Rocky Marciano vs Max Baer………..#36 (the 50’s)

Rocky vs Max

Gary sat among  56 Oakland Tribune Paper Route Carriers and a District Manager.   The bus was leaving from Oakland and would journey up Highway 80 to the junction of 29 and travel north to Calistoga.   He felt exuberant for the concerted effort ,  spending many hours soliciting subscriptions in order to accumulate the required points posted on carriers activity board to justify his presence.    Destination was the training camp location  for The Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World,  Rocky Marciano.    The 75  mile trip thru the picturesque Napa valley,  terminating at  famed Calistoga,  noted for its hot springs,  healing mineral waters,  California’s Old faithful, a geyser mimicking the one in Yellowstone National Park, and the presence of Rocky Marciano,  adding another measure of notoriety.

Once again the teenager was the only representative from his Tribune district to qualify for a trip and his hard work wasn’t employed for  enjoying the amenities of the Calistoga mineral spring water.     He was there to observe and analyze the fighter and validate justification for all the adulation given him.   Gary recalled a past experience of meeting an iconic heavyweight champion,  Max Baer.

The boy’s father taking him to a Teamsters Union Benefit Program  held at the Oakland Municipal Auditorium on 10th St.    It was hosted by Harry Babbitt,  a big band vocalist from years past and currently  hosting  a morning CBS radio program.     A featured program speaker was Max Baer,  an idol of Gary’s dad,  who defeated Primo Carnara,  the 6’6”  Italian giant  for the heavyweight championship in 1934.   Max won the popularity contest, but  lost his only title defense,  but to Gary’s Dad,  he’s  still a hero.

When leaving the auditorium after the program,  Max happened to exit onto the street meeting them and others.  With a small group beginning to gather,  he began to pass out dollar bills.   Gary approached,  receiving a dollar and shaking  the champions hand,  his only thought being what a big, big hand.    Later at home,  his Dad took the dollar bill, inscribed the date and that Max Baer had presented it to Gary being be put away for safe keeping,  a treasured memento.


The boxing ring was in a gym size area having portable bleachers on two sides.   The time was approaching for Rocco Francis Marchegiano,  Rocky Marciano to enter.   Gary’s first impression was one of disappointment,  the champion was the same height as his Dad,  5 foot 10,  the youth expecting someone similar in stature as the  6 foot 2  Max Baer,  it was a letdown for the young man.   The Champion sparred with an opponent and again the boy was disappointed,  he and his Dad having attended a heavyweight fight at the Oakland Auditorium Arena,  sitting ringside.   When neighboring ringside, Gary found,  it’s inconceivable not to realize the amount of power and force that heavyweight fighter deliver with their blows, and in Gary’s opinion, the sparring blows were nothing but love taps.   He left disconcerted,  deciding to partake of the amenities provided by  the spring water after all.

The water in the pool was cold and immediately a question resonated, where’s the water from the hot springs?  The question remained unanswered,  Gary having brought his swimming trunks as was suggested,   soon awaken to the reality,  the calescent liquid from the ground wasn’t destined for the pool, instead diverted to the commercial money-making spa’s.  He continued to swim in the mundane temperature of the pool, tooling with the idea of purchasing a souvenir to commemorate this excursion.   Wandering back by Rocky’s training area he was  astonished,  there stood the heavy weight champion of the world conversing with onlookers, mostly kids his age.

Upon returning from his Tribune venture from Calistoga,  Gary’s negative opinion of Rocky had totally waned,   he realized, judgmental  observation should never be made on first impressions,  but on substance,  and Rocky had yet to be defeated in 48 bouts with 42 knockouts, totally destroying Don Cockell, the fight whom he was training for at Calistoga.  Gary having come to the conclusion,  making unjustified  criticism is a loss for everyone.


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