The Recollections of Whitey Bimstein

By Mike Casey on February 1, 2013
The Recollections of Whitey Bimstein
"You gotta give him guys who punch with him,” said Whitey Bimstein, “or he don’t like it."

By 1950, when he sat down to reminisce with Barney Nagler of The Ring magazine, Whitey Bimstein had gained the status of living legend…

There was something quite wonderful about the tough and gnarled characters that sprang from old New York. They were like vivid oil paintings brought to life. Legendary scribe Damon Runyon had enormous fun documenting such men as well as inventing many of his own in his memorable collections of essays and short stories. Runyon, from Manhattan, Kansas, was always destined to flourish in Manhattan, New York.

The buzzing and constantly evolving landscape was a huge and flexible canvas of the permanent and the temporary, the real and the surreal. Where else were the likes of Whitey Bimstein, Ray Arcel, Lou Stillman and Rocky Graziano ever supposed to live?

Even as young men, Bimstein and Arcel, known as the Siamese training twins, had the map of life written all over their faces. Whitey and Ray were never truly apart. Their business partnership, during which time they presided over a large boxing stable teeming with talent, was dissolved in the mid-1930s due to financial problems, but the two aces continued to partner up on different assignments in the years ahead.

Even before the close of the Roaring Twenties, Bimstein had been a trainer and cut man for a near alphabet of illustrious fighters, including Benny Leonard, Paolino Uzcudun, Harry Greb, Primo Carnera, Gene Tunney, Jackie (Kid) Berg, Jack Dempsey, Charley (Phil) Rosenberg, Mickey Walker, Max Baer, Ruby Goldstein, KO Phil Caplan, Georges Carpentier and Maxie Rosenbloom.

A former bantamweight boxer who fought at the famous old Fairmont Athletic Club in New York, Morris (Whitey) Bimstein was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on January 10, 1897.

By 1950, when he sat down to reminisce with Barney Nagler of The Ring magazine, Whitey had gained the status of living legend and as permanent a New York fixture as the Empire State Building. He was a veritable fountain of knowledge and it was hard to think of a name fighter who hadn’t passed through his caring hands at some point. Like every great trainer, Bimstein had learned all the necessities about his charges—their strengths, their weaknesses, their good and their bad habits. Some were easy to handle, some were difficult and a few were impossible.

Then, of course, there were their likes and dislikes and their little idiosyncrasies. Lou Ambers was the easygoing sort who would adapt to any style when sparring. Rocky Graziano preferred to stick to the guys who would fight him and not annoy him with all that fancy, evasive stuff.

As Whitey sat on a small chair at Lou Stillman’s gym, Barney Nagler asked him how many fighters he had trained during his thirty-four years in the business. Bimstein confessed he didn’t know exactly, but took a stab. “Guess about 7,500,” he said, “and each one different like day and night. Each one I had to know, ‘cause they ain’t alike, none of them.”

Training

Many fighters, of course, don’t care for training even when they have a great trainer. Jimmy Slattery, the wonderfully gifted but hard living light heavyweight from Buffalo, once told his manager Red Carr that he was going out to buy a hat and didn’t come back for nearly a week. Young Griffo, the Australian genius of defensive wizardry, frequently had to be rescued from drinking dens and sundry other establishments after marathon sessions on the booze.

Bimstein had certainly handled his share of fighters who didn’t mind the actual business of fighting but didn’t take too kindly to all the health and fitness rigmarole of gymnasiums. Two boxers in particular came to mind. “Hardest kid like that,” Whitey said, “was Frankie Jerome. Remember little Frankie? He got killed fighting Bud Taylor in the old Garden, but it wasn’t the fight that killed him.

“Let me tell you about that. Three months before the fight, Jerome drove his car into a wall in Central Park. Never said nothing to anybody about it. He was as game as the gamest in the ring, but, funny thing about him, he didn’t like medicine. He didn’t like doctors. And he didn’t like trainers who used iodine.

“Once he had a scratch on his hand and I wanted to put iodine on it and he screamed. This was a kid that took punches like nobody, but he didn’t like iodine. So when he got hurt by the car, he don’t tell nobody, but keeps fighting with a fracture at the base of the skull. When Bud Taylor hits him he gets killed and everybody raps boxing.

“This here Jerome, he would stay out until two, three in the morning, even when he was training, but he never pulled out of a fight. He loved to fight, but not in the gym. I would say he was as tough to train as they come.”

