Publish date:

Last Round for Bummy

Al Davis was known as a mean fighter in the ring and in the streets—and his final fight was the meanest of all

Willie andCharlie Beecher's Gym was located back of a poolroom on Livonia Avenue in theBrownsville section in Brooklyn. It was a prizefight gym where Bummy Davis, LouFeldman, Bernie (Schoolboy) Friedkin and half a hundred other ring figuresfirst learned their trade. For over 20 years its walls echoed the drum fire ofpunching bags and the thud of falling bodies and it smelled of sweat andliniment. Now it is no more. About 10 years ago the poolroom changed hands. Thefellow who bought it had no interest in boxing and he wanted more room for moretables. So the fighters had to move out.

The Brownsvillesection was a melting pot like the lower East Side, a pushcart andpickle-barrel marketplace, an area that is known to most people as the homeground of Murder, Inc. But Danny Kaye and Phil Silvers came from Brownsville,as did lots of doctors, lawyers and legitimate businessmen.

Charlie Beecherwas a good featherweight boxer in the era of Johnny Kilbane. Brother Willie wasa topnotch lightweight just before the rise of Benny Leonard. They were bothgood teachers of boxers, but the presiding genius of the gym in its heyday wasa character called Froike. His real name was Benjamin Katz, but he had boxedunder the name of Frankie Kane and Froike is the Yiddish equivalent of Frankie.At least 10,000 kids must have passed through the gym. Every boy who grew up inthe neighborhood was in Beecher's at sometime or another, either trying to be afighter or trying to manage fighters, or training them or just watchingthem.

To get to Froikeyou approached the dingy building in the shadows of the Livonia Avenue El andscurried up the stairs past the pool tables and characters like Benny Toomel,Fats Yerna, Smoke, Mousey and Munis the Shylock. You always wore your longpants because if you wore knickers you were sure to get the bounce; kidsweren't allowed in the poolroom.

Froike could havebeen a rich man. There's no telling how much money he could have made becausehe had from the beginning many good fighters who went on to Madison SquareGarden main-event stardom. He could have kept them and made a lot of money withthem, or he could have sold them, keeping a small piece of their earnings.

But Froike was asimple man. He always felt that in the boxing game he was a small man and helooked with awe on managers like Joe Jacobs, Hymie Caplin and Pete Reilly. Whenhe realized that he had a promising fighter he would tell one of the famousmanagers about the prospect.

"Takehim," he would say. "Maybe he will be a great fighter someday. I can'tdo any more for him. He needs a manager like you."

The only fighterhe stuck with long enough to work his corner in Madison Square Garden beforebeing squeezed out was Al (Bummy) Davis. Davis had a formidable left hook,which earned him many thousands of dollars. It didn't make him popular though.He was one of the most hated main-eventers ever to fight at the Garden.

Froike started toteach Bummy boxing when Davis was about 13 years old. Amateur boxing had atremendous following, especially in Brooklyn, with places like the TrinityClub, Knights of Columbus and Golden City Park in Carnarsie. As in the case ofWalker Smith (Sugar Ray Robinson), the borrowing of an older boy's baptismcertificate in order to get an AAU card was a common practice. When he was notquite 15 years old, more than a year under the legal requirement, AlbertAbraham Davidoff climbed into the ring and was introduced as Giovanni Pasconi,unattached, 126 pounds. As Pasconi, he won a lot of bouts by knockouts. He gothis nickname of "Bummy" after an AAU inspector heard him in a Yiddishconversation with his father. (Abraham in Yiddish is Ahvroom, which wascorrupted to Boomy and then Bummy.)

As a pro Davisknocked out one opponent after another. He began to attract a tremendousfollowing and was soon boxing star bouts as a lightweight. A meeting betweenDavis and Schoolboy Friedkin, who had preceded Bummy into the pro ranks by acouple of years, was arranged. Friedkin also had a large following, and thebiggest single event for the entire Brownsville neighborhood until the U.S.entered World War II was the night in 1938 when the pair met at the Garden.They were first matched to box outdoors in Dexter Park. It rained on one Mondaynight and was postponed. It rained again and again, and the fans were roused toa tremendous pitch of suspense.

Mike Jacobsbought the ready-made attraction from Johnny Attell, the Dexter Park promoter,and put it on at the Garden. Bummy was not old enough to box over six roundsbut Davis vs. Friedkin topped the card. Everybody from Brownsville who possiblycould be there was jammed into the gallery.

Davis didn't needsix rounds anyway. Friedkin briskly outboxed him in the first round and thesecond round was maybe even. Bummy was stronger and midway into the fourthround he looped a left hook to Friedkin's jaw to knock him out. Davis was onhis way to loads of money, bad press notices, some good wins, a couple offrightful shellackings—and death at the age of 25.

Always with himalong the way, however, was his reputation as a mean fighter. Davis fought inthe ring as he did on the sidewalks of Brownsville when he was growing up andhe occasionally forgot the rules. He finally went too far the night he metFritzie Zivic in what the New York Times called "one of the mostdisgraceful exhibitions in the history of boxing." After Zivic jabbed himin the eye with his thumb at the start of the second round, Bummy went berserkand punched Zivic below the belt ten times before the referee disqualifiedhim.

Despite thisdisplay, Froike always championed and excused Davis. "Bummy wasn't a badkid," he once said. "He was really a good kid, but his life was mixedup and nothing ever worked out right for him. They put him in with TonyCanzoneri, which they shouldn't have done, because Tony had been a greatchampion but now he was washed up. And when Bummy knocked Canzoneri outeveryone hated him.

"Bummy belteda guy in a candy store even though I think the guy was asking for it. Then camehis dirty, foul fight with Zivic at the Garden. Everything went wrong for himright down to the night four stickup guys walked into the bar that Bummy hadjust sold to his pal Dudy. No local hood would of thought of sticking up whathad been Bummy's joint. The tough guys knew him and respected him and the jointwas off limits. But some out-of-towners have to come and Bummy told them theyshouldn't stick up Dudy. You know the rest."

One of the gunmentold Davis—in very offensive language—to mind his own business and to get overto the wall and put his hands up. No man talked to Bummy Davis like that andgot away with it. So the graceful left hook made an arc through the airaccurately for the last time. The stickup man dropped, his jaw broken in two orthree places, but he held onto his gun. He retaliated with a slug that piercedBummy's throat. The gunmen lammed out the door with Davis going right afterthem. He died outside on the sidewalk.