Heavy Hand Rests on Finest Sportfolk
by Chic Feldman
The Heavy Hand has again touched those we revere in Sportland to bring glowing memories to offset the dark sorrow. In the case of Billy Speary the flash backs are precious. The lower Valley, which has yet to realize its desire for a world's champion, never came closer than with Speary.
He was a tousled-haired, lighthearted youngster out of Nanticoke whom Arthur Thomas, a combination fistic carpetbagger and Svengali, saw in the amateurs and immediately adopted. Arthur, then a Hyde Park miner by way of the coal pits of Wales, had another who almost made it, Pete Suski, and in the current era would surely wear the purple robes.
Suskey came nearest to emulating Pete Latzo, it was after his retirement that Thomas moved to Nanticoke. Some believe he did so to be nearer Speary. Whatever the reason they made a perfect team and to this hour many reckon Thomas got Speary more money as an "amateur" than most pros were then earning.
Thrice Speary ruled the continent as A.A.U. champion but never, possibly because it wasn't profitable, inspired for the Olympics. *** SEE AUTHORS NOTE*** Three of his fights were with Billy Dolphin Sr., dad of the present fistic favorite.
In due time Speary, who received $250 for "expenses" in the AA ranks, became a professional and his first major tests saw him outpointing Harry Jeffra, the feather champ out of Baltimore, at Wilkes-Barre.
Jeffra's manager, Max Waxman, saved the title by requiring Speary to come in over 126 pounds.
It set up a Baltimore natural, and Larry McDonnell, now a San Francisco magazine producer, Joe Polakoff with Uncle Sam in Guatemala and I went to see Speary become champ. Wasn't his fault that he failed to bring home the crown. Thrice, at least, Jeffra went down from right hand punches to the head and he barely struggled through the 10th, 11th and 12 rounds.
As often happened in strange places, Jeffra got the decision while Speary won a home. He was welcome there and appeared in other places including Toronto with Jeffra again, but as was the fate of neighbor Rocky Castellani who floored Bobo Olson and Ray Robinson, Speary couldn't quite finished the job.
Indeed the charming chap has enough to tell the old-timers on high to keep them entertained until the next delegation from the thinning ranks of fistianna arrives.
***This Information Is Inaccurate-Billy was indeed a member of the Olympic team set to go to Finland in 1940 when the Olympics were postponed for 8 years due to World War II. If not for his aspirations to be an Olympic boxer he would have accepted his many offers to
turn professional 3 years earlier - in 1937.