But then Bimstein had second thoughts about that last statement and said: “Maybe I’m wrong, but let me think about this. I trained a guy named Ted Moore, out of England – he was a lulu.”

Ted Moore was indeed a very tough man and a very persistent fighter. A West Country boy, he hailed from Plymouth in the county of Devon, and campaigned against the toughest boxers of his era between 1919 and 1937. Like most professionals of the era who took on all-comers, Ted’s record of opponents in a 91-fight career was an eclectic mix. He crossed gloves with Frank Moody, Roland Todd, Tommy Loughran, Dave Shade, Jamaica Kid, Bryan Downey, Jock Malone, Tiger Flowers, Kid Norfolk, Tommy Milligan, Max Schmeling and the big-hitting Leo Lomski.

Moore regularly tilted at windmills, including the great Pittsburgh Windmill himself. Recalls Bimstein: “There was the time he was fighting Harry Greb for the middleweight title and we were over in Jersey training. Let’s see, the middleweight limit was 158 pounds then and I had Moore down to 160 pounds, so I watched the fellow very close. The next day, after roadwork, I take Moore onto the scale to weigh him and what do you think? How much do you think he gained overnight? He hit 169.

“I almost hit him with the scale. I said, “What did you do?” He kinda looked away and said, ‘I don’t do nothin.’ I knew something was wrong. This guy don’t leave the house, but he gains nine pounds overnight. I go searching around and, in those days, we had a bathtub and a shower in this here camp. I look around and I find eight empty beer bottles under the tub. He had drunk the eight bottles of beer.

“It is now two days before the fight and this here guy is eleven pounds overweight. I worked the skin off him the next two days and got him down to weight. Made a great fight with Greb too. Came near winning the title. This fighter was the toughest I ever trained.”

After that first fight with Greb at Yankee Stadium, Ted Moore rolled on in his own sweet way and probably drank plenty more beer before hooking up with Harry again for a ten-round non-title match in Los Angeles in 1926. Again Moore gave an excellent account of himself, working Greb’s body and looking the likely winner until the inimitable Harry rallied to win the decision.

Characters

While Ted Moore and Frankie Jerome were colorful characters who made for colorful stories, there was one fighter of Bimstein’s whose unswerving dedication matched his exceptional talent. There was nobody, Whitey maintained, who could surpass the great lightweight champion Lou Ambers as the perfect pupil.

“I guess my favorite was Lou Ambers. He was the easiest to handle, like Sixto Escobar and Paolino Uzcudun. I had a lot of champs, Escobar and Ambers and Braddock and Graziano. There were others, but I remember Ambers best.

“It was always fun working with Lou. You didn’t have to drive him. My job with him was to keep him from working too much. I remember when he was going to fight Lew Jenkins the second time that Al Weill wasn’t sure he wanted Ambers to keep fighting. Weill said to me to watch Ambers close. I did and I told Al he didn’t have much left.

“Weill went to Ambers and told him, ‘Lou, maybe you shouldn’t fight Jenkins.’ Do you know what? Ambers cried and said he wanted to fight. He knew he could lick Jenkins, even if he got knocked out the first time. Cried like a baby and Weill got soft and let him go in. He got knocked out. It was too bad. There was the best fighter a guy could train.”

Rocky Graziano, said Whitey, was more demanding and much more of a maverick. Even the Army couldn’t tame Rocky, who consistently heard a different bugler to most others. “Not that Graziano was bad, but there was a difference,” Bimstein explained.

“Now, you take Ambers, I could put him in the ring in the gym with anybody. He would adapt his style for the guy. Let the guy run, he would chase him. Let the guy fight, he would fight him. This here Rocky is different. You gotta give him guys who punch with him or he don’t like it. Give him a boxer in the gym and it’s no good.

“Funny thing was how Ambers would get cranky when it came close to a fight. Nice kid, but he would get so cranky you couldn’t go near him. Now, Graziano, he don’t get cranky, never. He gives you that happy-go-lucky impression right till the end. Only thing, Rocky was tough getting into the gym. When I got him in there, he would work hard, but getting him in was tough.”

Man with no name

Like most of his contemporaries from that tough era, the one thing Whitey Bimstein couldn’t abide was a quitter. Ray Arcel never forgave Roberto Duran for his New Orleans surrender against Ray Leonard, and Whitey had a similar experience with a boxer whose identity would remain a secret. “It don’t look right for me to to be giving names about guys that quit,” Bimstein told Barney Nagler.

