From our earliest years, we all have some memories etched in our minds from the time we spent with our parents. Many of mine are from the family-vacation and kinestetic variety: like the annual summer roadtrip back to Minnesota, five tight in the 1965 AMC Rambler; Or, heading to Eugene, Oregon’s Hayward Field with my dad for the NCAA Track Championships, and sneaking my way to watch the event from the most intimate seat out big house to jogging, striding and stretching among the competitors during their final pre-race preparations on the warm-up track.
Another more everyday rememberance I am reminded of today with the expiration of Bert Sugar came from the crackling light of the transister-tubed living room television set. On new Simpsons episode days, commercial time could be treacherous as ESPN Classics was apt to replay classic boxing matches. My dad – or “Pappa” as I used to call him back then – is a bit fascinated by boxing. I don’t know exactly why, but this interest in boxing surely says something about him. One Simpsons or Seinfeld commercial break could turn into fifteen rounds of championship boxing. Of course, as a kid I could not take my eyes off Ali’s fluttering legs and lightning jabs, though my favorite boxer at the time was the slippery, counter-punching “Sweat Pea” Pernell Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker was not a knockout artist; but, rather a steady-attacking surgeon in the ring.
I always liked how Michael Buffer boxing announcer always finished his introductions with the guttural roaring, “Let’s get ready to rumm-mm-emm-mm-ble!” Anything else was anything less. Without Mr. Buffer’s trademarked catchphrase, a fight felt a bit anti-climatic, even before the boxing began.
Another boxing character was the felt fedora wearing, always cigar chomping, gristled old-schooled writer Bert Sugar. If I ever find my voice as a writer, I’m sure it will be from following the advice in the words of Mr. Sugar, quoting Red Smith:
“You first cut your wrist, then you bleed on paper. Then you write.” It’s in this process that one finds the story lead, the storyline, and the personalities worth talking about.
(Mr. Sugar covered more than just boxing. Consider this lead while covering a no-hitter in baseball: “It was as unbelievable as Santa Claus suffering vertigo, Captain Bligh sea sickness, Mary having a little lamb…” With a lead like that, you either scare the hell out of the Sunday morning edition sports reader, or you hook ’em.)
At the beginning, I could hardly stand this television. Soon, though, seeing and hearing Mr. Sugar talking with the Sugar Ray Leonard and Angelo Dundee’s of the world made for an education. Hearing him talk, you saw a man who could cut through the chaff and get to a truth revealed in the arena. You got the unmistakeable feeling of a man who loved his work, who was encyclopedic in his learned knowledge, and respected by both the trainers and boxing artists themselves. Hearing him talk was to hear in the back of your mind the tip-tappering of his keys, Mr. Sugar’s face marred by sweat, concentration and the filament of typewriter ink.
I am sure many a man appreciated Mr. Sugar’s candor from the ringside corner view. He’s the man who brought Sugar Ray and Sweat Pea and Boom Boom Mancini into my cultural encyclopedia. In doing your job, you helped me understand something about my dad — and, thus, have helped me understand a little something about myself. Mr. Sugar, thanks for cutting the wrist, and bleeding on paper.