shimalla was sort of like Will Henry Lee in Stuart Woods’ Chiefs, except that Shimalla didn’t die in the line of duty. He made it to age 73, dying in 1976, beating Galento to the barn by three years. That’s how Gary Cooper put it to Hemingway. And he was right, too, dying of cancer two months before Hemingway’s suicide.

A borough of Somerset County, Manville was formed in 1929 and today has a population of about 10,000, many of the residents of Polish descent. Is Shimalla a Polish name? I wouldn’t have thought so, but what do I know. Speaking of which, Galento’s second opponent was a guy named Andy Schimala. Food for thought, that. Make mine kielbasa with a side of pierogi.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Discuss this in our forums

Related Articles

Comments

This is a place to express and/or debate your boxing views. It is not a place to offend anyone. If we feel comments are offensive, the post will be deleted and continuing offenders will be blocked from the site. Please keep it clean and civil! We want to have fun. We want some salty language and good-natured exchanges. But let's keep our punches above the belt...
  1. Clarence George 04:05am, 08/18/2015

    Thanks, Joe, and for the observation.  Cooper was born in the early 20th century and grew up on a ranch in Montana, so it’s not surprising that he would employ an expression that has such an agrarian and rural flavor.  And you’re right, barns in the Bible tend to symbolize either plenty or desolation, as reflected by such Protestant hymns as “Bringing in the Sheaves.”

  2. Joe Masterleo 03:20am, 08/18/2015

    Thanks for the narrative and interesting details on Galento’s history. The “beat you to the barn” expression is catchy, and will likely stick, being used as an idiom by readers.  Among other things, barns are storehouses for the harvest, monuments to the country side, particular in pre-industrial America.  Wondering if the origin of the term dates back to those times, as farm folk were more biblically literate and mindful than folk are today.  There are Scripture references to the   eternal as reaping upright souls to itself, as metaphor, gathering them in barns; “I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Mt. 13:30, KJV).

  3. Clarence George 02:48am, 08/15/2015

    If only I, too, were impeccable.  But alack and alas.

  4. andrew 07:15pm, 08/14/2015

    Idolizing a fat dirty cheater in the ring and a sucker punching bully outside of it. But he was ‘colorful’.

  5. Clarence George 11:58am, 08/14/2015

    If I understand you correctly, Matt…if Shimalla stuck with being a cop, he did all right for himself.  I think Galento was at least okay financially, except maybe toward the end.  But his medical problems must have completely overwhelmed whatever money concerns he might have had.  I think, by the way, that his son became a cop.

    Your reference to reading, along with Tony’s “ammonia,” reminds me of Rocky Graziano, “I quit school in the sixth grade because of pneumonia.  Not because I had it, but because I couldn’t spell it.”  Ha!  Not that there’s a whole lot funny about pneumonia.  I had it myself once, and it literally almost killed me, just as it almost killed Galento.  Just one of the many reasons I consider him a kindred spirit.

  6. matt atwater 09:54am, 08/14/2015

    Yeah, when the money starts rolling in they love you and forget about the stuff that comes with it. For those of us not born with the silver spoon in mouths, it’s all we knew. But at some point in life u have to read a book because u can’t fight forever!

  7. Clarence George 07:49am, 08/14/2015

    Thank you, Bob.  It is indeed good to have these guys’ names in print after way too many decades of neglect.  And, yes, it’s what Gary Cooper said to Hemingway—“I bet I beat you to the barn.”  A great expression that I, too, never heard anyone else use.

  8. Bob 06:25am, 08/14/2015

    Thanks for not only keeping Two Ton alive, but bringing Shimalla, Suzek, Billy Bruns and Corn Griffin to life. They are all part of the saga and it must mean a lot to their families to see their names on these pages.  I love that description of Shimalla “beating Galento to the barn.” Never heard it before, but it’s a winner.

  9. Clarence George 05:40am, 08/14/2015

    Thanks very much indeed, Peter.  As boxing becomes increasingly abysmal, I find myself clinging ever more tightly to “Two Ton” as though a beery-breathed teddy bear.  And you’re right, Papa Galento never saw his son fight.  I wonder if he at least condescended to see Tony in “On the Waterfront” (assuming he was alive), what with his squat fedora and shirt buttoned to the top (the latter a fashion statement that has me seeing all shades of red).  All that said, let’s not forget Floyd Shimalla, already too much forgotten.

  10. peter 04:53am, 08/14/2015

    Nice article, Clarence. And thanks for keeping America’s “Two Ton” Tony Galento alive….Furthermore, Papa Galento was a man of his word when he told his eighteen-year-old son, “I’ll never see you fight, even as a champion.”

Leave a comment