“This guy was one fight away from fighting for the heavyweight championship when Joe Louis still had it. Maybe that’s why it (the fight) came out the way it did. This here fight was an outdoor one, a big one, and the fellow I was in the corner with liked a lot of people around him. He was a showman, this fellow, and he seemed OK until the fight started.

“After the first round he came back to the corner and said his mouth was cut inside. He said it was a bad cut, so I looked inside and it was a little scratch you could hardly see. I said it was nothin’ but he screamed to get the referee and stop it. He said he’d had enough.

“I fixed up the scratch and pushed him out for the next round. He’s winning the fight, understand, and it don’t seem he’s remembering he’s got a little scratch in his mouth. But when he comes back after the bell, he says again he’s got enough. He wants me to call the referee.

“We’re arguing up and back and then the referee sees there’s something wrong, so he walks over to our corner. He says, ‘Anything wrong?’ and this here fighter’s about to tell the ref he wants to quit when I stick the cotton swab I’m working with in his mouth. He can’t talk, see.

“So he goes out for the next round and after each round he comes back complaining he’s got enough. But he knows he can’t quit sitting down, so he finally thinks up a way to get out of it. By now the cut in the mouth is a little more than a scratch, but not enough to make the difference.

“This here fighter’s bleeding and in this round he decides not to swallow the blood or anything. He saves up a load and finally comes back into our corner. The guy he’s fighting comes in after him and my guy just lays back on the ropes, puts his hands down and lets the blood fall down the side of his mouth.

“Well, then the referee looks at him and thinks he’s hurt bad in the mouth and can’t defend himself. He rushes between the two guys and my guy seems relieved like anything when the referee calls it off.

“I call him every kind of a bum and quitter, but he don’t take it to heart. He just looks at me and says, ‘I didn’t stop it. The referee did. You saw it.’ So I don’t have an answer, but I know deep down this here guy quit cold, a real kioodle. You get guys like that in the fight business.”

Pressed

When Barney Nagler pressed Bimstein to name the fighter, Whitey declined. “I got a lot of guys fighting for me and I ain’t putting the rap in on nobody. Just think back and it’ll come, the name of this guy, and when it does, maybe you won’t be surprised. It takes a certain kind of a fighter to do that. Real fighters don’t quit.”

Training, advising, castigating, coaxing and consoling. A good trainer needs to be a father, brother and a counselor at all stages during his fighter’s development. Whitey Bimstein excelled in whatever guise was required, as long as his fighters gave him their best effort in return. The little fellow from the Lower East Side was one of the greatest.

Mike Casey is a features writer for Boxing.com and Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

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. beaujack 09:51am, 02/13/2013

    Upon further reflection I am most certain that the fighter in mind was Joe Baksi, as I recall scuttlebut that Baksi ‘quit’ in his loss to Ezzard Charles in Dec, 1948. Seeing Joe Baksi many times at MSG, and numerous times at Stillman’s gym,  and to see the burly blond Joe Baksi give up sitting on his stool from a cut in the mouth left an “image’ in the public’s eye as a Baksi
    psyche was not as strong as his body…I am sure it was not Max Baer who
    took a tremendous beating from the prime trip-hammer blows from the prime Joe Louis, and years later Lou Nova cut Baer’s mouth to ribbons, before the bout was stopped…It’s got to be the coal miner Joe Baksi…

  2. nicolas 11:10pm, 02/12/2013

    Of course Baer fought Louis, but not when Louis was champion.

  3. nicolas 11:09pm, 02/12/2013

    I’m just read Bimstein’s biography on BOXREC. It said he was in the corner of Baer at one time at least, though he had been in the corner of Braddock against Baer.

  4. nicolas 11:04pm, 02/12/2013

    the fighter that Bimstein seems to be discussing, saying big fight outdoors, and showmen, reminds me of Max Baer’s first fight with Lou Nova. The cut mouth being mentioned. Baer was number one contender during that time, though never had a fight with Louis. Is it possible that he was in Baer’s corner during that fight?

  5. pugknows 03:00pm, 02/08/2013

    This one brings back a lot of great memories, Mike Casey. Thank you.

  6. Clarence George 11:40am, 02/04/2013

    Very well put, Beaujack!

    Hmmm, I wonder how one could confirm the Baksi guess….

