The Recollections of Whitey Bimstein
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.”
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.
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.”
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).