Story of the Week

JOE LOUIS

    Joe Louis Barrow was born in Alabama in 1914. His family of 16 moved to Detroit in 1926. When he was 16, his mother gave him money for violin lessons, but Joe used the money to pay for a locker at a gym where amateur boxers trained. When Joe filled out the forms for his first amateur fight, he didn’t have room for his last name. Thus began the legend of Joe Louis.

    Louis made it to the Golden Gloves finals in Boston in 1933. He won the National AAU light-heavyweight championship in St. Louis. His record as an amateur was 50-4 with 43 knockouts. He went pro three months later.

    His first pro fight was in 1934; he earned $50. A year later, he beat Primo Carnera; he earned $60,433. He won his first 27 pro fights, 23 by knockout. At age 21, the "Brown Bomber" had already earned $371,645; that’s huge bucks at that age in that era.

    Louis was a very generous man, naďve in his generosity. He never saved his money, and spent the last half of his life trying to pay back money he owed from the first half. He gave great amounts of money to poor kids and friends from his youth, as well as to hangers-on. His generosity and poor judgment were characteristics that greatly hurt him.

    When he fought Max Schmeling, the German champion, in 1936, he took the fight lightly, and was knocked out for the first time in his career. In 1937, he captured the heavyweight championship by knocking out James Braddock. In 1938, as champion, he met Schmeling again. Louis knocked Schmeling out in the first round, much to the delight of the United States. 

    He successfully defended the heavyweight crown for 12 years, an amazing record. That included 24 fights and 22 knockouts.

    Joe Louis donated several large boxing purses to U.S. relief funds at the outset of World War II, well over six figures. He enlisted as a private in the army, serving for almost four years, and retired as a sergeant with the Legion of Merit decoration.

    Louis lost some of his skills during the war years. After two victories over Jersey Joe Walcott, he retired in 1948. He owed the IRS a great sum of money, came out of retirement, lost bouts to Ezzard Charles and Rocky Marciano, and retired for good in 1951.

    His heart was bad; it took Frank Sinatra to pay for Joe Louis’ heart surgeries after retirement. He died in 1981. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

    Ring Magazine rates Joe Louis the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time. I fully concur.

Last Week’s Trivia

What NFL quarterback holds the record for passing attempts without an interception? Bart Starr of Green Bay threw 294 passes during the 1964 and 1965 seasons without being intercepted. That record was broken by Bernie Kosar with 308 passing attempts without a pick during the 1990 and 1991 seasons.

Trivia Question of the Week

A member of the Baseball Hall of Fame batted exactly once in the majors, and struck out. Who? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.