  7. beaujack 10:41am, 02/04/2013

    I am quite certain it is Joe Baksi, in spite of the outdoor/MSG contradiction. I recall there was talk about Baksi getting a shot at the title against Louis, and this defeat by Ezzard Charles squelched any demand for the bout…Baksi had the style that would have been cannon fodder for the faster deadly punching Louis…Speed is so important in boxing, which is why a Dempsey, Louis, Charles, at their bests were big enough for anyone…As a great Confederate General said “get thar fustess with the mostess”...

     

  8. Mike Casey 08:40am, 02/04/2013

    Beau, Baksi asked the ref to stop the Charles fight, so Clarence could be right, despite the indoors/outdoors contradiction. I’ve been scratching my head over this one since I wrote it, but I can’t think of any other Bimstein-trained candidates!

  9. Clarence George 08:12am, 02/04/2013

    Very interesting, Beaujack.

    Any other guesses?  I toyed with the idea of Lee Oma or Jimmy Bivins, but I don’t think Bimstein worked their corners.  Hmmm, maybe he’s mistaken about the fight being outdoors?

    By the way, thanks for the info. on Oma being in “On the Waterfront”.  I once wrote an article on Tony Galento, Tami Mauriello, and Abe Simon—all Joe Louis challengers—being in the film, but I didn’t know about Oma.  But that’s OK, because I don’t think Oma faced Louis, and that was the point of the article.

  10. beaujack 07:08am, 02/04/2013

    I too thought the fighter in question who “quit” in a bout, was Joe Baksi a big blond heavyweight who I saw at MSG many times. His trainer was Whitey Bimstein also. But I saw the only bout that Baksi was stopped. And it was at MSG , by the smaller Ezzard Charles in the 11th round by a tko, but the article states that Bimstein said the bout was “outdoors”,and of course Madison Square Garden was an indoor Arena. But I am sure it was Joe Baksi who reminbded me of the cartoon character Joe Palooka…I saw
    Baksi against Lee Savold, Tami Mauriello, Lee Oma ,[bartender in the picture on the waterfront], and with Ezzard Charles…Baksi was a character at Stillman’s gym for sure…

  11. Clarence George 06:00am, 02/04/2013

    I like the challenge, Irish.  I unfortunately don’t have the answer, but I’ll throw out a guess (though I do so without the slightest intention of impugning the boxer’s good name):  Joe Baksi.

  12. beaujack 11:50am, 02/03/2013

    Another fine column Mike on Whitey Bimstein, who I saw so many times at Stillman’s Gym alongside Ray Arcel, Freddie Brown, Charley Goldman etc.
    He was a helluva trainer in a helluva great boxing era…When someone asked Whitey about Harry Greb, Bimstein said, “I have no one over Harry Greb.” Heady words indeed…I love reading your pieces. Shades of W.C. Heinz, Frank Graham, Dan Parker…

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 07:05am, 02/03/2013

    At least one of the historians present in this august assemblage should be able to ID the mystery “quitter” above or at least a likely suspect…Whitey certainly gave enough clues!

  14. Mike Silver 12:29am, 02/03/2013

    The old school trainers like Bimstein had so so much experience working corners six nights a week. They didn’t have to bring in strength coaches, or fitness gurus. They knew all the tricks of the trade and invented a few of their own. Keep ‘em coming Mike.

  15. cnorkusjr 08:20pm, 02/02/2013

    Great Piece Mike ! Of the handful of trainers that my father trained at Stillman’s with; he always liked Bimstein. Tough when he needed him to be and even tougher when he needed it the most with the big opponents coming up. Bimstein traveled the road too with my father, like his two Crowe Peele victories in New Orleans, and LaStarza in Cleveland. He made a difference, and one of the fight game’s best.Old School Trainers and a wonderful remembrance. Thanks.

  16. the thresher 07:16am, 02/02/2013

    Another step back into history for the younger writers to learn from.

  17. NYIrish 06:18am, 02/02/2013

    Cheers, Mike! Another good one !

  18. norm marcus 03:52am, 02/02/2013

    Great story Mike. Why is it that the guys from the old neighborhood, the East Side of New York or Maxwell Street in Chicago are such interesting characters? It’s like stepping into a film noir movie from the 30s/40s. These guys were the best!

  19. Clarence George 06:16pm, 02/01/2013

    Outstanding job, Mike!  I’m a huge fan of Whitey’s, and recently wrote an article on him myself.

Leave a comment